From its reputation as Australia’s coffee capital to its quality eateries, Melbourne has established itself as a true culinary destination. We take a look at some of the best restaurants on Melbourne's doorstep.
By Sue Gough Henly
When the world’s culinary elite descended on Melbourne for the 2017 World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, the city sealed its culinary reputation. To cap off a great night, Melbourne’s Attica claimed 32nd place in the top 50 rankings, while 44th place went to Brae, about a 90 minute drive from Melbourne near Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. Brae’s achievement was an acknowledgement that great food is not limited to big city restaurants. Here’s where to find fine dining experiences close to Melbourne, but near where Victoria’s exceptional fresh ingredients are grown, foraged, gathered and fished.
Brae, Birregurra, Great Ocean Road region
Victorian country boy Dan Hunter was catapulted into the big league when he worked as head chef at Spain’s acclaimed Mugaritz restaurant, another of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. These days he has his own place outside the township of Birregurra on the way to the Great Ocean Road, and the rest of the world comes to him for his kitchen artistry. All you see on the menu are the sublime and sometimes unusual seasonal ingredients with which he creates magic. They’re taken from his large kitchen garden and local producers and foragers. You might find Portarlington mussels with blue-eye salt-cod cream, and a dessert of watermelon, snow peas and rhubarb.
Igni is tucked away in the unassuming backblocks of the port city of Geelong, an hour from Melbourne along Port Phillip Bay. Assured, minimalist and quirky, this is a restaurant where chef Aaron Turner plays inventively with all manner of foraged, earthy and unusual ingredient combinations. He did stints at two of the best restaurants in the world, Noma and El Celler de Can Roca, and it shows. Think al dente noodles made from King Edward potatoes, tossed in butter, spiked with mountain chives, crisp-fried discs and flowers of purple society garlic.
The Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Grampians region
Some of the finest food and wine in Australia has come out of the Royal Mail Hotel in The Grampians’ town of Dunkeld, a three-hour drive across pastoral land to the west of Melbourne. This is where Dan Hunter (Brae) made his first mark on the Australian dining scene, and where owner Allan Myers showcases one of the best wine lists in the land in a stunning new cellar. These days chef Robin Wickens gets accolades for his produce-driven menu sourced from the hotel’s impressive kitchen gardens. His award-winning restaurant, Wickens at the Royal Mail Hotel, offers stunning views of the Southern Grampian ranges.
Provenance, Beechworth, Victoria's High Country
Chef Michael Ryan harnesses the finest ingredients from local producers for his array of carefully crafted dishes that flirt with the delicacy of Japanese cuisine while offering gentle references to the Mediterranean. The remarkable results include a confit Myrrhee goat, eggplant, tomato and miso dressing, and puffed grains. Provenance is located in a gracious old bank building in the beautifully preserved goldmining town of Beechworth in Victoria’s High Country. The wine list is inspired and the vegetarian offerings, such as fresh foraged mushrooms in inventive preparations, never cease to appeal.
Doot Doot Doot, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Just a short drive south of Melbourne, you’ll find the stellar Jackalope Hotel, housing one of the most exciting regional restaurants to open in 2017. Doot Doot Doot may have an odd name, but there is nothing odd about this fine-dining experience. The food is either grown in the kitchen garden or produced in the region, allowing chef Guy Stanaway to deliver a real expression of what it means to eat locally on the Mornington Peninsula. Enter a sleek, sophisticated dark-brown space where tabletops and leather banquettes sit beneath a breathtaking glass installation by designer Jan Flook, featuring 10,000 globes resembling wine glasses. Cherry and kingfish virtually dance on the plate; pickles and vermouth add a tempting twang to the earthiness of barramundi; and tonka bean rounds out the sweet seduction of new-season mangoes. With a winery onsite, and rooms to stay overnight, this has fast become a must-visit destination.
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