Secret gems of the Victoria area you need to know
Bright is full and Portsea is packed, but there are plenty of other towns that offer great food, wine, and places to stay. And bring an empty Esky.
An old wood-fired bakery sits on the escarpment above the Mitchell River in Lindenow, a small country town near Bairnsdale, 280 kilometers east of Melbourne in East Gippsland, where tractors outnumber cars.
The long paddock is a beautiful little cafe frequented by generations of local families. Here, chef Tanya Bertino, formerly of Ledbury, London, prepares baked goods such as asparagus and brie pies, pork terrines and an ever-changing range of cakes and slices. She is one of the many trained and experienced chefs in the region.
Another is Rob Turner, former head of development at Marks & Spencer, now a cafe / bistro owner Northern Land on the main street of Bairnsdale. The main dishes are the Lyonnaise salad and the duck confit cassoulet as well as the small products from David Lucke. Fresh produce market.
At the water’s edge, near Paynesville, is Sardines restaurant. Here, Vue de Monde’s former chef, Mark Briggs, specializes in local seafood such as plump sardines, sourced from a fishing family at Lakes Entrance, and served simply with olive oil. herbs and leaven.
You can buy the same fresh sardines, as well as scallops, bedbugs and white fish fillets, fresh off the boats, at Lakes entrance fisherman’s cooperative.
These local restaurants also serve local wines from Cave Tambo, just off the East Gippsland Rail Trail, Nicholson River Vineyard, and Lightfoot and son which produce a delicious sparkling blanc de noir. All have cellar doors.
Ryan and Kirstyn Sessions at Drift House in Port Fairy. Photo: Jo O’Keefe
Whale bones still wash up on Port Fairy beach, and the lighthouse casts its guide beacon at night, guarding ships from Griffith Island, once a grizzly bear station. With bluestone pubs around every corner and boats moored on the River Moyne, you get an idea of ââwhat Port Fairy looked like, 280 kilometers west of Melbourne, back when it was. a lively but remote 19th century fishing port.
The beauty of this historic city lies in a pool of talented chefs. They work in old buildings with character and tell a story about the area using locally grown foods. Tanya Connellan has worked with top Melbourne chefs like Stephanie Alexander, but was drawn to a gorgeous old pub with creaky floors and mullioned windows, The Merrijig Inn, The oldest in Victoria. Here, she uses eels caught in local lakes for a superbly smooth smoked eel parfait. Watch out for grass-fed beef and pan-seared snapper.
In the center of the city is Conlan wine store, where local chef Matt Dempsey, award-winning Gladioli alumnus, returned to his hometown. It offers casual dining in an old shop with thick bluestone walls and bare wooden floors. This week, he’s celebrating spring in a small plate of Shaw River Buffalo mozzarella with fresh peas and local asparagus. Her signature dish is dry-aged, roasted, Great Ocean Road duck served with honey frosting.
Down the road is the Oak and Anchor, a formerly abandoned pub from 1857 that has been lovingly renovated by local couple Blair and Sally Robertson, who stripped the old tavern to reveal its beautiful wood and basalt DNA. Teaming up with hospitality veteran Ally Richardson, they now offer accommodation, a bar and cafe style menu with breakfast, toast all day and shared dishes such as garlic prawns and Arancini.
Nearby, by a bridge over the Moyne est Drift house, a small luxury hotel, where famous two-hat chef Ryan Sessions of Fen prepares a tasting menu for house guests. His next highly anticipated dinners will take place in March.
Port Fairy is in the Henty wine country, named after Edward Henty, who planted the first vines in what would become Victoria on a headland in Portland in 1834. The closest cellar door to Port Fairy is Basalt vineyard, but explore further to discover the exquisite riesling made at Crawford River wines in Condah or the salty pinot noir from Hochkirch wines in the former German colony of Tarrington.
Brunch at Moo’s in Meeniyan. Photo: Supplied
Tiny Meeniyan (population: 771) is known as the music capital of South Gippsland (British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg gave an intimate solo performance at Town Hall earlier this year). But he is rapidly developing a reputation for the food.
Trulli, named after the hometown of the Italian owner’s family in Puglia, toppings the pizza with Koo Wee Rup with asparagus and burrata, and serves a slow-cooked Cherry Tree organic lamb shoulder with Pugliese potatoes .
Moo’s in Meeniyan Owner Marty Thomas used the lockdown to renovate the corner cafe, housed in a historic weather panel. Visitors to Melbourne flock to weekend brunches of taleggio-baked eggs and silky Thai noodle duck omelet. Later in the day, beer flakes and fries await.
In nearby Tarwin, interior designer Jayne Scott recreates a Victorian-era tea experience in Avonleigh Farm Fine Food using crispy damask and polished antiques, finger sandwiches and delicate cakes. Booking is recommended.
And at Cidrerie des Gurneys At Fish Creek, the Gurnett family (originally from the British Cider Center, Somerset) offer tastings of wild fermented ciders, made with heirloom cider apples.
Cheese maker Julie Larcher at the Castlemaine Cheese School. Photo: Simon Schluter
Last year, UNESCO recognized the city of Grand Bendigo de Victoria as a Creative City of Gastronomy, one of the 65 in the world. Bendigo included Castlemaine in his candidacy, and there are many reasons why this historic gold mining town, 120 kilometers north of Melbourne, helped win this honor.
Maybe the star of Castlemaine’s food scene is The mill. The 1860s woolen mill houses the new Long Paddock Cheese, where the French immigrant Ivan Larcher and his wife Julie make sensational European-style cow’s milk cheeses. They are also partners of The cheese school, Australia’s first private university of cheese making and appreciation.
Next to it is Oakwood Smallgoods, where German master butcher Ralf Finke uses ingredients such as farm pork and wagyu beef to make over 40 different small products and cold cuts.
TO Das Kaffeehaus, Vienna-trained roaster Edmund Schaerf and former opera designer Elna Schaerf-Trauner created a salon of golden mirrors and baroque music, coffee and apple strudel in a former woolen mill (pictured).
In 2008, Hong Kong-trained chef Joe Lam and his partner Rebecca Ma opened their take-out yum cha, Taste of the Orient. Fans say their steamed pork bun is the best in the state.
Baker John Stekerhofs, alias Johnny Baker, turns out an exceptional bread and pastry. But he is perhaps best known for his almond croissant filled with amaretto custard.
Bistro Savage light up the city’s old fire station with well-executed dishes such as crispy pork belly with creamy cauliflower mash and a coleslaw with apple, fennel and mint.
Just outside of town, in Ravenswood, is Killiecrankie wines cellar door, where you can try to buy original but really good wines, like the 2018 Lola Montez Monastrell Shiraz, named after the exotic dancer Lola Montez, who shocked audiences at the Theater Royal de Castlemaine in 1856 by raising her skirts.