Winter is an ideal time to sample some of Australia’s finest fare, especially when paired with a famed wine destination…
Foodies with all manner of tastebuds and budgets can find some incredible dining options during their winter sojourn from woodfired pizzas to chickpea koftas and award-winning sausage.
Here’s a selection we think should nab a spot on your food lovers’ bucket list.
For a place that’s a mere speck on the map midway between Adelaide and Melbourne, Coonawarra is a very popular tourism
destination — largely because of its reputation for producing some of Australia’s finest red wines.
Coonawarra may be flat and remote, but it remains a magnet for wine lovers throughout the year thanks to a series of annual food and wine festivals that include After Dark each April, the Cellar Dwellers events in June and the Coonawarra Cabernet Celebrations every October.
The township of Penola has a population of 1200 and Coonawarra itself, just down the road, is home to just a couple of hundred.
Just across the road from Wynn’s Coonawarra Estate you’ll find Fodder Food/Wine, run by former Rymill winemaker John Innes and his wife Melissa, who also operate Ottelia Wines.
In addition to a great wine list, Fodder is also known for producing some of the best pizzas in South Australia; think tomato, Asiago cheese, pancetta and roasted capsicum; or tomato, mozzarella, ham, felino salami, mushrooms and olives. There is a house rule of “no chicken or pineapple on pizzas”.
You can also try a ‘nibbles plate’ of goat’s curd and garlic custard, zucchini pickle, baba ghanoush dip, sweet and sour mushrooms and shaved Ventricina salami. You could also sample tortellini of wood-roasted pumpkin, goat’s curd and garden herb oil; ricotta gnocchi, sage and burnt butter sauce; or prawns with garlic, chilli and Nonya sauce.
In Penola, management of the venerable Royal Oak Hotel was taken over in August 2018 by John Rymill, a member of one of the region’s most famous wine families, and his partner Mary Harvey. The hotel building dates back to the 1800s.
“We want to focus on the beautiful building that this is, and move forward from there; good service, booze and food,” Rymill says. Think dishes such as gin-cured trout or warming schnitzels after a 'tough' day of wine tastings. More info
For anyone looking for a fine dining experience, Pipers of Penola is run by Simon Bowen, a member of another of the region’s winemaking families. It is open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday.
This rural region of Victoria is a popular getaway destination for Melbourne folk with bush and beach locations. The biggest population hubs include Traralgon, Moe, Warragul, Morwell and Sale, with tourism destinations including Phillip Island, Wilsons Promontory and the Gippsland Lakes.
There are several country hotels offering warming winter dishes, including the Tinamba Hotel, which is known for its locally sourced produce and great food.
The Tinamba Hotel was first established In 1874 and has been run by locals Brad Neilson and Damien Gannon for the past decade.
Menu specials can include pan-fried ricotta gnocchi and a bouillabaisse fish stew. The soup of the day is popular with locals, as are the locally farmed steaks.
Far grander is the Criterion Hotel in Sale, which can trace its history back to 1865. The hotel is known for its pub fare showcasing local produce including beef from Bairnsdale (68km away), lamb from Stratford (17km away) and seafood from lovely Lakes Entrance (105km away).
Think dishes such as the Cri Parmy, a crumbed chicken breast with double smoked ham, Napoli, Maffra cheddar, beer-battered steak, fries and salad; or a 400g Gippsland rib-eye with fondant potato, local beans, heirloom carrots and red wine jus. More info: http://crihotel.com.au
Still in Gippsland, the Fish Creek Hotel (1939) is an imposing Art Deco building notable for a giant fish sculpture by Colin Suggett mounted on the roof. On cold days, sample the hotel’s specially blended fortified wines all aged on site in small oak barrels from Rutherglen in Victoria, Australia's finest fortified wine region.
SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS, NSW
The Southern Highlands is one of the fastest-emerging gourmet regions in New South Wales and is just 90 minutes southwest of Sydney.
The region is centred on the towns of Mittagong, Bowral, Moss Vale, Bundanoon, Robertson and Berrima and can be chilly in winter. It is known for its many gourmet pie producers and hosts the annual Pie Time festival each June.
The Robertson Pie Shop boasts its products are made fresh daily on the premises and use the finest ingredients. The menu includes steak and kidney, beef, bacon and cheese, chicken, leek and camembert and beef bourguignon.
The Heatherbraes Pies outlet at Sutton Forest (open every day except Christmas Day) has a red lentil curry for vegans, with red lentils, potatoes, carrots, onions and peas simmered in an Indian curry sauce, as well as Bushman’s (chopped beef, onions and bacon, simmered with carrots, parsnips and mushrooms) and Digger’s (chopped beef simmered in garlic and onions).
GREAT SOUTHERN WA
Many visitors to Western Australia gravitate to Margaret River, which means they can overlook the many charms of the remote Great Southern region.
That’s a pity because it offers fabulous beaches, awe-inspiring old-growth forests, whale and dolphin-watching opportunities and history galore, plus dozens of gourmet options.
The region is huge, with five wine sub-regions in Frankland River, Porongurup and the Albany/Denmark/Mount Barker triangle. Albany, the region’s biggest town, is a five-hour direct drive from Perth. Many locals drive for long periods to grab a bite to eat at remote Maleeya’s Thai Cafe, set In a Porongurup bush setting. This cosy cabin serves authentic and hearty Thai food.
Maleeya Form, originally from Chiang Mai, and her husband Peter serve a delicious tom yum goong (spicy prawn soup) and Thai beef curry with kaffir limes. Lemongrass, coriander, galangal, 20 varieties of chillies and other herbs and spices are all grown on the property. Peter runs a bamboo and palm nursery onsite.
For a more refined experience, award-winning Liberte is a Paris-inspired bar in the old London Hotel in Albany that serves up Vietnamese-accented dishes on its bar menu. Think crispy chicken bao with hoisin, slaw, sriracha mayo and toasted sesame; fried whitebait with smoked chilli mayo, salt and pepper squid with samphire tartare, finger lime and dill or roast pumpkin dumplings, pumpkin seed brittle and ‘secret’ dipping sauce.
The Albany Farmers Markets are held every Saturday from 8am to noon and are the ideal place to sample fresh produce from local farms. The regional fruits and vegetables are outstanding.
HUON VALLEY, TAS
The Huon Valley is the southern-most government area in Australia and life here moves at a slow pace. It is only a 30-50-minute drive from Hobart.
The main townships are Huonville, Franklin, Cygnet, Geeveston and Dover and is the region where the many orchards gave Tasmania the name ‘the Apple Isle’. Today, it is home to several cideries that offer safe havens from the cold winter days: Willie Smith’s, Frank’s Cider and Pagan Cider.
Willie Smith’s Apple Shed hosts the annual Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival at Ranelagh Showgrounds from July 12-14 this year. This pagan-inspired event features local food and wines, beers and ciders, massive bonfires, folk music, dancing and story-telling as well as the burning of a giant wooden sculpture.
Outside of festival time, Willie Smith's is billed as “the hottest hut in the Huon Valley”: think craft ciders, locally sourced lunches, and plenty of space to sit, chat plus live music in the evenings.
The menu features roasted Tasmania walnuts; chickpea koftas and spiced fried cauliflower or toasties including roast vegetable and Red Cow organic feta. For a real winter treat try the smoked ham hock and white bean cassoulet.
If you are lucky there might be some fire cider available; a concoction of fresh ginger, chilli and garlic, sriracha, apple cider vinegar, turmeric, horseradish, onion, oranges, lemons and organic apples. Also try the apple brandy distilled on site.
Frank’s Cider is a sixth-generation family business in the former St John’s Church Hall in the waterside hamlet of Franklin. It hosts live music and comedy nights and serves hearty seasonal dishes including a Rueben’s sandwich with beef and cider pie or warm apple crumble in a relaxed, rustic ambience with historic photos on the walls.
At Pagan Cider, the on-site Pandemonium Cafe food van serves up warming waffles and crepes but check ahead for opening times.
Zecca restaurant has been a big hit with Griffith locals and visitors, serving authentic Italian cuisine with a modern touch. House-made pastas and breads are specialities and most of the produce is sourced locally when possible. The name Zecca means ‘mint’ in Italian — a nod to the building’s history as a branch of the Rural Bank.
The owners say: “We are working together with local farmers and producers to showcase the best of what Griffith and the surrounding area has to offer.”
Butcher Nigel Rollbusch is the go-to guy for snags after being named the best bratwurst producer in the country. His Waikerie butcher shop Rollbusch Quality Meats took top gong at the national Sausage King Awards in the continental category.
The winning snag is a German-style sausage made from pork and beef, which is sold to local pubs and bakeries. Check them out at the New Land Bakery, the Waikerie and Loxton hotels and the View Point Cafe located at Waikerie.
ADELAIDE HILLS, SA
Visitors to the Adelaide Hills get a really close look at the winemaking process when they visit Tilbrook Estate in Lenswood. They might also get to taste some of the region’s best pizzas.
Call ahead to make sure they have fired up the oven, and if you are in luck try the meat lover’s pizza with chorizo and prosciutto, leg ham and mozzarella, along with tomato sauce, oregano and basil.
CENTRAL COAST, NSW
Head from the beaches of the Central Coast to Gosford to sample the new Bon Pavilion in Gosford. It is a new culinary venture from chef Sean Connolly owned by John Singleton and managed by Bells at Killcare owners Brian and Karina Barry.
Bon Pavilion has a family-friendly steak and seafood restaurant Bonfire, an espresso bar, private dining and the Bon Bar, all under one roof. Connolly’s menu focuses on ethically-sourced produce and premium suppliers.
Think dishes such as chicken and prawn pie, The Bon cheese burger with double patty, red Leicester cheese, pickles and French fries or lamb tomahawk chops with fresh mint sauce.
Recently opened Prospect House in the cool Coal River Valley wine region is owned by the same family which makes Pooley’s Wines. It is also a great spot to escape the winter chills with a hearty dinner.
Head Chef Kurstin Berriman’s menu focuses on seasonal and sustainable local produce, much of it sourced from the nearby Coal River Valley. The three-course dinner menu ($85) includes entrees such as eel escabeche or Westhaven goat cheese pannacotta; and main courses may include rare-seared wallaby fillet.