We have become regular visitors to Bright in recent years, for a myriad of outdoor pursuits, including cycling along the ‘Rail Trail’, paragliding and mountain biking (those last 2 are Mr GastronoMel’s domain). 3 1/2 hours up the Hume, turning off at Wangaratta, driving through lush green countryside, giving way to rows of vines, Bright is not only stunningly beautiful, but is the epicentre of foodie-heaven, with some of Victoria’s finest food and wine being produced and served in the area.
Breakfast (and lunch):
One of our new discoveries during our last visit was Ginger Baker, without doubt one of the prettiest breakfast locations of my eating career. Run by Tim Walton, with a slew of suburban Melbourne cafes under his belt, his family’s tree change is one I’m grateful for, as we couldn’t get enough of the place, returning 3 mornings in a row for breakfast, and then again for lunch. With plentiful undercover outdoor seating, rough hewn tables and benches, lights in glass jars suspended from the rafters like fireflies, and a playlist of cruisy house music, I would have been happy to move in here. The coffee was perfect every time and Tim has tracked down some of the region’s best quality fruit, dairy and smallgoods to offer up some truly memorable breakfasts. A particular highlight was the bacon sourced from a butcher in Mt Beauty. Lunch was also fabulous, with an interesting range of tapas.
Simone’s of Bright is perhaps the best known restaurant in the area, serving up beautiful Italian fare making the most of the local produce. It’s something of a special occasion place, with multiple small dining rooms complete with carpet, mantlepieces and artwork that give the impression that you’re in someone’s (rather lovely) home, rather than a restaurant.
Thoughtful, beautifully presented dishes served by exceptionally professional staff , Simone’s is a delighful, grown up experience, and you can even buy Patrizia Simone’s gorgeous cookbook to take home with you (or better still, enrol in one of her cooking classes at the new cooking school).
What to drink:
Anyone who follows me on Twitter would be familiar with my obsession with prosecco, in simple terms, Italy’s version of champagne and my very favourite drink in the whole wide world. Already a huge Brown Brothers fan from way back, they made me particularly happy more recently by introducing Prosecco into their extensive line up, and a trip to the Cellar Door in Milawa (near Bright and home to the magnificent Milawa Cheese Factory) meant trying a few different styles of bubbles, as well as the Limited Release prosecco. My tasting notes for this little beauty read: ‘senfreakingsational’. Who are we kidding. I made no notes. I just drank ALL the prosecco and other delights that the lovely Ernie put in front of us. Next time we’ll stay longer and do lunch in the amazing Epicurean Centre.
Anyone who’s been to a Melbourne Farmer’s Market will be familiar with the Myrtleford Butter Factory‘s wares, but if you are passing through picturesque Myrtleford, it’s worth stopping in to say hi to the very delightful and hospitable Naomi and her mum Bron (I thought they were sisters!) who are not only producing the best butter I’ve ever put in my pie hole, but they do a damn fine coffee and breakfast, and have loads of lovely crockery, artwork and cookbooks to buy whilst you’re there.
They also offer tours of the butter factory itself, which they restored from its neglected state, after continually driving past saying ‘someone should really buy that place and do it up’, so Naomi tells me.
If you’re on Twitter you can find both of them chatting about country life and tasty buttery snacks: @thebutterfactor and @butterbron
Where we stayed:
What else we loved:
Lunch at Sam Miranda Wines outside on the terrace, plenty of space for the kids (if you’re dragging them to the wineries with you) to run around, and a truly fabulous spread of share plates
What we’re doing next time:
And where to refuel on the way home:
The multi-award-winning Fowles Wines , home to ‘Ladies who shoot their lunch’, and other splendidly named wines, they do a delightful prosecco, and have a great restaurant overlooking the vines, with some fantastic share plates of local goodness.
Around a sweeping bend on a road in the Buckland Valley (near Bright, about 3.5 hour’s drive from Melbourne) nestled under Mount Buffalo, you’ll find Villa Gusto – a little slice of Italy right here in Australia.
Offering divine luxury accomodation, taking inspiration from southern Italy and filled with gorgeous rich tones, authentic tapestries and centuries-old antiques (and Bvlgari toiletries in the bathroom), Villa Gusto has 7 suites to choose from, all looking out over different parts of the garden, with views to the majestic mountain above.
The ornamental garden also includes a large chook pen (nicknamed the Penthouse) full of lovely brown hens who obligingly lay their eggs for your breakfast, as well as a big organic veggie patch, overseen by a super-friendly lady by the name of Signorina Fellini, a large silky tabby-cat.
We arrive for dinner promptly, as our host Colin has advised us the meal begins at 7pm sharp. If you’ve had a wander around the garden or taken a seat on the terrazzo beforehand to take in the view, it’s likely he’ll have offered you a pre-dinner drink, and some Prosecco is definitely in order.
The King Valley wine region is right on our doorstep here, and its cool, even climate is perfect for growing fabulous Italian varietals like Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio, Vin Santo and of course Prosecco. The first Australian-made Prosecco was in fact produced right here, at Dal Zotto Winery, and it’s easily one of the best we’ve had. Similarly one of the loveliest Sangiovese we’ve had the pleasure to imbibe comes from just down the road at Whitfield, courtesy of the delightfully affable Fred Pizzini and the team at Pizzini Wines.
But I digress. The dinner menu at Villa Gusto is thus: 4 courses, predetermined by seasonal availability, containing all locally- sourced ingredients, and based on traditional, rustic Italian fare, specifically from the south of Italy, and accompanied, if you wish (we wished), by matching wines.
We were treated to an apertura of shellfish broth, a recipe that had been passed down through the generations of one particular family in Amalfi, since 1864. This was a mouthwatering combination of vongole (pippies), mussels, a large bug tail, and a ladleful of delicate brodo. Even our non-shellfish-eating dining companion was moved to down this bowlful of goodness. This was followed by a housemade canneloni filled with local smoked trout from Harrietville, dill sauce, with black truffle (hello!) and flavoured with a splash of Vermentino, a white Italian varietal. A gorgeous combination of flavours, and the canneloni was a perfectly bitey aldente.
Secondi arrived – pollo di latte, which is quite simply, chicken in milk. But a Millawa free range chicken it was, and slow cooked all day so that it simply fell away from the bones, and served with a crunchy, crumbed eggplant slice, and some fresh steamed greens. There was a hint of chilli which warmed the cockles of my heart, and when enjoyed with a 2009 Vinea Marson Sangiovese from Heathcote, had the tastebuds doing the happy dance.
Dolci was a delightful combination of naughty and nice – some fresh local berries and nectarines, served with a canoli filled with local ricotta flavoured with limoncello (why not?) and a peach and nectarine gelato.
All the courses were spaced beautifully, leaving enough time between each for pause, reflection, conversation and digestion. The portions were perfect, the wines thoughtfully matched, and complimented nicely by some Sinatra swing, which had us all swaying and crooning (quite badly) by the end.
Whilst you can make a dinner booking without staying the night (the restaurant seats 22 comfortably), it’s hard to resist the allure of wandering down the hallway to your room to arise the next morning for breakfast at the very civilised hour of 9am to velvety poached pears, local yoghurt from the Myrtleford Dairy and freshly poached googs, with cherry tomatoes and asparagus picked from the garden, washed down with an espresso. La dolce vita indeed.