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Harvest Home Avenel
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Harvest Home Avenel

Harvest Home Avenel

Most country towns have at least one building that, through pure consistency of presence and the multilayers of stories held inside, has taken up residency in the hearts of the locals. These sites, like Harvest Home in Avenel, about an hour and a half from Melbourne, will never cease to be entirely, as there will always be someone passionate, and ambitious enough, to commit to co-authoring the next chapter.

Harvest Home Avenel has been the centre of the community since 1870, around the time the Kelly family moved to the area when Ned was just a boy. In the decades following, standing as sentinel over the North East rail line, the hotel has lived many lives. Under the notoriously eccentric chef Suzi McKay in the late 80’s through to the mid-2000’s advertising execs and bank CEOs would land a helicopter in the paddock next door and stay on for a weekend of indulgence.

After this solid stint, that hospitality elders still fondly recall, a few more ambitious types attempted to keep the hotel going but eventually the bar once again fell silent. That was until Shepparton local, Samantha Lewis, hesitantly answered the call after serendipitously being invited to take a look inside the shuttered building in 2018.

Soon enough, with a grand vision in mind, Samantha and her builder father Garry set to work pulling up the old carpet, stripping back the boards, painting walls, fixing leaks, evicting white ants and seeking out antique fittings in order to authentically reinvigorate the hardwood timber front bar and the catacomb of cosy rooms throughout. The four rooms (3 king and 1 queen) are most evident of this attention to detail with heritage furnishings, timeless artwork and deep claw foot baths lined with exposed brass plumbing in the bathrooms.

In the restaurant Chef Martin Golding draws on the produce from surrounding farms and the kitchen garden for a menu that is carefully curated and in tune with the passing seasons. The locally sourced eye fillet is cooked with expertise and it’s no surprise to learn the red wine jus is developed by Martin over a series of days. This level of commitment extends to the roasted chicken and fish of the day, a plump Barramundi fillet on our visit. Respect for all diners is clear with just about all items available as gluten free and a rotating list of vegan and vegetarian options like caramelised onion and roasted tomato tart served beside a lightly dressed garden salad.

Samantha has introduced an extensive drinks list that invites visitors to explore the smaller wineries in the region like Brave Goose, Box Grove and Tar & Roses in Nagambie. Cold brews are also local with small batches sent straight from Strathbogie Brewing and Wildlife in Shepparton. However it’s the big city cocktails that draws people from far and wide. And why not, there could be no better place to partake in a spritzy Italian aperitif than in the French countryside inspired garden out the back that surrounds the sparkling in-house swimming pool.

All this is to say that the old Harvest Home Avenel is alive and thriving. Once again, sitting at the centre of the community, building more layers of memories for both locals and visitors as it sets forth on a new era jump started by someone brave enough to heed its call.

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