Meet the Finalists for Victoria’s Regional Restaurant of the Year
A combination of inspiration, seclusion, enthusiasm and necessity has made Victorian country cooking one of Australia’s most exciting and engaging.
“Regional catering has exploded,” says Brigitte Hafner, chef and owner of Tedesca Osteria on the Mornington Peninsula, one of five finalists for the Regional Restaurant of the Year award in The age of good food Guidewhich will be released on November 15.
Hafner and his business partner, James Broadway, closed their Fitzroy Gertrude Street Enoteca venue shortly after opening their Red Hill restaurant in the summer of 2020. The pandemic was a factor, but so are the pleasures of life at the campaign that captivated both restaurateurs and their customers. .
“After COVID, people are excited to be out of town,” Hafner says. “It’s a no-brainer. Many people have come up against the city wall and discovered how beautiful the country is. Previously, they may have rented accommodation here or just visited on the weekends. Now, we’ve seen a lot of people flip that: they live on the peninsula and spend a few days in an apartment in town.”
Diners reap the benefits of Hafner’s closer connection to production. “There are great vendors in town, but you tend to think of a dish and order the ingredients,” she says. “In the countryside, it’s much more direct. The inspiration is literally in front of you. Your menu comes out of the ground.”
The five finalist restaurants require diners to eat from a tasting menu. “We ditched a la carte and opted for a set menu,” explains Michael Ryan, owner-chef of Origin at Beechworth. “It’s about making sure our small team can perform at the level we aspire to and focus on what we do best.” Diners are treated to complex and balanced Japanese-influenced morsels presented in multi-course dishes. “There are fewer moving parts, which minimizes food waste. We can meet exactly the quantities we need,” says Ryan.
The pandemic has prompted many restaurateurs to develop new sources of income. Ryan spent Victoria’s second lockdown making alcoholic extractions of more than 120 botanicals, then released a range of Italian amaro-inspired herbal liqueurs under his Beechworth Bitters brand. They are available at the restaurant, enriching and deepening the dining experience, as well as through wholesale and retail channels. “It’s helpful in getting through the ups and downs of the restaurant business,” he says.
In Port Fairy, Fen owners Ryan and Kirstyn Sessions have a food, wine and homeware retail store by day and a 14-seat fine dining restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights. “We use the space as much as possible by running two small businesses,” says Ryan Sessions. Minimizing reliance on staff and smoothing out seasonal fluctuations are key drivers. “Finding staff is next to impossible,” Sessions says. “We structure it to be constantly full rather than having a half-empty restaurant six months out of the year.”
The benefit for diners is an inventive menu of extraordinary clarity. ageBesha Rodell’s editor-in-chief raves about the scallops bathed in buttermilk and topped with salmon roe, and a mousse made with duck liver crusted with native walnuts. “It’s just me in the kitchen,” Sessions says. “I have a heavy workload every week but it’s creative: there are always a thousand things going through my head.”
Regional Restaurant of the Year Finalists
Open only two nights a week for 14 diners, Fen offers unique seafood-focused gourmet cuisine on the Victorian West Coast.
24 Bank Street, Port Fairy, fenportfairy.com.au
Chef Tobin Kent serves 12 diners at a time, using ingredients he grew and found near Geelong.
95 Minya Lane, Connewarre, moonahrestaurant.com.au
A grand bank building is an enchanting setting for chef Michael Ryan’s Japanese-influenced cuisine, presented as 18 dishes spread over four courses.
86 Ford Street, Beechworth, theprovenance.com.au
Brigitte Hafner prepares four lunches in the form of a menu per week for guests gathered around her open kitchen backed by a wood-burning oven.
1175 Mornington-Flinders Road, Red Hill, tedesca.com.au
Ten minutes by tractor
An exemplary vineyard dining room with exceptional views and local tasting menus from Chef Hayden Ellis.
1333 Mornington Flinders Road, Main Ridge, tenminutesbytractor.com.au
Tess Murray and Louis Naepels breathe new life into a heritage-listed sandstone building on Heathcote’s High Street.
178 High Street, Heathcote, chauncy.com.au
The Good Food Guide 2023 The magazine is on sale from November 15 for $9.95 from newsagents and supermarkets or for pre-order at thestore.com.au.