Georgie Bass

Georgie Bass is like TV show Frasier – a spin-off series of your favourite show that actually works. All the charm and good humour of the older more established Flinders Hotel, but with some down-to-earth sophistication — provided in the case of the TV Show by English-girl-turned-love-interest Daphne. In the case of Georgie Bass, the interest comes from a produce-driven health conscious menu, a cooking school, and some epic secret dinners.

The produce is grown by the gardeners just down the road on the owner’s property, where perfect rows of beautiful brassicas were pushing up, along with radishes and other winter goodies. Come spring I can only imagine the spectacular display.

Dining is casual and fun. On sunny days, bean bags and outdoor tables among the kitchen herb garden are fun. The inside space is warm and has shelves of stuff made locally and by the team at the restaurant.

The cooking school is fortnightly at the moment, but the mailing list will let you know what’s coming up. Similarly for the epic secret dinners. We’ve not been to one yet – they sell out quickly, so keeping an eye on the social media is key to get in. Chef Michael Cole runs these at the drop of a hat when he finds something exciting in the ocean or his garden.

 

Healesville Hotel

The Healesville Hotel is placed right in the middle of the town, built in Edwardian style c1920 and refurbished in the late 1990’s, it is a real social hub for the local town folk and a popular watering hole for visitors to the Yarra Valley.

Head chef Chris Toogood grew up on a sheep farm in SA and this background shows in the way he seeks out quality local produce. Timbarra chicken, O’Connors Gippsland beef and pork are cooked over red gum with simple garnishes and light sauces that allow the natural flavours to take a front seat.

The beer garden has got to be one of the best in the state; the dining room: dark, warm and filled with nostalgia. The original front bar is perfect for sampling subregional Valley wines in front of a warming fire.

No matter where you take a table, it’s about relaxed dining, not fussy, just sharing dishes, swapping sides, stealing chips — while in the background the kitchen staff pick herbs from the garden and keep the coals burning under the wood-fire grill.

Swell

Jan Juc is off the highway, just a stones throw from Torquay. It’s a tiny hamlet, a reprieve from the summer madness that Torquay generates. Swell is in its second incarnation now, and after 12 years it’s almost fair to call it an institution.

The front of the cafe has local makers and producers on display and for sale, and there’s summer seating down the side on a neat little deck. The stool-high communal table is perfect for the one-person escapees who’ve just ducked out for some sanity on a busy day.

Dave the chef showed us the generosity of the dishes here – large servings of quality produce turned into simple and delicious dishes. He turns a few cheffy tricks with some of his presentation, but it’s really all about those simple flavours.

Oh – best juices and smoothies on the Great Ocean Road, for sure. Not just milk and fruit, these are the real deal.

Benton Rise Farm

One of the reasons you take a trip into regional areas is that warm fuzzy feeling you get from seeing where your food comes from. It’s a particularly warm and fuzzy feeling to buy it from the farm and cook it for yourself. Benton Rise Farm has a service from their website where you can order their box of veg or make up your own for your weekend away, pick it up from the farm on your way down, and have all you need to cook delicious food in wherever your self-contained accommodation is.

If I can push the “fuzzy” link a little further, the mushrooms grown at Benton Rise are a highlight. We were lucky enough to try them in a dish on the menu at Merricks General Wine Store. Flavour country right there.

The Saturday morning farmers markets at the property are awesome, and staged from a “Red Rattler” train carriage.

Herd Bar & Grill

The Herd space has had a few incarnations, but this one seems to hit all the spots. The basement of a main street building is the perfect place for an establishment like this. It’s reminiscent of some of Sydney’s best cocktail bars. The outdoor space is fun, and you can descend progressively into the underground as you push further into the restaurant. Owners Sean Lee and John Knoll have done wonders turning the one-time wine cellar into a funky place to hang out, drink and eat mezze style food.

Head chef Trevor (Giant Steps, Gigi Baba’s) serves up a table full of delicious things made for sharing. The winelist is dominated by local (as you’d expect), but only the good stuff. The cocktail list is dominated by awesomeness.

Definitely one for a group of friends who’ve rented an Airbnb for the weekend and want a walking-distance bar to hang out at, with great food to match. If you’re lucky enough to be in town when their regular theme nights happen, don’t miss it. They go off!

Captain Moonlite

Walking from the car park to the top floor of the Anglesea Surf Club, we had no idea what to expect. We’d heard rumours about what chef Matt Germanchis and his partner Gemma Gange had done up here, but nothing solid. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition – surf-club memorabilia with super-professional service from a ridiculously experienced crew. (Gemma comes from a portfolio career of high-end postings at Pei Modern, Jacques Reymond and Stokehouse.) So, even as we sat down, we still had no idea what was coming.

Matt started at the Healesville Hotel years ago, and moved on through a career littered with more Chef’s Hats (Pei Modern, MoVida, Pandora’s Box). The food reflects all that experience, but it’s somehow made the sea-change and relaxed with him. It’s seasonal produce, a daily menu changing with what’s available. Don’t worry about missing a favourite we guarantee each visit will garner a new one.

Visit again and again. Make a Captain Moonlite pilgrimage a regular thing. It’s not that far to go for food this good.

Did we mention the view?

Bom Gosto

So, you left the city early, nothing was open when you left, and the first stop has to be a great coffee. Found it. The coffee here is from Toby’s Estate, and expertly made. Let’s face it, that’s what matters at your first stop on any road trip. 

‘Bom Gosto’. It sounds awesome, and it means ‘Good Taste’. After nine years running Smith St mainstay Deelish (now Rockwell and Sons), the location has shifted to Lilydale, gateway of the Yarra Valley. Dee runs the restaurant, and her partner Geoff runs the 16-acre farm where they grow much of the produce on the menu.

We had the smashed pumpkin with feta, dukkah, greens from the farm, poached eggs and earthy spices, and also the mushrooms with kale, seeds, feta and poached egg. The accompanying breads were multigrain and sourdough respectively. The french toast is a rich, eggy bread with bacon and maple syrup. The bacon is to die for, with additional smokiness from the wood-fired oven, which the chefs tend as if it were a needy child. This is balanced with freshness from local strawberry slices, raspberries, dusky blueberries, and tart apple. There was also a fresh minty taste with a lingering depth that we couldn’t identify. “It’s chocolate mint – we have a plant out the back”, Paul, the barista, tells us.

One thing is for sure, you will not leave hungry.

Mansfield Coffee Merchant

Something that our research for One Hour Out has taught us is that it’s wrong to stereotype passion for quality food (coffee, in particular) as a ‘city thing’. Mansfield Coffee Merchant, 180kms from Melbourne, does great coffee. You get that impression from the moment you walk in and see the Roastmax roaster right up the front of the store. While it’s still operational, we are told this one is now mostly decorative. Indeed, off the strength of wholesale orders all over the northeast of Victoria (and some into Melbourne), they have largely moved the roasting operation to another facility.

Another of our benchmarks is chai. We are as fussy about it as we are about coffee. No powders, no syrups. And that’s what made us fall for the Mansfield Chai (we had almond milk). It was a wet spice mix, made properly. The chai tea was pretty mean too – just one of a good range of teas on offer.

Though we were somewhat preoccupied with the coffee and tea, the food here is good too. Simple menu, well executed.

Round Bird Can’t Fly

Holy mother of baby Jesus, I think I found the Holy Grail. High-end food that’s accessible and casual enough to be a daily, local proposition.

Laura Webb-James’s approach to food at Round Bird Can’t Fly is as uncompromising as ever since leaving Yering Station. She and her partner Evan James have literally hand-crafted a comfortable, casual every-day diner with dishes that would look (and taste) at home in any of the high-end places the pair have worked in previously.

Sourcing ingredients, meeting producers and stepping on to farms is all just the start for Laura. Her recipes are developed and honed, sometimes for months, before they make it to the menu. Don’t be shy about your veganism either – Laura has a menu for you too. Keep an eye on their social media pages; the menu changes regularly with seasonal produce.

It’s this commitment and attention to detail that sets Round Bird Can’t Fly apart, and delivers the Holy Grail to diners.  High-end food within your reach, in a comfortable local venue. As a bonus, a take-home deli for all your faves occupies a good portion of the shop front.

The Last Straw

In the city we’re used to post-industrial spaces popping up in what was once a drab jungle of production and necessary services. We are used to passionate people filling these spaces with their own blend of ideas, not driven by high-street expectations. We are used to these spaces being goddamn awesome. So the Last Straw is one of those goddamn awesome little post-industrial businesses, cutting their own path with fresh, real Thai flavours from a small daily menu. Think ‘street food goes bricks and mortar’.  Or in this case straw. Fresh food. Tick. Flavour. Tick.

Coffee? The Has-Garanti roaster in the corner should set your fears aside. They roast their own, and pull shots on a Faema E61, complete with naked portafilter. It’s bloody good.