Regional Victoria’s top restaurants

Brae Restaurant with Chef Dan Hunter, and the team.

Brae Restaurant with Chef Dan Hunter, and the team.

While the city of Melbourne is known for its wealth of first class dining opportunities, regional Victoria has plenty of restaurants to rival the greats of the city dining scene. In fact, some of Australia’s most awarded and esteemed chefs choose to set up shop in Victoria’s regional towns. No doubt drawn in by the slower pace of life and direct access to the region’s best fresh produce, premium dairy and meat, many well-travelled chefs can be found manning the pans in places like Daylesford, Mildura, Bendigo, Ballarat and beyond. Here are some of regional Victoria’s top places to dine:

Brae
With an impressive pedigree including a six-year stint at the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, Dan Hunter leads the Brae concept with vision and determination. Located on prime farmland in the Otway hinterland, Brae’s 30 acre onsite vegetable and fruit farm provides the restaurant with a variety of fresh, seasonal produce. The ever-changing, contemporary menu makes the most of the stone fruit, honey, nuts, berries, olives and citrus grown on the onsite farm, while the flawless service and attention to detail make Brae one of Australia’s most awarded restaurants. Six luxury guest suites offer visitors a place to relax after a long lunch or decadent dinner. 4285 Cape Otway Road, Birregurra, +61 3 5236 2226.

Royal Mail Hotel
Located in the small town of Dunkeld, the Royal Mail Hotel sits at the southern end of the Grampians National Park. After spending years working in some of London’s finest restaurants including Pied a Terre and Bibendum, Executive Chef Robin Wickens returned to Australia and promptly won a stack of awards for his deceptively simple menus. At the Royal Mail Hotel things are kept very local, with menus featuring produce that comes from the kitchen’s own organic garden, orchard and olive grove. Lamb and beef come from the Royal Mail’s own farm, and eggs are collected daily from the restaurant’s own free range hens. With the chef’s eight course tasting menu proving to be a highly sought-after signature experience, bookings are essential when visiting the Royal Mail Hotel. Onsite accommodation makes the Royal Mail Hotel one of regional Victoria’s hottest destinations to indulge, and the keenly anticipated soon-to-open restaurant, Wickens, provides evens more reason to visit. 98 Parker Street, Dunkeld, +61 3 5577 2241.

Provenance
Tucked away in the heritage-filled goldmining town of Beechworth in north east Victoria, Provenance is run by husband and wife team Michael Ryan and Jeanette Henderson. Operating since 2009, Provenance has won many prestigious awards for its inventive menus that make the most of the local produce. Housed in a historic building that was once the Bank of Australasia, Provenance’s menus feature distinctly Australian ingredients (wallaby, local trout) alongside the flavours of Asia (miso, kimchi, congee). Onsite accommodation comes in the form of renovated stables that now provide guests with a luxe place to bed down after dinner. 86 Ford Street, Beechworth, +61 3 5728 1786.

Catfish
Chef Damien Jones learned the ins and outs of Thai cuisine while working in the kitchen of highly acclaimed Bangkok restaurant (and London offshoot), Nahm. Now he’s manning the pans at Ballarat’s Catfish. Bringing fragrant curries and other regional specialities to Ballarat, Jones goes through labour intensive processes to ensure the delicate flavours of Thailand come to life on the palate. Changing the menu on a regular basis according to what’s in season, Jones’ Catfish is considered one of Ballarat’s best places to dine. 44 Main Road, Bakery Hill, +61 3 5331 5248

Fen
The historic fishing town of Port Fairy is home to a restaurant that is doing impressive things with native bush foods. Run by Ryan and Kirstyn Sessions, Fen’s menu features quintessentially Australian ingredients like kangaroo, finger lime, warrigal greens, wattleseed and saltbush. An all-Australian wine list puts forward some of the nation’s best drops including pours from neighbouring regions like the Otway hinterland and Mornington Peninsula. With Chef Ryan Sessions previously working in the Port Fairy area at the Merrijig Inn, he knows the region well enough to create simple menus that put Indigenous flavours front-and-centre without overpowering the palate. Fen has become a must-dine destination for visitors and locals alike. 22 Sackville Street, Port Fairy, + 61 3 5568 3229.

Igni
Only an hour from Melbourne by car or rail, Igni has fanned the flames of Geelong’s smouldering dining scene since its opening in early 2016. Young chef Aaron Turner has turned a former electrical goods showroom into an intimate 30-seat eatery and the result is spectacular. The kitchen’s beloved charcoal grill is the beating heart of the restaurant, turning locally-sourced meats into masterpieces. Smoking, curing, pickling and preserving all happen at Igni, with the degustation menu providing diners a chance to sample a range of interesting flavours and techniques. 2 Ryan Place, Geelong, +61 3 5222 2266.

Lake House
Under the guardianship of culinary director Alla Wolf-Tasker AM and head chef David Green, the Lake House is home to one of Victoria’s most sought-after dining experiences. Located in a region synonymous with high quality produce, the menu features local lamb, rare breed pork and grass fed beef, as well as vegetables sourced from nearby gardens. Set on an idyllic estate big on country charm, the Lake House restaurant is complemented by a luxe hotel and spa. 4 King Street, Daylesford, +61 3 5348 3329.

Stefanos
A giant of the regional cooking scene, Italian-born Stefano De Pieri has put Mildura on the gastronomic map with the multifaceted culinary businesses that he has run for decades. Not happy to just open a restaurant, Stefano also runs a craft brewery and Spanish grill also located in the northwest Victorian border town of Mildura. Despite having fingers in many pies, his restaurant remains his finest contribution to the foodie scene in Mildura. Five or eight course degustation menus are an indulgent pick, with earthy, rustic dishes melding Italian tradition with contemporary culinary flair. Grand Hotel, 20 Langtree Street, Mildura, +61 3 5022 0881.

Oakridge Restaurant
Located in the pretty-as-a-picture wine growing region of the Yarra Valley, Oakridge Restaurant enjoys both vineyard and mountain views. Head Chef Matt Stone takes ingredients from the restaurant’s kitchen garden and foraged foods from surrounding bushland to create menus rich with the spoils of the region. Heading up one of Australia’s leading winery restaurants is no easy feat for a young chef but Matt Stone is up to the task. Passionate about ethical food production, Matt has created dishes that reflect this sustainable approach while delivering a high quality dining experience matched with an unsurprisingly impressive wine list of Oakridge favourites. 864 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream, +61 3 9738 9900.

Port Phillip Estate
The Mornington Peninsula is an eminent food and wine destination packed with choice, yet Port Phillip Estate’s modernist dining room is a true leader when it comes to fine dining. After stints in London working at prestigious restaurants like Quo Vadis and the Oak Room, Head Chef Stuart Deller took over the kitchen at Port Phillip Estate. The contemporary menu is infused with European touches, with the relationship between food and wine honoured at every turn. Investing in top quality ingredients like pasture fed chicken, free range pork and farmhouse cheddar, dining at Port Phillip Estate is an unforgettable culinary journey hailed by critics as one of the best dining experiences in Australia.  263 Red Hill Road, Red Hill South, +61 3 5989 4444.

Ten Minutes by Tractor
Nestled within picturesque vineyards, Ten Minutes by Tractor is one of the Mornington Peninsula’s most prized culinary destinations. Chef Stuart Bell may be trained in classical French cuisine, yet his experience in a variety of world-class restaurants means his skills and influences are well-rounded. Seasonal menus make the most of the estate’s own gardens that produce everything from heirloom vegetables to edible flowers. In-the-know kitchen staff also frequent local foraging spots to source salt bush, watercress and more. With the restaurant being located on an estate dedicated to winemaking, it comes as no surprise that the wine list features Ten Minutes by Tractor wines made using wild yeasts native to the area. There’s also room for wines from further afield, with the best drops of France, South Africa, New Zealand and beyond featuring on the supersized wine list. 1333 Mornington Flinders Road, Main Ridge +61 3 5989 6080.

Masons
A sleek slice of industrial-style modernity sitting smack bang in the centre of historic Bendigo, Masons is the by-product of talented husband and wife chef team, Nick and Sonia Anthony. An evolving menu allows the kitchen to champion the work of Central Victorian producers and features the likes of Berkshire pork belly from McIvor Farm, Wanbi Plains lamb, Camboer goat from Echuca, kangaroo and wild rabbit. A tasting plate of desserts and extensive cheese list round out the extensive menu made possible thanks to strong relationships with a variety of small, local producers. 25 Queen Street, Bendigo, +61 3 5443 3877.

ezard @ Levantine Hill
Chef Teage Ezard has a long history of working in kitchens after joining the culinary world at the age of 17. After heading up many acclaimed restaurants including Fitzroy’s Guernica and Melbourne’s Gingerboy, Ezard opened ezard restaurant located on Levantine Hill Estate in the wine growing region of the Yarra Ranges. The five and eight course degustation menus have been carefully crafted to match premium Levantine Hill wines, with produce from the estate and surrounding areas being the main focus of the menus. Plated to perfection, each dish is a work of art at ezard and as such the restaurant has won many awards and accolades after only a year of operation. 882 (Entrance via Hill Road), Maroondah Highway, Coldstream, +61 3 5962 1333.

New players keep raising the regional dining bar

With many longstanding restaurants leading the way in regional Victoria, new restaurant openings are becoming more commonplace thanks to growing interest in destination dining and an abundance of local food producers to help with supply. Opened in late 2016, Ma Cave at Midnight Starling is an intimate space dedicated to French drops, cheese and other rustic dishes. Located beneath Kyneton’s Midnight Starling, this addition to an already-thriving culinary scene ensures Kyneton’s foodie crown remains in place. Just 90 minutes from Melbourne Hogget Kitchen – which opened mid-March, 2017 – is Warragul’s latest entrant on the dining scene. Offering views of the Strzelecki Ranges, the restaurant merges exceptional wines with amazing local produce. In Port Fairy, Port of Mexico serves authentic Mexican fare in an ultra-colourful setting, while Conlan’s Wine Store offers share plates, wine and cheese in a cosy, heritage building. While in seaside Sorrento, Mr Morce serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a light and breezy way befitting of its beachy locale and Cakes & Ale provides main street visitors with excellent lunch and dinner options with a menu based around the season’s harvest.

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