Top of the Mornington
At just over an hour’s drive down the M3 highway from central Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula has long been a bucolic escape for those seeking to tune out the city’s urban hum for more peaceful surroundings. For many, though, the undulating countryside is proving difficult to leave. Not only is its proximity to Melbourne peace of mind for some, but the rich array of world-class restaurants, cellar doors and distilleries offers a lifestyle that rivals that of its big-city neighbour. And right now, business certainly is booming.
In with the new
St Kilda natives, by way of Florida and England, Melissa Goffin and her husband Martin Goffin conceived the idea for Red Gum BBQ in 2013 after nearly a decade of dreaming about meat — dreams that began in 2001 after Martin was introduced to US Southern-style barbecue in Melissa’s home town of Miami. Since then, the burners, smokers and grills have moved from a three-metre marquee and pop-up trailer to now occupy their current residence, a 900-square-metre former mechanic’s workshop.
Using woods native to the region to smoke the meat (red gum features heavily), pitmaster Martin’s menu has a rotating roster of succulent pulled pork, Riverina brisket, chicken wings and smoky pork ribs that aren’t complete without hot sauce — the mainstay of true US Southern barbecue. As for sides — think perfectly sweet cornbread, creamy slaws or some silky mac ’n’ cheese, with the odd vegetable thrown in for good measure (just don’t expect it to come without house-made mayonnaise).
As a Certified B Corp — the first restaurant in Australia to become one — using business as a force for good sits at the core of what the Goffins are doing. This commitment to enhancing their community with great company and good food leads to customers returning en masse to get their fill and, despite it being a barbecue joint in the middle of pinot country, its bright future is all just part of the modern face of Mornington.
And that modern face is no more evident than at Jackalope. Indeed, mention the word ‘Mornington’ and you’re likely to be met with words of gushing admiration for the Peninsula’s most peculiar addition, a hotel many would argue began the region’s current boom. Set on pristine vineyard acreage, the luxury hotel delivered global headlines to the Peninsula when it opened last year.
The interiors are as arresting as the surrounding landscape, being both handsome and daring — a stark but agreeable contrast to the lush rows of vineyard and immaculately designed gardens that are directly visible from half of the 45 designer dens. Dine in either the hatted Doot Doot Doot or the more casual but equally remarkable Rare Hare before stopping for a nightcap at the experimental Flaggerdoot serving up devilishly good cocktails that, according to the bar menu, are “inspired by unique past experiences”. Served on the rocks, Don’t Touch My Port, a blend of strawberry and peppercorn port, sumac, fuchsia and citrus, is the best way to unwind after a meal or day of wine tasting — take it back to your room and sip while soaking in your spa-like tub (which staff will draw for you while you’re busy browsing the cocktail list).
And Out with the old
The days of the white linen tablecloth are ending and nowhere is that more apparent than in Mornington. One place to have moved with the trend is winery and restaurant Montalto, which underwent an extensive renovation last year following a 15-year tenure as one of the Peninsula’s finest dining destinations.
Montalto’s kitchen now features a roaring Argentine-style open fire grill — a real trial by flames that sees nearly every ingredient on the seasonal menu touched by fire at some point, a big shift from the classic French cuisine that used to populate the set-menu options. Don’t leave without trying the mackerel escabeche — a smoky fillet of flaky fish coated in crispy skin and served with toasted sourdough crisps, wasabi greens and a peppery aioli, while the slow-cooked lamb shoulder laden with quince puree (the fruit is buried in the ash overnight to extract the oils), potato flatbread and native saltbush is superb.
There’s vines as far as the eye can see, capped with netted orchards and rows of seasonal vegetables thanks to the chief gardener Julie Bennett.
Head Chef Gerard Phelan steered away from the set-menu option and towards a more relaxing dining experience. This dining evolution coincided with the increase in traffic through the Peninsula, capturing the diners who might only want to stop for a bite and a wine tasting before moving on. Now guests can pop in and out or while away the afternoon sampling some of the finest produce Mornington has to offer.
Before the sun slips down, hit the road for a tree-lined drive into one of Mornington’s most famous luxury lodgings. With its English countryside feel, this estate hides a new secret beyond its white walls, all thanks to a recent facelift from the interior design firm Hecker Guthrie (of Pier One Sydney Harbour and Melbourne’s The George on Collins fame).
Lindenderry at Red Hill has been a mainstay on the Peninsula for the past 23 years since its opening as the inaugural boutique offering in Mornington’s hinterland region.
Hecker Guthrie’s vision cements the hotel as a home-away-from-home, just as welcoming to families with children as it is for couples on a romantic getaway. The quintessentially Aussie design saw the hotel reimagined as a series of intimate rooms that invite guests to linger longer. Scandi-style furniture and natural blonde woods sit against aubergine and olive-coloured walls with leather lounges and armchairs, many of which have been provided by owners Jan and Peter Clark.
If weather is permitting, fully stocked picnic baskets are available for guests to dine next to the private lake, or sample the on-site produce in the hotel kitchen where executive chef Paul Witherington (formerly of London’s Soho House) reigns.
“It’s an exciting time,” says David Enticott, the restaurant manager for Lindenderry. “There are truly some big changes happening and the whole Peninsula is now really flourishing.” And he’s not wrong. With an explosion of businesses either recently opened or on the horizon, Mornington is so much more than a wine lover’s retreat — although it’s a good start.
Virgin Australia offers flights to Melbourne, visit https://flights.virginaustralia.com/en-au/flights-to-melbourne