Mountain View Hotel, King Valley, Victoria © Mountain View Hotel
6 Pubs Worth Travelling For According to Top Aussie Food Critics
Ready to wet your whistle? According to Australia's most reputable food-and-drink connoisseurs, you’ll find an iconic Aussie pub to suit every taste, from homely to high-brow.
Wherever you are in Australia, chances are, you’re not far from the beating heart of many a community – the local pub. Not all were created equal though. Some stand out for their architectural charm, colourful history and country hospitality, while others are beloved for their spectacular locations, impressive menus or range of brews on tap. With the help of Australia’s drinks experts, here’s your road map to the pubs worth travelling for.
Wine critic, @stockwine
Where: Margaret River, Western Australia, a three-hour drive south of Perth.
“This legendary pub right in the main street of Margaret River is a centrepiece of the whole community. Bands, a pumping bistro, a killer wine list and even a weekly piña colada night make this a salty local and a comforting pit stop for those on tour to this beautiful Western Australian wine region.
“The crowd here is strongly local and very welcoming. Publicans Rob and Karen Gough are both ex-wine industry folks and have built a robust, adult fun park of a pub that cuts the strata of locals and visitors and delivers fun to all comers in equal measure.”
How to experience it: Settler’s Tavern has an entire room in its cellar dedicated to the difficult-to-find wines of historic Clare Valley (South Australia) winery, Wendouree. Be sure to browse the rare selection on offer.
Mountain View Hotel
Wine writer, @jeniport
Where: King Valley, Victoria, a three-hour drive north-east of Melbourne.
“In a little slice of ‘Tuscany Down Under’, otherwise known as the King Valley, it’s possible to taste wines with often unfamiliar names – saperavi, nebbiolo, verduzzo, malvasia, arneis. Pull up a chair, preferably in the outdoor vino and beer garden, at the Mountain View Hotel in the pretty town of Whitfield, and give them a try.
“This region is the centre of Mediterranean grape varieties, and the Mountain View Hotel hosts an ever-changing roll call of local wine producers, making some of the most exciting styles in the country. It’s no surprise to see that many of those names are Italian in heritage, the Pizzini winemaking family (their winery is just down the road) own and operate this rare gem. They bring an open-armed, big hug of Italian-style hospitality that is warm and inviting, and everything good about this special place stems from that single fount.”
How to experience it: The Mountain View Hotel’s beer garden, complete with running creek, makes the perfect spot for an early afternoon beer. On your road trip, why not stop in at the rustic regional town of Wangaratta.
Wine and drinks writer, @mikebennie101
Where: Sellicks Hill, South Australia, a one-hour drive from Adelaide.
“Great wine regions deserve a stellar pub to elevate the regional offering, satisfy the thirst of the winemaking community and to act as an enriching alternative to the jolly of cellar doors. Set high on Sellicks Hill just an hour from the Adelaide central business district with bucolic views to Sellicks Beach and the ocean beyond, the inimitable Victory Hotel sprawls across dining rooms, front bar, beer garden and lawns. Along with fresh draught beer, it has South Australia’s deepest fine wine cellars stacked with over 8,000 bottles, brilliant food and a very singular publican in the omnipresent Doug Govan.”
How to experience it: Take the opportunity to sample a malbec from the source – the pub is surrounded by Rudderless Vineyard, known for its small-batch reds. Starting in Adelaide, make the Victory Hotel the final stop in epic and luxurious wine crawl of South Australia's iconic wine regions, including the world-famous McLaren Vale.
The Grain Store
Founder and Publisher, Australian Brews News, @goodbeermatt
Where: Newcastle, New South Wales Central Coast, a two-hour drive north of Sydney.
“Fifth generation publican Corey Crooks has created one of the leading beer bars in the country with his focus on the best independent craft beer and cider. His passion and focus on independence isn’t limited to his ales: the Newcastle venue only pours locally-made and uncontracted wines – even his soft drink selection is local. Rounding out the list are more than 75 Australian single malt whiskies and 30 domestic gins.
“For a venue that takes its drinks so seriously, there is not an ounce of pretension, and The Grain Store is a relaxed and friendly pub. Food is modern pub food, executed well.”
How to experience it: The Grain Store’s crunchy chips are ideal for soaking up the craft suds. Bring a hearty appetite if you’d rather opt for a main meal. Stop in at some of the Central Coast's most popular beaches including, Avoca, Woy Woy and Caves Beach on the drive up to fuel your hunger for the Grain Store's delectable eats.
Time your Great Ocean Road trip between May and September, when southern right whales can be spotted off the coast.
Wine and drinks columnist and author, @maxallendrinks
Where: Port Fairy, Great Ocean Road Victoria, a four-hour drive south-west of Melbourne.
“The Merrijig Inn on the Great Ocean Road in Port Fairy is a gem of a place. It’s one of the oldest inns in Victoria, dating from the mid-1800s when whalers created an informal township here, then known as Belfast. It’s a tiny little windswept colonial inn on a corner with a small front bar and a low-ceilinged dining room out the back. The food is fabulous – it’s low-key but modern and very, very regional. They’re really hot on wine, supporting locals with lots of biodynamic, orange and natural wines. People come to the area to watch the southern right whales (as this is their winter breeding ground), and it’s exactly the kind of place you want to find if you’ve driven four hours from Melbourne.”
How to experience it: Open during summer, the Merrijig’s beer garden is the only bar in Port Fairy where you can enjoy a drink overlooking the Moyne River. Avoid the arguments over who will be the designated driver by staying overnight at the Merrijig's charming and luxurious accommodation.
Insider guide: restaurants worth travelling for (according to Australia’s top restaurant critics)
Sommelier and drinks communicator, @sl_payne
Where: Healesville, Yarra Valley Victoria, a one-hour drive north-east of Melbourne.
“Many hilarious stories when you’re in the Yarra Valley start with ‘so we were down at the Healesville Hotel…’ From Sunday roasts with the family at the restaurant to discovering some of the Yarra Valley’s most delicious drops up at the bar, it’s a something-for-everyone kind of place.
“It’s not uncommon to run into familiar winemaking faces from the region and legend has it that one night, one of Australia’s most prolific wine writers got up on stage and joined the house band with a stirring rendition of the Pixies’ ‘Where is My Mind?’ (on the ukulele no less). It’s that kind of pub – filled with life and character, due to the many characters that have sat on its barstools for over two decades.”
How to experience it: If you like your meals smokey, stay on for lunch or dinner; with much of the Healesville’s elevated pub grub cooked on an outdoor wood grill. Kill some time earlier in the day before retiring to the Healesville at the popular Healesville Sanctuary for some memorable encounters with Australia's most adorable creatures. Animals and pub-grub? What a perfect day!