Some of Victoria’s most experienced chefs and respected operators have headed for the mountains. Some bring with them tight-knit teams to create virtual pop up restaurants bringing their style of exceptional food and service to the snow for the season. Others call Falls Creek home and serve great food all year round. This little village of several hundred expands to over 7000 at the peak of the season giving this alpine resort a real buzz. Bars pubs and restaurants are busy with hungry skiers through the day and packed with a food- and fun-loving crowd at night. The offerings are wide and varied with some beautifully executed healthy meals, great pub grub and finessed fine dining. We went up to Falls Creek early in this season to find what’s new, what’s hot – and uncovered a few hidden gems.
Slap-bang in the heart of Falls Creek Village, Elk at Falls is a popular bar and diner featuring a free-standing log fire with stainless steel canopy. Rustic wood offcuts line the walls. Watching over the crowd is the eponymous stuffed elk head. Popular with the towie-crew – that’s old man’s talk for lift operators – it is renowned for well-priced drinks with Peroni on tap and a good range of tasty fun food. Owner Barry Iddles is known as the caterer to Australia’s rich and famous and knows what people want to eat. The menu, reflecting his extensive travels, ranges from Mexican street food – classic carnitas, soft little corn tortillas generously loaded with pulled chicken, tomato and guacamole topped with sour cream and cheese – to Vietnam’s crunchy and satisfying banh mi, a crunchy bread roll spread with pate and filled with sweet-and-sour pickled carrot, cucumber, mint and coriander. Pub grub classics such as fish and chips with tartare sauce and the porterhouse with mash and red wine jus ensure Elk’s generous portions and easygoing atmosphere hit the spot. www.elkatfalls.com.au
Astra is a modern, stylish alpine lodge with a newly renovated cedar-lined dining room warmed by a crackling wood fire. Chef Emma Handley, recently of the award-winning Villa Gusto, has introduced a menu of classic Italian dishes to embrace the alpine cool outside. The room looks out onto a snowscape bathed in soft light at night. Excellent, quality local smallgoods feature on the antipasto plate and the two-cheese fondue is served in classic red and white Swiss caquelons. Warm up with a rich plate of lip-smackingly sticky cotechino with lentils and mustard fruits perhaps served with a glass of Pizzini nebbioli. Handley makes pasta by hand daily, serving up light and golden pumpkin gnocchi with beurre noisette, sage and toasted pumpkin seeds. Mains could be a hearty Italian lamb braise with truffled polenta or perhaps a dish of chicken cooked in milk with lemon and capers. Astra’s well-considered wine list, focused on the North East and hand-picked French and Italian wines, creates the perfect blend of High Country and European Alps. www.astralodge.com.au
Every night at the downstairs dining area of Huski Apartments chef Andrew Gimber serves up some of the best modern Thai food in the country, a major feat when temperatures outside hover around zero. He learned to cook Thai food under Michelin-starred Aussie expat chef David Thompson at Naam in London and was founding chef at Melbourne’s Chin Chin. His duck omelette is deceptively simple. Slow-cooked spiced duck is deep fried, shredded and blended through a simple omelette and served with oyster and chili sauces. His larb is sensational. The standard Thai restaurant minced chicken is a flavour-packed spectacular of yellow-curry-cloaked black grilled chicken that is then chopped and melded with glutinous rice and doused in lime juice, fish sauce and piqued with fragrant herbs. Add some Beechworth’s Bridge Road Beer and you have the recipe for a very nice night out. The all-day menu offers great quality breakfast, tasty grass-fed beef burgers and a wholesome kids’ menu. www.huski.com.au
Diana Alpine Lodge
This is a wonderfully homely private lodge that opens its newly renovated dining room to non-residents, offering them a taste of the great food offered daily to guests. Diana Alpine Lodge was built in the 1950s, redecorated in the 1970s and refurbished just last year. Chef Carole Platt worked in the best hotels in England before moving to the Gold Coast. Her food is completely approachable but wonderfully finessed. Every Tuesday night she serves the Tapas Menu, a showcase of her best dishes. When we dined the meal started with freshly baked bread served with whipped blue cheese. Crisps and tasty corn fritters followed then an expertly executed dish of squares of pork belly, its crisp skin overlaying succulent flesh accompanied by wedges of toffee apple. Sesame-encrusted salmon patties topped with zesty salsa verde followed. Platt’s trio of desserts is a study in skill. Bite-sized doughnuts encrusted in cinnamon sugar precede a suave little baked cheesecake and a jar filled with decadent chocolate mousse. Book early because seats are limited. It’s unexpectedly good. www.dianalodge.com
Just 30 steps from the Summit Chairlift you’ll find this smart all-day casual diner fitted out with local native timber from the Mount Beauty mill. Soft banquettes, freestanding bare timber, compressed bamboo tables and one large communal table all look out onto the Village Bowl. Shortly after dawn the espresso machine starts punching out its first Proud Mary coffee for the day while the kitchen delivers a plate of meaty mushrooms and whipped feta or perhaps a hot cast iron skillet, straight from the oven, of sizzling eggs cooked with chorizo, red capsicum, sweet caramelised onion and olives. The focus on healthy food sees hundreds of serves of sweet potato fries cooked in coconut oil with a side of aioli sent out each day. Dinner might start with a spatchcocked quail, chargrilled, with puy lentils and pickled grapes, followed by a main of applewood smoked ocean trout with sharp and tangy cucumber and rich, nutty kipfler potatoes. The extensive menu offers a good range of vego options. There is ice-cold Bridge Road Beer poured fresh from the keg and a handy mostly organic foodstore behind the dining area. www.facebook.com/2befoodstore/
Huski Apartments comes into its own wintry glory when the snow falls and icicles hang from the windows. The angular ledges of this five-story apartment block capture the snow, giving a white counterpoint to the Australian native hardwood exterior. Architects Elenberg Fraser based their design on a snowflake, that shape defining the accommodation within and giving each apartment its own wonderful view out through the snow gums up to the summit and the Kiewa Valley in the distance. The apartments are all self-contained and fitted with Smeg fridges, dishwashers, washing machines and driers. Underfloor heating is complemented by free-standing open fires in each apartment, a fitting match to the cowhide rugs. Leather couches and Apple TV are perfect for the decadent sloth while the outdoor hot tubs may suit those interested in some apres-ski warm down. Huski’s comfortable apartments range from studios to four-bedroom penthouses to suit couples, multiple couples, families and groups. With the Huski restaurant downstairs offering all-day dining this is a touch of affordable luxury in the snow. www.huski.com.au