THEME: OUT OF TOWN
There are so many reasons to love chef Jerry Mai's Vietnamese barbecue pop-up on the Mornington Peninsula. The setting is astoundingly pretty, entered via an avenue of plane trees. The tasting room faces Mai's barbecue corral on the terrace and, behind her, through a haze of fragrant charcoal smoke, lawns slope to a lake, overlooking vines, hills and a peep of bay.
The whole scenario makes it basically compulsory to throw out a picnic blanket and engage in some wine-inspired lazing around. The mood is casual, a kind of summer exhalation for the year we've endured. And the food is great, a bit of Vietnamese for a part of Victoria that's big on food but light on Asian flavours.
It's a transporting experience in multiple ways. As soon as you turn off the Shoreham Road, you're a hundred miles from care. We can't hit Hanoi's street markets for skewers but we're getting the flavours brought to us.
Mai's restaurants have served Ocean Eight's bright, racy wines for years – why can't the food come to the wine instead? There's also the practical reality that opening her flagship Annam in Chinatown is a difficult proposition: CBD slump, not enough staff, and Melbourne is about to hightail to the regions anyway.
So, the food! The grill is fired with ironbark, perfect for charring sweetcorn that's slathered with coriander butter. Chicken is marinated in lemongrass, chilli and turmeric, cooked on the bone so it stays juicy, and served with a zesty slaw.
Mai's spin on a Bunnings sausage is spiked with Thai curry flavours and plonked in sandwich bread from an Asian bakery – it's crustier and fluffier than supermarket sliced white.
Porchetta often twirls on the spit but you might luck onto ham with yuzu glaze. Flavours are punchy, fingers are licked, smiles are messy.
Some notes: rain makes it tricky, kids are welcome, dogs are not, restaurant infrastructure is basic (there is minimal seating but you're welcome to bring camp chairs and even a table).
Approach the pop-up with a come-what-may attitude and what comes your way is extra tasty food and a blanket-load of bonhomie.
Bia Hoi x Ocean Eight
Address: Ocean Eight Vineyard and Winery, 271 Tucks Road, Shoreham, biahoibar.com.au
Open: Friday-Sunday 11am-4pm, until January 26
Scoring is paused while the industry gets back on its feet.
Lakes Entrance has a new outdoor dining precinct on the foreshore, decked out with picket fences and archways upcycled from Flemington Racecourse. Come by for local seafood, Sailors Grave Brewing's creative beers and Gippsland Jersey's soft-serve ice-cream.
Lakes Entrance waterfront, facebook.com/slipway3909
Over the mountain from Bright and with views of Mount Bogong, Emma Handley's atmospheric restaurant is in an old timber lodge with a broad, shady verandah. It's a lovely place to lob for heartfelt country cooking. Hot tip: try the gnocchi.
181-183 Kiewa Valley Highway, Tawonga, templarlodge.com.au
Come for good old country accommodation, one of the best timber balconies in the state and classy pub meals. There's great beer on tap, good cocktails and excellent wine.
2 Burke Square, Daylesford, daylesfordhotel.com.au