Subscribe to our regular 'What's on in Victoria' newsletter

East Gippsland’s new sexy adult wine bar with a Spanish touch

Words by Richard Cornish
Images supplied

Josh Thomas has one of the best palates in the state. As a teenager he was dragged around France on a cheesemaking tour by his famous uncle cheesemaker Richard Thomas. As a young man he was a private butler to the rich and famous in a stately old home in Ireland. He worked in the snow at Cilantro at Dinner Plain with legendary chefs Jimmy Campbell (ex Movida) and Nick Gardner (ex Quay) and was well known for his Spanish style feasts at his former childhood farm Rivendell, in Tambo Upper.

East Handy Store

Josh opened his latest project, East Handy Store, in Bairnsdale recently. This sexy, adult wine bar is housed in a former general store in East Bairnsdale. After single handedly renovating the dilapidated old store Josh has created a suave space with grey textured walls, plush furnishings, touches of gold and smooth dark timber tables.

There are gold stools at wine barrels out front and a courtyard outback overlooking the old train bridge over the Mitchell River. Josh has made sure that East Handy Store is not just beautiful, but also fun. “This where the locals got their fireworks, pints of milk, lollies and nudie mags for almost a century,” he says with a laugh. One of those mags found during the renovations now proudly hangs in the ‘thunderbox’. Its headline reads, “Risqué photos of royal on holiday romp.”

East Handy Store is also an exclusive affair with seating for just 20 and a set menu based on Josh’s time spent in Spain and France. Josh worked as a cheesemaker and has an affinity for fermented products making his own sourdough and saucisson sec. The Gippsland restaurateur is also an avid supporter of the European concept that dining, and drinking should express a sense of place.

So, his menu and wine list read like a local road map with food and drink almost exclusively sourced within Gippsland. “I want to be as parochial as the French,” says Josh with a laugh. “And bugger the rest! All the wines are local, as is the beer and gin. Apart from a few digestifs it’s all from here. Oh. And Sherry from Spain. I love sherry.”

Diners should dress for the weather as the incredibly good value $65 per person set menu meal starts outside in the courtyard under the bright Gippsland stars. Dinner begins with nine little dishes based on the Spanish concept of tapas but interwoven with some French classics like radishes and Josh’s own cultured butter made from Gippsland Jersey Cream.

Next could be Jones Bay pork chicherones, Spanish style crackling with pink lady puree from apples grown two kilometres upstream at Picnic Point. Grilled Lakes Entrance sardines with Josh’s own Catalan soft sausage called sobrasada follow with perhaps some house cured pastrami made from wild shot venison supplied by registered hunter Dominic Britten, who is also the bartender. Main course could be another Catalan inspired dish mar i mutanya, which means sea and mountains. Josh’s version is a rich rice dish of seafood, house made chorizo, and hickory-smoked chicken.

Bookings have opened and already tables are filling rapidly. “Local people travel a lot and have sophisticated palates. Demand that is not being met, apart from Northern Ground in the main drag,” says Josh. “We really want to take people on a little journey, a special night with really good food and drink. And experienced and passionate people out front. We promise something different.”


Where: 22 McEacharn Street, East Bairnsdale
What: Upmarket, Euro-style wine bar with set menu dining
When: Opened to the public Friday 23rd June
Why: Exceptional food from an experienced chef
Who: Hospo legend Josh Thomas and his ‘handsome’ front of house team
Bookings: or 0418 358 777
More Info: East Handy Store

We wish to acknowledge the Gunaikurnai people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.
Every week we send you
our picks of the best
stuff happening outside
We will never share your information with a third-party.