LOT 1F Great Alpine Road Mount Hotham, Victoria 3741
|Opening hours||Thu-Sun noon-3pm; Daily 5.30pm-late|
|Features||Views, Licensed, Vegetarian friendly|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Chef||Michael Ryan and Hamish Nugent|
|Phone||03 5759 3456|
Going skiing is like going to a wedding. You're not here for the food. But when two of north-east Victoria's most accomplished chefs step out of their kitchens and join forces on the summit of Mount Hotham they create a reason to make the journey, regardless of how much snow is on the ground.
Michael Ryan of Beechworth's Provenance Restaurant and Hamish Nugent, from Tani Eat and Drink in Bright, have taken over a former nightclub at the base of the White Crystal Apartments. The chefs are long-time collaborators and have done business together several times before, both on the mountain (with the Japanese restaurant Tsubo), and consulting to a ski resort restaurant in Japan.
Called Yama Kitchen & Bar (Yama is Japanese for mountain), this venture is an austere rectangular black box, warmed by honey-coloured hardwood tables, the ceiling dotted with translucent glass box lights. One wall of windows offers a dramatic view of the snow-covered Victorian Alps. Diners could be a chequered mass of flannel shirts, the staff from the local pub, hipster couples or multigenerational families in taut apres-ski wear.
The Yama menu follows the contemporary shared plate format, very casual and with broad appeal. Both chefs have set out to create a menu that combines their greatest hits from previous ventures with some new dishes that show off their understanding of Asian ingredients. Beef tartare, for example; a dish of hand-chopped cold-smoked steak with the confounding tang of shiso leaf and the added oomph of shio-koji, rice fermented in salt. The resulting dish is an umami explosion – a hedonistic confluence of ingredients that activate our sense of savoury deliciousness.
And that is where this free and easy diner-cum-bar-cum restaurant is at its best – the expression of the sum of knowledge of two chefs who understand how to make mouth-pleasing and fun dishes.
Take the kimchi and cheese jaffles from the snack menu – an unbuttered white bread sanger filled with Australian mozzarella, tasty cheese and house-made kimchi. Simple, filling and delicious, it's indicative of the snacks aimed at hungry after-ski eaters and drinkers.
Elsewhere on the snack menu, fat slices of free-range pork, pickled cucumber and Kewpie mayo nestle into four steamed bao. And three Korean-style chicken wings are fried in a flour and sake batter, giving a crisp finish to unctuous flesh that is best flensed from the bone using one's lips and teeth.
With a good cocktail and craft beer list, as well as the dark '80s soundtrack, there is the potential for Yama to become more bar and less kitchen as the night progresses.
Almost a quarter of the menu is made up of (mostly) shared vegetable plates such as prawn and cauliflower sauteed in butter sitting on a bed of jam made from cooked down nori and sugar. Both savoury and meaty, despite the scant use of prawn meat, it finishes with a sweet and salty tang. There is a play on nasu dengaku, the Japanese classic of eggplant roasted with sweet miso. The version at Yama is sweet, meaty and smoky, with slices laid out casually on a plate lacking visual finesse.
Tarwin River lamb is a plate of two deep brown shanks, their surface crisp and redolent of Sichuan pepper and interior sweet, dense and sticky. Served simply with two crossed strips of pale green salted cucumber, it is a really good dish and at a resort where a bad cafe latte can cost $5, the $32 price tag seems reasonable.
Having the support of two established restaurants behind Yama means that there is a good, deep, wine list considering this is an operation that will only run until the snow melts each year, and restart with the ski season next year. The staff are pleasant and competent but most are here for the black runs and really good service is not something that comes naturally after a day on the piste.
These two highly acclaimed chefs carefully aimed to go downmarket to appeal to the fun-loving ski crowd and have delivered a delicious direct hit.
Pro tip Book ahead for a window side table and watch the sunset play on the snow on the mountains outside.
Go-to dish Tarwin River lamb, Sichuan spices and cucumber $32.
Like this? For a similar palette of modern Asian ingredients and ideas, try Supernormal, 180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne. But don't expect snow.
Richard Cornish stayed at Mount Hotham as a guest of Mount Hotham Skiing Company.
How we score
Of 20 points, 10 are awarded for food, five for service, three for ambience, two for wow factor.
12 Reasonable 13 Solid and satisfactory 14 Good 15 Very good 16 Seriously good 17 Great 18 Excellent 19 Outstanding 20 The best of the best