Winter weather makes me want to hop in the car for a drive and a long Sunday lunch. Ideally lunch will be at a cosy pub with a fire in the corner, beers on tap and a decent wine list. Instead of the scarily large chicken parmas and deep fried from frozen fish and chips you find at many country pubs, this ideal pub will have a menu which showcases seasonal produce from the local region. Pubs like these are absolute gems and most don’t tick all the boxes. But I’ve scoured the state and these are my favourites:
1. Healesville Hotel
In the heart of the Yarra Valley the century old Healesville pub is charming and inviting in winter. The pub has been lovingly preserved with pressed metal ceilings, an elaborate wooden bar and warmth from a roaring fire. Yarra Valley wines are available along with some beer options that move along from the usual. There’s a formal dining room but MTV and me just ate in the bar area. There’s a “classics” section of the menu with pub favourites like fish and chips and chicken schnitzel plus a focus on local produce like Yarra Valley pasta and hyper local “tomatoes from our garden”.
The scotch fillet steak ($32) is a decent cut of meat, chargrilled to give it a smoky finish and crisp crust around the tender meat. Better though was the Syrian chicken ($26) which came slow cooked in its own casserole dish. The juicy chicken was smothered in spices and served with giant cous cous and slivers of preserved lemon which cuts through the rich flavours with tartness. This is a long way from your standard pub grub.
Details: Healesville Hotel,
256 Maroondah Hwy, Healesville, Victoria (Ph 03 5962 4002)
2. The Stanley
About 10km out of Beechworth The Stanley is a great little gastropub. The owner Shane Harris does front of house with style and chef Shauna Stockwell’s food is not what you would expect at a tiny country pub like this. Think freshly shucked oysters ($3.50 each) and lightly battered zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta ($18). The food is unfussy and flavoursome with a special for the Roast Collection really impressing. It features twice cooked King Valley free range pork belly ($35) compete with crispy crackling, a fennel and apple remoulade and local walnut and parsley pesto. The only disappointment was MTV’s steak ($35) because the meat erred on the tough side.
Details: The Stanley, 6-12 Myrtleford-Stanley road, Stanley 3747 (Ph 03 5728 6502)
Damage: Pricey. Our bill came to $123 for two.
3. Hotel Avoca
As soon as I clocked the wood fire in the corner and proudly Pyrenees only wine list I knew I was going to like Hotel Avoca. Owners Ian and Al have renovated the pub and turned it into a real food and wine destination. The food on offer at Hotel Avoca is more honest pub grub than fine dining with a focus on home made fare and local produce. To start, chorizo croquettes were sensational. Crisp and crunchy they oozed cheeze with the added flavour of the smoky chorizo.
Ian recommended the parma as “the best parma in Australia” which is a big call but Hotel Avoca’s parma did deliver with a really tender chicken breast topped with rich homemade napoli sauce, folds of ham and a layer of cheese. The pie of the day was a rich beef and red wine number topped with a golden disc of puffed pastry. Dessert of chocolate fondant pudding was a bit undercooked as it was more liquid than pudding but eating molten chocolate is really not a hardship so I didn’t complain. If you are eating at Hotel Avoca get in early, we ate at about 7.30pm (dinner is served from 6pm) and by that time a few of the specials we wanted to try were sold out.
Details: Hotel Avoca, 115 High Street, Avoca (03) 5465 3018
Damage: Reasonable. Our meal for two with one bottle of wine came to $102.
4. Mountain View Hotel
In the beautiful King Valley, the dining area is pretty bare and sombre at the Mountain View but in summer time there is a lovely beer garden area. To start a really meaty terrine ($14) full of great hunks of pork. This was perfection in piggy form along with the few accompanying cornichons and a glass of fizzy and light Dal Zotto prosecco ($7). My main of rare breed pork ($26) was really two meals in one, it came with a huge slab of meltingly tender pork on top of roasted vegetables. But that wasn’t all, there was also an accompanying pig trotters pie, salad, potatoes and apple sauce. It really could have fed a family. The eye fillet ($38) was a perfect example of prime beef perfectly cooked. Looking at all the cows grazing in the fields around the pub the benefits of paddock to plate were pretty obvious.
My dessert stomach kicked in for a spiced pear crumble ($14) with the perfect accompaniment of cinnamon ice-cream. The topping erred on the side of being more grainy than crumbly but all up our meal at the Mountain View managed to live up to the glowing recommendations we had been given. It’s an unpretentious place and the food is very local and very good.
Details: Mountain View Hotel, Mansfield-Whitfield Road Whitfield, King Valley VIC 3733 (Ph 03 5729 8270)
5. Flinders Hotel
This decidedly slick country pub is light on rustic charm but big on being a glamorous lunch spot with a great wine list and sunny deck. The menu is seafood heavy so oysters served natural ($3.50 each) make a perfect start and they are oh so fresh and briny. Salt and pepper squid ($22) is also fresh with a delicate and lightly spiced batter that did not overwhelm the seafood. I must admit though to serious food envy of my friend Jo’s marinara which was chock full of plump prawns and mussels and a huge serving for an entrée size.
Details: Flinders Hotel, Cnr Cook and Wood Streets, Flinders Vic 3929 (Ph 03 5989 0201)
Damage: Reasonable. $50 a head.
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