East Gippsland is destined for big things as a foodie destination.
The region has long been a food bowl for Victoria, supplying Melbourne and the rest of the state with everything from leafy veggies and premium grass fed beef, to seafood, milk and cheeses of the highest quality. More recently though, East Gippsland has begun to build a solid reputation for innovative dining, thanks to a band of talented chefs championing the region’s produce in their restaurants and cafes. And then there’s the wine. The cool climate and sea breezes make East Gippsland perfect for producing cool climate varietals like pinot noir, and even subtle shiraz and chardonnays.
Bairnsdale makes a good base for exploring the region. It’s a 3.5-hour drive from Melbourne, so a self-drive short break over two or three days is a great way to go.
Here are ten top stops to make along the East Gippsland food and wine trail.
We’re told that the Bairnsdale locals were a little suspicious at first when a new owner-chef Sekove Koroisamanunu jazzed up the menu and started serving roasted baby beets with braised lentils and buttered spinach risotto at this old country pub in the heart of town. But the standard of the food and the warm service have quickly made The Main Hotel a firm favourite with many. Regulars predict a riot if the crispy lamb is ever taken off the menu. Personally, I’d take to the streets over those deliciously decadent green apple dumplings.
When English-born chef Rob Turner opened popular Northern Ground in Bairnsdale back in 2017, he focussed on using local Gippsland produce because he was convinced it was the best in the state. The result is a breakfast and brunch menu that goes well beyond the standard staples of bacon and eggs and smashed avo. Choose from delectable options like baked eggs with smoked fish, house-made granola, and melt-in-your mouth buttermilk pancakes.
With a 150 year history, The Old Grain Store in Bairnsdale was lovingly refurbished and repurposed as a restaurant three years ago. In renovating the building, the owners retained more than just its name; some of the restaurant’s fittings have been fashioned from the original floorboards. This is a great option for protein-packed dishes that champion local meat, seafood, eggs and milk.
A century-old former bakery in a tiny country town isn’t necessarily where you’d expect to find a fine dining experience, but that’s what you’re in for at The Long Paddock at Lindenow. Chef Tanya Bertino has worked in several top restaurants, including Melbourne’s Vue de monde. Here at her own venture, seasonal local produce shapes the ever-changing menu, which is served in a relaxed, low key setting.
Nicholson River Winery offers a taste of Europe in East Gippsland with wines produced using traditional European methods. The winery also champions sustainable production practices. The vintage sparkling white and fresh rosé are two of the most popular drops. The Barrel Room restaurant is scheduled to open onsite in late 2019 with an Italian-inspired menu.
Boutique Tambo Winery in Tambo Upper proves yet again that good things do indeed come in small packages, or in this case — small acreages. The 13-acre winery produces around 1,900 cases of wine per year, and has taken out multiple medals in the Wines of Gippsland awards. Tambo currently produces pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, and plans to produce small quantities of rosé, shiraz and nebbiolo in the future. Watch this space.
Some European visitors have actually refused to taste Lightfoot & Sons‘ signature sparkling shiraz. Bubbly red wine served cold? Sacré bleu! However, this uniquely Australian drop is one of the winery’s best sellers. It’s a highlight of the complimentary tasting of the winery’s full range at its cellar door in Calulu. The sparkling shiraz is best enjoyed over a tasting platter of premium local cheeses and meats, while you watch the resident pair of wedge-tailed eagles perform aerial ballet over the vines.
Beer drinkers don’t despair — it’s not all about wine in this part of the world. Bullant Brewery on the Great Alpine Road in Bruthen pours a range of all-natural ales, stouts and pilsners, sure to satisfy any taste or thirst. Everything is brewed on site using equipment imported from the USA. There’s a food menu on offer, and thoughtfully, it’s been paired with the beer range to ensure the best flavour combinations. Choose from zesty bar snacks, pizzas and burgers.
Located in the heart of beautiful Lakes Entrance, Albert & Co charms local residents and visitors alike with their Hamptons-inspired decor, and all-day dining menu and cocktail list. This eatery has a great location overlooking the Lakes Entrance fishing fleet, so it’s no surprise that seafood is a menu staple. Try tasty piscatorial morsels like sea scallop and goats cheese bruschetta, or Lakes Entrance whiting fish and chips.
Hatted eatery Sardine overlooks the sublime waterfront at Paynesville, just a short drive from Bairnsdale. The popular chef’s tasting menu features plenty of fresh seafood, including, of course, the regions’s signature Lakes Entrance sardines. This is the perfect spot to celebrate something special during your culinary journey of discovery through East Gippsland.
Louise travelled as a guest of Visit East Gippsland.
For more information, please visit www.visiteastgippsland.com.au.
Do you have any tips for exploring the East Gippsland food and wine trail? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Louise Reynolds made up her mind at the age of about four that she would one day travel the world — and has so far visited around 30 countries across five continents and the Pacific. A hopeless Francophile, she has a particular love for France, its language and pretty much all things French. Louise’s favourite way to see the world is on foot and her boots have taken her walking on famous trails in Europe, South America and New Zealand. She also has a passion for her home state of Victoria and loves exploring its diverse regions.