If I had a dollar for every time a chef said to me during an interview, “I’m just cooking the food I like to eat”, I’d be richer than Gippsland soil. But when Pastuso’s Alejandro Saravia says it about his new restaurant Farmer’s Daughters – a three-storey love letter to Gippsland in the multi-million-dollar 80 Collins development – he means it.

Here, the celebrated Melbourne-based Peruvian chef puts his roots aside to showcase his obsession with the Victorian region’s produce and the people behind it. He says it’s meant to be “a channel between Melburnian customers and the region”.

“This is my way to say thank you to the region and the country that I consider home,” Saravia says. “The only thing Peruvian here is me – and a small bull figurine that’s part of indigenous Inca culture.”

The idea for Farmer’s Daughters started brewing four years ago when Saravia was first introduced to Gippsland. Paul Crock from Gippsland Natural Beef took him on a produce tour, visiting farmers, growers and winemakers.

“I listened to their stories and asked a lot of questions, not only because I needed to understand the provenance of the food as a chef, but also because my oldest son had just been born,” Saravia says. “I wanted him to learn more about where we live – the culture, the geography, the people, the lifestyle, the resources – to be able to provide that identity to my kid.”

It was this adoration that led to him being appointed an ambassador for the region. He’s also championed Gippsland at Melbourne Food & Wine Festival events and Mallacoota’s Wild Harvest Seafood Festival, and presented Farmer’s Daughters as a concept during the Australian Open Chef Series.

Now, all those interests and experiences have culminated in this new venue. Following some Covid-related delays, Farmer’s Daughters is quite literally ready to fire.

Each level’s fit-out draws inspiration from Gippsland’s natural beauty. Wood has been repurposed from local timberyards; the colour palette of greens, greys and browns is based on Gippy’s gumtrees; and the restaurant’s “campfire kitchen” came about after Saravia watched farmers cook over naked flames. There’s a series of cooktops and ovens that capture and distribute heat to maximise flame-to-food contact.

On the ground floor is the deli. It’s a casual, handsome space with à la carte dining, gumtree-green bar seats around the open kitchen, and a pantry (stocked with Gippsland wines from Holly’s Garden and Lightfoot & Sons, and produce from Berrys Creek Gourmet Cheese and Tarago Olives) tucked in the corner. The menu includes house-made beef-cheek pastrami (made from Bass Strait beef) stuffed in a roll; slow-roasted Cherry Tree Organics lamb shoulder; and a trifle for dessert.

The restaurant is one level up. Head chef David Boyle (ex-Lake House, Pastuso and Oter) presides over two set menus: either four courses for $75 or seven for $110 (add $50 and $75 respectively for matched, mostly Gippsland wines). You’ll start with thickly sliced soda bread – sweet and molasses-y – with cultured cream. Then there might be fire-roasted heirloom tomatoes around a nucleus of tomato paste (made from offcuts), with sprigs of salty seagrass picked from Snowy River Station. Seafood will likely follow – perhaps smoky baked Baw Baw alpine trout with mountain-pepper cream and trout caviar, or the Corner Inlet catch of the day, baked until the skin crisps up and served with whatever’s seasonal (currently it’s sweetcorn sauce and green beans).

On the third floor is a triangular rooftop bar that’s meant to emulate a greenhouse. There’s a sense of vertigo when you look up: skyscrapers flank the oasis, which is filled with mountain pepper trees and has a vertical garden where native herbs (used in dishes and cocktails) grow. Speaking of cocktails: there’s the “very dirty” Dirtroad Martini, the slightly-smoky Campfire Old Fashioned and a vibrant orange spicy Margarita. The back bar has an almost-entirely Australian line-up of spirits, including a house vermouth (produced in partnership with Maidenii) made with Gippsland botanicals. And for the beer drinkers, there’s a collab with Stomping Ground: the Stringer’s Creek pilsner.

“We consider ourselves a Gippsland embassy in Melbourne,” says Saravia. “We’re not representing a chef cooking, we’re representing a region, the people in the region, the ingredients, the culture ... If in the next few weeks someone comes in and [then] they decide to organise their road trip to Gippsland, we are winning.”

Farmer’s Daughters
Shop 6/80 Collins Street, Melbourne (enter from Exhibition Street)
(03) 9116 8682

Hours:
Coffee and pantry (takeaway)
Mon to Fri 7.30am–4pm

Deli
Wed 4pm–late
Thu to Sat 12pm–late

Restaurant
Wed to Sat 6pm–late

Rooftop
Wed to Sat 4pm–late

farmersdaughters.com.au