Country party: The best new restaurants and bars in regional Victoria

Drinks and snacks at 1915 in Geelong.
Drinks and snacks at 1915 in Geelong. Photo: Surfinity Media

Some people are regular roadtrippers, others prefer the lure of overseas adventure. But after the past 18 months, none of us are taking for granted the pleasure of packing up the car and heading somewhere new.

In Victoria, we don't feel the same tyranny of distance as the rest of the country: our compact little state can be explored even when you only have a day or a weekend to spare.

But after so much time confined to our own familiar streets, something tells us that luxuriously long roadtrips are on the cards in the coming weeks and months. Here are the new spots to add to your itinerary.

BREWERIES AND DISTILLERIES

Daylesford Brewing Co

Combining relaxed country pub vibes and a late-aughts look that's all clean lines and pastels, the newly opened taproom of this Daylesford brewery is already a hit with locals and visitors of all ages.

Bar tables and rattan armchairs are perfect for a schooner or two (choose from pale ale, lager, golden ale or porter) or perhaps an elderflower spritz.

Booths framed by pale pink concrete arches are the spot for longer sessions punctuated by quality snacks: smoked cheddar and potato tortilla, pork rillettes with caperberries or twice-cooked lamb ribs with pickled green chilli.

Owners Dave Gill and Jessica Holmes have been planning this space for five years – we reckon they'll be glad to see you at the bar.

97 Vincent Street, Daylesford, daylesfordbrewingco.com.au

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Reed & Co gin distillery in Bright, which has created a new restaurant in the space, called Koji Bird, using the koji from the distillery across a menu of barbecued chicken, smoked duck and more. For Good Food, 3 November, 2021

Reed & Co distillery in Bright has a new barbecue chicken restaurant, Koji Bird. Photo: Supplied

Reed & Co

This gin distillery in Bright isn't new, but owners Hamish Nugent and Rachel Reed (who also ran Tani Eat & Drink) are good at keeping us on our toes, whether it's with their latest gin-based creation with local winemakers or the very new Koji Bird, a chook shop that's like nothing you've ever seen before.

After experimenting in the distillery with spirits made with koji (the Japanese cultivated mould that is used to make miso, soy sauce and mirin), Nugent and Reed decided to use it extensively for a May pop-up featuring free-range barbecued chicken, duck smoked over redgum and more. Koji Bird was born and now, lucky us, it's a permanent fixture at the distillery.

All the birds are marinated with koji, adding umami and tenderising the meat, and it's also seen in other dishes, such as lightly cured golden trout from Harrietville with koji and buttermilk dressing. Also clever is the chicken chip butty, a glorious snack of "chips" of dehydrated chicken stock that are sandwiched between fluffy white bread.

There's the option to add gin cocktail pairings or you can do a tasting flight for the full distillery experience.

15 Wills Street, Bright, 0460 782 642, reedandcodistillery.com

Sailors Grave Brewing founders Chris and Gabrielle Moore have added a bar to their East Gippsland brewery, with seats that overlook the Snowy River.
For Good Food, 4 November 2021

Sailors Grave founders Chris and Gabrielle Moore. Photo: Jessica Shapiro

Sailors Grave Brewing

Founders Chris and Gab Moore are known for their distinctive beers featuring local botanicals, so it makes sense they've added a bar that's got a unique stamp on it.

At the back of their East Gippsland brewery, located in Orbost's former butter factory, a refurbished shipping container and 130 seats have been added overlooking paddocks and the Snowy River. It is, as Gab Moore says, one of the most special spots in town.

Try the full Sailors Grave range plus William Downie wines and Gurneys Cider, and don't pass up tacos of tender lamb shoulder with Snowy River black garlic (dubbed the Black Sheep) from the Vaya Taqueria truck by local Luke Gibson.

7 Forest Road, Orbost, sailorsgravebrewing.com

1915 is a new restaurant and bar in the Federal Mills development in Geelong with chef Andy Simeonakis on food and neighbouring distillery Anther Gin collaborating on the cocktail list. The restaurant is in the old boiler room.
For Good Food, 3 November, 2021

1915 is a new restaurant and bar in Geelong's Federal Mills precinct. Photo: Monika Berry

RESTAURANTS

1915

Whether stop-off or destination, 1915 in Geelong's Federal Mills redevelopment is a head-turning addition to any itinerary.

What was once the mills' boiler room is now a vast diner that wears its industrial past proudly. Vaulted ceilings, original brickwork and cobalt-blue metal frame an assortment of booths, bar tables and outdoor seating where groups large and small snack on the crowd-pleasing menus of Andy Symeonakis (ex Lorne Hotel).

Stay on safe ground with O'Connor porterhouse, fish and chips or wood-fired pizzas, or branch out with beef short ribs with beetroot tzatziki.

Being next door to gin distillery Anther means cocktails are a cut above. Try the local take on a Singapore Sling featuring Anther's gin infused with Tasmanian cherries, or explore the glass-fronted wine cellar assembled by Jeremy Shiell that mixes Geelong names with French, Spanish and South Australian.

33 Mackey Street, North Geelong, 0499 33 1915, 1915.com.au

Table et Terroir

Tiny Maldon is home to a brand-new bistro that wouldn't be out of place in the big smoke, serving proudly local takes on the likes of gnocchi Parisienne with cheese sauce featuring Long Paddock's semi-hard Banksia or apple tarte Tatin made with Uncle George's fruit grown in Harcourt.

Chef Cedric Bricnet, originally from Lille, and his partner Clare Shamier opened the restaurant after a string of successful pop-ups in Castlemaine last year, with Bricnet using the bounty of Goldfields ingredients at his fingertips.

At Table et Terroir, mix and match pistachio and Great Ocean duck terrine, asparagus with Holy Goat's fresh curd and wines that are just as local, with Mount Macedon the farthest region represented on the list.

24 High Street, Maldon, 0460 946 391, table-et-terroir-maldon.square.site

Martha's Table a new restaurant by the sea and a marina at Safety Beach in Victoria.

Martha's Table at Martha Cove marina. Photo: Jake Roden

Martha's Table

There might be a private berth at Martha's Table for those arriving by boat, but this Safety Beach spot is not your typical nautical-themed coastal diner.

Sure, there's seafood, including a smoked mussel and school prawn tagliatelle by chef Adam Beckett or whole fish cooked on the wood-fire. But the dining room feels straight out of a grand seaside hotel in Europe, with hexagonal-tiled floors, turquoise timber bars and elegant art deco touches.

Yellow fin tuna crudo at Martha's Table in Safety Beach.

Yellowfin tuna crudo at Martha's Table. Photo: Jake Roden

Beckett (last seen at Lindenderry in Red Hill) has just come on board and has big plans for the wood-fired grill and oven, hoping to offer a loosely Mediterranean menu that changes enough to keep regulars returning while consistently highlighting peninsula producers such as Mushroom Forestry, and native ingredients he forages himself.

A grocery has takeaway items and cabinets full of cheese and cured meats for aperitivi.

5 Waterfront Place, Safety Beach, 03 9617 5377, marthastable.com.au

The Birdhouse in Apollo Bay is one of the few first-storey restaurants in town that can offer sweeping views of the ocean. Couple Gavin and Nikki Rix own the business.
For Good Food, 5 November, 2021

Apollo Bay's La Bimba becomes The Bird House. Photo: Supplied

The Bird House

If the sweeping sea views that extend to Cape Patton weren't enough to lure you to this first-storey restaurant on Apollo Bay's foreshore, perhaps the asado grill or local catch will.

Chef Gavin Rix and partner Nikki, who handles the floor, have transformed what was La Bimba into a tropical-feeling space with bifold windows that open onto foliage and coastal breezes.

It's a homecoming of sorts for Gavin, who first worked at La Bimba when he moved to Apollo Bay from Adelaide 15 years ago and loved the space.

He's honouring its legacy in signature dishes such as paella, alongside additions like Portuguese seafood soup cataplana or dry-aged rib-eye cooked over red gum at dinner.

Breakfast features Chooks at the Rooke eggs and Genovese coffee, while lunch dishes fall somewhere between the two.

125 Great Ocean Road, Apollo Bay, 03 5237 7411, birdhouseapollobay.com.au

Grace

Event caterers Matthieu and Erica Miller (Milkin Kitchen) have switched from canapes to takeaway containers to cooking for a full restaurant since COVID-19 turned their world inside out. And Grace, a smart new all-day eatery in Rutherglen's main street, is the silver lining for all of us.

Start the day with maple and bacon beans on Milawa corn bread to go with coffee by Albury roasters Platform 9. Later in the day, you might spring for empanadas filled with venison or goat's curd with spring greens and hazelnut picada, followed by Humpty Doo barramundi with fregola and curried cauliflower.

If picnics are on the cards, stock up on French cheese, fennel seed salami, condiments, local wine and baked goods from the canteen.

84 Main Street, Rutherglen, 02 5017 0017, milkinkitchen.com.au/grace

The Gin Kitchen

The bright flavours of Vietnam, Thailand and beyond are teamed with the local botanicals of Great Ocean Road Gin at new Aireys Inlet restaurant, The Gin Kitchen, adjoining the distiller's tasting room.

Chef Hoan Kiem Ho offers a chorus line of familiar favourites including Korean fried chicken (or cauliflower), chargrilled prawn rice paper rolls, sticky pork belly and five-spiced quail, plus a red curry that heroes Great Ocean Road duck.

Walk through the garden to the tasting room next door to try owner Ann Houlihan's unique gins such as S.East Meets S.West, a blend of yuzu, lemongrass and native coastal herbs found in the Surf Coast region, and perhaps pick up some G&T cans and bottled cocktails for happy hour away from your home bar.

34 Great Ocean Road, Aireys Inlet, 03 5210 5705, greatoceanroadgin.com.au

POP-UPS

Mischa Tropp at Avani Wines

Chef Mischa Tropp's nomadic cooking project We Are Kerala is about to settle in at Red Hill's Avani Wines for a month of lunches showcasing regional specialties from across India.

This isn't the winery's first experience with exciting pop-ups by Indian chefs: Helly Raichura of Enter Via Laundry made this her roving restaurant's home for several weeks recently.

When Tropp is up and running, he'll be grilling prawns and topping them with the Bengali curry malaikari, and pairing besan chilla – herb and chilli-flecked chickpea pancakes from northern India – with creme fraiche and Yarra Valley trout roe.

Chef Mischa Tropp brings his modern take on Indian food to Avani Wines in Red Hill in the summer of 2021. Food in shot: Uttapum, creme fraise, yarra valley trout roe (pikelet with toppings)

Uttapam topped with creme fraiche and Yarra Valley trout roe. Photo: Parker Blain

Inspired by his 2019 trip through several different regions of India, the chef is out to broaden our understanding of the cuisine (although he did offer a mean butter chicken via Elsie's With Love to get us through lockdown). Paired with biodynamically farmed chardonnay and syrah from Avani's family-run operation, Tropp's takeover (Nov 19-Dec 30) promises a helluva time.

98 Stanleys Road, Red Hill South, 0435 009 381, avanisyrah.com.au

EXPERIENCES

Victorian Cherry Trail

December is peak cherry season in Victoria so why not head straight to the source and pick your own? The Victorian Cherry Trail includes a tour of eight cherry orchards across the Upper Goulburn Valley, Yarra Valley, Macedon Ranges and the Mornington Peninsula, where you can pick or buy just-picked cherries. Do the whole trail or choose a region to explore and lunch in.

Orchards open Nov-Jan, cherries.org.au

The Cheese School

Part of the fabulous Mill in Castlemaine, a collection of makers, one-of-a-kind shops and artisan producers, this school started by Alison Lansley and highly regarded cheesemakers Ivan and Julie Larcher of Long Paddock Cheese has recruited Kristen Allan (recently arrived in Victoria from Sydney) to teach home cheesemakers the art of labne, ricotta and cultured buttermilk from mid-December. Mark your calendars and stay tuned for more classes.

Dec 15, cost $260, kristenallan.com.au

La Dolce Vita King Valley

It looks a little different this year, but King Valley's celebration of spring and the new wines it brings is happening at select wineries this month (November 20-21).

Dal Zotto is making the weekend an unofficial prosecco party complete with music by DJ Impede ($55, dalzotto.com.au), while Politini is offering a Sicilian lunch in the garden ($15 entry, food extra, politiniwines.com.au) and La Cantina will set up market stalls offering Italian food and homemade items, as well as offering wine tastings ($10 entry, lacantinakingvalley.com.au).

Check winesofthekingvalley.com.au for up-to-date information

Rosé Evolution

Drink rosé on a picnic rug among the vines, in a hot air balloon or in your own private igloo at this annual Yarra Valley celebration of pink wine in all its forms.

Soumah is doing pink fizz with Italian merenda (afternoon snacks), Denton is bringing Izakaya Den to the Valley to launch a new nebbiolo rosé and Giant Steps is setting up a courtyard oyster bar.

Nov 20-28, wineyarravalley.com.au

COMING SOON

1309 at Balgownie Estate

Chefs Grant Flack and Beth Candy are ready to open the doors to diners on December 9, after a complete rebuild of this Yarra Valley winery's restaurant and cellar door following a fire in June 2020.

Flack and Candy will showcase a who's who of local producers, including Yarra Valley Dairy and Buxton Trout, in dishes that reflect Middle Eastern, Italian, French and Spanish influences punctuated by native Australian flavours. balgownie.com

Portarlington Grand Hotel

By December, people will be able to enjoy pots and pizza in the beer garden at this beachside pub once again, after a nine-month renovation encompassing front bar, bistro, hotel rooms and outdoor dining.

Chef Richard Hall (ex-Transport and Transit Bar) has just come on board and will show off local seafood alongside polished pub fare and Bellarine wines.

Indoor dining and accommodation open in January. portarlingtongrandhotel.com.au