Nillumbik Estate

Between Eltham and and the Yarra Valley floor, there’s a gateway of winding road through rugged bush country called Christmas Hills, Smiths Gully, and Kangaroo Ground. You could be forgiven for thinking that there’s nothing here but uncompromising rocky soil, scrubby tree cover, and kangaroos. Pay attention, though, and you’ll spot a little sign that offers wine, pizza, and views. Trust us, take the turn. At the end of a typically country driveway, there’s a modest but stylish building, almost right on top of a vineyard, overlooking a close valley that opens out into a view beyond.

Nillumbik winery has been on this site for two and a half decades. It’s a family business, with owner John making the kinds of wine he loves to drink. They’re generous and food-friendly, much like John. The restaurant is a tucked-away secret renowned for it’s pizzas, and with that view and a bottle of John’s wine, you’ll lose an afternoon here just taking it all in. It’s a simple recipe for success, really; make pizza, make wine, make a big deck and a couple of garden seating areas to enjoy it in. Not much to argue with there.

Tallis Wines

The cellar door at Tallis Wines commands what can only be described as a spectacular view. Across lush fields of grain crops, 360 degrees into the vast distance. There is the vineyard down the hill a little, but the Tallis family made the right choice when they decided that the hilltop outside Dookie was the best place for the ‘wow factor’.

Also worthy of a little ‘wow’ is the wine. The soil here is similar to Tuscany, and Tallis makes the most of it with generous, full-flavoured wines. The new release shiraz stood out, with flavours typical of the soils that at one time produced up to one third of the wines made in Victoria.

Food at Tallis is a simple affair. Platters of local produce, pickles, charcuterie, cheeses and relishes are simple and well curated. They are plenty for a hungry couple, and the perfect foil to any of the wines available by the glass.

Take a mo to stretch your legs and follow the signs on the Yorta Yorta interpretive trail as you walk to the peak of the hill. You’ll not only take in the extraordinary view, but you’ll learn a few things about the original custodians of the land, too.

Avoca Hotel

At One Hour Out we are all about the ‘pleasant surprise’. The pretty little town which is an oasis at the end (or middle) of a trip, or the pub that puts up ridiculously good-looking dishes. The nice thing about the Avoca Hotel is that you get all that with an added bonus of the aforementioned ridiculously good-looking dishes actually living up to their pretty visage.

The owners of the pub inherited a renovators’ dream about nine years ago, and essentially gutted the place. It’s not a stuffy gastro-pub fit-out though – it’s still definitely a friendly local. Beers are a mix of old friends and local heroes. The presence of an almost life-sized carved red duck on a beer is good for a laugh as it bobs back and forth like a novelty desktop toy.

The dishes are spectacular to look at and follow through with taste to match. Hay-smoked venison fillet is treated with care and respect, and tastes amazing. There’s some serious talent in the kitchen producing beautiful food like this. True flavours and respect for the integrity of the produce is also apparent in the radish top gazpacho.

There’s plenty to see and do in the region, and the Avoca Hotel definitely makes an overnight stay in the area worthwhile for the travelling food lover.

Talbot Provedore and Eatery

Christopher and Jayne are both ex-photographers, although one is never really an ex-photographer. One merely becomes preoccupied with other things. The ‘other thing’ that fills their time is a slice of a stunning country town in the form of Talbot Provedore and Eatery.

Christopher was once the chef at the Avoca Hotel and part of a team that won numerous industry accolades. His commitment to excellent food from sustainable, local produce continues at his own venture here in Talbot.

The town plays host to one of the biggest farmers markets in country Victoria every 3rd Sunday of the month, when thousands of people descend on the streets looking for produce straight from the people who grow it. The Provedore and Eatery is designed to be a showcase of the best of the farmers market and other producers from the region. It’s situated right next to a community garden, where the chefs regularly gather whatever is growing and include it in the menu. Fresh produce from the farmers around the district comes in daily, and the menu reflects this.  The wine and beer list contains mostly local heroes, all worthy of the best lists, and all doing something interesting.

Christopher and Jayne are not loud or brash entrepreneur types. They are enterprising, no doubt. But they exude a quiet and passionate commitment to their craft. Saturday nights are a real stretching of the legs for the chefs. It’s a simple degustation of three carefully crafted and exquisitely prepared dishes for pretty short money. Talbot is lucky to have the Provedore and Eatery. Get out there for a weekend, do the Saturday night and the market next day. Good times.

Nourish’d Eatery

Nourish’d is the kind of place that we go searching for in the hippest parts of Melbourne when we’re on that health kick, but still need really tasty food. It’s terrific to find that a place so far from the health-conscious restaurants of inner Melbourne is walking the walk.

The Sensory Lab coffee here is great, and the daily selection of treats to go with it are the kind of palette pleasers you’d expect at a good Melbourne cafe. At Nourish’d though, there is a reason for everything. The menu is loaded with items that have a purpose in supporting your daily dietary health. Smoothies are a blend of goodies to refresh you, detox you, or give you energy for the day ahead.

Breakfast plates are a balance of ingredients designed to sustain you through the day. The days of the big fry-up breakfast are gone, as we search out options to sustain us as well as make a positive impact on our health. But carnivores need not despair – if you want pork at breakfast time, then the pulled-pork with egg  and superfood toast will delight. It is no surprise, given their proximity to the grain- and pulse-growing centre of Australia, that lentils and quinoa feature on the menu. The gluten-free porridge with turmeric poached pear is pretty damned tasty.

Other local producers feature prominently. Nice to know that the farms you drive past on the way are the sources of your breakfast and lunch.

Summerfield Winery

You know those little places on a road trip that linger like a question mark in the map of where you’ve been? The tiny little one-horse towns that flash past as you wrangle with Google to make sure you’re on the right track? Summerfield wines is the argument for stopping to check out these tiny towns.

Perched on the edge of Moonambel is a winery with a little cellar door and a large lawn. Summerfield is the labour of love of a farming family. Wines are named for the children, with artwork on labels that depict the child’s personality. They are powerful wines with beguiling cold-climate characters. Bold and interesting would be another way to describe them. It’s also an apt description of owner Mark Summerfield. He’s passionate about the place, the grapes he farms and the wines he makes.

Remember the lawn mentioned in the beginning? That’s where you’ll lose a little of your road-trip time with a selection of the goodies available in the tiny delicatessen at Summerfield to accompany a bottle or two of their wines. Mark is also passionate about the rare-breed pigs he farms, and the resulting incredible pork products fill the little deli alongside garlic grown by his children.

Slow down, people, and don’t blink as you pass though lest you miss opportunities like Summerfield. Pin your eyes open and stop!

Badger and Hare

There’s a particular rush that comes from discovering somewhere new to get great coffee. The rush is compounded with no small amount of glee when you discover said coffee on a road trip a long way from home. Badger and Hare was a discovery of great joy for the OHO team. It’s the cutest little corner store on the highway in Stratford. You might know Stratford as one of the small towns you pass though on the way to Lakes Entrance. Now you have a reason to stop.

Old school buddies Liz and Mary are serving up simple, honest dishes that they love to eat. They’ve paid as much attention to the interiors as they have to the menu, and have gone to great lengths to ensure that their experience from time spent hanging out in inner Melbourne cafes is reflected in what they do at Badger and Hare. There are local goods and coffee to take home too.

Look for the yellow door on the right-hand side as you come into Stratford. Totally worth stopping.

Alexandra Hotel

The Alex Hotel is one of those iconic country pubs that you pass on a trip as you slow to 50kph through a small town, and wonder ‘Should I have stopped there for lunch?’

Yes, you should have.

The hotel is a grand old white building which has established a bit of a reputation under successive owners – fun in the evenings if you’re staying nearby, and a solid option for breakfast or lunch if you’re passing. The new owners have introduced a clever take on old-fashioned pub dishes like fish and chips, with the welcome addition of crispy capers and a twist on the choice of  fish.

The owners have pedigree in running hospitality businesses, and it shows. They’ve been quick to step the menu and wine list up a notch, and the range of their own farm-gate produce on sale looks inviting.

Worth the stopover.

Oakdene

You’ve got to love a venue that has you smiling before you step out of the car. Oakdene will have you tilting your head and chuckling. It looks like a huge wind pushed it over, and they just decided to run with a cellar door on its side! There’s so much to look at, and the experience you have will vary according to how much time you’ve got on your hands and what kind of food you feel like. Honestly, you could start with breakfast in the cafe, spend some time in the garden walking through the sculptures, and squeeze in a full wine tasting before a lazy lunch in the restaurant.

The restaurant is decorated much like the entire property, in living technicolour and with liberal splashings of artwork. It’s a quirky place to sit and eat food as sophisticated as these chefs present. Dishes like the lamb, for example – slow-cooked for ages and falling apart in glorious stickiness. The Oakdene William Shiraz is perfect with it. The house-cured trout has just the right texture. All produce is local where possible, and it shows in the freshness of the dishes.

Definitely worth a detour if you’re in the area.

Avon Ridge Vineyard

OHO has been to loads of small cellar doors that started out in sheds as a way of selling the small-batch boutique wines the passionate owners make. As venues go, Avon Ridge is best described as a shed conversion that got out of hand – in a good way. It’s been transformed into a stylish open restaurant that accommodates casual diners and event-goers alike. The sprawling lawn, which flows into the very vines the excellent wines are taken from, is a wonderful place to sit on a blanket or lawn chair and lose an afternoon.

The local produce that goes into the food at Avon Ridge is treated with care and  imagination. The food is simple, subtle and tasty. The menu is cleverly marked with the best wine matches, and dishes are perfect for filling a table and sharing with others. If you’re overstocked with bounty from your own garden, drop by and swap it for something from their produce wall. The chefs love to make specials from the local, seasonal stuff that people bring by!