February 14, 2020 / By Oceana Setaysha
Knowing where your food comes from can change your whole dining experience. A number of decades ago, everyone knew where the food they ate came from without even thinking about it. They purchased from greengrocers and butchers who sourced their produce locally and dined out at family-owned establishments (if they dined out at all).
Then times changed. We became an global community that savoured Californian oranges alongside Northern Territory mangoes, and the distance between the farm and the table got a whole lot bigger. Over the last few years the sustainability of this practice has been challenged, and food lovers have been encouraged to take a critical look at their eating habits when it comes to the ‘footprint’ of their food. In a world where you can have anything at any time, the farm to table (or paddock to plate) movement encourages people to slow down and embrace seasonal flavours and local produce, and it seems we're loving it.
In Victoria, these concepts have really taken off in the world of dining out. There are a growing number of establishments state-wide dedicating themselves to either entirely or majority local sourcing and on-site kitchen gardens. The food travels a shorter distance and represents the best quality products available in the area and supports local farmers and the growing community. Whether your visiting Victoria or heading out of Melbourne for a weekender, finding places like this has become easier. Here are a few of my favourite destinations that are doing great things with local produce, and for the planet.
O.MY Restaurant, Beaconsfield
A 2019 revamp now sees O.MY restaurant in the original Beaconsfield Post Office. This two-hatted venue has a fresh food philosophy that stems from respect for the earth and a committment to sustainability. Most of the delectable dishes are sourced from their garden at a local farm and crafted by head chef and owner, Blayne Bertoncello. You never quite know what will feature on the seasonal menu, but you can expect to delight your taste buds with innovative dishes like smoked pumpkin skin ice cream, whey caramel and semi-dried pickled pumpkin skin mixed with dried canendula.
Heronswood House Restaurant, Mornington Peninsula
The Heronswood gardens are well known in the Mornington Peninsula for their stunning flowers, but less well known is the remarkable kitchen garden that's carefully mixed in among the blooms. There are five separate gardens, filled with top quality heirloom vegetables and tended using traditional techniques; a key part of how Heronswood and its Digger's Club works. The incredible range of vegetables then provide more than enough for the Heronswood House Restaurant. Offering a delectable seasonal menu packed with certified organic produce, this is a true ‘garden fork to table fork’ eating experience.
Royal Mail Hotel, The Grampians (Dunkeld)
The Royal Mail Hotel has a lot going for it, including it’s great location and the fact that it’s home to the largest restaurant garden in Australia. At 1.2 hectares, the main area of the garden provides up to 80% of the produce served in the Royal Mail Hotel restaurant on site. There are also additional growing areas such as a citrus, olive and truffle groves, a stone fruit orchard, and a glass hothouse. Guests can take a wander in the garden at 11am every day, or just claim a seat at the restaurant and see it where it all ends up.
Basils Farm, Bellarine
A quaint cottage café with views of Swan Bay and Queenscliff that are sure to impress, Basil’s Farm is also home to a picturesque kitchen garden. Set in a winery by the sea, diners look out over the garden as they sample the farm's goods, which includes organically-grown heirloom vegetables and herbs and an enormous selection of fruits. The menu at the café changes with the available produce over the year, so there’s always something new to sink your teeth into. Sit in the sunshine and soak up the surrounds, and don’t be surprised if you see a member of the kitchen team taking a moment to harvest from the garden. Yes, it’s that fresh!
Wombat Hill House, Daylesford
From the same team that delivered diners another Daylesford institution – Lake House – comes Wombat Hill House, hidden away in the Wombat Hill Gardens in Daylesford. Simple but wholesome food is what you’ll find here, with lots of seasonal goodies from local sources. The café is also working on a kitchen garden of their own, which they hope will soon be actively adding even more value to what’s being served up in the form of herbs, salad leaves, fruit and vegetables.
The Merri Table, Melbourne
You don’t always have to leave the confines of the city to find a farm-to-table experience, as The Merri Table clearly proves. Located in the grounds of CERES (Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies) in Brunswick, The Merri Table is a purpose-built organic café. Open every day for breakfast and lunch, The Merri Table offers a contemporary menu and a focus on sustainable food choices. Food relationships and knowledge are paramount here, and the organisation has an open-book policy on their food suppliers, prioritising organic, free range and cruelty free options.
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