Every year, without fail, a number of Melbourne chefs get jack of the city and go coastal with a series of pop-ups and parties. But this year, in addition to Geoff Lindsay's annual Crab Club, Brigitte Hafner's farm-based dinners, and the Portsea Hotel's parties, a slew of new breweries, wineries and restaurants are about to drop just as you hit the road.
Obviously the best thing to do for dining success is to arm yourself with a copy of the national Good Food Guide and strike out in any direction from Melbourne. But add these to your list and enjoy.
1. St Andrews Beach Brewery
A new brewery bar is busting onto the Fingal scene on December 20. Owned by father and son Andrew and Tim Purchese, plus Michael Freedman and Tommy Berry, it's taking over an old horse training facility, meaning you can either sit in converted horse stables or grassy courtyard to get at their core range (a US pale ale, Australian lager, golden ale and pilsner – microbrews will come down the track) with some calamari, charcuterie or cheese boards, or load up with six packs from the cellar door.
160 Sandy Road, Fingal, 03 5988 6854
It's a trek to the Grampians, but the new dining room of Dunkeld's fine diner (in what used to be the function centre) giving you cinematic views of Mounts Sturgeon and Abrupt is worth the miles. Everything from stone tables to the ceramic plates, modelled after the kitchen garden, now reflects chef Robin Wickens' menu, which itself is far more elegantly restrained and focussed on the Royal Mail's estate-grown produce. Add the 30,000 bottle cellar and sharp service, and it's back at the top of Victoria's destination dining list.
98 Parker Street, Dunkeld, 03 5577 2241, royalmail.com.au
All hail Gippsland, one of Victoria's most delicious food bowls and fish nets where you can still eat the locally caught stuff at the source. It's here that ex-Vue de Monde chef Mark Briggs has opened a waterside eatery and bar serving its namesake sardines, brined and on toast with smoked tomatoes; grilled flounder with shrimp butter; cocktails and local cheeses. There's even asparagus and hollandaise for breakfast at weekends.
Shop 3, 65-69a Esplanade, Paynseville, sardineeaterybar.com
Matt Germanchis and Gemma Gange's pop-up that downed roots at the Anglesea lifesaving club is the best thing that happened to the Great Ocean Road last year. It's billowing fresh prawn crackers the size of a car tire, whole snappers and hunks of lamb shoulder to share with bottles on the deck while watching someone from the kitchen duck into the bushes to grab some herbs. Stuck for New Year plans? They're having a beachside party with food truck-style snacks. Entry is $25 including your first drink.
5. Geoff Lindsay's Crab Club
Fresh crab by the beach courtesy of Dandelion chef Geoff Lindsay is back for summer. His Crab Club is taking over the Lorne Hotel once again from December 27-30 and then skipping over to the Sorrento Sailing and Couta Boat Club each Tuesday in January. There are two sittings a night for the $65 set menu, which gets you bibbed and mallet-armed for crab salads and rolls chased by Singapore mud crab and Lindsay's classic black pepper Antarctic king crab. Book it. Quick.
Lorne Hotel, 176 Mountjoy Parade, Great Ocean Road, Lorne, 03 52891409; Sorrento Sailing, 3154 Point Nepean Road, Sorrento, 03 5984 8200
A lot is happening at this stalwart Mornington Peninsula winery. The main restaurant has reopened after a make-under that's stripped linens in favour of a streamlined, open design. An Argentine parilla (grill) has also been installed for chef Gerard Phelan to char the estate's own vegetables, Milking Yard hens, and veal rib eyes. Meanwhile, next door on the newly acquired Tuck's Ridge property, a summer pop-up is running seven days from December 20, where you can do tastings under the trees or just buy a bottle, order some food and lounge on the lawn like a lord.
33 Red Hill-Shoreham Road, Red Hill South, 03 5989 8412, montalto.com.au
What do you get when you combine Victoria's biggest sculpture collection, soaring views over Western Port and one of the best chefs in the country? Point Leo Estate, the Mornington Peninsula's new $50 million show pony. Aim for lunch, schedule 90 minutes to do the full sculpture tour and don't go past chef Phil Wood's wallaby pies, something charred in the kitchen's hearth and whatever manager Ainslie Lubbock tells you to drink from the all-Victorian wine list.
3649 Frankston-Flinders Road, Merricks, 03 5989 9011, ptleoestate.com.au
8. The annual Apollo Bay Seafood Festival
The three-day festival from February 16-19 involves talks, demonstrations and live music, but the main draw is always trekking around the harbour of one of Victoria's only remaining fish co-ops, where vendors are slinging oysters and champagne, lobster rolls, huge pans of paella and fresh-caught seafood stuffed into dumplings. There's also a long table seafood feast hosted by MoVida's Frank Camorra on the Friday.
Apollo Bay Harbour, 1 Breakwater Road, Apollo Bay, apollobayseafoodfestival.com
9. Polperro Bistro
It's bad news for fans of the ambitious East Bar & Dining in Mount Martha, which closed on December 11, but chef Michael Demagistris, who has done small stints at international giants Noma and Alinea (demonstrable in his love of all things foraged, pickled and cultured) will be heading over to Red Hill's Polperro Bistro in the new year with chef Shane Burke (Barn & Co., Stokehouse, Circa). The bistro will remain a la carte, but expect the added sparkle and crunch of house-made vinegars, pickles and oils and a stronger showing of the estate's home-grown produce to match the Polperro and Even Keel wines.
150 Red Hill Road, Red Hill, 03 5989 2471, polperrowines.com.au
10. Farm, Fire, Fish dinners
The dates are yet to be locked down, but keep both eyes on Gertrude Street Enoteca's website for details of this one. Throughout January and February Enoteca owners Brigitte Haffner and James Broadway will be teaming up with friends to do a series of dinners at farms around the Mornington Peninsula featuring fires, live music and lots of old school, new school and natural local wines. Follow gertrudeenoteca.com and Facebook for details.
Various locations, gertrudeenoteca.com
Who would have thought the Mornington Peninsula would launch not one but two $40 million-plus ventures in one year? It will set you back $650-plus to stay for a night in one of the luminous hotel's luxury rooms, but you can also do a drive-by for wine tastings and casual lunch at the bistro, Rare Hare, or upgrade to the fine dining menu at Doot Doot Doot, eaten beneath artist Jan Flook's undulating 10,000 bulb chandelier.
166 Balnarring Road, Merricks North, 03 5931 2500, jackalopehotels.com
12. Portsea Hotel gigs
The Portsea Hotel doesn't so much serve drinks as endure a mini war every day of summer. The iconic drinking destination overlooking Port Phillip Bay is due for a renovation next year, but until then, the pub will be upping the ante with a series of live music events starring artists such as CC:Disco! from December to February. See the line-up at portseahotel.com.au/whats-on.
3746 Point Nepean Road, Portsea, 03 5984 2213, portseahotel.com.au
13. Provenance Wines
After 20 years, Provenance's winemaker Scott Ireland has teamed up with Sam Vogel (last at Noisy Ritual urban winery in Brunswick East) and taken a long-term lease at the Old Paper Mill on the banks of the Barwon River in Fyansford, on the western edge of Geelong. They've turned the vast bluestone buildings into a working 150-tonne winery with a 200-seat capacity where, in late January, they'll open the bar, serving local cheese and charcuterie for ballast, and follow with a farm-to-table restaurant where you'll be able to eat with eyes on the waterfalls that once powered the mill.
100 Lower Paper Mills Road, Fyansford, 03 5222 3422, provenancewines.com.au
14. Summer Sunday sessions at Hot Chicken Project, Geelong
Igni chef Aaron Turner is bringing his mates to Geelong for the summer holidays to do one-day pop-ups at his other house – the newly expanded Hot Chicken Project. What will Africola's Duncan Welgemoed, Longsong's David Moyle and Huxtaburger's Daniel Wilson do armed only with a set of deep fryers? Who knows. Likely something outrageous. Entry is free, and the first session is January 21.
84a Little Malop Street, Geelong, 03 5221 8977
15. Jetty Road Brewers
More fun for beer fans heading down Mornington Peninsula way. Started by a couple of Mornington boys, this working craft brewery, bar and restaurant will be opening late December in Dromana's industrial estate, slinging local beers and local food to the masses. The exact opening date is still up in the air, but you can follow progress on jettyroad.com.au.
Dromana Industrial Estate, Dromana, jettyroad.com.au
The other essentials to have engraved on your dining dance card for any trip.
4285 Cape Otway Road, Birregurra, 03 5236 2226, braerestaurant.com
Dan Hunter's garden-girt fine diner in Birregurra made the world's 50 best list this year. It will be tough to book, but try your luck to see why.
22 Sackville Street, Port Fairy, 03 5568 3229, fenportfairy.com.au
Taste the Australian rainbow from abalone to quandongs at Ryan Session's Port Fairy fine diner. (Update: Fen will close down on January 27)
Ryan Place, Geelong, 03 5222 2266, restaurantigni.com
Chef Aaron Igni's fire-fuelled restaurant serves custom menus to each table and is one of the hottest places to eat in Australia right now.