Honestly, if your best chocolate experience involved a mass-produced bar of something brown, you need to listen up.
Chocolate is like wine. Chocolate is like coffee. Chocolate is as seasonal as your tomatoes and apples. Speaking of apples, different places grow different tasting cacao. And this all adds up to single-origin chocolates which show all these variations in flavour. It’s exciting the first time you see it and taste it for yourself. There’s no better place than Bright Chocolate to have this experience. Here, the chocolate is made in front of you – from the cacao beans through to the packaged product. One of the few makers in Australia to commit to the whole process from bean to bar, Bright Chocolate gives you an experience every chocolate lover needs.
Something that our research for One Hour Out has taught us is that it’s wrong to stereotype passion for quality food (coffee, in particular) as a ‘city thing’. Mansfield Coffee Merchant, 180kms from Melbourne, does great coffee. You get that impression from the moment you walk in and see the Roastmax roaster right up the front of the store. While it’s still operational, we are told this one is now mostly decorative. Indeed, off the strength of wholesale orders all over the northeast of Victoria (and some into Melbourne), they have largely moved the roasting operation to another facility.
Another of our benchmarks is chai. We are as fussy about it as we are about coffee. No powders, no syrups. And that’s what made us fall for the Mansfield Chai (we had almond milk). It was a wet spice mix, made properly. The chai tea was pretty mean too – just one of a good range of teas on offer.
Though we were somewhat preoccupied with the coffee and tea, the food here is good too. Simple menu, well executed.
Clyde Park is one of those jaw-dropping moments in wine touring. You step out of the car behind the winery, walk around to the restaurant and cellar door, and find yourself looking over a balcony across the valley. It’s a stunning view across the vines. Pinot lovers will have a field day here. It’s a study in terroir – the impact of local conditions, soils, etc on specific sites. Here they craft single-block wines of such different refined character that it’s hard to believe they come from the same property.
The real bonus here is that the food is amazing. Great wood-fired pizzas cooked in front of you (weekends), and a seasonal al la carté menu with what owner Sue humbly calls “home-style” food. It’s the kind of home I’d like to live in, if this is what’s cooked there. It’s so easy to spend half a day here, tasting extraordinary wine, eating Sue’s food and staring out at that view. Wow, that view.
Oh, if you’re planning a special event, while you’re standing at the tasting bar, turn 180 degrees and stare at the awesomeness that is the barrel-hall event space. Long table dinner or lunch in a working winery. Perfect.
This is one of those ‘you’d better sign up to the mailing list’ moments, because you’ll want to book early. The monthly lunches are a long-table affair, showcasing the local produce and, of course, Scott’s wine. We had the mainstay Chardonnay and Pinot. It’s an education in the influence of maritime conditions on the growing of grapes. These wines have a delicious complexity afforded them by the climate.
Andrew and Jenny are the kind of family hosts you expect from a little cellar door on a private property. They love what they do, though like most growers and makers, they question their own sanity. We didn’t have any further questions after sampling the wines, though. They’re all a perfect education in terroir – that fancy French word for the intangible combination of place, climate, season, and ‘vibe’ that makes wines taste the way they do. Regular music gigs held at the venue make it worth signing up to the newsletter.
These little places are why we leave the city for a long weekend.
If you love your food and you eat meat, you should know where it comes from. It’s a tenet preached by celebrity chefs and foodies alike. We wish all our beef and lamb came from Sage Farm. The animals live such a charmed life, and the quality of the product shows it. We started a day in the Moorabool Valley with a visit to Sage Farm, and spent some time with Chris and his family taking a tour of the property and meeting his happy livestock. It’s something you can do on a Saturday tour, too. The on-farm store stocks meat products from the farm as well as other local produce. The farm has a butchery on site, and has regular workshops. It also has accommodation in the house on site, with a view of the Moorabool Valley that has to be seen to be believed.
Having started our day at Sage, we finished at Gladioli, where Chris’s beef had come full circle and ended up on our plate in a spectacular dish. It’s the perfect way to understand the provenance of our food.
Holy mother of baby Jesus, I think I found the Holy Grail. High-end food that’s accessible and casual enough to be a daily, local proposition.
Laura Webb-James’s approach to food at Round Bird Can’t Fly is as uncompromising as ever since leaving Yering Station. She and her partner Evan James have literally hand-crafted a comfortable, casual every-day diner with dishes that would look (and taste) at home in any of the high-end places the pair have worked in previously.
Sourcing ingredients, meeting producers and stepping on to farms is all just the start for Laura. Her recipes are developed and honed, sometimes for months, before they make it to the menu. Don’t be shy about your veganism either – Laura has a menu for you too. Keep an eye on their social media pages; the menu changes regularly with seasonal produce.
It’s this commitment and attention to detail that sets Round Bird Can’t Fly apart, and delivers the Holy Grail to diners. High-end food within your reach, in a comfortable local venue. As a bonus, a take-home deli for all your faves occupies a good portion of the shop front.
You know on a road-trip, you see all these other sub-50’s non-grey road-trippers and you think “Where the hell are all these other people like me getting their coffee and decent food??”
In Halls Gap it’s at Harvest. Simple delicious food from locally sourced produce. Their little providore section is filled with local stuff too.
We had breakfast here, having stayed the night in the accommodation attached to the restaurant. Friday nights go off (best to book!), and the vibe during the annual music festival (also run by the owners) is epic.
When a chef and two winemakers conspire, it’s usually a good thing. It usually means food+wine=good. Hogget Kitchen is no different. In the winery, Bill Downie and Patrick O’Sullivan. You might recognise those Reg Mombassa labels Bill is famous for. In the kitchen, Trevor Perkins with brother Steve.
Trev is quietly spoken, passionate about food and provenance, but in a way that just gets the job done. No fanfare. Just, “Oh, I picked the tomatoes from Mum’s garden”, and “Yeah, we grew up cooking, hunting for meat, that sort of thing”, and “Yeah, I built the hot smoker from scratch, to get one I liked.”
The food is a simple, beautiful, produce-driven style, not overly presented, and it’s all from around here. We had Trev’s mum’s heirloom tomato salad, (best tomatoes ever), flathead and Dobsons potatoes (perfect), Bresaola and radishes (sublime, cured in-house), and a simple little dish Trev called “Steak and chips.” OK, it was a steak and potato chips, but what you need to know is that the beef is dry-aged in the cabinet at the front of the open kitchen. It’s cooked carefully in the pan to get that golden crust on the outside and be gloriously soft and pink on the inside. It’s finished with Trev’s mum’s own Worcestershire sauce, and served with the crispiest golden potato chips ever. O. M. G.
Innocent Bystander is back, right across the car park from Giant Steps (where they were once housed under the same roof). It’s a familiar vibe, but like a great second marriage, it’s a bit more sophisticated. The wood-fired pizzas are there, the tapas are there, and the great wines are there. Only now the wines are on tap. Yes. Tap. It’s a revolutionary system developed to pour everything from chilled Prosecco or everyone’s favourite Moscato through to the Shiraz, which by the glass is a perfect foil for those wood-fired pizzas. By the flask, it’s fun to share.
There are loads of details to take in here while you’re spending a long lazy lunch with friends or a cheeky midweek dinner excursion. Take home your bread or pick up your coffee early.