When it comes to the weekend, sometimes you just need to get out of the city. But, unless you have a favorite camping spot or hike, it can be hard to decide where to go on a whim. We find that choosing an eating destination helps that.
Pick a restaurant, cafe, distillery, or brewery and plan the rest of your sojourn around it. Victoria has a heap of great options a not-too-far drive from the city, so you can escape for a Sunday lunch or a whole weekend of fine dining.
Graceburn Wine Room
Mac Forbes’ Healesville cellar door now serves weekend dinners.
Graceburn Bistro is the perfect excuse for a drive to the Yarra Valley. The Healesville cellar door, wine bar, and bistro is run by local winemaking legend Mac Forbes, with food by chef Kate Kilsby.
In the kitchen, Kilsby is celebrating simplicity with a one-page menu of unpretentious fare. It’s seasonal, produce-driven and made to be shared, featuring the likes of sesame prawn toast with finger lime, duck breast cooked on the hibachi grill and roast pumpkin with tahini dressing. A three-course menu is up for grabs on Thursday and a five-course version on Friday and Saturday.
Forbes’ own award-winning drops headline the wine list and are joined by a curated selection of bottles from both overseas and closer to home.
The space itself is intimate, with room for just over 30 diners, though it packs a punch in the design department at the hands of architect Zenta Tanaka (whose work you’ve seen at the likes of CIBI and Mina.no.ie).
Read more about this topic at https://concreteplayground.com/
A faultless degustation-only restaurant in the middle of a 50-acre Mornington Peninsula winery and sculpture park.
It’s hard not to be impressed when you visit Laura. Sweeping vistas, thoughtful food and appropriately matched wines poured into individually hand-blown Austrian glassware.
When you drive from the city, it’s an overland route. Even driving into Pt Leo Estate, you are surrounded by vines with no view of the sea. So the effect of entering the front doors of the cellar door and restaurant, seeing the verdant sculpture park running off down towards Western Port Bay and Phillip Island, is nothing less than breathtaking.
Laura is an intimate dining experience where the idea is to put yourself in culinary director Phil Wood’s hands and follow a six-course tasting menu. You are also welcome to choose four or five courses. The food side of the degustation takes you on a tour of the Mornington Peninsula with each course named after the location of the main element of the dish.
The matched wines, on the other hand, are more of an international jaunt, with a couple of home visits in between.
You’ll find olive oil from Cape Schanck, Heritage Farm duck eggs and Main Ridge goat’s milk amongst the entrée offerings. The Port Phillip scallop risotto with shiitake has warm, spicy notes with a subtle smokiness. It’s served in a scallop shell and while this is not the place to lick the sauce clinging to the grooves, it’s tempting.
A buttery tart of flathead and potato is set off with a salty-sweet pop from the Yarra Valley salmon roe glistening on top, and then there’s the meat. The coffee-glazed pork is juicy and tender with crackling you will find yourself staring off into the middle distance and thinking about it for days after.
A flourish on the side is the sweet potato, baked in charcoal salt in the pizza oven, removed from the crust at the table and served with a hazelnut and porcini dressing.
The French always say that a meal is not a meal without cheese and in Laura’s case, you should heed their advice. You don’t want to miss this flavour chapter from neighbouring Berry’s Creek. Who knew blue would go quite so well with Pt Leo Estate honey, Puy lentils and pear? Phil Wood did.
Highlights amongst the wines — of which there are 600 to choose from — are the 15-year-old sercial from the volcanic island of Madeira, a sake named after the fourth-generation female toji (master brewer) who makes it and the 2012 Pt Leo Estate chardonnay.
At any point in your journey, your waiter will happily pour whichever wine you are drinking into a less precious glass so that you can take a digestive stroll around the sculpture park. Make sure you do a 360-degree turn around Laura, the restaurant’s namesake and monumental cast-iron head from Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa.
You don’t see much Scandi food in Melbourne, let alone a cafe that’s committed to it. Oppen is a refreshing addition to the brunch scene that has Danish-style open sandwiches (smorrebrod) alongside their other brunch dishes.
Their range of smorrebrod covers quite a variety of proteins, and the Grilled Pork Liver Terrine is one of the heartier ones with a crisp 63C egg and bacon amongst the ingredients. The Cauliflower Steak is a standout too – a flavoursome combination of wholesome ingredients including charred broccoli, quinoa, chickpeas and sunflower cream. Charred and crunchy ingredients are totally up my alley.
Oppen’s Smorgasbord Sundays see the appearance of grazing boards that might include cured meats, preserved vegetables, bread and cocktails. Booking in advance will give you a little discount as well as a guarantee of a table. Windsor Station is a stone’s throw away, making the trip home after a boozy brunch a little easier.
Read more about this topic at http://achronicleofgastronomy.com/
This Geelong fine diner is one of Victoria’s best restaurants
Behind a sleek black facade in Geelong, you’ll discover one of Victoria’s most acclaimed regional restaurants, Igni. Here, chef and owner Aaron Turner (also the guy behind Hot Chicken Project around the corner), is fearless in pushing the culinary envelope, as he champions the best of the region’s small, bespoke producers.
No two visits promise the same experience, thanks to an oft-changing menu directed by whatever top farm-fresh haul Turner gets his hands on each day. This is where the term ‘produce-driven is taken to a whole new level.
Offered via a six-course dining journey, the fare, like space, is a celebration of simplicity, where serious technique is showcased with minimal fluff and fanfare. Prepare to be wowed by some revelatory flavour combinations, as everyday ingredients are driven to mind-blowing new heights.
To match, you’ll find a brief but diverse rotation of wines, with expertly curated pairing menus available with your degustation. Well worth the drive (or the train journey) to Geelong.
Dari Korean Cafe and Bar
Something different has come to Hardware Lane. Dari is the city’s new Korean sandwich bar and cafe, and they’ve got quite an eye-catching menu. Ordering one of their special lattes is highly recommended. The Black Sesame Latte has a strong sesame flavour and isn’t sweet, whilst their Job’s Tear’s Latte with soy is made extra tasty with the sprinkling of toasted walnuts on top.
K-Street Toast may look simple in appearance, but it’s a solid sandwich filled with egg omelette, carrot, onion, maple onion mayo, ham, American cheese, cabbage and ketchup.
It’s packed with both flavour and lots of bulgogi, and as with the drinks, the bulgogi isn’t overly sweet like a lot of Korean food in Melbourne tends to be. The Egg Bang (Kieran bbang) are made to order so a little patience is required, but the result is well worth it. When it arrives it smells great. Tastes good too, complete with crispy bits on top.
Dari brings a uniqueness to the Melbourne cafe scene that’s much needed. Their generous servings and flavoursome food is set to satisfy your curiosity and your stomach.
A perfect pastel diner serving up great pan-Asian food in Geelong
Frankie may not have the label of destination diner-like its fellow Geelong spot Igni does, but this (cheaper) eatery is well worth the drive to the coast. Why? Well, the interior is divine — all polished leather, beige leather couches and soft rose-gold accents.
It’s the kind of interior we all want but are too clumsy and messy to manage. But let’s not be superficial. Frankie serves up both atmosphere and a killer drinks menu featuring wines from local and state wineries, and gorgeously garnished cocktails.
Once you’ve quenched your thirst, the pan-Asian dinner menu has the rest of your night covered. The kitchen dabbles in a little Japanese cuisine with the crispy sesame rice balls , a little Thai with their slow-cooked beef cheek curry, and some Korean by way of fried chicken glazed in mirin and gochujang ($21).
Plus, there’s everyone’s favourite finger food: bao. Try the slow-cooked pork belly version with sesame and crushed peanuts for a flavour combo you won’t forget in a hurry.
Ciel Cafe, Southbank
Hidden behind a discreet shopfront, Ciel Cafe is quite a spacious place. Despite the high ceilings and openness of the space, there’s still a sense of warmth and cosiness.
The Matcha Latte is strong and smooth – one of the best I’ve had of late. Roasted Cauliflower comes with beetroot hummus, kale and cherry tomato dukkah, and also a surprising amount of quinoa underneath. Their Carbonara is done without the adulteration of cream. Fettuccini is topped with smoked bacon oil, parmesan and a 63-degree egg ready for mixing.
Ciel Cafe – Pork Belly Burger – Crispy pork belly with sriracha mayo, pickled cucumber & carrot, topped with peanuts, fried egg and coriander, sweet potato chips ($20)
Pork Belly Burger – Crispy pork belly with sriracha mayo, pickled cucumber & carrot, topped with peanuts, fried egg and coriander, sweet potato chips.
Our highlight is the Pork Belly Burger, which features so much crispy pork belly that you’ll probably have to deconstruct it. The pork belly is teamed up with sriracha mayo, pickled cucumber and carrot, peanuts, fried egg and coriander. If that isn’t filling enough, you’ll also get sweet potato chips on the side.
The pork belly is indeed crisp on the outside and juicy within, and the pickled cucumber and carrots balance out the richness of the protein.
This Mornington Peninsula institution has a winery cellar door, cafe and fine dining restaurant
This Mornington Peninsula institution (that’s been hatted 16 times, no less) reopened in 2018 as a revamped, more relaxed version of itself. And now, celebrated chef Matt Wilkinson is at the helm as Culinary Captain, steering Montalto’s emphasis on sharing plates, enjoying long conversations and soaking up idyllic rural views.
On arriving, the first thing you’ll notice is the kitchen’s stripped-back redesign. The new centrepiece is an asado grill, based on Argentinian parrillas. Providing much of the produce is Montalto’s kitchen garden, now expanded to a mighty three acres.
To sample its goodness, order the likes of roasted Jerusalem artichoke with crème fraîche and chives , or the bagna cauda with fresh crudités.
Meanwhile, all meat on the menu is sourced from nearby producers; from the slow-cooked pork chop teamed with lentils and braised greens, to the grass-fed sirloin featuring pumpkin, and a parsley and cucumber salad. The linen tablecloths have disappeared and in their place are handcrafted tables, made of recycled and sustainable chestnut by Zac Pearton of ZP Woodworks.
The restaurant is open Friday through Monday, while the all-weather outdoor piazza is a daily affair, serving produce-driven pizzas, along with Mediterranean-style plates like prawn gnocchi and chicken liver parfait with house pickles.
Overall, space has a more relaxed, open feel, making the most of Montalto Estate panoramas, dotted with vines, olive groves and sculptures. While you’re there, be sure to check out the cellar door, which open each day from 11 am–5 pm.
Ten Square, Melbourne CBD
Ten Square is the new resident of the original Hardware Societe site and their seasonal menu has a variety of items ranging from brunch staples to dishes outside of the norm. Tender Glazed Beef Cheek comes in a rather sizeable piece, accompanied by the layered, sliced potatoes of the Pomme Anna, pomegranate jus, and pickled baby beetroot.
When placing our order we’re originally uncertain about the strength of the onion flavour in the soubise of the Pork Belly. It turns out to be a very well balanced dish, and the onion isn’t overpowering. Our favourite is the Miso Charred Mackerel, which is well-seasoned and doesn’t possess an overly fishy flavour.
As with all the other dishes, the vegetables – baby carrots, grilled shiitake and turnip – are cooked beautifully and treated with respect; the flavours of the produce shines through.
Read more about it at https://concreteplayground.com/
Wickens at The Royal Mail Hotel
Dunkeld’s fine diner where you can indulge in degustations and a 28,000-bottle wine cellar surrounded by bush.
It’s time to put Dunkeld’s Royal Mail Hotel back on your weekend getaway radar, as it has a new fine dining offering: Wickens at Royal Mail Hotel.
Taking over a standalone space on the property, the remote restaurant is accessible by a bush trail the winds down from the hotel. It’s been designed by Melbourne-based Byrne Architects to highlight its connection to its natural surroundings, with floor-to-ceiling windows capturing striking views of Mount Sturgeon and Mount Abrupt. Inside it’s a luxe fusion of sheepskin leather, sandstone and Australian hardwood.
This respect for the land is mirrored in Executive Chef Robin Wickens’ hyper-local menu, which’ll change up regularly, dictated by the daily haul from the on-site olive groves, orchard and 1.2-hectare organic kitchen garden.
The garden-fresh goodies inspire textural plate additions like soils, foams, purées and vegetable infusions. Diners can enjoy the spoils via an ever-changing chef’s tasting menu ($220), with a special chef’s table in the kitchen available to groups of up to four.
Unsurprising, given the Royal Mail’s award-winning 25,000-bottle cellar, the booze side of things sure isn’t lacking, with three expertly curated wine matches on offer as well. Get a taste of the largest privately-owned collection of Bordeaux and Burgundy in the southern hemisphere with the French match ($200), celebrate locality with the all-Australian wine match, or mix things up with the cellar wine match ($130).
The restaurant is a replacement of sorts for the two-hatted Royal Mail Hotel dining room, which closed in early 2017. The hotel’s casual diner Parker Street Project — which is a good spot for lunch if you’re staying the night — has now taken over space, which is connected to the hotel.