GT's Regional Restaurant of the Year
GT's Regional Restaurant of the Year
Visceral, sensory and sensational, Brae warrants a pilgrimage and, ideally, an overnight stay (preferably in one of its designer suites) to appreciate founders Dan Hunter and Julianne Bagnato's dedication to regiona ldining. Set in a country-cottage gallery, the restaurant's olive-leather seats are angled to Hunter's now-famous stage, an immaculate glass-fronted kitchen where ambitious dégustations are conjured with impressive composure. The kitchen is only part of the story: a courtyard wood oven bakes sourdough bread from Hunter's first wheat crop and grills pork jowl and abalone, skewered on twigs, to charry, caramel rapture. The property's vegetable gardens and orchards, plus chickens and bees, supply year-round produce. Minimum three hour menus transcend pretty gastronomy: "tacos" of kohlrabi-wrapped prawn head are challenging, so too a dessert ball of rhubarb and pistachio bound with pig's blood. Whimsical creations such as the iced oyster always delight, but there are many stars in this show, from lush sea urchin lobes anchored on whole-wheat "croissants" to wicked duck liver cannelloni with Davidson's plum. Everything here is a revelation, including the global wine list of producers who, like Brae, are sustainable and artisanal.
4285 Cape Otway Rd, Birregurra, Vic, braerestaurant.com
Surf lifesaving clubs are as Australian as fish and chips, potato cakes and the slap of thongs on concrete. At Captain Moonlite, the restaurant inside Anglesea's SLC, you'll find all those things, but the potato cake is served on a plate, the fish and chips have a vodka-spiked batter, and the flip-flop of thongs is just as audible as the soft rattle of pearls. This seaside restaurant balances the familiar and the surprising, and most of the time it works, whether it's super-sized prawn cracker dusted in seaweed or a cheesecake of Fromager d'Affinois piped onto an Anzac feuilletine base. Pairing hapuka fillet with ricotta gnudi and Jerusalem artichoke is unconventional yet inspired, but barbecued octopus suffers from too much smoke and competition from other elements on the plate. At times, service can feel disjointed in skill and temperament, but the sweep of the beach, a proudly Victorian wine list and the charm of dining surrounded by club memorabilia all add up. If this is the new formula for coastal dining, send the memo far and wide.
Anglesea Surf Lifesaving Club, 100 Great Ocean Rd, Anglesea, Vic, captainmoonlite.com.au
Laura is a complete restaurant experience. The location is incredible, at one end of a sweeping arc of a building overlooking Pt. Leo Estate's sculpture park, tucked beyond the establishment's cellar door and casual dining room. It's a cosseted enclave that is both elevated and comfortable, and the set menu showcases Phil Wood's questing romance with the Mornington Peninsula. Roasted, creamed potatoes are mixed with three types of goat's cheese and magicked into steamed dumplings that explode in the mouth. Windfall acorns are turned into a pastry – a two-week process – that becomes the base for a savoury pear flan. A mussel is hidden inside a faux shell made from scallop mousse in a seafood charade that surprises and delights. Sweet custard is part-set so it becomes an oozy fondant pudding: the ingredients are beguilingly simple, but the creation is a canny blend of wizardry and sheer graft. In every dish, and the wide-roaming wine list, there's a link between culinary heritage and contemporary mores rendered with a witty lightness of touch. It's all underlined by engaged, informed and personable service, ensuring Laura is one of Victoria's essential dining experiences.
Pt Leo Estate, 3649 Frankston-Flinders Rd, Merricks, ptleoestate.com.au/laura
The pioneering, creative behemoth that is Daylesford's Lake House has added another string to its restaurant-hotel-spa-cooking school bow – a 38-acre farm, orchard and olive grove. It's a definitive "put your money where your mouth is" move from a destination restaurant that's been championing the regional and seasonal for more than three decades. The menu seems energised with the opportunity, bristling with ingredients picked mere hours and kilometres away, perhaps a cocotte of farm vegetables and an exquisite pithivier finished with a Pyengana cheese sauce, or Jerusalem artichokes filled with fresh curd, accompanied by a puddle of artichoke velouté and topped with tiny flowers and leaves. Elsewhere there might be dumplings stuffed with Lakes Entrance bugs and shark-fin melon served in a broth of pork and lion's mane mushroom, petite ice-cream cones filled with fig leaf ice-cream, or chestnut gnocchi sharing a bowl with foraged mushrooms. It's food perfectly in sync with the serene light-filled dining room, beautifully measured service and weighty wine list offering artisan locals alongside French masters. Put it all together and you get one of Australia's true culinary treasures.
4 King St, Daylesford, VIC, lakehouse.com.au
Some advice on Oakridge's desserts: order them. Jo Barrett, half of one of Australian dining's best double-acts with Matt Stone, does sublime sweet stuff, like the pistachio three ways served with apricot kernel crumble. But it's not just about a happy ending. Barrett is also responsible for this winery restaurant's superb sourdough bread and other baked highlights, such as the caraway croissant accompanying smoked trout, caviar and cultured cream, and the golden flaky pastry base of a mushroom tart with washed-rind cheese sauce. The room has glorious views of vineyards and distant hazy mountains, and there's a similarly impressive, estate-heavy wine list to match. Stone has been on the low-waste and low-food miles trail since the start of his career; almost everything on the menu is sourced close to home, beginning at the vegie patches and stretching to thrillingly fresh burrata made with local Jersey milk, superb chorizo or belly with shatter-crisp skin from neighbourhood pigs, or a snack of emu pastrami with pickled green almonds that's all Yarra Valley. Uncompromising? Sure. But it's also uncompromisingly delicious, which is the best kind of sustainability.
864 Maroondah Hwy, Coldstream, VIC, oakridgewines.com.au
A postcard from Beechworth in 2019 might read, "Spent the day on a Ned Kelly tour, visited local brewery, a pick-your-own apple orchard and a Japanese-ish restaurant in the old Bank of Australasia." Fine-diner Provenance might seem an unusual fit for a Gold Rush town near the New South Wales border, but Michael Ryan sees things others don't. So there's kangaroo, Fernet-Branca and house-made tofu on the menu and the marvel of a one-two umami hit of tomato and seaweed paired with fillets of blue-eye. Around you, couples enjoy the low-key luxury of the heritage building handsomely restored in blues and greys. The dishes are less subdued, whether it's roasted Mutsu apples, picked 10 minutes away, sweetened with a miso caramel and served with tres leches cake, or a knockout entrée of crab and charred leek in an almond-milk broth enhanced by shio koji. Every element adds up to a deeply flavoured and complex whole. Perhaps Ryan's real skill is storytelling, showing us where Australian palates have been and might be going. It's a story with a very happy ending.
86 Ford St, Beechworth, VIC,theprovenance.com.au
Whether you're a guest at adjacent Jackalope Hotel or a Mornington Peninsula wine-tripper doing the rounds, Rare Hare is a fine place to seek sustenance. The timber-and brick dining room is generally abuzz: views over vine-threaded hills anchor the wine-country story and long shared tables promote conviviality. The food is robust: unfussy, built for sharing and licking of fingers. A wood oven is the heart of this kitchen, touching everything from broccoli with parmesan custard to barramundi wings with sweet, spicy 'nduja butter, and even an oversized pan-baked choc-chip cookie with a scoop of toasty malt ice-cream. It's easy to build a meal from snacks: first-rate salumi is served with pickles and crisp toasts, a chive waffle is piled with horseradish cream and salmon roe, and fiercely fried Jerusalem artichokes are set to become everyone's favourite new chip. The estate Willow Creek and Rare Hare wines dominate the drinks list, with almost all available by the glass. It's busy on weekends: come early or be prepared to take a buzzer for a kitchen garden wander or into the wine tasting ante-room while you wait.
166 Balnarring Rd, Merricks North, rarehare.com.au