336 Maroondah Hwy Healesville, VIC 3777
|Opening hours||Mon-Thu 11am-9pm; Fri 11am-10pm; Sat 9am-10pm; Sun 9am-9pm|
|Features||Licensed, Wheelchair access, Outdoor seating, Bar|
|Payments||Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 5962 6111|
Two bits of advice for Healesville: don't try to touch the koalas at the sanctuary. It is a rule they enforce. The other is bring a designated driver.
If the Yarra Valley is Victoria's food bowl, Healesville is its convivial and culinary axis of awesome. Gun winemaker Mac Forbes has a wine bar, Grace Burn. Harleys surround the Healesville Hotel for its high-end pub food. The HQ for Four Pillars makes sucking down gin and tonics a legitimate afternoon.
Now, wine and beer mogul Phil Sexton has taken the next step in the Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander story, splitting his wine labels and selling Innocent Bystander to Brown Brothers who have opened right next door slinging a casual agenda of pizzas, paellas and wine on tap in the old White Rabbit brewery. At Giant Steps, Sexton has luxed up the dining room of the restaurant and cellar door and lured original chef Jarrod Hudson back from Melbourne's Easy Tiger to bash the pans.
The working winery, with all the associated perks of barrel kicking, wine sipping ($10 for a tasting, redeemable if you buy a bottle) and the ethanol-y waft of ferments, has been buffed to a dark and luxurious shine. Giant spider-like chandeliers hang over curved leather booths. From the cool stone bar you can see a private tasting room framed through glowing loops.
If you go to Innocent Bystander by mistake, a server might tell you they are now "the fun one" and it's a little serious next door. But Giant Steps' food is still as all-encompassing and tweezer-free as it ever was. It's a half-Thai, half-Euro menu that copes with the kind of weekend warriors who believe every restaurant serves a steak.Theirs is a dry aged porterhouse with horseradish, viewed near the production room where, during vintage, you might catch shirtless workers cleaning vats. They still do wood-fired sourdough pizza for the family towing a two-year-old dressed as a princess unicorn.
Quality of the produce remains king. Charcuterie name-checks your funky Sher wagyu bressaolas and Sicilian salamis, but also sees translucent slices of salt-cured tuna, more land meat than fish, tempered by a judicious touch of lemon oil. See also Mt Zero olives and silky goat's curd from Woodside, fed into a couple of sweet, skinless piquillo peppers with a basil oil. Fresh.
Hudson has proven form in continent-hopping cooking. Before Easy Tiger, he worked under Christine Manfield at Universal. You see it in the uncompromising freshness and balance in a salad of fresh-picked spanner crab, young coconut and springy coriander with fat curves of avocado to make it a full meal for the #fitspo crowd.
In other regions, you might get the half hen, its harissa-coated skin charred black from open flames, zinged with a sharp, capery-parsley dressing and tongues of roasted bullhorn peppers.
The menu is broad, but the focus is tight. You also have Hudson's partner and Giant Steps-expat Suzanne Tyzack leading a strong matching game. Before lunch you can take a vermouth journey with their own herbal Cures and Causes label, mixed into negronis or served straight over ice. There's pep to their Side Step rose; their oaky chardonnay from their Yarra Valley vines has enough body and grit to stand up to that harissa hen. If you made the stupid (or necessary) choice to drive, half glasses are your friend.
Probably the only drawback is a too-sweet tartlet of lemon curd crowned in fresh blackberries, and a less sweet bunch of wine-fuelled bros bragging about their sexual prowess. People sure are the worst. The redux Giant Steps is anything but.
Pro Tip: Wine tastings at $10, and you can also rent the barrel room for private functions.
Go-to Dish: Spanner crab and coconut salad.