115 High Street Avoca, Victoria 3467
|Opening hours||The kitchen is open Thursday to Sunday noon-2pm; Wednesday to Sunday 6pm-8.30pm.|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Bar, Outdoor seating, Licensed|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||03 5465 3018|
WHERE AND WHAT
It's the classic story of a decaying country pub taken on by a couple of newbies and given a second chance. Owners Ian Urquhart and Alison Chapman, previously of Kensington's Blue Door Cafe, took a tree change to Avoca in central Victoria.
Four years on, they've done the hard work of restoring the red-brick landmark and putting it on the gourmand trail.
WHERE TO SIT
Take a gander at the action on the main street from a table out front, have a pot in the front bar - pool room to the side - or head out back to the restaurant itself, where dark paint, statement lighting and fringed curtains add atmosphere. Make sure you book at weekends.
The pub's owners take localism seriously, with everything on the list hailing from the Pyrenees wine region. It's no hardship - there's a broad representation of the region's more than 40 vineyards and diverse grape varietals that extend from the region's classic cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and chardonnay (plenty from stalwarts Blue Pyrenees and Redbank, including an impressive back vintage of its iconic Sally's Paddock) to the likes of grenache and tempranillo from boutique operator Dog Rock. The craft beer list is good too.
The menu by chef Christopher Howe is almost as local as the wine list, with the region's suppliers name-checked at length. Tuki smoked trout makes a fine starting point for fat fried croquettes with caperberries and a swipe of lemon-scented skordalia.
Venison carpaccio features ruby-red slices of big-flavoured meat given an Asian tilt with anchovy mayonnaise and a julienned salad of carrot and daikon with black sesame seeds and fried noodles. Queensland scallops on the half shell need more oomph from their timid soy dressing, but the lamb is amazingly sweet and tender - a four-point rack saddles up with spiced sweet potato puree and grilled peach.
The roasted spatchcock, meanwhile, has its tasty golden skin rubbed with ras el hanout spices, the Middle Eastern spin extending to whipped feta and pistachios. The prices are reasonable. The mains average $30, although at $44 that lamb's getting up there.
Half the population of Avoca eats dinner then has a knees-up in the front bar, while a local guy strums a guitar and sings covers. It's a Saturday night, after all.
Regional food and wine are more than trendy buzzwords at the Avoca Hotel, and it's a fun country pub to boot.