You could spend a week eating your way through the culinary delights of the Moorabool Valley Taste Trail and never double-up on a thing. But if you’ve only got a day or two, you’ll want to make every gastronomic moment count. Let me point you in the direction of five fabulous dishes that represent the region’s flavours and out-of-town vibe in fabulous ways.
1. Sonny Café at Inverleigh may be the new kid on the block but owners Shaun and Amy are old hands at the hospitality game. They’re locals who created a love-where-we-live eatery that champions local growers and producers. Premium, high quality food at its best – vegies from the farmer over the back, berries from Berry Organic Farm, meat products from Sage Farm. You get the idea. Shaun’s pick is the Sonny Salad, delicious and fresh and served either as is or with the addition of chicken, salmon or goats cheese.
Bonus tip: pop in and pick up your salad as a Grab and Go, plus a cold-pressed juice. Ask Shaun to point you in the direction of the Suspension Bridge where you can relax by the river and paddle in the shallows. (Just quietly, I’m also hearing rave reviews for the Autumn Nourish Bowl, brimming with seasonal vegies, quinoa, avocado dressing and vegan goodness.)
2. Fine dining – with a sprinkle of bush magic. That’s the essence of Inverleigh Cellar and Kitchen (Inverleigh). Located in the stunning rural township of Inverleigh, 20 minutes from Geelong on the Hamilton Highway, Inverleigh Cellar and Kitchen seats 50 people in a lovely restored cottage surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens. Offering retail wines and beers available for take away or to drink in, the kitchen serves rustic French inspired cuisine ideal for a casual lunch through to a special occasion dinner.
It represents the dream and reality of celebrated chef Matt Dempsey: bringing true meaning to fresh local produce, in a relaxed rural atmosphere.
3. Hubba bubba! Chocolate heaven, just off the highway in Batesford. A 125-year-old farm is home to Moorabool Valley Chocolate, a perfect lunch stop-spot. Sit on the shady deck (or inside by the wood stove) and enjoy a house-made sausage roll (like Nanna used to make), a decadent serve of Belgian-style waffles with lashings of whipped cream and a spicy Spanish hot chocolate. Veer over to the viewing window to watch chocolate makers at work and pile up a selection of hand-made specialty chocolates to take home for a treat.
4. Breakfast of champions. You don’t have to have a hangover to enjoy a big breakfast (but it helps). Fuel up for the day with a classic “big breakfast” with a local twist. The Station Masters Breakfast at Bannockburn Station will satisfy the heftiest of appetites: free range eggs, fat curls of bacon, house-made baked beans, sautéed mushies, spinach and fennel sausage on sourdough toast. Plan the day over a barista coffee brewed from Ballarat-roasted beans, while taking in the ambience of the magnificent 150-year-old bluestone railway station.
5. DIY a delectable picnic feast. At Dorothy’s Kitchen (Meredith) gather up all the makings of an on-point alfresco luncheon. There’s a deli-case brimming with local goodness like Meredith Dairy cheeses, Istra Smallgoods, olives, dips and all the tidbits you’re hankering for. Expect local, organic fare and market-style boxes chock-full with an ever-changing selection of seasonal fruit and veg, some grown just out back. Fresh-baked loaves (from the bakery next door) are perfect for pulling apart and filling with delectable morsels that make your tastebuds dance. Bring your favourite rug, grab a bottle of wine from a local winery and find a slice of paradise on the banks of the Moorabool River. Ask Graham at Dorothy’s Kitchen – he’ll direct you to a secret spot like only a local can.