Healesville's latest restaurant isn't from a big-name chef, it's not a multimillion-dollar build with sweeping views and it's not geared towards winery tour buses. Graceburn Bistro is from natural winemaker Mac Forbes, it's open on Friday and Saturday nights only and it occupies the space that's used as a cellar door during the day. With some nifty set-dressing, the space is transformed into an inviting 30-seater by night. It's wine-country dining done in a lo-fi way, a bit like Forbes' wines themselves.
"We have this fantastic wall of wine, a chef who we've successfully collaborated with on special events in the past, and a beautiful little space in the centre of town," Forbes says of the decision to add the bistro to Graceburn Wine Room.
Chef Erik Koel's opening menu last weekend included charred broccoli with baked 'nduja custard and shaved fennel, steamed John Dory fillets paired with shimeji mushrooms and a lettuce sauce and sardine escabeche served with olive focaccia. Koel, who's done time at Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander as well as past Graceburn pop-ups, will change the menu weekly but the brief remains the same: simple dishes and French-inspired flavours. "Bistro-style food tends to be how I would eat at home and they're the places I like to go in Melbourne," he says. Desserts are classic – think chocolate tart and apple tarte Tatin – while the three cheeses on offer come from local producer Stone & Crow.
Forbes isn't the first minimal-intervention winemaker to experiment with the cellar door formula. Last year Patrick Sullivan and Bill Downie opened Hogget Kitchen with chef Trevor Perkins in Victoria's east while in the Adelaide Hills, Lost in a Forest combines Basket Range wines from the likes of Ochota Barrels and Gentle Folk with wood-fired pizze, cocktails and more.
Back in Healesville, Graceburn offers two wine lists, one devoted to Mac Forbes while the other is a wide-ranging selection of drops from Austria, the Loire Valley, Piedmonte and Victoria.
The space was designed by Zenta Tanaka, an architect behind Japanese-leaning cafes Cibi and Mina-no-ie in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood, and features timber-topped tables, chalkboard menus and dried foliage hanging along one wall.
For the Easter long weekend, the bistro will be trading as usual, which means Good Friday in the Yarra Valley needn't be a dry occasion.
Graceburn Bistro, 11a Green St, Healesville, Vic, (03) 5962 3704, graceburn.com, Fri & Sat, 6pm-9pm.