Graceburn Bistro review

The art of wine dining at Graceburn Bistro in Healesville.
The art of wine dining at Graceburn Bistro in Healesville. Photo: James HH Morgan

11a Green St Healesville, VIC 3777

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Opening hours Cellar door Thu-Mon 11am-5pm; bistro Fri-Sat 6pm-late
Features Licensed, Accepts bookings, Bar
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 5962 3704

Are you snow blind with wine bars? Every second opening of the past two years, when it hasn't been a casual Italian, has been a plonk-shop and pan-European small plates joint. And there's nothing to hate about that. But only a few embody what "wine bar" meant before the term was rinsed.

Wine bars aren't just places with wine. Even a lot of it. They are, at full throttle, the Dionysian destroyers of your best-laid plans. Real wine bars take your agenda, swirl it around a decanter and pitch it out the window.

It's not about getting drunk. It is about getting you properly excited about what it is you're drinking. They're convivial. Full of curious treats and communicators who can get you revved. Have you felt that at some of the corporate entities that have opened lately, where you're presented with a long, cold list of names and no one to help you drive it? Doubtful. But you'll feel it at Graceburn.

Confit duck leg with pears and broad bean flowers.
Confit duck leg with pears and broad bean flowers. Photo: Hugh Davison

This is the real deal, the cellar door of Yarra Valley's wildcard winemaker Mac Forbes, situated down a side street of the pumping regional hamlet of Healesville. It's been open and doing food on and off for a couple of years, but now that chef Hugh Davison has left the juggernaut event star Stones on the Yarra Valley to do some very small batch magic, it's worth a day trip to remind yourself what wine dining can be.

It's a sweet little box outfitted in rough woods and dried-leaf switches. A chalkboard plots the weather events that shaped each vintage for the past decade. Do you like Forbes' wines? Given his ever-curious, terroir-focused philosophy, where he encourages grapes from formerly unloved Yarra pockets like Woori Yallock and Wesburn to tell the story of that dirt, it would be hard not to like at least like a few.

The pinot noirs and rieslings from different blocks, plus outliers like a blaufrankisch from his sabbatical to Austria in 2010, are stacked high around the room. Don't dig those drops? Forbes also brings in a box of random treats from his own cellar every week.

A cunning play on beef tartare using beets.
A cunning play on beef tartare using beets.  Photo: Hugh Davison

In the afternoons these might star in flights, or join the by-glass list as the sun goes down. It's here that travellers might sometimes do The Turn. This Saturday night, one table is occupied by a group who were destined for the snow and ended up going two rounds of Davison's menu instead.

That's not hard to do. Davison, given free rein, has proved to be as much of a terroir-ist as Forbes. Compared with the five kitchens Davison ended up overseeing at Stones, here he has a glorified cupboard, a hibachi grill and a camp oven in his artillery, but that's the way he likes it.

And that's the way you'll like it when it results in a spare menu with very few decisions to make (two can order the whole menu) that nicely balances the hot and cold, the prepped and fresh. Davison's economies of tiny scales mean he can also work with exactly the produce he likes.

Four Pillars' gin pig salami.
Four Pillars' gin pig salami.  Photo: Hugh Davison

That means gin pig salami, firm little slices made from pigs fed on leftover botanicals that make local Four Pillars gin, with those same fragrant spices woven through the meat to complete the loop.

It also, excitingly, means wild-harvested venison, an invasive pest ethically sourced by local game guru Ken Lang. Here the lean meat is bound with coriander, chilli and garlic into rich, fruity and only gently gamey kofta, dressed with smoke-infused aioli and pickled carrot ribbons for bright ballast.

Sound weird? It works. As does an all-veg tartare of diced, roasted beets bound with its typical caper, chive and cornichon bedfellows with mayo for richness and fresh crisps as scoops.

See also a totally conventional, comforting rump cap, seared off with shallots and thyme and roasted over red gum, delivered with a hefty hunk of sweet, soft pumpkin and a jumble of veg (all from Toolangi, a farm doing regenerative best practice).

The flowers all over everything? While usually pointless faff, these broad-bean flowers, plucked from between Forbes vines, get a hall pass.

Chances are you'll never eat these dishes. This is a menu that walks through the door in the arms of producers each morning. It's a roulette specials board, every day.

Come summer, when Scott Dunn (formerly of Ringwood champion Firehouse) brings even more expertise to the personable team and the windows will fling open to the street, what a potent little beast.

Vegetarian It's a tight menu, but with a vego entree and main.

Drinks Mac Forbes museum collection and other terroir wines, local spirits.

Cost Entrees $12-$15; mains $25-$35.

Pro Tip: Passing through? Buy a haul at the best rates around.

Go-to Dish: It's menu roulette every day. Order it all.

https://www.graceburn.com/