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.

James and Co. Wines

Town-based cellar doors are becoming a thing. In the Yarra Valley there’s Mac Forbes’ little Graceburn Wine Room; Payten and Jones have opened across from Four Pillars. In Rutherlen James and Co. are making Beechworth wines and selling them out of their brand-new and rather stylish shop.

People who love recycled timber made into gorgeous things will love the fit-out. But really, you’re coming here for the wines, so let’s talk sangiovese. Ricky loves sangi. Around Beechworth, people are growing some stunning examples of it. Ricky combines his love of sangiovese with the stunning examples grown around Beechworth to make some excellent wines. His sparkling rosé is dry (minimal residual sugar) and beautiful. I’m sure more-established wineries looked upon a sparkling sangiovese rosé with more than a little curiosity, but far out it’s good. In fact, all the wines are flavour focused, elegant, and finely detailed. You’ll walk away with a collection of beautiful wines that really demonstrates Ricky and Georgie’s passion for what they are doing.

You’ll love the Cheese Your Own Adventure fridge, too. Build your own platter of produce from the fridge at the back of the room, take a board, and make a beeline for one of those beautiful recycled wooden tables.

It would be remiss of us to fail to mention Georgie’s photography, which adorns one side of the space. She’s got talent, and it’s on display as you sit and take in both wines and imagery.

Yea Emporium and MannaFest Cafe

Yea has had a few good little providores and cafes over the years, and the Emporium is a delightful continuation of the trend. True to the name, there are all manner of goods stocking the shelves – local produce, organic foods and cosmetics, bric-a-brac, and of course, food from the MannaFest Cafe.

The menu is homely and dishes like vegetable curries and soups are welcomed on cold days. Most of the produce is grown in the substantial garden on the property. There are local wines from the likes of Philip Lobley and Sedona Estate, as well as beers from Napoleone and Hargreaves Hill.

Of course, by committing to growing most of their food, they are also committing to changing menus regularly. There’s loads of preserves, pickles, and ferments too, ensuring there’s always something delicious from the garden.

Coffee is from the always excellent roastery of Mansfield Coffee Merchant, an OHO fave from the region.

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.

The Little Mussel Cafe

What’s the next best thing to fresh mussels taken from the boat and served hot with just the right amount of your favourite flavours, and maybe a lager or two? How about sitting in a sweet little garden next to the shed where those mussels arrive just minutes after they come off the boat, doing exactly the same? Sounds just about perfect, doesn’t it.

The Little Mussel Cafe is a cute little shed and garden right next to the processing shed of Advance Mussel Supply in Portarlington. They cook mussels just right – so they are the soft little balls of perfection that they should be. Advance Mussel Supply are mussel and oyster farmers. You can get the latter from them too, when the timing is right; they’re also as they should be.

If you have in your group someone who struggles with shellfish, the menu has them covered. There are also ways for you to bring them around to the goodness of these ocean-found molluscs of joy. Purists always wince at the thought of any kind of cooking or overpowering flavours, but beginners will love the introduction. It’s only one or two steps away from getting into the heaven that is au naturel.

Mandala Wines

OHO is as much about the little guys as we are about the headline acts. We love to find the not-so-well-known places doing excellent things and share them with you like little secrets. Mandala Wines was one of those finds. Yes, it’s on the Melba Highway outside of Yarra Glen, but you were probably distracted by the bigger vineyards over the road. Yes, it has a stunning corten-steel building, but you were probably looking at the larger constructions and wineries on the other side too. So, Charles Smedley’s Mandala Wines is like this little gift hidden amongst some of the well respected larger players. But, don’t be fooled by the size; the wines punch well above their weight, and the venue will delight and surprise guests who planned on a quick stop but find themselves staying a while.

There’s a substantial restaurant on-site too, and it is well respected in the region for good Italian-style food inside or on the huge lawn overlooking the vines. However, lets stay focussed here and talk wines. They are all made from grapes grown on the estates at Dixons Creek and Yarra Junction. Everything in the vineyards is about maximising the potential for quality wines. The vines are hand-pruned, the grapes are hand-picked. In the winery, batches are small and carefully tended by winemaker Don Pople. The Yarra is known for Pinot and Chardonnay, and Mandala does not disappoint. Perhaps the aromatic and elegant Cabernet Sauvignon in all it’s inky gloriousness is the surprise, but serves as a wonderful reminder that Cabernet was here before Pinot or Chardonnay. The clever Coravin system of preserving open bottles of wine means that the reserve wines are available for tasting too.

Medhurst Wines

Just off the Maroondah Highway, tucked up against the Warramate Hills, sits the winery, restaurant and cellar door of Medhurst Wines. The long driveway winds up the hill, past the red shed on the dam, past significant sculptures perched elegantly on the lawn, to the architecturally designed building which overlooks the picturesque close view. This part of the experience alone is worth the trip.

Medurst is the ‘retirement project’ (if you could call such hard work retirement) of ex Southcorp CEO Ross Wilson and his wife Robyn. It’s a family business, executed in a thoroughly professional manner. Every detail on the property is carefully considered: from the wave of the vast front glass on the cellar door, to the way a winery of considerable size is perfectly nestled into the hillside.

Speaking of detail, winemaker Simon Steele is all about the details. The Yarra Valley Pinot Noir is a fine expression of the fruit; bright cherry balanced with weight and complex spice notes.  The Rosé, a perennial fave and often on the ‘Pink List’ at the Healesville Hotel, is dry, savoury and so so drinkable.

With the newly renovated kitchen and dining area comes a new chef. Robin Sutcliffe brings his quiet, uncompromising passion for doing simple things right to Medhurst. The pickles, which provide a delicate acidic balance on platters and other dishes, are all made by him in-house. Simple dishes like arancini are elevated with his deft touch. Grazing food, dishes of deliciousness, and damn fine wines mean that a long slow lunch under the shade, overlooking the vines, makes so much sense.

Healesville Hotel Cellars and Harvest Coffee

Michael Kennedy and Kylie Balharrie have made something of a foodie haven precinct in Healesville. It’s anchored by the lasting favourite, Healesville Hotel, with food by Chris Twogood still kicking goals as he continues experiments with local produce and cooking with fire. (Hint: weekend BBQ – get on it!)

The headline here, though, is the recently renovated alleyway and new wine bar. Harvest Coffee serves Genovese coffee at the hole-in-the-wall counter from 8am every day. The selection of house-made pastries, toasties, cakes and slices is simple, and everything is made to be delicious, first and foremost. If you want lunch, don’t fret: the entire Healesville Hotel lunch menu is available to order from the hole in the wall, too. The poached chicken Asian salad is a standout for the health-conscious, and the seasonal beetroot and lentil dish is an earthy bomb of beautiful flavours.

The Cellars are a new venture. Michael says it’s a mix of local and imported wine, and even some of his own cellar stocks. We spotted some rare gems like a vintage bottle of Wantirna Estate chardonnay on the shelf. You can order by the glass; or, for a corkage fee, take a retail-priced bottle and a couple of glasses into the garden for a lazy afternoon in the shade.  There are some true undiscovered winners in the extensive wine selection. Three standouts would have to be the Scope Fiano (light, bright, zingy: summer in a glass),  Aller Trop skin-contact pinot gris (the ideal rosé that isn’t rosé), and One Block chardonnay (funky and interesting, by Jayden Ong). Of course, by the time you read this, these wines might not be on the list anymore. That’s the joy of a boutique cellar like this one – wines come and go, and there’s always something new.

There’s plenty of room for you and your friends, and dogs are welcomed on-lead in the garden. There are choices for non-meat-eaters, as well as the food that comes off that stunning wood-fired BBQ. On weekends the garden caravan bar opens up too, and with three places to place your order, it’s never a long queue at the bar for a beverage.

Foxey’s Hangout

Here at OHO, we don’t like to play favourites or single out any particular experience. Foxey’s Hangout at Red Hill is our favourite, and a singularly fabulous experience. Hey – rules are made to be broken, right?

Owner Tony says that he ‘didn’t come here to run a restaurant’, and it follows that the combination of cellar door and food service is fun and unique. It’s compact and casual, and the menu is an exercise in minimalist attention to detail. It’s a bit like great minimalist architecture: if you’re going to put up super-simple dishes, they have to be precise and perfect. Tick. The quail, for instance, is simple pan-fried legs, made for picking up and sucking the meat off the bones. They are cooked to perfection, unsullied by technique, and addictively delicious.

Tony is rigid and focussed in his approach to Foxey’s Hangout. You can’t book a group, he doesn’t do events. It’s for casual dropping in and hanging out, and it’s all the better for this simplicity.

Foxey’s Hangout wines continue this focussed approach. Nothing is rushed. You can learn this at one of their sparkling wine–making workshops. The DIY approach to things like bottling means that it can take time to get the job done, but Tony’s not worried. It’s a ‘nicer time’ than running about madly for a day with an industrial portable bottling line contractor. But let’s face it, we don’t really care about the bottling. We care about what’s in the bottle. Sauvignon blanc drinkers will love the pinot gris. Anyone will love the Kentucky pinot noir.