It takes some serious imagination and no small amount of bravery to look at a property between two small-ish regional centres in an albeit idyllic valley, and transform it into a destination restaurant. It seems to be that when you apply imagination and bravery, along with no small amounts of skill and doggedness, that no amount of hither-to unknown-ness of a location will impede the success of a venture. Apply this to the small valley between Yea and Seymour, and you have The Trawool Estate.
Transforming this property between Yea and Seymour on the Melba Highway was no small task. All the accommodation was gutted and refitted along with the restaurant. The business is entirely renewed. Food could be described as sophisticated regional, but that would do both descriptors a disservice. It’s sophistication is not pretentious, but lies squarely in the treatment of the outstanding produce. The commitment to regional comes from understanding where the property sits – squarely in one of the most productive and beautiful parts of regional Victoria.
Details are everything, or so the old saying alludes. These are not lost on the folks at The Trawool Estate. The little pre-mixed cocktails that kept those in-the-know satiated during lockdown are now served in those very same single serve bottles to guests in the rooms. The cocktail list is as extensive as the wine list is considered, and again local producers are to the fore. Speaking of cocktails, if you’re up for it, don’t miss the master-classes – definitely a stay-over event.
Make sure you follow the social media pages – The Trawool Estate runs some fairly astonishing events, with many planned ahead.
With the ‘Ring of Steel’ dismantled, the 25km rule dropped, and our favourite destinations open for business we’re ready to head for the hills, beach, or valleys to celebrate our newfound freedom. There is a palpable energy in the air both in the city with people looking forward to a road trip, and in the regions, with kitchen crews preparing to welcome back long separated city guests.
We spoke to some of our top chef/owners in regions around the state about their COVID19 lockdown, what they did to survive, and what they plan to serve up to us when we arrive to dine with them.
Mornington Peninsula #onehourout
Brigitte Hafner baked us our daily tarts and made us our daily vitello tonnato when she and Jamie Broadway ran Gertrude Street Enoteca in Fitzroy. It closed forever over winter, preceded, thankfully, by the opening of the bucolic dream that is Tedesca Osteria. Perched on the spine of Main Ridge on the Mornington Peninsula, overlooking flowing creeks, stringybark forest and vineyards beyond, Tedesca Osteria is reminiscent of those classic European Michelin star restaurants with set menu dining.
When we spoke, Brigitte had just finished her second service since reopening after lockdown. “We were a bit anxious,” says Brigitte. ‘But what happened during lockdown was that we became a team. We only opened in March and did not have time, really to prepare,” she says.
With lockdown, she and her team, including Broadway, went to work preparing food boxes each week to keep Tedesca afloat. They contained comfort food, including bread and baked goods, her German mother’s strudel and Eccles cakes with cheddar cheese. “We were able to keep most of our team, including our visa holders, together except one, who got a job as a nurse,” says Brigitte cheerily. “We all worked chopping wood, gardening, preparing the food. Skills that we learned and shared. I now have a great orchard planted with amazing citrus and nut trees.” Being in a beautiful part of the world made it easier for Brigitte and her crew, with daily walks along deserted country lanes and long strolls along the beaches of Westernport. “We were also able to have a smokehouse built in which we will smoke our smallgoods when we start getting our whole pigs in from a local farmer.”
This week she has been serving dolmades made with her own preserved vine leaves, mud crab with fresh pasta, tarragon, and garden peas. There is also Great Ocean Road Duck with chickpeas, spinach, and west Indian limes and a Paris-brest to finish. “We learned so much over lockdown about being a team,” says Brigitte. “Now it’s time to put those skills to work.”
“We are here, and we are open,” says Dan Hunter of Brae at Birregurra. The internationally acclaimed chef has worked around the world and has watched as the pandemic raged through the places in Europe where he worked in his earlier years. “The international imagery of hospitals in Italy and Spain was devastating,” says Dan. “There are worse places being in lockdown than here,” he says of the masterfully converted farm cottage perched on a farmlet, surrounded by acres of orchard and kitchen garden.
“In early April, I looked around and saw a vegetable garden full of late summer produce, and it gave us a feeling of safety. We were comforted being out of the city on a rural property surrounded by produce that could feed the family,” says Dan. “We have the skills to grow the vegetables to feed us.” Dan and his team harvested fruit and vegetables from the kitchen garden and sold them to the local community. This connection with the local people continued with a series of international-themed dinners that took residents to Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and beyond. “We also made picnic boxes with our bread and terrines so people could take themselves away,” says Dan. Dan and his family were able to escape to the seaside area of Skenes Creek near Apollo Bay. “Spending time with the family was so important,” says Dan.
After good spring rains, the dams are full, and the surrounding countryside is verdant with lush pasture that Dan describes as ‘money paddocks’ for the local graziers; Dan looks to his gardens for inspiration for his late spring menu: asparagus, peas, broad beans, lettuce and radicchio to cook dishes like “rainbow trout and broad beans from this season and last, anise myrtle, roe and citrus, radicchio brushed with treacle and black garlic.” With customers back, Dan and his wife Julianne wrestle customer expectations and government COVID capacity rules. “You know what gave me great joy this spring?” asks Dan rhetorically. “The black swans who came to stay on the dam and the evening chorus of frogs. Simple things.”
“From here in Beechworth, I knew just how devastating the lockdown was for the industry,” says Michael Ryan. He speaks from Provenance, based in a solid-granite, former bank in the heart of historic Beechworth, where Michael cooks his unique Japanese influenced style of cuisine.
“When it first started, it was the unknown. And that is terrifying,” he says. Michael and his team suffered the triple whammy, first the fires over summer, then lockdown one, a brief awakening, then lockdown two. “In the first lockdown I tapped the bounty of the season and made sugo, chestnut jam and lime marmalade and some amazing grenadine,” says Michael. “I pulped 60kg of pomegranates for that grenadine. Not something I need to do again in a hurry.” It was a mild winter in the North East, and Michael spent hours on his pushbike, walking the dog around Lake Samball and time with his wife and daughter. “The biggest decision I had to make every day was what to make for dinner,” he says with a laugh.
Michael also received funding to explore making sake and delved into the arcane art of making amaro, the bitter Italian style digestive. He has extracted over 90 different botanicals. He will soon get his licence so he can buy alcohol and make, he hopes, three different styles of amaro early next year. “But now it is so green, so lush,” says Michael. “The days are long and warm and the nights cool. His garden is amok with shiso, the fragrant Japanese herb almost becoming a weed. He salts it down for six months, ready for the autumn menu.” He is currently serving a set menu of a four-course meal made of 18 small dishes. He is particularly proud of his lup cheong pork sausages he made in the first lockdown and potato chips cooked in beef tallow dusted with a little seaweed salt. He also takes great pride in a dish of cauliflower slow-cooked in lots of butter served with white fish floss and coloured pink with beetroot juice and served with cherry tomatoes marinated in sweet dashi. Off the grill comes flat iron steak, served with miso butter and braised onions. “Delightful with a local Beechworth Gamay,” he adds.
Now he is looking forward to the berry and cherry season. “Cherries for the extracts for the amaro,” says Michael. “And with the raspberries, I will make some old school sable, some yuzu cream, and finish it with some fresh lychees.” He pauses. And says, “You know what, that lockdown will be the long service leave I was never going to get.”
“Mildura went quiet,” says Stefano de Pieri from Stefano’s Cantina at the Grand Hotel, Mildura. “The city went eerily quiet during lockdown. But we were ringed by a hive of activity because the farming never stopped. COVID or no COVID, Australian agriculture never stops. The trucks kept on taking food down to Melbourne,” he says with his usual energy.
Stefano spent a lot of his lockdown walking along the locks of the Murray River. “It is so beautiful, so tranquil, there are so many birds. It all helps me to contemplate where I am in my life. I realised I will be 80 in 15 years! I can not think of that many chefs still behind the stove at my age,” he says. “So I raged against the ‘dimming of the light’ by renovating the dining rooms,” says Stefano with a laugh. He also successfully campaigned to become a Mildura City councilor, hosted the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show, made 22 Youtube episodes of a children’s cooking show, and shot a ten-part food television series with SBS. “So, as you can see, I have not been idle,” says Stefano.
He has also been working on his menu, freshening it up, putting on more seafood and vegetable dishes. “What I cook reflects what is grown here as much as possible. So this has been the season for asparagus and artichokes. We have been making our own ricotta, which I use with bullhorn peppers stuffed with smoked eggplant.” Stefano has also got his hands on some locally made ‘nduja, which he is serving with baby calamari. “It is 35°C outside each day,” says Stefano. “We need to serve food that reflects the climate, not just the season.”
Husband and wife chef team, Sonia and Nick Anthony have been managing Masons of Bendigo since 2012. The restaurant is a modern, sophisticated restaurant with a relaxed ambience. Their food and beverages menu is focused on sourcing the best Central Victoria artisanal produce.
What is happening with your business at this stage?
We have been closed since the forced shutdown of our industry on March 23rd. Our food style doesn’t translate into take-away and we felt there were enough businesses in town offering typical take-away offerings. We felt that it would have added pressure and an unwanted competitiveness with our industry peers that just didn’t sit well with us. Everyone’s doing it tough, there’s no need for that extra stress.
What has happened to your staff and how are they coping?
As we were closed and receiving no income, we qualified for JobKeeper assistance so we could ensure our team had a continued income which was important for us. Our team is such a big part of who we are. They’ve been keeping busy at home with their families, lots of cooking, cleaning and perhaps a few extra hours of gaming. We have a closed Facebook page for our team and I’ve been checking in online to see how they’ve been going.
What have you been hearing about your producers through this time?
I’m the President of the Bendigo Community Farmers Market and have been managing the social media and marketing over this period. Many of the producers who we have been supporting us over the last 8 years also sell through the market, so it’s been wonderful seeing how we’ve grown the number of shoppers to help them sell their produce on a retail level. They have seen a downturn in income and each producer has been impacted differently according to what they sell. Phone calls to check in have been as important for them as it has been for us.
With the assistance of COGB staff, we’ve also been able to link producers to their customers via the Open Food Network which is a website designed for farmers to sell directly to customers. We’re developing a ‘Bendigo Community Farmers Market’ page which will show our regular producers and stallholders in the one virtual space making shopping easier. Think of it like a physical market but online.
What are your plans as restrictions ease?
We’re super excited to be launching a more refined menu when we re-open. Sharing is no longer an option for us so we’re offering a number of set-menu options for diners; really focusing on building on our Masons experience that people have come to love. We want diners to come in and have a fabulous time enjoying the flavours of our food, enjoying local wine, with incredible service.
Any great iso cooking adventures happening at your place?
I can’t lie, it’s been great having Nick at home each night! He’s been doing a lot of recipe testing for the new menus and producing super delicious meals based on our Farmers Market shop. The market now runs weekly so we’ve been enjoying as an example; 96-hour slow-cooked Warialda Beef brisket, Great Ocean Ducks confit leg with mushroom risotto and I’ve loved that we’ve been eating more vegetables than ever before. There’s been plenty of bread testing and baked goodies, not sure how myself and our kids will cope now we are re-open. Although I am looking forward to going in and dining with friends at Masons sometime soon, it’s something I’ve really missed.
Masons of Bendigo opened their doors again on Tuesday 2nd June and will be offering dinner Tuesdays to Saturdays and lunch from Thursdays to Saturdays. Due to the restrictions on guest numbers, they are currently only taking bookings via phone or email. You will find them at 25, Queen Street, Bendigo.
Next door to the Food Store (held by the same owners) is the more formal dining experience of the Teller Collective. It lives in a slick fit-out of polished timber and polished concrete. It’s still laid-back and comfortable, but the menu is refined and the food style carefully considered. Pretty dishes like the house-cured salmon with horseradish and Ras el hanout are delicate and stunning. Gin-cured snapper with blood plums melts in the mouth and shows off local stone fruit.
Speaking of local, “These figs came off my tree at home” – it doesn’t get much more local than that; the figs and whitlof are the heroes of a delicate salad also featuring Jamon.
The smashed pavlova and the rice pudding look spectacular: such that they surprise and delight, belying their simple names. The wine list is short but really well curated – a mix of very local and imported gems.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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