Gladioli

Note: Gladioli is now known as Inverleigh Cellar and Kitchen.

On a road trip, there are places you come across on your way somewhere. Indeed, that’s part of why OHO exists – so you can find good stuff on the way to where you’re going. Then there are places that you take a road trip to get to. They are the destination.

Gladioli in Inverleigh is a destination. It’s food experiences like this, in this sleepy highway town, that make you want to drive around Victoria on a quest. Awarded two Chefs Hats in the 2015/16 Age Good Food Guide, Gladioli is helping turn what was already one of Victoria’s best food-production regions into one of Victoria’s best eating regions. Other passionate people are being inspired to open up nearby, and the little hamlet of Inverleigh is turning into a must-go place for food lovers.

Yering Station

There’s something lovely about plated single dishes from an à la carte menu, and professional, attentive service. In contrast to the ‘all dishes on the table, share the love’ approach, there’s an almost quiet, contemplative joy in studying the menu, ordering for yourself, and then talking with your company about all the elements in your meal as it comes out.

The Rathbone family have been custodians of this vineyard and property since the mid ’90s, though there has been wine made here before then. Very good wine, in fact. The Ryrie brothers, then the De Castella family, made some impressive red wines here. Sadly, with the destruction of the wine industry from a little bug called phylloxera, the property moved to other agricultural practices. The vision of a few pioneers in the 1970s and ’80s saw the first returns to grape growing and winemaking.

Of course, at the cellar door you can sample the excellent wines made on site by chief winemaker Willy Lunn. The cellar door is one of the older buildings on site, formerly the winery from 1859. Now it does triple-duty as cellar door, gallery and produce store. The produce is a representation of the monthly farmers market held in the barn. It’s all local, all lovely.  The gallery showcases artworks from emerging artists and also hosts the annual Yering Sculpture Prize. Money from the gallery’s sale commissions go to the Children’s Leukaemia charity, Larch – a long-standing Rathbone family commitment.

All that makes for interesting conversation over a meal at tables set in a mighty glass, stone and steel structure overlooking the rolling green pastures, vineyards, hills, and skies until tomorrow. When the food arrives at the table, you’ll be tempted to whip out the phone and Instagram it, but resist the urge. Just take in the view, the setting, and the beauty, and re-post someone else’s picture.

 

Chrismont Winery

The King Valley is home to some of Victoria’s oldest vineyards. Settled by Italian migrants, it’s probably fair to call it ‘The Home of Italian Wine Styles’ – if you don’t count Italy. Chrismont wines boasts a stunning new cellar door and restaurant, with a menu designed for sharing. It’s inspired by Italian flavours, and goes well with the classic Italian varietal wines on offer. The Sangiovese is particularly gorgeous. For those who enjoy the stunning views and long lunches more than most, the option to rent the guest house is an attractive one.

Tinamba Hotel

When Damian was a kid, he wanted to buy the lolly shop. So it makes sense that as an adult he bought the pub in his home town of Tinamba. A short detour off the road from Maffra, it’s worth the trip.

A pub has been on this site since 1874. Although various renovations and incarnations over the years have seen some changes, the bones are still visible. It’s everything you want from a country town pub – something you turned off the beaten path for. In fact, the pub has become something of a destination. Counted among regulars are local cattle farmers and folks from leafy suburbs alike. The menu says “simple delicious, local produce”, and the execution says “we love what we do here”. It’s beautiful, and still comfortable. With menus that change with produce availability, expect to have something different every time.

The pub has fast become the hub for all things food and wine in the area. The Tinamba Food and Wine Festival is worth looking out for at the end of April. Speaking of the festival (and indicative of the pub’s commitment to local), as a special, the garden has been producing spectacular cauliflowers that will feature in a dish just for that day. The day we were there the fig tree was laden, so figs were being used throughout the menu. The garden is small, but growing. It has the promise of a delicious kitchen garden to cap off an already great country pub.

Sweet Fern

Here’s something a bit different. Think wine tasting, but you’re not putting it in your mouth. Although, there’s wine. And platters. But you’re not drinking the thing you’re tasting. Follow?

Sweet Fern is a perfumery, and the experience is captivating and unique. Let’s start with the experience of owner Kate Robinson walking you through the ‘Fragrance Wheel’. It’s a mind-blowingingly  simple way to understand the scents we love. It’s deeply personal and loaded with all our experiences of life and memories. As she explains, ‘Smell is the sense of memory.’ The idea that from this, we can narrow down from hundreds of the highest-quality fragrances to the single one that is our own recognisably ‘you’ scent is extraordinary. It’s not just ‘perfume shopping’, it really is a very personal experience – one which can be quite moving, as you’re delving back through memories via scent.

Get a few friends together for a weekend, and book a fragrance masterclass during an afternoon. Then hit the town, maybe make some new memories somewhere, like Catfish Thai. And in case you’re wondering, it’s not a gender-specific experience. Memories and smell are for everyone.

La Bimba

When you’re staying in a seaside village, one of the great joys is sitting with a view of the ocean, eating fresh seafood with a glass of whatever takes your fancy. La Bimba’s upstairs view of the water beyond the foreshore is superb, and it really does make sense that this beautiful food came from just over there.

Chef Steve Earl is Western Victoria born and bred. His passion for local producers doing small interesting things is writ large on his face when he talks about the friends and suppliers of La Bimba. The couple who started a duck and chicken farm, the guy who grows native limes, the guy who rings him in the middle of the afternoon and says ‘Hey, I caught some fish you might be interested in’. As we walk down the pier after collecting fish that are considered ‘by-catch’ of another industry, he expresses his disbelief that everyone isn’t doing this. ‘I mean, the sea is right there, the people who work it are right here – it’s mad that there are so few doing what I do!’

Steve’s food is just beautiful. The best way to enjoy it is with a bunch of friends, and a table full of  dishes to share. A whole fish with Sichuan pepper, coriander seed and ginger with a touch of sourness from raspberry vinegar, is gorgeous. The ceviche made from that by-catch collected off the pier just a few hours earlier is the pinnacle of restraint and beauty. Paella is made the right way, with the freshest fish, calamari, and the perfect crunchy rice on the bottom. Every element is carefully considered, including the small curated wine list.

La Bimba is definitely the food highlight of Apollo Bay. Don’t miss.

The Spa Beechworth

The Spa Beechworth is an intensely personal experience where each treatment is carefully considered and customised to your needs. The old Benevolent Children’s Home building, stunningly renovated and fitted out, is a peaceful and quiet place to be. Each room is so tastefully designed, right down to the linen, that you can’t help but take a deep breath and smile that little smile of being in your happy place.

The therapist sets aside ample time to make sure that treatments happen slowly, quietly, and in a very honest and genuine way. There’s none of the pretense of day-spa speak. Just gentle, smiling faces and a conversation that leads through how a schedule of treatment could include quiet contemplation, massage, skin therapy, a bath or shower – whatever is needed to just relax for the afternoon.

Treatment is discreet, quiet, professional, and in the most beautiful way, gentle and honest. The therapists respect shyness, and ask lots of questions to make sure that any existing injuries are delicately handled. There’s no sense at any time that they are running to a time limit or a budget. Treatments like this take quite a while, but the time passes easily and it’s over all too soon.

For a longer retreat, The Spa is opening its accommodation in July 2019, so bear this in mind when you’re booking an escape from the noise of everyday life.

Seville Estate

Dylan McMahon, winemaker at Seville Estate, shoulders the weighty burden of carrying on a vinous dynasty. Built by his grandparents Margaret and Dr Peter McMahon in 1972, the winery played a significant part in the early re-establishment of the Yarra Valley as a premium wine region.

Since Dylan stepped in to the job as head winemaker in 2004, he’s taken the passion his grandparents showed for high quality wines and doubled down. Accolades from James Halliday (2019 Winery of the Year) and countless awards at wine shows attest to his focus on quality and flavour.

The newly renovated property has undergone extensive landscaping, with spaces for sitting outside under shade, chilling in beanbags, playing Bocce, and kicking back on the deck. The whole place urges you to slow down and make a relaxing day last as long as it can.

In twelve short months the new restaurant at Seville Estate has earned a reputation for local seasonal food with acute attention to detail. Neighbours bring in the excess of their home-grown produce, trusted local suppliers supplement the impressive kitchen garden on site, and the chefs take everything at its peak and do it all justice with full flavour and beautiful dishes.

By the time you read this, the menu will have changed – it does every week, sometimes more than once. Take a look through the images in the gallery here; you’ll get the idea. It’s all carefully prepared, cooked to perfection, and presented like works of art completely without pretence.

Wines are always considered as matches to the menu, and the staff are super attentive and knowledgable. You should take the extra time to go through a tasting at the cellar door before you sit down to eat. You’ll catch the winemaker here more often than not, but the whole crew are super-friendly and happy to talk about the wines they all share Dr Peter McMahon’s passion for.

Check out the accommodation in the newly renovated homestead, right next to the cellar door, too. It’s lavishly appointed, has a huge new kitchen, a swimming pool, and four double rooms for you and your friends on an epic weekend away.

 

Port Phillip Estate

It’s an unassuming introduction to Port Phillip Estate, through a door that feels a little bit industrial and a little bit James Bond. It opens out into the most extraordinary view across the fields to the ocean, with cellar door and casual bistro to the right, and more formal restaurant to the left.

There is a kind of curious dissonance in the slightly casual chairs and the formal settings, the friendliness of the staff and the formality of the restaurant fit-out. It’s like the formality has been dialled down in a venue where the quality has been dialled way up. It’s a feeling that carries through to the food. It’s hard to describe the visceral experience of sitting in front of such beautiful food. It’s an exercise in the balance of beautiful presentation without overshadowing the beautiful produce. Desserts are a stunning display of skill, but still don’t overshadow the produce they’re made from. That produce is locally sourced wherever possible, and the menu is seasonal.

The cellar-door experience is worth leaving a little extra time for. The wines of the estate are renowned for their quality.

For those wanting a little more time to take it all in, the accommodation is spectacular and shares that view across the fields to the ocean.

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.