Rusty Water Brewery Restaurant & Bar

Road trips are all about the journey, not just the destination. If your destination is Phillip Island on a Friday night for a weekend getaway, we have an idea for you to make your mini-break kick off just that bit better. Rusty Water Brewery Restaurant & Bar is on the road to Cowes, Phillip Island. We suggest knocking off work a little earlier and heading for this road-side gem. It’s a casual tavern-style experience with great pub food, paddles of beers for tastings, and their own brews on tap. It’s definitely a place for meeting up with mates to get things started right. There’s usually live music on Friday, and the atmosphere is lively and fun. Things can get pretty hectic during the Grand Prix or V8Supercars rounds, but it’s still a great destination and loads of fun even when it’s bursting at the seams.

As for the beers, they are brewed with food and fun in mind. There’s a wide range of styles, with something for everyone. If you can’t make up your mind, just get a tasting paddle. Pick your favourite from there, and bingo! Your session beer.

The beer sourdough is a highlight. Just be sure to leave room for that steak.

Saltwater Phillip Island

Saltwater Phillip Island opened a while back in an incredible waterside position at San Remo on the Phillip Island side. The water dominates 270 degrees of the view, from the bridge to the mainland around to the waters of Westernport. It boasts a wood-fired pizza oven, inside or outside dining, and an impressive bar.

Of course, sitting in a place like this, looking across the water to the fishing boats moored under the lee of the bridge, you’d expect seafood to be local. It’s exciting when the chef points to the boats and says, ‘That’s where the calamari came from today.’

The beers are a good mix of local and from further afield, as are the wines. A seasonal menu makes use of local produce, like Archie’s Creek rib-eye, and Koo Wee Rup asparagus.

If you’re a fan of Innocent Bystander in the Yarra Valley, then this is a no-brainer for you. The warehouse vibe, the casual fun food turned out to very high standard, combined with that view, make Saltwater an easy sell.

Phillip Island Winery

Here’s a reminder to people who might wonder what on earth a tiny coastal hamlet has to offer the wine lover. Phillip Island is nestled just next to the Gippsland coast. So, all those things you love about the flavour of Gippsland wines apply here. The wines are complex and full of character. But that’s not the whole story.

The owners of this place have form putting together the kind of venue where you want to spend a lazy afternoon with friends, having made a success out of the Westernport Hotel. The experience shows. Decor is considered and comfortable, dining choices from inside, to the outside open fire, to the expansive lawns are all beautifully put together without being fussy. Food is casual, from local produce. It’s for sharing, or for keeping to yourself, depending on how much you love your friends. The wines are on taste in the cellar door, so have a look before you order with lunch.

The venue is perfect for larger events, with a couple of spaces designed for the purpose. But don’t let that thought put you off an intimate lunch here, because that stunning view across the paddocks to Westernport is the prettiest way to spend a quiet foodie afternoon with wine and the person you love.

There’s a quirky bonus in visiting the winery, in the form of a little farm-gate style shop/studio for floral designer and stylist Bec Newman.

Warmer months here are ideal for a venue that boasts so many outdoor options, including the atrium, bean bags, live music, and a menu for your dog.

The Waterboy Cafe

Heading to Phillip Island is a nostalgic experience for most Melbournians. The trip down the South Gippy Highway brings back memories of being piled into the car late on Friday and staying in a friend of a friend’s family holiday shack, on dreadful vinyl bunks. There was one option for food, and it was a good one, but there were only so many hot donuts you could eat from that little foreshore caravan.

Well, things have moved  on down on the Island. You need to go back on a nostalgia trip of your own, spend a couple of days there, and remember the relaxed pace that your parents used to talk about. ‘We should get a place here, it’s so relaxed,’ they’d say.

We do understand your anxiety about venturing over the San Remo Bridge to the sleepy seaside hollow though, so here are your top three questions answered.

  1. Will there be good coffee?
    Answer: Yes. The food scene has matured significantly in the last couple of years. The Waterboy Cafe is part of a growing movement prioritising local produce and simple, high quality dishes. The coffee revolution has not passed The Waterboy by. They’re using Five Senses coffee, which is a reassurance of a good roast, and pulling shots expertly. They’re also pouring Prana chai, which will be the perfect match with your divine organic blueberry pancakes.
  2. Is the accommodation OK?
    Answer: Look, it’ll be fine. Air BNB is pretty good on a little island with such a high density of accommodation offerings. The family holiday home has had a make-over and the beds are good. Or, if you like your luxury, there are expensive new places. Just get out and enjoy that coffee at The Waterboy. Try the pancakes too. They’re to die for.
  3. Will I abandon my diet?
    Answer: It’s completely up to you. The Waterboy is known for its fresh produce and healthy dishes – but let’s not forget those blueberry pancakes. They’re worth abandoning the diet for a couple of days.

Deirdre’s

All good destination food venues have something unique. It could be the view, the remote location, or the proximity to something else amazing. All have one thing in common. Someone had the audacity to stick an unmissable culinary experience in a location that’s off the beaten track.  Deirdre’s is the definition of all of that. Literally in the middle of an olive grove, up a track, somewhere in the wilds outside of Horsham at the base of one of those stunning rock escarpments. It’s also unmissable.

Everywhere we went in Horsham, people asked us if we were going to Deirdre’s, and how much time we’d allowed. Deirdre defines hospitality in the true sense of the word, not as an industry. Food comes when she’s cooked it. She brings it out to you. It’s bloody fantastic. So are the wines, the majority of which are local. You don’t come here for a quick bite to eat – and why would you. The location is enough to slow your world right down. Drink a few vinos, munch on the bread with the property’s own olive oil, and just chill.

Deirdre’s food is simple, full of flavour, and beautifully executed. She uses great produce, and just lets it do the talking. Confit duck and cauliflower puree is just that, and sublime. Vegans are well catered for with a dish of lentils and many garden veg, pickles, and herbs. This accidental chef knows how to turn up the natural flavours. (Deirdre says she kind of fell into it, because she liked to cook a bit.)

Deirdre’s, the quirky shed in the middle of an olive plantation, is well worth the detour. Just book, and allow some time to relax and go with the flow.

Merne at Lighthouse

Just to clear things up from the beginning: for the hard-core foodies who remember Loam and its two hats at this venue, Merne at Lighthouse is totally different. Don’t expect fussy degustations or cerebral menus. Merne is an altogether more casual affair. Chef Josh Smith uses that word, ‘casual’, too – but it’s clear from the food that he didn’t earn his chops at Macca’s. His CV includes The Royal Mail, Gordon Ramsay’s Maze, and Tulip Bar and Restaurant.

Merne at Lighthouse is the kind of project OHO loves. Former chef and owner of Gladioli Matt Dempsey, Graham Smith of Tulip, chef Josh Smith, and manager Caleb Fleet are like some sort of Marvel Comics superhero dream team. That they have decided on a casual approach to bloody amazing food is refreshing. It’s also a smash hit as far as nailing the concept.

The best way to eat at Merne is the chef’s grazing menu. Expect a table full of beautiful food to share. Sure, the experience is casual, but the word belies the care, thought and skill that goes into preparing food this lovely.

Yea Peppercorn Hotel

Something is going on in Yea – something good. In this little ‘on-the-way’ town, we stumbled upon a couple of gems. Among them is the 1860s-built Yea Peppercorn Hotel. It sits a little off the main street, bathed in sun or fog, depending on the season. Both are spectacular, though the former is better for making use of the shade of the spectacular peppercorn tree in the rear garden.

There are a couple of noteworthy things at this pub, apart from the fact that it’s just over an hour from Melbourne, and has a closed-circuit TV that displays your food as it’s prepared. Most notably, the menu is good honest pub food. Good steaks, generous serves and a beverage list featuring local highlights. You’d expect good steaks from a pub in the heart of cattle country, and it doesn’t disappoint. The notable surprise for a place in that country is the seafood platter. These guys have managed to get fresh seafood up the highway, and deliver it cooked and laid out to feed a horde.

Keep in touch with the social media channels of the Peppercorn for info about their regular foodie events and live music.

For those staying around, the accommodation is spacious, comfortable and quiet.

Oh, I nearly forgot another notable. The limo out front is available for tours. It’s a 1987 stretched Jaguar with its own special charm, and you’ll feel like some kind of rock-star as you’re driven about.

The Criterion Hotel

It takes fortitude of a wardrobe-changing kind to take on a crumbling old building destined for demolition, and turn it into a hub for the community. That’s exactly what Ferg and Andrew have given the people of Sale in Central Gippsland – a pub to be proud of. It came as the result of a passion for heritage; ably guided by Heritage Victoria, they have turned a wreck that had barely survived since it was built in 1865 into the kind of local establishment where you’ll want to spend hours with your mates.

The hospitality side of things is looked after by Ferg Horan, a former chef at places like the Tinamba Hotel, amongst others. His team is turning Gippsland produce info the kind of pub food that brings a smile to your face. Nothing too wanky, just beautiful flavourful dishes that actually make you smile when they arrive. Yes, there’s a parma for those who are on that quest for the perfect one, but the steak is amazing too. It should be – Gippsland is beef country.

The hotel has some stunning accommodation as well, for those on the way somewhere.

All pubs should be a collection point, a place for people to meet, unwind, and put aside the cares of the day over a pint of the finest. The fact that the kitchen turns out some damn fine food is the best of bonuses.

Giant Steps

Giant Steps quickly became the stalwart of the Yarra Valley winery and restaurant scene when Phil Sexton first opened it over a decade ago. The structure has become a reassuring symbol of always-available quality wines and food situated in Healesville’s east end.

Winemaker Steve Flamsteed has an unwavering commitment to making quality wines that express the place they’re from, whether it’s one of the single-vineyard series wines or a regional blend. His commitment to excellence is exemplified in his path to winemaking. First he was a chef, then a cheesemaker, but it was wine that caught his attention. While studying oenology, he paid his way as a chef with Maggie Beer. It’s unsurprising that he emerged with a passion for local expressions of produce.

Steve’s uncompromising attention to detail yields results, from the vineyard to the wine glass, and the experience at the Healesville cellar-door restaurant is a reflection of this same approach. Staff are knowledgeable and genuinely love talking about the wines they’re selling. It helps that the tasting room is behind the glass wall, right in the barrel hall where you’re immersed in the workings and glorious smells of a winery.

After a recent refurbishment, the place is looking as fresh and contemporary as ever. It’s a pleasant place to sit and enjoy the food, and definitely to appreciate the good work of Steve and the team in the winery.

Oakridge

You might know Oakridge for its deserved reputation as a producer of some of the best wines in Australia. The best wine writers consistently score Oakridge’s sacred drop over 95 points, and for good reason. The cellar door and restaurant, set in the middle of the vineyards at Coldstream, is a beautiful architectural work of minimalist art, and is the perfect place to try all the latest as well as some selected museum releases. Winemaker David Bicknell is one of the greats, described by James Halliday as ‘an extremely gifted winemaker’, so the opportunity to sample the wines with knowledgeable staff is one you should consider seriously as a life goal.

Another life goal should be to eat the food of Oakridge’s dynamic duo, Matt Stone and Jo Barrett. Both might appear familiar to you from cameo appearances on TV shows, including MasterChef. The ethos of local and seasonal is taken seriously, with an array of just-picked produce coming straight out of the large garden behind the winery. Matt handles the savoury flavours delicately and with such finesse that you’ll be hard-pressed to resist the instagram urge before devouring. Go slowly, because you’ll want to remember every bite. The same is true of Jo’s exquisite desserts.

One of the things we all look for when we go out to dine is flavour that we won’t experience at home. Jo and Matt both pair flavours with such bold confidence, you’re guaranteed a unique taste experience that you won’t get anywhere else, much less at home. Some flavours seem so unusual, ethereal and beautiful that they’re impossible to put a finger on. Who’d have thought that the lime-like acidity in a dish might come from the unexpectedly delicious addition of green ants?