Clockwise from above: stop at Growlers in Torquay for drinks and a cafe-style counter meal; fresh from the woodfired oven at Lorne Ovenhouse; take in the ocean views over breakfast at the Swing Bridge Cafe; selection of wines from Lorne Ovenhouse.
pear with puff pastry. The orange and blue decor is definitely due for an overhaul, while the simpler of the savoury dishes are the most successful. The Australia-wide wine list is small but well-measured, with limited local choices including various varietals and blends from Austin’s Barrabool Wines. The Bay Leaf Cafe, 131 Great Ocean Rd, Apollo Bay, tel: (03) 5237 6470. It’s great what a lick of aubergine paint can do. In the past 11 years, I don’t think we’ve seen Marie Cochrane’s unpretentious, friendly cafe looking better. With tealights on the tables, the side dining room looks positively elegant, and the menu of surefire, global fare remains as good as ever. The Burmese chicken curry and marinara pasta are always favourites, as is the warm Moroccan chicken salad with pistachios and minted yoghurt dressing. Good for breakfast and lunch as well. Scorched, 17 The Esplanade, Torquay, tel: (03) 5261 6142. With huge, half-height windows opening out onto three long communal pavement tables, and a view of the sea through the foreshore’s trees, Scorched is a bright and breezy modern spot where you can do breakfast, lunch or dinner. Chef/co-owner
Simon Fawcett’s menus combine Asian and Western dishes: tuna tartare with crisp eggplant wafers and a lime dressing sits alongside braised beef cheek. Vegetarians are well-served by a separate dinner menu that might include beetroot carpaccio with fennel and feta salad. Sommelier/co-owner Evan Milne maintains an excellent wine list: look for the Amietta riesling or the stellar 1998 Rockford Basket Press Shiraz. There’s always something interesting and local by the glass, too, like a blushing pinot gris or elegant pinot noir from Lethbridge.
Our favourite places to drink on the coast, Growlers Torquay (23 The Esplanade, tel: (03) 5264 8455) and the Rookery Nook Hotel (Ocean Rd, Wye River, tel: (03) 5289 0240), also do cafe-style counter meals that are a cut above. Growlers has a great walled veranda which is a perfect vantage point to watch the world go by – which might include co-owner and television personality Nicky Buckley. The Rookery Nook seems to be all deck and stunning views over the little sandy bay where the Wye River meets the sea. Both had pool tables last time we looked and attract the locals. Otherwise, The Apollo Bay Hotel (95 Great Ocean Rd, Apollo Bay, tel: (03) 5237 6250) has a good deck for sunset drinks.
WHERE TO LUNCH Bellbrae Harvest, 45 Portreath Rd, Bellbrae, tel: (03) 5266 2100. Perhaps being a little off the beaten track makes you try harder. This green oasis is a peaceful place during the week, even if it can get manic on weekends. You might find Sarah Locke cooking plump sardines with a warm potato and dill salad; crispy barramundi with skordalia and fennel salsa; or homemade lamb snags served with spanakopita and labna (cream cheese made from yoghurt). Either way, save space for one of the pretty desserts, like the obscenely good mandarin, date and cardamom tart with mandarin jelly, or her rhubarb, raspberry and meringue ice cream. Chris’s at Beacon Point Restaurant & Villas, 280 Skenes Creek Rd, Skenes Creek, tel: (03) 5237 6411. Perched high in the hills, Chris’s must have one of Australia’s best views, looking down over the pale golden arc of Apollo Bay. It’s perfect for lunch, especially when owner Chris Talihmanidis is in the kitchen (who spells his name differently to his brother, Kosta, apparently due to an error at customs when they immigrated). The best choices here tend to be simple or Greek-inspired dishes that make a hero of the ingredients.