There’s no better way to find the best places to eat, drink and shop than to stir up the locals. They’ve walked past every new spot that crops up, and found their regular favourites for pre-work caffeine, weekend brunches, cocktails and cake, and the dishes that come between. When we want the inside scoop on a region, our property owners are a first point of call. These guys are keyed in and clued up. Naturally, it comes as part of the territory. So we asked for their expert advice, and they’ve shared some pretty sweet tips. Dig into the neighbourhood know on dining, drinking and foodstuff in Victoria’s fabulous regional hubs.
Dandenong Ranges and Yarra Valley
Karen Dickson, Botanica Editions, is a region expert in every sense of the word. She regularly shares the latest and greatest spots for local produce, as well as partnering with a number of artisans in the area. Her involvement in the community makes her a wealth of information on the best places to eat and drink, and our request to pick her brain was met with this:"Friday, we make our way to happy hour 4 – 6pm (a very long hour) at the Healesville Hotel, where a selection of local wines and beers are 25% off bar prices. 5 – 7pm we head to Barrique Wine Store (two doors up from the Hotel) for one of Sean's great tasting nights. On Saturdays we 'hunt and gather' from the Healesville Organic Farmers Market, before travelling to Yarra Valley Dairy to pick up a bulk tub of Persian fetta (the only place you can buy this great value size in the country). There's much debate about the best quality, Sunday morning vanilla slices in the Valley – Medhurst Winery or the Old Butcher Shop Café? The weekend wraps-up with a few bites from The Sweet Olive tapas menu before sliding in to the next working week, when on Monday coffee from Feather + Twine is a must."
The Bellarine Peninsula has a much trodden taste trail and farm-gates aplenty, which according to David Littleton, Seahaven Village, makes choosing a favourite hard! But for a laidback local meal the Littletons like to make their way to Barwon Heads: “We really like Cafe Maritana by the Barwon Heads Bridge – great food and wines and at very moderate prices!”
Daylesford and Macedon Ranges
Di Goldsmith, of romantic hideaway Briars Cottage in Daylesford, says: “I have taken ages thinking about the best spots to eat and drink, and it really is difficult to choose just one as Daylesford is certainly a food lover’s heaven. But I guess our new favourite place is The Grande at 1 Church Street – the atmosphere is brilliant, food sensational. It's the perfect place to kickback and relax on a wintery Sunday afternoon by a cosy fire and amongst lovely furnishings.”
Kyneton is a well-known foodie mecca. And right in its heart is Mollisons; a boutique hotel with a history as a bank. Owner Yvonne Paulke says her latest favourite and ‘top pick’ is Midnight Starling: “A fantastic new restaurant featuring classic French dishes. Any choice from the menu will impress but the new season truffles are to die for! Midnight Starling is also a stylish wine bar with quality wines, cocktails and a huge range of vermouths and gins. The bar snacks are yum – try the pâté! So much to eat and drink in Kyneton it needs to be a two-night stay, and of course you can’t miss the always-fabulous Annie Smithers' Bistrot."
Heathcote is renowned for its wines, and Sarah Knight, Mimosa Glen, reinforces that wineries are the way to go in the area: “Our top recommendation is the Heathcote Wine Hub – always 20 regional wines on tasting, and the friendly, knowledgeable staff are happy to provide their insights as well as maps and tips on where to stop for a bite to eat.”
Owner of Boroka Downs, Bob Adams, is adamant that their gourmet, in-house menu of fresh, locally sourced produce – delivered on call – is the way to go. Because “...with the serenity and spectacular views, why would you want to leave?” Boroka Downs also offers local wines and beverages, so everything you need for a night-in at your boutique stay is at your fingertips.
In addition, the Grampians are home to famed food destination the Royal Mail Hotel. Set at the foothills of Mount Sturgeon, the hotel serves up spectacular views and an incredible chef’s tasting menu at the multi-award winning restaurant. If you couldn’t stand the thought of travelling too far after a lavish meal accompanied by plenty of great wine, we’d recommend staying onsite.
Great Ocean Road
David and Anne Dansick, Ocean Inlet, like to head down to Aireys Pub for a bite and a brew, or a wine and a warming meal: “For a cosy dinner with quality food whilst relaxing by the fire, you can’t go past Aireys Pub. Aireys’ own “Rogue Wave” beer is on tap, or sample a local wine from the extensive menu. There’s music and entertainment on weekends. We love winter meals here!”
Ellisa Oswin, owner of The Kilns, Porepunkah, says they’re blessed with a long list of options in the region, but her personal favourites are these: “For something special, Tani has fabulous food with unique flavours and combinations. It recently won the Good Food Guide’s new regional restaurant of the year, so it’s certainly worth checking out. For a casual bite, Coral Lee is a 1950s inspired cafe that has hearty homemade dishes with fantastic coffee. Think Grandma’s crockery and cutlery with records playing in the background.”
Linda and Martin Smith of Aruma, Bright, say their local favourite for dinner is Thirteen Steps: “Great atmosphere and groovy tunes. Terrific wine selection and friendly service. Really interesting menu with tapas style dishes as well as steaks and burgers – all delicious. Cosy romantic setting. It ticks all the boxes!”
Winnie Jones, Mt Bellevue, is excited about dining in the region – and with good reason: “We’re extremely spoilt in the King Valley, but we’re now celebrating having an even more fabulous gastronomic experience in our area: the Michelin-star winning German chef Ben Bergmann is running the famous Mountain View Hotel, in Whitfield. Ben talks of creating food he loves to cook, not food he has to cook – he’s very passionate and strict on the fact that all recipes in both the restaurant and pub are created from scratch. The menu features German, Italian and Australian dishes – the restaurant has already been awarded a “hat” in the Australian Good Food Guide. The pub is a standout for us – our guests rave about it. Especially when there’s a cosy fire and live music, it’s a really good way to spend a winter’s evening. It has the most enchanting beer garden too – it’s a gem! A standout dish is the pork knuckle with mouthwatering crackling, sauerkraut, beer jus and applesauce – yum!"
Oak Tree Lodge is set in the quiet village of Rhyll, Phillip Island. It’s walking distance to the beach, walking tracks and one of the best eateries on the Island, says owner Sue Webber: “The Foreshore Bar & Restaurant overlooks the water with great food and service, showcasing a wide range of local produce. All our guests return with rave reviews.”