Have a staycation and explore the best of Melbourne and the Yarra Valley in one day
As a passionate lover of all things edible, I’m always on the lookout for new and exciting dining experiences. But, like we all do, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut visiting the same old favourites. With so many amazing restaurants and cafes just a stroll away from any given street in Melbourne, it’s easy to forget we live in a state that produces world-class wine, produce, and dining experiences just a short drive away in the Yarra Valley.
Just an hours drive from the Melbourne CBD, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d ventured far into the hinterland of Victoria as you travel through the Yarra Valley’s dense orchards, rolling hills covered in grapes just waiting for an alchemist’s touch, and pass little farmhouses that would make Henry Lawson proud.
With such pastoral beauty just a stone’s throw away from the bright lights of the city, this little urbanite donned her finest Docs to experience the best of both worlds. With the help of those knowledgeable Marriot staff as my guides, I spent 24 hours eating, drinking, and exploring the city and the Yarra Valley.
The Westin Melbourne
Every adventure starts with a good base camp, and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to rest my head than The Westin Melbourne. When your neighbours are the Regent Theatre and St Paul’s Cathedral, you know you’re in a good neighbourhood.
The Westin – part of the Marriott family of hotels – is located in the heart of the city, overlooking City Square, and is the perfect place to start your city-to-Yarra Valley adventure. An oasis of luxury and calm, whatever your day holds, winding down at The Westin will recharge your batteries. Relaxing on the Juliet balcony overlooking Flinders Lane, with only the Cathedral’s gargoyles and a glass of red for company, I was in my element. But I was also hungry.
Fortunately, their in-house restaurant, Allegro, is an incredible – and very Melbourne – dining experience, and it’s only an elevator ride away. With the Manchester Unity building and the Melbourne Town Hall providing the visual delights, executive Chef Michael Greenlaw brings the palate pleasers.
Having worked at 5-star hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants all around the globe, Greenlaw brings over a decade of experience to Allegro, creating dishes that make the most of fresh local ingredients, incorporating them into dishes in surprising, but very scrumptious ways. If I had to pick a favourite – which isn’t easy given how delicious all the dishes I tried at the restaurant were – I’d have to go with the chocolate cherry ganache. The name of the dish speaks for itself – decadent, rich, luxurious – but throw in some chocolate sable, candied beetroot, and crisp black olives (trust me – it works!), and you have a dessert that leaves others in its delicious dust.
If you want to venture out for dinner, The Westin is a short stroll from some of the best restaurants in Melbourne, with Chin Chin, Cumulus Inc, Lello Pasta Bar, and MoVida all just a block or two away. If you’re looking for something cheap and cheerful, Melbourne’s Chinatown is just a tram ride away.
The Westin Melbourne
205 Collins Street, Melbourne
Ph#: (03) 9635 2222
The National Gallery of Victoria
What do international exhibitions, priceless paintings by world famous artists, and some of the prettiest damn stained glass windows you’ll ever see have in common? They can all be found at The National Gallery of Victoria. Located walking distance from The Westin, the NGV was founded in 1861, making it the oldest – and most visited – gallery in Australia. And it’s no surprise why. With over 70,000 items in their collection, spanning thousands of years of human expression, it’s the ideal place to while away an afternoon surrounded by artistic and cultural innovation – and it’s free!
When I visited, the stunning House of Dior exhibition was the star of the show. Celebrating 70 years, the couture powerhouse has brought some of their oldest and most exquisite pieces Down Under, exclusive to Melbourne. Charting the evolution of Dior from it’s founding by the man himself, through to the modern era under current Creative Director, Maria Grazi Chiuri, the exhibition takes its audience on a journey of form and fashion. There’s an interesting Melbourne connection to note, with David Jones holding Dior’s first ever fashion show outside of Paris here in our little city in 1948.
The House of Dior exhibition runs until the 7th of November but, if you don’t make it in time, never fear, the NGV’s International Gallery always has an exciting new exhibition around the corner. There’s a entry fee to the International Gallery’s exhibitions, but it’s most definitely worth it.
The National Gallery of Victoria
180 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne
Open 7 days, 10am-5pm
The Yarra Valley:
As fun and vibrant as Melbourne city is, sometimes you just want to leave the trams and skyscrapers behind, and with the Yarra Valley just an hour’s drive away, you can do just that. The Yarra Valley is Victoria’s ‘food bowl’ – producing some of the excellent ingredients used by restaurants all over the state. Renowned for their wineries and gourmet local produce, The Yarra Valley offers world-class wining and dining right in your own backyard.
Heading up the mountains from the valley below and travelling through the foggy terrain was like stepping into another world. As the sun rose and the fog lifted, I was blown away by the natural beauty of the region, and the ingenuity of our local producers who have harnessed the landscape and the climate to create some of Australia’s finest food and wine.
De Bortoli Wines
Celebrating 30 years in the Yarra Valley, and stretching over a massive 170 hectares, De Bortoli winery in Dixon’s Creek is must-do. Internationally renowned for their wines, De Bortoli is an obvious choice for a cellar door visit, but it’s also so much more than that. It’s the culmination of almost a century of passion for the De Bortoli’s, from the clan’s humble beginnings in 1924 when patriarch Vittorio De Bortoli first landed on Australian shores, to the international success story decades in the making that they are today.
With a wine for every palate, it’d be easy to make your De Bortoli visit a liquid lunch. But with a cheese store and restaurant on site, there’s plenty to line your tummy before diving into the vino. Their cheese shop has its own onsite maturation room, offering a range of local and imported cheeses. The restaurant, Locale, takes its inspiration from the Italian trattorias, utilising seasonal Yarra Valley produce. Head chef Adam Mead has curated a share-style menu that changes with the seasons to showcase the best of local and imported ingredients. Handmade pasta and authentically cooked risotto are year-round menu favourites, with sauces changing depending on what is in season at the time, and local and imported cheeses and salumi are always favourites.
De Bortoli Winery
58 Pinnacle Lane, Dixon’s Creek
Open 7 days, 10am-5pm
Ph#: (03) 5965 2271
Four Pillars Gin
Australia’s gin scene has seen an explosion in the last few years, with the national output putting Australia on the gin map. Arguably Australia’s most famous gin of the moment is Four Pillars. The distillery was only established in 2013, but the team have made a name for themselves producing some of the nation’s premier gin – and all from their distillery in Healesville, in the heart of the Yarra Valley.
Famous for their gin’s variety and versatility, Four Pillars is perfect for neat sipping as well as a base for some divine cocktails that will have your dinner guests thinking you’re an old hand at bartending. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, walking you through the distilling process as they guide you through a tasting at the super reasonable price of $10 per person, every day until 5.30pm. Best of all, the fee is refundable with the purchase of any 700ml bottle: trust me, after a tasting you will definitely be taking a bottle home with you!
Part of what goes into making Four Pillars gin such good quality is the combination of the purity of the local Yarra Valley water used in the distillation process, and the Tasmanian Pepperberry and whole oranges, which produce a highly aromatic gin full of spicy botanicals.
Four Pillars Distillery
2A Old Lilydale Rd, Healesville
Open Sunday-Thursday 10am-5.30pm and til 9pm on Friday and Saturday
Ph#: (03) 5962 2791
While supping on fancy wines and musing over the finer points of gin is delicious and fun, for a more family-friendly activity, Cherryhill Orchards in Wandin East is a fantastic and tasty day out for all ages. Open November to January for self-picking, Cherryhill is a great way to get involved with your own food. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as preparing food using ingredients you’ve picked with your own two hands. This makes a visit to Cherryhill Orchards an especially great way for kids to learn about the paddock-to-plate mindset and to plant the seed of a future foodie!
The deal is pretty simple: pack a picnic, spend a day in the sun, and pick as many cherries as you can carry to take home. Oh, and did I mention you can snack on cherries as you’re picking? Yup, keep your energy up by tasting the produce as you go – it doesn’t get much fresher than that.
If you’re not the outdoorsy type, don’t worry, Cherryhill Orchards have you covered with a selection of cherry treats produced on site that you can order online or from their stockists around the state.
Offering a Cherry Whit Beer and a Cherry Vanilla Porter, you can keep your beer drinking friends happy with drinks that are complex and robust. Cider drinkers will rejoice at the High Branch 8% Cider that will see you through summer with its medium dry finish and rich cherry aroma. And for all the designated drivers out there, there’s also the Cherish Cherry Spritzer, a non-alcoholic, lightly sparkling spritzer that can be enjoyed alone or mixed with cocktails – it will pair especially nicely with the gin you picked up at Four Pillars. Their final offering is my favourite: Cherry Vive Juice. Rich in vitamins and antioxidants, this is a guilty pleasure that you don’t need to feel guilty about at all! Using a pressing technique that includes all of the cherry flesh, this is a rich, sweet nectar that has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s basically a health food – that’s what I’m telling myself, anyway.
My favourite is the Cherry Vive Juice. Rich in vitamins and antioxidants, this is a guilty pleasure that you don’t need to feel guilty about at all! Using a pressing technique that includes all of the cherry flesh, this is a rich, sweet nectar that has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s basically a health food – that’s what I’m telling myself, anyway.
If you’re in the region in the summer months, then I’d definitely recommend a visit to Cherryhill Orchards. Their cherries are exported and sought after, the world over – and it’s easy to see why: this is fresh, top quality produce at its finest and, the most fun food you can pick yourself.
480 Queens Rd, Wanding East
Open 7 days, 9am-5pm, November to January
Ph#: 1300 243 779