The Mornington Peninsula begins when you leave Frankston, one of Melbourne’s most southerly suburbs, and ends with beachy towns and a national park. Dotted along the way are cellar doors, breweries, a hedge maze, an old-school drive-in and plenty to eat and drink. These are our picks of the recent openings, from a dive bar named after a Pavement album to a wood-shingled hut doing ale-battered fish and a take on Chiko Rolls.
Mornington isn’t known for rock’n’roll and fried chicken, but you’ll find both at Wowee Zowee, the dive bar co-owned by Something for Kate drummer Clint Hyndman. Hyndman is also behind Yellow Bird Cafe in Windsor, and, inspired by his fave flick Cocktail, has opened another spot where you can comfortably pull up a stool and get chatting to bar staff.
He co-owns the bar with Paringa Estate head chef Simon Tarlington, winemaker Cameron Marshall and builder Craig Baum. Tarlington is responsible for the ripper fried chicken – it’s hot-brined, floured and spiced before frying – and clever vegan snacks. The Broc’n’Roll is a fresh bread roll stuffed with spiced broccolini, cashew feta from The Vegan Dairy, and salt-and-vinegar chips. The popcorn cauliflower comes with Frank’s hot sauce and a cauliflower ranch dressing. And the pièce de résistance is the Dirty Bird – a master-stock-marinated chicken thigh that’s fried then served on a cheesy Dr Marty’s crumpet with honey-soy butter and a side of slaw.
Marshall, who runs top peninsula wine label Garagiste and its sister label Range Life, takes care of the wine list, and the fridge is full of craft beer from Mr Banks, Hop Nation and Moon Dog. Young Henrys, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Kona Big Wave and Mountain Goat are on tap.
Music posters and coloured lights offset the black-painted walls, and there's a soundtrack of Pavement, Thin Lizzy, Blondie and Sonic Youth.
Cibo Mt Martha
For a decade, Bianca Fazzari has been arriving at her family beach house in Mount Martha on a Friday night and wanting a quick and easy dinner option that isn’t fish’n’chips or ... fish’n’chips. So when a shop emptied opposite the beach on Lochiel Avenue, she snapped it up with her sister, Tanya Bongiovanni, and created Cibo – an upmarket Italian-style deli and grocer where you can grab a chef-quality meal to take home, or local and imported ingredients to whip up a simple Italian dish.
Inside the green-and-white shop, light-wood shelves are lined with goods such as lasagnas from Andrew McConnell’s fancy Fitzroy butcher Meatsmith, and soups and pasta sauces from Marisa Cardamone, whose parents ran Fairfield’s Cardamone Gourmet Supermarket for more than 50 years. Red Hill Bakery’s sourdough is available and there are pizza bases from Naples, Italy, plus plenty of toppings to stack on them. Pick up Italian ice-cream and cannoli for dessert, or make a smoothie bowl with ingredients from the well-stocked gluten-free and vegan section.
On weekends, the Sicilian barista will make you a coffee with San Pedro beans to sip at a cafe table out front, or get some ground to take back to your Airbnb.
The Rooftop at Hotel Sorrento
In December, the 148-year-old Hotel Sorrento channelled the snazzy hotel rooftops of New York City and opened a bar on its roof. The ocean view is something you won’t find in the city, though. The Rooftop can fit around 200 people, and on weekends hosts yoga classes and the occasional boozy bottomless brunch (both are open to guests, tourists and locals alike).
In summer sip colourful cocktails such as the fruity Rum DMC (made with melon, passionfruit and watermelon liqueurs, and anejo rum), or the fresh-strawberry topped Nikki Webster (with Portsea Estate rosé, apple schnapps and cerise cherry gin). In winter, expect a rooftop cinema with beanbags and popcorn. Pop in anytime for Mexican-style street eats, such as spicy fish or chicken tacos with slaw and avo; tofu tacos with slaw, mango and vegan sriracha; kingfish ceviche with coconut lime and sriracha on sesame rice crackers; or tortilla chips with guac and pico de gallo.
Jimmy Rum Distillery
James McPhearson is the ex-marine engineer behind rum distillery and cocktail bar Jimmy Rum, which is inside a huge warehouse on the same Dromana industrial estate as Jetty Road Brewery and Bass and Flinders Distillery.
He’s created four rums. Barbados is a blend crafted with imported rums, but the other three are distilled on premises. The Navy is 57 per cent alcohol and designed to add bite to cocktails (McPhearson sometimes mixes it with ginger ale during tastings); the Silver is similar, but with a lower alcohol level; and Oaked is housed in an oak barrel to deepen the flavour. None of the rums have added spices, colours or flavours.
The cocktail bar fits 120 people, and you can bring your furry mate to the rum garden, which is shaded by a large pergola. If you’re not into spirit tastings, try the rum-based cocktails, which include a classic Mojito and an Espresso Rumtini (a twist on an Espresso Martini). There are also local and craft beers, a decent wine list and spirits from all the other local distilleries. Line your tum with toasties and generous grazing plates.
The Fish Hut
This wood-shingled cabana-style fish’n’chips hut at the recently renovated Portsea Hotel (it re-opened in December) doubles as an outdoor bar. At white-framed windows with terrazzo sills, order ale-battered gurnard or rockling (or grilled ora salmon) plus chips, calamari rings, potato cakes, dim sims and a take on the Chicko Roll.
The menu is the work of head chef Jonathan Alston (previously executive chef at Richmond pizza joint Baby) and executive chef Paul Tyas.
The Fish Hut selects its fish through the Goodfish Project, which encourages chefs and restaurateurs to commit to using only sustainable seafood.
Once you’ve picked up your order, head out onto the deck with a beer for views of the bay, or grab a bottle of wine from the bottle shop and eat on the grass in front of the hotel or down on the sand.