Stix has had a few past lives. Back in the ’90s, this charming homestead-style building and its leafy two-acre grounds was home to Guy Grossi’s La Fontana Ristorante. More recently, the 150-seat venue was Stix and Stones, which was beloved by the Lower Plenty community before closing last year. Now, chef and owner Paul Cooper has taken over, and is keeping the Stix and Stones spirit alive with Stix.

Cooper is an experienced chef and restaurateur. He grew up on the Mornington Peninsula and cooked at Bistrot d’Orsay in the CBD before making the well-worn pilgrimage to Europe and its galaxy of Michelin-starred restaurants. There, he spent two-and-a-half years at London’s renowned Pied à Terre under the auspices of Shane Osborn, staging at a number of acclaimed restaurants, including Barcelona’s Abac, in the process. Upon his return to Australia, Cooper owned and cooked at Sydney’s Bishop Sessa, before returning to Victoria. At Stix, he’s distilling his experiences into an elevated but approachable menu, while also acknowledging the strong local following of his predecessor.

While Cooper has retained much of the rustic fit-out in the large slate-floored dining room (as well as keeping the Stix and Stones-plated ute outside) he has added a feature wall with silver birch forest patterned wallpaper and reupholstered the banquette in the alcove with mustard and charcoal fabric. He has also completely gutted the kitchen, adding a custom-built wood grill, where he grills porterhouse, scotch fillet, black Angus and rib eye, and serves these smoky, salty and tender cuts with mash and red wine jus.

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Sourdough is made on-site and, for specials, Cooper is channelling his zero-waste ethos, breaking down whole pigs and working his way through the shoulder, leg, belly, until it’s gone. “I enjoy halfway through service saying we're out of shoulder now, it's onto pork cutlets,” says Cooper. “It's a more romantic way to cook because you are utilising the whole animal and none of that will go in the bin. The bones get turned into sauce and any trimmings get made into croquettes.”

Cooper’s ideal is for diners to come in a couple of times a week – or at least on a regular basis. To that end, he’s serving a mix of elevated pub food such as parma and chips and a Wagyu cheeseburger, as well as bistro-style dishes – the handmade pastas are a particular crowd-pleaser. One of the standout entrees is a riff on a dish Cooper used to prepare at Pied à Terre: cured scallops served with a marinated salt, cucumber dressing and a little avocado salsa with puffed miso rice paper.

Cooper and his wife Jaclyn Cooper also own and run Fergusson Winery and Bianchet Bistro in the Yarra Valley, and they’re enjoying connecting the three. They might cook whole ducks at the winery, then confit the legs at Stix, shred them and use them in a pasta dish. Fergusson is on 10 acres, so Cooper plans to plant herbs and vegetables there and around the landscaped section in Lower Plenty to use across all three venues.

The drinks are as local as it gets with wines from Cooper’s own Fergusson Estate, as well a strong cohort of mainly Victorian drops. Beers on tap come from neighbouring Hurstbridge, Lilydale and Diamond Creek – Hop Hen Brewing, Hargreaves Hill Brewing Co, Warrandyte Brewing Co, Golden Hills Brewery – and four of the cocktails are made with Naught Gin just up the road in Eltham. Try the minty, citrus and cucumber Eastside or, to really go with the terroir, try the Fergusson’s French 75, made with Naught Gin and Fergusson’s Blanc de Blanc.

Stix Restaurant and Bar
410 Main Road, Lower Plenty
(03) 8418 2754

Hours
Sun, Wed to Thu midday–9pm
Fri & Sat midday–10pm

stixrestaurantandbar.com.au