Geelong’s Hot Chicken Project takes eggs out of one basket with Ballarat expansion

Words by Della Vreeland
Images Supplied

Ballarat’s foodie precinct is expanding its repertoire with yet another scrumptious haunt – and this one is set to rule the roost.

After the city’s beloved fried chicken restaurant Winner Winner (which was owned by the team behind Ballarat’s Moon + Mountain, Ragazzone and Renard Cocktail Bar) flew the coop, the street was left with a major problem to brood over.

Luckily for residents and visitors alike, a new offering is now ready to strut its stuff.

Okay, enough of the puns.* For now.

Currently located in both Geelong and Anglesea, The Hot Chicken Project is one of the most popular fried chicken diners in regional Victoria.

Renowned for its spicy fried chicken, as well as all the oil-doused goodness we have come to expect from American-inspired diners, the restaurant is sure to appease fried chicken lovers everywhere (as well as the gluten-free).

Buckets of chicken, slaw, pickles, waffles, juicy wings and your choice of heat – the menu cannot be rivalled.

Hatching in the next couple of months, the Hot Chicken Project is almost ready to play chicken.  So get your taste buds prepped.

*The writer of this article had a lot of fun Googling chicken puns for the sake of annoyance.


WHAT: The Hot Chicken Project
FIND OUT MORE: or on Instagram here.

We wish to acknowledge the Wadawurrung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Thyme is on your side at Alba Thermal Springs

Words by Amanda Kennedy

Melburnians have become quite used to a cheeky getaway to hot springs on the Mornington Peninsula. And when floating in tranquil luxury is just a one-hour drive away, it’s easy to see why.

The soon-to-open Alba Thermal Springs and Spa will no doubt become a sought-after destination for all things relaxing when it finally opens its doors in winter 2022. Located at Fingal, near Cape Schanck, the 15-acre water wonderland will boast more than 30 bathing options from geothermal, cold plunge through to herbal-infused botanical pools, as well as a plethora of spa services to revitalise both the body and the soul.

Now, if only there was somewhere to eat after all this bliss? Enter Thyme – a 120-seat restaurant with an all-day menu (remember those) serving up fresh, wholesome dishes with a signature Mediterranean twist, thanks to Melbourne legend Karen Martini. A staple of the restaurant scene (and television screens) for more than 25 years, the chef, writer, and restaurateur was officially appointed a Melbourne Food & Wine Festival Legend in November 2021.

As director of the culinary program, Martini has created a menu rich in plant-based dishes, making the most of the kitchen garden’s herbs and vegetables.

We will also be supporting local growers and suppliers, seeking out seasonal produce from sustainable farming practices, and choosing organically-grown wherever possible.

A well-curated beverage list will draw upon the region’s prolific wineries as well as local tea blends, excellent coffee and fermented drinks. In line with the project’s healthful ethos, those with special dietary requirements will also be well catered for.

The venue itself has been designed to capture the stunning vistas the unique coastal location provides, complete with an outdoor terrace to take in spectacular sunsets, no matter the time of year.

We know you don’t need any more convincing to visit the Peninsula with its wealth of wineries, luxury accommodation, outdoor activities and spectacular coastal walks but it looks like you’ve just added one more to your must-do list.


WHAT: Thyme at Alba Thermal Springs
WHERE: Fingal, Mornington Peninsula
WHEN: 7.30am to 9.00pm daily, opening winter 2022
MORE INFO:  Alba Thermal Springs

We wish to acknowledge the Bunurong people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Pearl – Inverloch’s newest gem

Words by Amanda Kennedy
Images Supplied

Pearls are produced by molluscs turning something irritating – and potentially dangerous – into something exquisite. Perhaps Inverloch’s newest restaurant, Pearl, is partly named for the same beautiful outcome.

Covid lockdowns had owner Tracy Kinnaird stuck on the cancelling/re-scheduling merry-go-round with their other venue, The Grove Gippsland. The Grove is a 60-acre property in the rolling Krowera hills of South Gippsland, an hour and a half drive from Melbourne. Normally the property is bustling with functions and weddings amongst the olive grove, truffle orchard and sculpture garden.

The enforced downtime provided just the opportunity they needed to complete their new restaurant on the eastern edge of Inverloch, Pearl. The restaurant’s interior embraces a simple, pared-back aesthetic with accents providing a nod to the casual modern Malaysian menu created by chef Ken Lim.

‘There’s really nothing like it in the area. It’s a blend of home-style Malaysian food but with restaurant quality. It’s going gangbusters,’ says Tracey. One of the most popular items is a curry puff, but it ain’t no regular curry puff.

The chefs make their own puff pastry. They include some of the rendered fat from the beef rendang into the puff pastry. It doesn’t sound like much but it’s amazing and it’s gone in two bites.

With a capacity of 70 seats, one of the most sought-after spots is bound to be the outdoor deck for a cooling cocktail overlooking the pool at the Broadbeach Health Club (located in the same building). How about a swim first then followed by a delicious meal paired with local wines? Don’t mind if we do!


WHAT: Pearl restaurant
WHERE: 5 Lindsey Close, Inverloch
WHEN: Wed – Sat from 5:30pm, Lunch Sat- Sun11:30am – 3:00pm
MORE INFO: Pearl Inverloch

We wish to acknowledge the Bunurong people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Balgownie Estate in Yarra Valley opens restaurant 1309

Words by Tehya Nicholas
Images Supplied

Balgownie Estate has quite literally risen from the ashes with their new fine dining restaurant, 1309.

If you’re looking for a place to absorb rolling vineyards, sip on some world-class wine and experience fine dining at its best, Balgownie Estate in the Yarra Valley has just opened a crowning jewel in winery venues sure to fit the bill. Meet Restaurant 1309, named charmingly after its address on the Melba Highway.

While the entire hospitality industry suffered through the pandemic last year, Balgownie Estate had another issue on their hands: a fire whipped through their restaurant between lockdowns, burning it to the ground. Fast forward 18 months and the restaurant is back with a fresh name and fresh face. 1309 is the multi-million dollar phoenix, designed by ZWEI Interiors & Architecture with capacity to seat 100 patrons in its bright, modern interior.

Inside the impressive building is an even more impressive team of chefs and executives. Head chef Beth Candy (Finalist Best Chef 2021 – TAA Awards) and executive chef Grant Flack (Winner Best Chef 2019 – TAA Awards) have teamed up once again to create a Modern-Australian menu that pays tribute to the Valley’s abundance of fresh produce and of course, pairs beautifully with Balgownie’s wines. Highlights include the Smoked paprika and herb rolled spatchcock and Crispy Berkshire-Duroc Pork belly.

“Grant and Beth are two very passionate, dedicated chefs. They’ve got a passion for local produce and work very closely with our suppliers in the Valley to deliver that experience on the plate. The flavours talk for themselves,” explains General Manager Melanie Watson.

Through December the restaurant, Cellar Door and bar is open only to in-house guests at their accommodation and long-booked weddings and functions, but come January 2022, the doors will swing open to the general public. There will be food, drink and good old fashioned service aplenty, and according to Watson, you may never want to leave.

“We call this building our new home, our Balgownie family home. Everyone who comes in is welcome straight away.”

WHAT: Restaurant 1309, Balgownie Estate
WHERE: 1309 Melba Highway, Yarra Glen
WHEN: Opens to the public January 2022
MORE INFO: Balgownie Estate

We wish to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

A Bonnie new addition to All Saints Estate

Words by Amanda Kennedy
Images Supplied

As if the Rutherglen region wasn’t already a pin on your map, All Saints Estate has just made it that bit more enticing with the newly opened casual eatery, Bonnie. The name is a nod to the original owners’ Scottish heritage when the estate was first established way back in 1864 – yep, 1864.

Some people may have taken these last couple of Covid years lightly. Not current owners and siblings Angela, Eliza & Nick Brown. If that surname looks familiar when talking wine, you’re not wrong. Their father, Peter, was one of Brown Brothers of Milawa, another renowned winery south of Rutherglen.

‘Our goal was to come out of this challenging time with a positive outlook. Our aim with these renovations is to introduce international-worthy facilities for our loyal customers and new customers from around Australia and beyond,’ explains Eliza Brown.

We never thought we would be breaking ground on two new restaurants and a stunning new cellar door while still in a pandemic.

Casual eatery Bonnie is serving up woodfired, artisanal pizzas and salads, as well as platters bursting with charcuterie, cheese and other locally-sourced delights. Naturally, the food is complemented by the highly drinkable beverage menu curated by winemaker Nick Brown, which includes local beers and alcohol-free options, as well as wines from All Saints and St Leonards Vineyard.

Whether you choose to eat in the architecturally designed dining room or take advantage of the attractive outdoor terrace, you’ll be rewarded with views across the lake, charming landscaped gardens and ultimately into the vineyards beyond where all the magic happens.

If you’re lucky enough to be visiting on a weekend, we suggest you avail yourself of the winery tours which explore the estate’s historical buildings every Saturday and Sunday at 11am. Ach, bonnie indeed – Scottish accent optional.


WHAT: Bonnie
WHERE: 205 All Saints Road Wahgunyah
WHEN: Tuesday – Sunday 11am-3pm, Thursday – Sunday 5pm-9pm

We wish to acknowledge the Yorta Yorta people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Kelp Dining opens up on San Remo coast

Words by Tehya Nicholas
Images Supplied

Kelp Dining, the brand new restaurant and cocktail bar serving delicious tapas, tacos and salt-crusted margaritas, has landed in San Remo.

On those warm summer nights ahead, there’s nothing like a drink and a bite by the coast. A couple of hospitality legends in San Remo, the small seaside town just outside of Phillip Island, have opened up one very cool, very laid back spot to get your fill.

Owners Shiree and Travis, partners in both business and life, opened Kelp’s doors in October this year and have been serving their signature dishes and fun cocktails to locals and travellers alike. They say although you may not expect tacos and cauliflower steaks in San Remo, that’s part of their success.

“There’s only really pubs around, so we wanted to make [Kelp] the complete opposite,” Shiree explains. “Although we thought we’d chuck VB on tap for a bit of a laugh and it’s gone really well.”

Alongside the VB, punters can expect to find a selection of local, independent beer on offer, as well as cocktails with a distinctly coastal twist (like the Shaka Forever with elderflower, chambord, lemon juice and sparkling grapefruit.) Travis, who cut his teeth as a head chef in local restaurants like Bang Bang as well as in Japan, is at the helm in the kitchen, bringing his passion for fresh, local produce to the island he calls home.

Now operating at full capacity thanks to restrictions easing, the restaurant fits a comfortable 60 patrons, with space outside to enjoy the sun. Whether you’re looking for a casual night out with a mate or want to don your summer best, the vibe, the food and the drinks at Kelp are sure to satisfy.

WHAT: Kelp Dining
WHERE: 141 Marine Parade, San Remo
WHEN: Monday, Tuesday, Friday: 5:00pm – late | Saturday: 12:00pm – late | Sunday: 12:00pm – 5ish | Wednesday and Thursday: Closed
MORE INFO: Kelp Dining

We wish to acknowledge the Bunurong people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

A French bistro opens in the heart of Heathcote

Words by Amanda Kennedy
Images Supplied

Central Victoria’s most compelling new restaurant, Chauncy, has a lot going for it. Husband and wife team, Louis and Tess bring a measured approach to regional dining that champions local, seasonal produce in more than just marketing spiel alone.

Louis will run the kitchen thanks to years of expertise grounded in French technique while Tess takes care of the wine and front of house. The pair first met at Melbourne institution Grossi Florentino where Louis was head chef and Tess was a sommelier.

From there, they’ve worked in some of the best restaurants in Australia and France. And for a time, they ran a little bistro in the Basque country which made a big impact on them personally.

‘That’s probably where our philosophy with how we run Chauncy evolved,’ Tess says.

We went into a place that already had the philosophy set, which was, they worked directly with all the producers, small artisans, cheesemakers and farmers. So, you ended up having this like very close link that just made everything we did so much more rewarding. When we came back to Australia, we said that we’ll never not work this way again.

One day each week is spent getting out to suppliers such as Somerset Heritage Produce, Remi’s Patch and Mushrooms Anonymous to collect produce. Working hand in hand with local farmers, dishes are then planned around what is being picked from the field each week. This results in a tight, focussed menu that means the pair are also able to minimise kitchen waste and therefore keep a lid on costs.

Their four-course Menu du Jour ($85 a head) begins with a few favourite snacks followed by two entrees and a main course. Cheese or a dessert can always be added on if you’re not ready to leave the dining table just yet.

Currently, the restaurant is limited to 16 -18 patrons per seating but plans for a private dining room and terrace seating are already underway. Thus as things stand, reservations are highly recommended.

And while Covid has negatively impacted much of hospitality, occasionally there has been a bright side. ’We had an opportunity to work on it over lockdown. So, sometimes it felt like too much time for details, but now that it’s all come together, I actually feel pretty grateful that we had extra time.’


WHAT: Chauncy Restaurant
WHERE: 178 High Street Heathcote
WHEN: Fridays – Mondays Lunches from 12:30pm
MORE INFO: Chauncy

We wish to acknowledge the Taungurung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Bright glows with the reopening of Elm Dining and The Yard

Words by Tehya Nicholas
Images Supplied

What do you get when you combine a Japanese trained chef, a world-class sommelier and a seasoned High-Country proprietor working across two venues… one sleek, sophisticated restaurant and the other a cosy, fun-loving diner? Delicious, never-want-to-leave brilliance, that’s what.

We’re talking, of course, about the freshly minted Elm Dining restaurant and adjacent kick-back hangout spot The Yard, which after lengthy refurbishments and extensions, both swung open their doors on October 29th. And it’s safe to say that Bright is truly glowing with the new additions.

Under the guidance of Rosy Seaton (who is behind the award-winning Astra in Falls Creek, and the revitalised Boat Shed at Lake Hume), Elm Dining + The Yard are focused on delivering world-class sophistication and delicious local fare with a healthy dose of good old-fashioned hospitality.

Elm Dining is pitched to attract locals and travellers looking to indulge in some of the regions finest produce, served with international flair. Getting them there is Head Chef Kaurie Watkin, who cut his teeth at one of Japan’s finest restaurants and has been making mouths water at Astra in Falls Creek over the last year. His passion for local produce and seasonally inspired cooking means the menu features some familiar favourites but always with an exciting twist.

To complement the meals, sommelier Matt Cridge has scoured the world and his backyard for some of the best wines you can drink. His recent years spent in the Yarra Valley working alongside the highly regarded winemaker Mac Forbes, has made him one of Victoria’s most up-and-coming sommeliers – so be prepared to go on a journey of some of the region’s finest wines, beers and spirits.

For a more low-key dining experience, right outside of Elm is the humble, delightful The Yard. Ready for cocktails, finger-licking food and fun by the fire, it’s the perfect spot for an after-work yarn with a friend or weekend hangout. Between the two venues, Bright will never be short of an awesome spot to share a meal and enjoy some of the best produce the region has to offer.

WHAT: Elm Dining and The Yard
WHERE: 98 Gavan Street, Bright
WHEN: Open Tuesday – Saturday
MORE INFO: Elm Dining

We wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

A Grand Plan to Revitalise a Grand Hotel

Words by Amanda Kennedy
Images Supplied

A large crowd of locals gathered for last drinks in March this year as testament to a much-loved landmark. Portarlington Grand Hotel has retained an imposing presence on the town’s main street since 1888, overlooking the foreshore and Port Phillip Bay. Nine months and many millions of dollars later, it will reopen this summer to much excitement from those same locals as well as visitors alike.

It takes a considered approach with plenty of skill and experience to marry the old and the new in a project of this scale. It turns out Melbourne-based architects, Technē Architecture + Interior Design, were just the people for the job. And if you’re getting a similar vibe to that of The Espy in St Kilda, you’re not wrong – they’ve had a hand in many a hospitality makeover.

What’s on offer at the Portarlington Grand Hotel 2.0?

Probably most importantly, dining options abound in this new incarnation. Choose from the airy Atrium beer garden for seaside vistas with your wood-fired pizza. The Lawn will be on your hit list if bringing the family (Rover included) with picnic tables, yellow and white striped umbrellas and seafood platters. Perhaps it’s a casual meet-up with colleagues in the front bar for a light snack you’re after or maybe plans include a leisurely meal with family and friends in the bistro.

Food will be that clever balance between pub classics we all look for, as well as an emphasis on local seafood, naturally. Portarlington, after all, has been the home to a mussel festival since 2007.

Beverages will draw from the region’s award-winning local wineries, as well as craft beers and signature cocktails. So, even if you’ve taken advantage of Port Phillip Ferries’ 70-minute ferry journey from Melbourne’s docklands, you can get a taste for the region’s extensive brewed, distilled and fermented options. We know you’ll be back…

Accommodation can sometimes be an afterthought at regional hotels. Not here. With 18 boutique rooms blending original design details like ornamental fireplaces and archways with luxury finishes, when bookings open for stays beginning January, they’ll be hot property.

Portarlington is the perfect spot from which to explore the Bellarine Peninsula with all it has to offer, whether you’re after a pristine beach to stroll along, adventure activities in the great outdoors or a scenic drive exploring local producers. What are you waiting for?


WHAT: Portarlington Grand Hotel
WHERE: 76 Newcombe St, Portarlington
WHEN: Opening summer 2021

We wish to acknowledge the Wadawurrung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Bird is the word. Yardbird Restaurant & Bar to be exact

Words by Amanda Kennedy
Images Supplied

It takes confidence to create a perfectly casual yet high calibre dining establishment. For Albury’s newest addition, Yardbird Restaurant and Bar, this confidence is the result of many, many years of hospitality experience in Australia and abroad.

Partners in life as well as work, chef Simon Arkless and Cait Mitchelhill (front of house) have teamed up with restaurateur Denis Lucey for this, their latest project. Though technically in NSW, Albury is closer to Melbourne than it is to Sydney which is probably why we tend to think of it so proprietarily. Any Covid border restrictions aside, it’s a decent three and a half hours drive north-east of the city, so making the trek needs a decent reward. Thankfully, Yardbird fulfils that brief.

Linger in the front courtyard for a spot of people watching while sipping on a glass of something special from the 200-plus wine list. Sommelier Ben Knight crafted the list ‘to intrigue and entice’ with a selection of Australian wines, craft beers and cocktails drawing from local distilleries.

The bar snack menu will feature ingredient-driven classics such as croquettas, char-grilled Padrón peppers, and tortilla, as well as a range of charcuterie to round out the serious European vibe. Restaurant mains will make good use of the newly imported Spanish Mibrasa oven, allowing chefs to charcoal grill with abandon. You may have noticed the recent trend of cooking over fire and coals and it’s easy to see the appeal. With such intense heat at your disposal, cooking becomes a visceral, almost primal, affair.

The large industrial space was reinvigorated thanks to award-winning interior designer, Dana Hutchins, who along with local artisans were able to breathe fresh life into the former mechanic’s workshop. A mix of seating, layered textures and rich colour choices all adds up to a warm and inviting environment.

With the tagline ‘good food, fine wine and friends’ the only question left is when are you going?


WHAT: Yardbird Restaurant & Bar
WHERE: 493 Townsend St, Albury
WHEN: Tuesday -Saturday 5pm-9pm – OPENING SOON

We wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.