It’s been a while since the last visit to Merricks General Wine Store. I had fond memories of a great long lunches with a bunch of day-tripping friends. We’d seen a few wineries, walked on a wintery beach at Shoreham, and sat around a long table swapping dishes, tasting everything and sharing some great wines. The ownership has changed since then, but my memories are accurate. This place is just a perfect pause in the middle of a long weekend or just a long day out.
French chef Patrice Repellin’s food is seasonal, from local produce. We’d been to a farm-gate store where they were growing mushrooms earlier in our day out, and it was fantastic to then eat the king brown mushrooms in a dish a few hours later.
Wines are mostly local, showcasing in particular the wines of the Baillieu vineyards and other “friends of the wine store.”
Don’t miss the art gallery next door. It has a regularly changing exhibition. Also, if you’re on an early run and just want a coffee, they have a hole-in-the-wall style cafe too.
In the last Good Food Guide, Masons was thrilled to retain its One Hat status. But honestly, OHO would happily spend the last of the office pennies on lunch at Masons, regardless of hats. Sure, the award is a great accolade; but like all great chefs, Nick Anthony is not focussed on hats – he’s focussed on great food and a great experience. Masons delivers in spades.
Masons opened in 2012 in the former Masons Stained Glass building right in the heart of Bendigo. Steeped in the history of Victoria and its architecture, the former life of the place is still evident in the internal fittings.
The food pays homage to local producers in the region surrounding Bendigo. Nick and Sonia pay extreme attention to detail, ensuring that the beauty of the produce is respected, crafted into beautiful dishes, and delivered in a formal but fun environment.
There’s so much to love in the care Nick takes with his dishes. The presentation delights as well as adds to the way the food eats. It’s a lovely dance along the line between simple and complex. The kitchen is right there in the dining room, so you can spectate as all this happens right in front of you. More so than in the average open kitchen, this adds intimacy and connection to the careful preparation of the food. Staff on the floor are friendly and efficient, in keeping with the kind of casual formal dining that we love for special occasions or just a fun long lunch mid-week. And don’t forget the wines. The staff know their stuff, and the list is fabulous.
Sometimes the quest for awesome simple food leads you to an unexpected destination. A combination of plant nursery, wholefoods store and a cafe actually makes sense, if you think about it in an eclectic ‘why not?’ kind of way. Bendigo Wholefoods and Kitchen does nothing the expected way, but it all makes sense. Of course you’re going to open a kitchen if you’ve got amazing produce available from your store. Of course you’re going to open a nursery if people start asking, ‘How can I grow this at home?’
So, from right to left as you approach the sprawling store from the street, let’s take a look at what Bendigo Wholefoods and Kitchen is doing to spread the love of awesomeness.
The nursery is a love affair with all things growable and edible. It’s literally a plant nursery dedicated to things you can grow to eat. Amazing!
The wholefoods store is a really good organic and ethical food supermarket. It has its own lines of sauces and preserves, and local seasonal produce is plentiful. The honesty of labelling is laudable – if it’s not organic, but produced ethically by a small local producer, the ticket says so.
The cafe is a gem in Bendigo. You can get a quick healthy lunch from produce available in the store, prepared fresh, with a menu that changes as the produce comes in season. The servings are generous, the dishes simple and delicious. Look out soon for the ‘good to go’ take-home meals, and the pre-order lunch and picnic boxes.
If you can’t recall the last time you were in Bendigo, perhaps it’s because there was nothing memorable on the food scene until a few years ago. Well, let OHO be your guide here, because something happened and Bendigo woke up one day to a host of stunning food options. Like The Woodhouse, where they’re not trying to transplant a city-side idea. Instead, somehow the Bendigo food scene has defined itself, successfully making a unique regional food experience from local produce and local talent.
Owner/chef Paul Pitcher is proud of the fact that everything is cooked over wood at his restaurant. There’s a wood-fired grill, oven, and pizza oven, each using woods suitable for their tasks. Only pan-work is done on the gas top. Everything else carries the heady aromas of the woods that were used in their cooking.
Woodhouse is famous for its steak. The finest Wagyu is aged on site (hanging cuts of meat are there in dry-ageing cabinets as you walk in). The cooking of the steak is to absolute perfection. Google the Maillard Reaction if you want a studious read, or just eat Woodhouse Wagyu steak, with its perfect crust and gloriously pink and juicy interior.
Paul’s chimmi-churri is the perfect friend to the steak. The OHO chorus might just have sung like angels for that green sauce. The heirloom cauliflower dish is cooked in the wood oven, and takes on all that smoky red gum flavour. Take a close look at the sides menu –it’s all carefully considered, and each a worthy dish in its own right.
Desserts are also prepared in the wood oven, but are by no means rustic. The pastry chef knows her stuff, and the ever-popular dessert sampler comprises a large plate of several dessert menu items for a mini degustation.
Stay tuned to The Woodhouse’s social media pages for their small events, like the Wagyu dinners, where produce from different cattle growers highlights the difference in various cross-breeds and approaches to farming.
If you’re familiar with Balgownie Estate Yarra Valley, going to the Bendigo side of the family is like visiting that cousin in the country who has the lifestyle you’ve always dreamt of. Laid-back, casual, super-relaxed about being incredibly lucky to live in a beautiful place. This cousin is the envy of its slick sister.
The Bendigo property was the first to bear the name ‘Balgownie’, planted in 1969 by Stuart Anderson. It’s 33 hectares of mostly red grape varieties, producing powerful and intense wines, but which still show restraint in alcohol.
Food by chef Travis is French inspired, and makes the most of the region’s stunning produce. Particularly noteworthy is the Wagyu beef, grown by an old school mate of Travis’s. Fresh boxes of local food come in from producers, inspiring the classically trained chef to create new dishes. There’s beauty and finesse in the food, but the atmosphere is relaxed and very ‘country’.
The property also has accommodation. There’s a newly renovated set of suites, joined in the middle by a large common area with kitchen, perfect for a big group weekend away. The popular ‘glamping’ tents are a must-do experience, set in the bushland adjacent to the restaurant and winery, overlooking the spectacular vineyard. Each is equipped with air-conditioning and a fridge, and the deluxe tents even have bathrooms. It’s still camping, but definitely on the glamorous side!
Owners Katherine and Jake are inspiring. At a ridiculously young age, they have set up Nicol’s Paddock (formerly Saint Regis Winery) as a sophisticated but laid-back little venue, turning out some of the best produce-driven food we’ve had down this way. Take in the whole deal, spend a lazy afternoon chatting with these guys and eating chef other-Kate’s awesome food from her simple but focussed menu, paired with smart estate-grown and -made wines. It’s just good, and it’s fun.
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.
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?
Innocent Bystander is back, right across the car park from Giant Steps (where they were once housed under the same roof). It’s a familiar vibe, but like a great second marriage, it’s a bit more sophisticated. The wood-fired pizzas are there, the tapas are there, and the great wines are there. Only now the wines are on tap. Yes. Tap. It’s a revolutionary system developed to pour everything from chilled Prosecco or everyone’s favourite Moscato through to the Shiraz, which by the glass is a perfect foil for those wood-fired pizzas. By the flask, it’s fun to share.
There are loads of details to take in here while you’re spending a long lazy lunch with friends or a cheeky midweek dinner excursion. Take home your bread or pick up your coffee early.
Something is happening in the tiny community of Pomonal. Pep, owner of Pomonal Estate, points to the neighbours in various directions and tells OHO, ‘The carpenter lives over there, the builder just there, the beekeeper over that way, and the guy who grows the salad greens, just there.” Almost on cue, the guy who grows the salad greens walks in the door with today’s box of salad greens. He talks about the horseradish-peppery flavour of the curly red lettuce.
The owners’ enthusiasm for all things local is infectious. The build is brand-new, and made by locals. The accommodation they’ve just opened on site is set right in the middle of the place they love. The Grampians are right there, changing all the time with the changes in light, and you can stay in a brand-new luxury home with picture windows to all the views.
What you’ve really come here to read about, though, is one or more of the following burning questions:
1. Can I get a good coffee? Yes.
2. Is there good food? Yes. Local, simple and fresh.
3. Is there a view? Yes. A damn good one.
4. Is the wine good? Yes it is.
5. Is the beer good? Yes it is, and it’s truly small-batch, made on site.
6. Is it far? No, not if you stay over. Otherwise, expect a 3-hour drive and a mix-tape.