Every city has more than its share of 300-seat diners throbbing with music and the buzz of a slick operation flying at full speed. As exciting as that can be, it can often result in a sense of romance lost.
There’s nothing quite like a drive to some country road and an inviting little brick barn breathing woodsmoke. Inside it’s the owners cooking over fire and serving plates to tables. When you enter it’s them who greet you. Some dining destinations are worth hitting the road for.
Here’s a guide to some of the best regional destination dining experiences around the country.
Hogget Kitchen, VIC
Sprouted right in the middle of a vineyard owned by two of this country’s finest winemakers – Pat Sullivan and Bill Downie – Hogget Kitchen is Gippsland’s hidden treasure. Overseen by chef Trevor Perkins, Hogget does small-time farmhouse fare at its best and most traditional. Whole animals are butchered on-site for house-made charcuterie, which is smoked and preserved out back. What vegetables don’t grow in Perkins’ mum’s garden are bought from a local collective or foraged for in the surrounding hills. And Sullivan and Downie’s top-notch wine is served by the glass – you can even buy from the cellar door and throw a case in the car for later.
Russell’s Pizza, SA
After a day’s drive around the Fleurieu Peninsula there are few more-welcoming scenes than comfort food served inside a rustic, leaf-covered shed warmed by a potbelly stove. Set inside a miner’s cottage built in the 1850s, this cult pizza joint on the main street of Willunga has the vibe of a country wedding. With everything made from scratch and served by locals, the pizza is a showcase of honest, homegrown ingredients that might leave you rethinking what pizza can be. While there’s a neat selection of regional brews, BYO eskies are welcome.
When it comes to road-trip restaurants, Fervor is the ultimate. In fact, it’s literally the only way to eat there: Yoda Iskov’s intimate fine-dining experience has no permanent abode. It only takes place in olive groves, on remote islands and deep in national parks. Focusing entirely on indigenous Australian ingredients, Iskov deploys the techniques he learned in top-end restaurants such as Noma and DOM in Sao Paolo. Fervor's menu is made in collaboration with the continent’s seasons, and its original inhabitants, who direct Iskov toward ingredients such as sugar ants, marron, Kakadu plums, grey saltbush and lerp. Whether you’re heading from Perth, or setting out from ... anywhere, Fervor is food worth crossing the Nullarbor for.
Milk Haus, NSW
Behind the rolling hills of Milton and down a wending road lies Milk Haus: country cooking’s platonic ideal. Housed in a former cheese factory and surrounded by dairy cows, Danielle McKeon’s cafe relies heavily on her substantial kitchen garden, where everything (of course) grows organic. Though the menu changes with the whims of the season, the dishes are always homey, hearty and fresh. There’s an eggplant breakfast bowl with tahini yoghurt, toasted almonds, coriander and medjool dates; baked pumpkin and ricotta gnocchi with sage, toasted hazelnuts and burnt butter; and Armenian Nutmeg Cake. Pro-tip: sit in the open-air mezzanine and stare out over the garden and watch the rhubarb grow.
Spirit House, QLD
Spirit House was destination dining before destination dining was a thing. Back in the ’90s, Helen and Peter Brierly transformed an empty paddock off the Bruce Highway into a little slice of Thailand. Set in a lush tropical grove on the banks of a pond, Spirit House serves pan-Asian cuisine with a contemporary bent: Hervey Bay scallops with nam prik ong and pork floss, Tassie salmon cooked with miang herbs in a banana leaf, compressed cucumber and pineapple salad with lime and peanuts. There’s even a suave on-site bar and specialist cooking school. True to its name, Spirit House is the kind of standalone oasis that seems like a figment of the imagination on the drive home.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with MINI and is inspired by the MINI Countryman, a five-seater SUV made for exploring.