February 7, 2020 / By Eleanor Scott
Spring may be on its way but before it gets here it can be pretty hard to drag yourself out of the house. However, it can be so much easier if you’re swapping the toastie comfort of your own home for the warm embrace of a cosy restaurant or cafe. Luckily, regional Victoria has more than a few of these establishments scattered along its beachfronts and tucked amid vineyards or countryside paddocks – you just need to know where to look.
To get you started, I've put together a list of some of our favourite belly-warming eateries. Whether you’re keen on rustic cafes in former tobacco kilns, historic pubs or award-winning bistros, there’s something for everyone.
Farmers Arms Hotel - Daylesford
Located just two-kilometres from Lake Daylesford, the Farmers Arms Hotel may not be Daylesford's trendiest eatery but it’s certainly its cosiest. Founded in 1857, the venue has had a few facelifts over its time but still retains a charming old-world vibe that's hard to resist. The pub’s red-brick facade is covered in lush green vines and looks as though it belongs on the corner of a historic street somewhere in England rather than Australia, but that’s what makes it so special.
Inside, the wooden counter seating and plush booths provide comfy spots to sink into, and the quaint beer garden out the back is lovely on a clear day. Seasonal ingredients inspire the menu, with belly-warming dishes like golden beer-battered fish and chips, slow-cooked beef cheek, and pancetta-wrapped filet mignon proving just the ticket when you need to remove the winter’s chill from your bones.
Bridge Road Brewers - Beechworth
Exposed brick walls covered with beautiful Indigenous artworks, long wooden tables perfect for sharing, and a consistently lively atmosphere are just some of the reasons one might initially decide to spend a bit of time at the Bridge Road Brewers in Beechworth. But, it’s the barrel-aged and wild-fermented farmhouse beers that people stay for – until they try the kitchen’s Austrian–Italian-inspired pizzas, then it’s really hard to get people to leave.
The sweet potato number with tomato, Italian Gorgonzola cheese, baby rocket and local hazelnuts is especially delicious, as is the simple garlic and herb slice. The bar snacks are also just the right kind of moreish winter fare. Think, freshly baked giant pretzels and beer bread made using the spent grain from the brewery and served with Beechworth L’Oliveraie olive oil and balsamic.
Merricks General Wine Store - Mornington Peninsula
Set between rolling hills and stunning coastline, the Merricks General Wine Store is something of an enigma. Once upon a time, a general store was just a small step up from a milk bar, but here they have a cellar door, bistro, art gallery, provedore and coffee kiosk all rolled into one toastie location that has had regular customers flocking to their door for years now.
Housed in a rustic 1920s building with a wrap-around verandah and a tin roof, the place is brimming with a quaint country charm that is also present on the menu. The glazed lamb shoulder with Red Hill cider-braised carrots and turnips is guaranteed to cheer you up when it’s chilly out or, if you’re feeling brave, you can have them wrap some treats up from the store and have a picnic on the beach – don’t forget your blankets and maybe a hot water bottle.
Sardine - Gippsland Lakes
Thanks to ex-Vue De Monde head chef Mark Briggs, Sardine is one of Gippsland’s best restaurants. While the eatery is certainly serving up fresh seafood worthy of an award (ahem, they’re already the only hatted restaurant in the area), the bistro itself has an understated atmosphere that’s more than welcome on a cold winter’s day.
Plus, their whole barbecued sardines straight from the nearby Lakes Entrance or crispy roasted fillet of fish with smokehouse bacon will have you feeling toasty in no time – although the freshly shucked oysters with a splash of shallot vinegar are also a must-try. The view out over Newlands Backwater is pretty lovely, too.
Lupo’s Kiln Cafe - Myrtleford
There’s just something special about Lupo’s Kiln Cafe in Myrtleford. Maybe it’s the industrial space that used to be a working tobacco kiln, or perhaps it’s the recycled tin furniture and planters that now house the cafe’s vegetable and herb garden. It’s hard to put your finger on, but one thing you can be sure of is that in winter this place is magical.
Looking out over the surrounding paddocks while sitting out on the rustic wooden decking and eating freshly rolled pasta is a unique experience – one that will immediately have you feeling relaxed and warm even on the frostiest day.
La Bimba - Apollo Bay
La Bimba is a culinary star along the Great Ocean Road. The upstairs restaurant is just across the road from Apollo Bay’s main beach and glows with the type of warm and inviting atmosphere everyone hopes to find when they dare to leave their toastie lounge room during winter. Much of their produce is sourced from their own farm, Otway Harvest, as well as other local fishermen and farmers in the region.
Standout dishes include juicy duck roasted on the bone, Lakes Entrance king prawns and any of the fish of the day, however, the locals are pretty partial to the Apollo Bay Snapper. Indulge in a warming jug of sangria for the table and make a night of it.
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