Before they opened Greasy Zoe’s in May 2017, Zoe Birch and her partner Lachlan Gardner – both long-time chefs – were ready to leave hospitality for good. They were frustrated with the industry and some of its commonplace yet unsustainable practices (such as excessive food waste and flying in ingredients from far-off places).
But instead of leaving their chef’s whites behind, they moved to Hurstbridge and opened Greasy Zoe’s: a tiny fine diner with an intense focus on local, seasonal produce.
And it is tiny. The eight-seating dining room – fitted out by Birch and Gardner themselves – looks like a cross between a ski chalet and a woodsy cabin. This cosy set-up gives diners a clear view of Birch, the sole chef working the tiny semi-open kitchen. The floor belongs to Gardner, who tends to diners at the recycled timber tables. They both wash the dishes.
There’s no written menu. Whether you’re going for a dinner or a late lunch, it’s a snacky 12-course, reservations-only affair that changes daily. But you can always count on having a delicate and generous experience, where every dish featured has a story. Birch and Gardner’s close relationships with a small group of local suppliers – most of them within 50 kilometres of the restaurant – give the pair an intimate knowledge of what’s ripe, in-season and abundant.
A flathead caught by a supplier on a Thursday morning, for example, gets to the kitchen later that day, to be used for that weekend’s menus. The local produce is complemented by Birch and Gardner’s extensive array of house-made preserves, pickles, ferments and dehydrations.
For drinks, there are two options. You can opt for wines matched to your meal, or go off-piste and pick your own drinks from a list that stars local winemakers and producers from the nearby Yarra Valley.
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