This is the first in our year-long series of regional drinking and dining guides supporting bushfire-affected communities across Australia.
Escaping Victoria's horror bushfires, Beechworth is still open for business. Just remember to put a cooler in the boot.
The air is clear, and heavy rain has sprouted a green tinge in the paddocks surrounding Beechworth.
The fires were 35 kilometres and two valleys away. This beautiful town of 2800 people, three-and-a-half hours north east of Melbourne, was once a bawdy, boozy goldrush tent city.
It has since aged into a beautiful historic town, built from the same hard granite on which it stands.
That stone was used to build the jail on the edge of town that housed Ned Kelly. That same stone sits under some of the most celebrated vineyards in Australia, such as Castagna, Giaconda, and Savaterre, all just out of town.
Surrounded by bush, farmland, wineries and orchards, Beechworth has attracted a community of chefs and creative food producers.
Together they make this place a charming and desirable food and wine destination.
Set in an 1860s bank with metre-thick granite walls, the muted dining room of Provenance looks out onto century-old elms. The wine list is entirely based on local wines, with a good swathe of sake, reflecting chef Michael Ryan's love of Japan. With two Good Food Guide hats under his belt, in response to the horror January he has temporarily simplified his menu, offering brilliant bar food such as succulent lamb ribs on mayo-enriched kimchi. Come March, it's back to fine dining. The food is intelligent and entertaining, with dishes such as crisp, crunchy, salty fried garfish bones or super-slippery house-made silken tofu with sharp mustard greens and umami-rich dried tuna. With smart, polite staff, a post-punk playlist and luxury accommodation, this is one of Victoria's best regional restaurants.
The Empire Hotel
This grand old pub is a light, bright, family-friendly place where professional hospitality dovetails with community amenity. Rub shoulders with the locals at the bar and expect to pay reasonable prices for good wines by the glass served with dishes like Hervey Bay scallops with saffron butter or a full-flavoured French country pork terrine. Downstairs in the dining room, with its bare brick walls and open fireplace, you'll find dishes layered with flavour. Try the cured kingfish with elderflower, cooling cucumber granita, and the tangy pop of finger lime. Accommodation available.
Ox and Hound
Chef Sean Ford holds fast to traditional values, growing many of his vegetables and offering uncomplicated but delicious classic bistro fare. A perennial is his chestnut fettuccine with rabbit ragu while a seasonal dish is barramundi topped with caponata, making the most of summer eggplants cooked with celery, pine nuts, raisins and sharpened with vinegar. Ox and Hound is a warm, hospitable place with woven cane chairs at hardwood tables and a view out over the main street.
Press Room Wine Bar
This casual diner is housed in the town's old print shop, circa 1890, a characterful room with bare brick walls and an open fireplace. The Spanish-inspired menu offers crisp croquettes filled with creamy bechamel or perhaps mushrooms cooked in butter with oloroso sherry. Finish with a San Sebastian-style baked cheesecake and a glass of Pedro Ximenez.
A cafe and deli run by industry legends Lisa Pidutti and Rocco Esposito, who focus on good, simple Italian food. Breakfast could be a freshly baked piadina filled with eggs, bacon and rocket while lunch could be handmade pasta and bright, fresh pesto.
Sri Lankan-born chef Amandhi De Silva runs this small cafe serving dishes made with vegies from her garden. A light lunch here could be local smoked trout with purslane, pickled cucumber, and avocado. De Silva serves unapologetically authentic dishes at Friday Night Potluck, such as spicy curried rooster with sweet sticky rice.
Bridge Road Brewers
Brewer Ben Kraus is one of the leaders in the Australian craft beer movement. His brewery and taproom, furnished with 20 taps, is housed in historic red-brick stables. Enjoy the aroma of cooking malted barley, order a tasting paddle of beer, and a thin, crisp-crusted pizza. It's kid-friendly, and you can hire a bike to treadle around town.
Eldorado Road Cellar Door Cantina
This is the cellar door for a small family winery based in nearby Eldorado and is right next door to Bridge Road Brewers. Come for the fun atmosphere, free tastings, wine by the glass, and excellent local cheese plates.
Under the peppermint gums on a hill just outside of town is this collection of corrugated iron sheds in which Stephen Morris and son Stephen make truly excellent wines from grapes grown in their biodynamic vineyard. Try the Spanish-style Constance Fino and the very fruity but complex gamay. (A beautiful location accessible from the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail.)
After many years of temperance, this historic brewery has been renovated and is once again brewing beer. Order the cordials, spirits, the mineral water sourced from a spring under the brewery, and, naturally, the beer. There is also a brewery museum and the National Trust Carriage Museum on site.
Cellar Door Wine Store
In the morning come for the very good Allpress coffee, and perhaps some cake baked by owner Cecily Bisset. When the sun's over the yardarm, ask for a glass of local wine and a plate of French cheese. Also bottle shop sales.
To fill your esky
Jodie and Steven Goldsworthy have been flying the flag for Australian honey for decades, and you sense that dedication in their tasting room. There's an active hive behind Perspex, historical displays, and more than 60 different honeys from around Australia to taste and buy.
Silver Creek Sourdough
Up in the beautiful Mayday Hills precinct on the edge of town, baker Louise Ritchie makes excellent sourdough crumpets and long ferment sourdough bread. She usually sells out by noon.
42 Gilchrist Ave, Beechworth
French chef and long-time local Michel Renoux, makes excellent pâté, and this is one of the few places you can but it. This community hub also sells locally grown walnuts, cheese, olive oil, bread, smallgoods, eggs, and spicy tomato chutney made by Fay Mim, the owner's mum.
61 Ford St, Beechworth
Between Wangaratta and Beechworth, on the outskirts of the little town of Tarrawingee, Melissa and Donovan Jacka carefully handmake cheeses from the milk of their small herd of goats. Watch the goats being fed, wander around the historic buildings, then taste and buy their smooth and tangy fromage frais or their sweet, complex blue goat cheese.
For more information visit explorebeechworth.com.au