Exploring Victoria's western coastline

Culinary couple Christian McCabe and Kelly Thompson rate their favourite plates and places along Victoria's western coastline.

Consultant/illustrator Kelly Thompson and restaurateur Christian McCabe are known for their unrivalled taste and talent. The couple, originally from Wellington, now live in Melbourne, where McCabe oversees the city's beloved wine bar Embla and its recently opened sister restaurant Lesa.
Since moving to Australia in 2009, the couple has spent much of their time exploring Victoria's western coastline, seeking out the region's best little-known bars, boutique stays and rural restaurant offerings. As part of Gourmet Traveller's partnership with Mazda CX-5, Thompson and McCabe spent a weekend driving along the coast and tracking down the destinations, dishes and drives that are truly a cut above.
Here are the couple's five favourites.

Lon Retreat, Point Lonsdale

Nestled away in Point Lonsdale on the Bellarine Peninsula is new luxury stay, Lon Retreat. Set on 80 hectares of farmland, the retreat is inspired by its coastal surroundings. The property has been owned and farmed by the Gemes' family since the 19th century; the sandstone farmhouse was formerly a family home and B&B. Run by Claire Gemes and her husband, Rob, Lon Retreat has been designed to afford each of its seven suites different views of the surrounding bush, ocean and farmland. There's also a day spa where guests and day visitors can take in breathtaking vistas post-massage.
Crafted for slow living and disconnecting, the suites are styled to reflect different elements of the retreat's natural surrounds. While no two rooms are the same, each is beautifully realised: some have their own private courtyards, stone baths fed with mineral water, and double-sided fireplaces. A sophisticated blend of contemporary luxury and relaxed coastal living, Lon is beautifully Australian. The perfect escape come winter or summer.

Captain Moonlite, Anglesea

Image: Julian Kingma
Housed within the dining room of the Anglesea Surf Life Saving Club, Captain Moonlite is one of the coast's best-kept secrets. Headed by chef Matt Germanchis and partner Gemma Gange, the restaurant boasts unbeatable beach and ocean views, and a menu showcasing fresh Mediterranean flavours with a skew towards Greece.
Dishes such as tzatziki and tarama with pita from Thomastown producer Mr Pitta update traditional taverna-style classics, the tzatziki rich with cucumber, the taramasalata topped with Avruga. For main courses, Germanchis keeps things simple and elegant with dishes like snapper with leek and cos lettuce, slow-roasted lamb to share and a killer version of fish and chips.
The wine list, a sharp two-pager, is all-Victorian, with glasses from nearby producers. Enjoy a rosé by Save Our Souls out on the timber veranda, or order a glass of Holly's Garden ÜberBrut sparkling to have with the Pacific oysters. Beachy desserts translate to a coconut sorbet with mango and macadamia, and chocolate ice-cream with white chocolate mousse. Seaside fare done right.

MoVida, Lorne

Chef Frank Camorra has taken his Melbourne institution to the coast. Located on the ground floor of the historic Lorne Hotel, the restaurant's design is a mix of classic MoVida style with a laidback beach-town feel that gives the new venture a more casual edge.
Those wanting to make the most of the seaside sunshine will be happy to hear the new restaurant includes a wine shop and provedore that sells everything from lasagne to roast pork to go, while those dining in will be seated in one of two dining rooms, both looking out over Louttit Bay.
Camorra serves classic Spanish snacks and seafood-driven tapas from the restaurant's open kitchen. The main courses consist of classic MoVida favourites, with new additions that take it a step further. Guests can choose from fried Apollo Bay gummy shark cooked in adobo, Cloudy Bay diamond clams with chorizo and apple cider, and daily seafood specials inspired by different regions of Spain.

The Great Ocean Road

A 90-minute drive from Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road is one of Australia's most dramatic coastal routes. Winding its way along the windswept Victorian coastline between Torquay and Warrnambool, the journey features spectacular ocean views, dense rainforests and dramatic cliff faces. Unmissable highlights include the 12 Apostles and world-class surf at Bells Beach.
Spanning 400 kilometres, the diverse drive is best done over the course of a few days, and with a vehicle that can truly enhance the experience. For their journey, Christian McCabe and Kelly Thompson chose the new Mazda CX-5; its responsive SKYACTIV-G 2.5T engine making ease of the drive's tight corners and testing bends. Hassle-free handling aside, its premium Bose speakers and clever connectivity of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto meant the couple could experience the drive with their very own playlist.

Brae, Birregurra

Brae, which came in at number five on Gourmet Traveller's Top 100 restaurants in Australia for 2019, is a 30-minute drive north-west of Lorne in tiny Birregurra. Run by chef-owner Dan Hunter, the restaurant, which encompasses an organic farm, embraces seasonal and regional ingredients with a passion.
Located on a hillside (Brae means steep bank or hillside), Brae opened in 2013 and has continued to expand not only its business, but also the property and its gardens, fruit trees and beehives. Following organic principles, Brae operates with an immense respect for nature and seasonality. Their own wheat, for example, is milled daily for bread and cooked in an outdoor wood-fired oven. It's a rustic, hands-on approach to fine dining that beautifully complements the restaurant's elegant design.
While each of Hunter's menu offerings are complex in flavour and skill, they never seem fussy or overworked. Intelligent and unexpected dishes such as roasted beetroot partnered with Brae farm honeycomb and trout roe make Brae an undisputed star of regional Victoria's rich culinary scene. Throw in luxurious on-site accommodation designed by architects Six Degrees, and Brae becomes a delightfully unique dining experience well worth the trip.
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