Go West - The Gastronomic Treasure Trove of Victoria That Lies Beyond Melbourne | RobbReport Malaysia

Go West – The Gastronomic Treasure Trove of Victoria That Lies Beyond Melbourne

Melbourne may be a food Mecca, but there are many more gastronomic gems waiting to be discovered in western Victoria’s countryside on your next holiday

We’ve been driving down quiet country roads, the only vehicle in either direction of the horizon. Curious sheep and fluffy alpacas gaze curiously under a magnificent sky that is most brilliant blue but peppered with tufts of clouds; some white and some heavily swollen with moisture. At a country crossroads some two hours’ drive west of Melbourne, a grey stone wall announced we have arrived at Brae. You wouldn’t think this is the location of one of Australia’s best restaurants, and yet here we are.

Melbourne, the perennial choice for the world’s most liveable city, is a thriving travel and food destination. That much is known. But the city is a mere microcosm of the state of Victoria. Take a map and draw a circle representing, oh say, a four-hour drive from Melbourne, and this will include attractions of astounding nature and exceptional dining. On this trip, we are going west, a vast stretch of land that includes the Great Ocean Road. Most visitors opt for a simple day trip that takes them as far as the Twelve Apostle limestone stacks then back to Melbourne in time for dinner. That’s a shame. Because there is so much more to Victoria’s Western District

Brae is one of them. Located just outside the tiny farming town of Birregurra, Brae is a farm-to-table restaurant has earned a place on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants List and named Restaurant of the Year by The Age Good Food Guide. As a stage for Chef Dan Hunter’s passion for local and unusual produce, all the items on the menu are sourced from within Victoria’s boundaries, many of which from Brae’s own farm. During service, it is not unusual to see a chef running out in the fields to fetch a handful of tomatoes which are quickly sliced and plated for diners, still warm from the summer sun. Impressively inventive, the menu changes by day and season, but does include some perennials like ice oyster – a beautifully textured oyster ice cream dusted with powdered sea lettuce, inspired by Chef Hunter’s daughter’s love for ice cream by the sea. Menus are designed to be paired with wines, but we would recommend the non-alcoholic pairing menu, which allows Chef Hunter to truly match drink to dish, like coupling smoked lapsang souchong Tea with a delightfully fluffy eel doughnut, rainbow throat roe and the farm’s honey, or lacto-fermented lemonade with an almost-Nordiclike slice of whiting served with pickled vegetables.

So hefty is Brae’s reputation that a fellow diner confided he had driven all the way from Sydney just in time for lunch service, spending the night at one of Brae’s luxurious guests suites, before driving back to Sydney in time for work the next day. With Brae, and other restaurants like it, Western Victoria has turned into a food-and-wine destination perfet for a road trip and begging to be explored.

 

So hefty is Brae’s reputation that a fellow diner confided he had driven all the way from Sydney just in time for lunch service, spending the night at one of Brae’s luxurious guests suites, before driving back to Sydney in time for work the next day. With Brae, and other restaurants like it, Western Victoria has turned into a food-and-wine destination perfet for a road trip and begging to be explored.

To the charming town Port Fairy, a former whaling centre where a simple dinner at Conlan’s Wine Store turns out to be a gastronomic gem. Or to Timboon, a timber town that is now home to Timboon Fine Ice Cream, the Timboon Cheesery and the delightful single malt expressions crafted onsite at the Timboon Railway Shed Distellery. These three establishments, in fact, are part of the 12 Apostle Gourmet Trail, a network of local artisan producers designed to encourage culinary exploration  beyond the Twelve Apostles.

At the end of the Great Ocean Road, we turn north, heading inland to Dunkeld. In the shadow of the magnificent Grampians mountain range is the Royal Mail Hotel and its restaurant Wickens that, like Brae, has driven awareness of the region’s gastronomic offerings. Diners are seated to face a magnificent floor-to-ceiling glass pane that frames the jagged spires of the Grampians beyond. Equally marvelous is the food. Once again, the focus is on local produce, much of which is harvested from the hotel’s organic farm gardens. There’s a touch of Aussie humour on display –  like an amuse bouche of roast pork-flavoured macaron and a post-dessert treat of beetroot and carrot-flavoured gummy jellies – but for most part, the dishes are elegant and exemplary, paired with wines from one of the best private collections in Australia. The spring lamb and kangaroo steak were divine, while a simple dish of broccoli in green tomato juice could preach the scripture of veganism to carnivores.

The return journey to Melbourne isn’t that long, but it is made longer by distractions such as Seppelt Great Western – a winery that is home to a labyrinth of underground cellars known as ‘Drives. Melbourne itself, of course, remains an Eden of excellent dining options, including the cutting-edge flair at IDES and the gastropub experience at Embla, where the roast chicken is truly to die for. Being back in the city is a curious mixture of relief and longing for the amazing countryside that we’ve left behind, but each completes the other. The excitement of Melbourne and the vast, fertile fields of Western Victoria form an irresistible combination for the culinarilly curious. Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.

Visit Victoria 

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Published September 28, 2018
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