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The Great Ocean Road in winter still has the crashing waves, the fresh-caught seafood and the long ribbon of road that is one of the most beautiful coast drives in the world, but it lacks one thing: the crowds. Barcelona-born and Geelong- raised, Frank Camorra, executive chef of MoVida Group, started his cooking career in the seaside town of Lorne. He says that the colder weather acts a bit like a time machine, taking the coastal burg back to the time he began cooking in the kitchen of local restaurant The Arab.
"Lorne in winter is how I remember it growing up 20-something years ago," Franks says. "When you pop into Lorne in winter mode, it feels cosy, it feels local and you feel like one of the special people here. You are not part of that summer horde. You are part of the community."
Frank says Lorne has transformed a lot in that time and one of the latest changes is the addition of a new MoVida inside the Lorne Hotel. What started as a pop-up in 2018 is now a new restaurant in the old hotel's nightclub space, a place Frank used to come for a drink as a young apprentice.
Frank Camorra explores what the Great Ocean Road has to offer.
MoVida Lorne continues the strong Spanish tradition in his restaurants but is given a beachfront twist. "We've done a MoVida that fits into that seaside location, a classic example in Spain is restaurants called chiringuitos that open on the coast. They're always really simple and focus on the local seafood and local produce, not over-the-top complex food, just showcasing those ingredients. It's the sort of place you feel comfortable just popping in straight off the beach or putting a nice shirt on and coming in for dinner."
View across the water to the Grand Pacific Hotel in Lorne.
It's not the first fine diner to find a home along this salty air strip, the region has plenty to offer surfer and diner alike. "The Great Ocean Road has some fantastic restaurants," says Frank. "If you go to Anglesea you've got Captain Moonlite with Matt [Germanchis] doing some fantastic food in an incredible location; the Aireys Pub is doing great food and has Salt Brewing Co, and then in Lorne you have Ipsos that has been here forever. One of my favourite restaurants down the coast is La Bimba at Apollo Bay, so for me this Great Ocean Road trail has become a foodie destination – and then you have Brae inland just 30 mins from Lorne..."
This gastronomic explosion is partly thanks to the quality of produce; from the daily catch of seafood to the wines of the Bellarine Peninsula, plus plenty of inland options from duck to mushrooms. At Timboon you have top-quality cheeses and milk from Schulz Organic Dairy and cider from Mt Duneed Estate.
Frank is a fan of wandering inland too. "The amazing Otway National Park delivers spectacular landscape and incredible forests. [And] what a great town Forrest is; just a small community doing interesting things with food and beer. Driving through Lorne the back way is my favourite way to get here."
Lake Elizabeth - Great Otway National Park
Inland from the Great Ocean Road and the 12 Apostles are hidden waterfalls, the most accessible of which is Erskine Falls, a 30-metre cascade of water surrounded by ferns and forest. Or take one of the Otway's rainforest walking tracks like the hike through the ancient tall trees of Maits Rest.
Meet the locals
Part of the appeal of regional travel is that there is a greater connection with producers both for Frank and his team and for visitors who can connect via farm gates like Ravens Creek Farm and the Timboon Railway Shed Distillery - all connected to the Otway Harvest Trail. And such diversity of local produce means the winter MoVida menu is full off dishes like a hearty seafood paella or slow-braised lamb with paprika and tomato.
"If we get some amazing seafood from Wazza, the local fisherman, we are going to take it and grill it as simply as we possibly can," he says. "He'll bring it in the back door that day – the day that it arrives is the day that it goes on the menu. If you're travelling you want to eat the food from the region and if you have the coast on one side of you then you want to taste the seafood from that coast in those restaurants."
Sample craft beer at Forest Brewing Company
Forrest mushrooms might turn up on the menu in a tortilla with shiitake mushroom "with an incredible umami flavour" and the team at Forrest Brewing Company – owners Matt and Sharon used to work with Frank at MoVida – will be on the beer list when you head in from the colder weather. Or head up to Forrest Brewing yourself for a beer in the renovated Forrest general store.
"For me, winter is the time of year you can really be a godsend for people when you cook them a dish," says Frank. "When you come in from the cold and you get something that is hearty, nutritious and delicious, that's when you really learn what food can do for your soul."
To dine on the catch of the day and enjoy a cosy coastal escape this winter visit: yourhappyspace.com.au