Melbourne is already well known as one of the world’s great food cities with an extraordinary array of cuisines and restaurants on offer, a relaxed fine dining scene with few peers across the southern hemisphere. Part of its reputation comes from the tapestry of nationalities who have made the city their home, part from a simple philosophy of making the most of the enviable produce available on their doorstep.
A trip a few hours out of the city to areas of rural Victoria, proves the abundance of riches on offer and confirms that cutting-edge cuisine is not limited to the state capital.
Eating and drinking in Yarra Valley
The Yarra Valley is a popular weekend retreat, only an hour or so north of the city. It’s home to some of the country’s most renowned wineries, most of which offer lunches and occasionally dinners. Oakridge sits in ten hectares, a family-owned vineyard of mainly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Lunch is a revelation, with chef José Chavez showing real deftness of touch. Buxton trout is served smoked and as sashimi, while Misty Valley organic chicken comes with Chardonnay mushrooms and brilliant sprouts with bacon, sourced from Adams Brothers farm a couple miles down the road. Beautifully-plated and impeccably executed, lunch comes with sweeping views down to the Yarra river that gives the area its name.
A couple hours east is the region of Gippsland, home to produce exported and savoured the world over. The Grassvale Farms beef is rightly famous, especially when the 60 day dry-aged version is seared at Nautica, a small restaurant in the lakes town of Metung delivering plates that would credit any capital city, let alone a town of just 1,200. Chef Shane Coles lets it shine on top of a perfect potato galette alongisde micro greens, portobello mushroom, caper berries and jus.
The state’s largest fishing fleet sits at Lake’s Entrance a few miles away and supplies daily to the Melbourne and Sydney fish markets, although you can also buy directly from the boats as they land. Visitors can try their hand at crabbing and prawning, enjoying the country’s largest lake system as they do so with dolphins and pelicans as company.
Corringle Beach offers samphire, sea spray and the wonderfully-named pigface. It’s a type of sea banana, a salty seaweed-like vegetable that compliments seafood dishes and works well in salads. If there’s one ingredient that Gippsland is most renowned for, however, it’s abalone from the township of Mallacoota. The pristine waters and unique location make it highly sought-after across the Asia Pacific region and their Black Lip is especially popular for its size and flavour.
Another Gippsland producer, Snowy River Station frequently win awards for their meat. Owner Andrew Simpson took a property that was continually flooding with saltwater, making it difficult to use reliably for cattle, and has turned it into a new and burgeoning business with beef that is richer and deeper in flavour as the cattle feed on salt-tolerant vegetables.
Toms Cap winery
Inland from the wetlands, across the vast expanses of countryside that make Gippsland the state’s agricultural heart, is Toms Cap. Another beautiful winery overlooking gently rolling hills, the stars in the restaurant kitchen here are no celebrity chefs, but a husband and wife team. They let local and national produce do the talking, so Coffin Bay oysters are served simply with lemon and lime, while lamb backstrap is coated in homemade dukkah, pan seared and oven finished with sweet potato rosti and a chili beetroot sauce. Unpretentious and unfussy, it’s where first class local ingredients are the stars, with views to match – Victoria on a plate.