Matt Stone & Jo Barrett - Oakridge - The Local Tongue

Jo Barrett & Matt Stone

If Jo Barrett and Matt Stone aren’t Australia’s most influential cooking couple, they’re certainly the country’s greenest. Throughout their careers, the pair have aligned themselves with sustainably-minded restaurants, projects and causes including the ground-breaking Greenhouses in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne, and Oakridge, a terroir-driven cellar door-restaurant in Victoria’s lush Yarra Valley. Barrett and Stone recently called time on their five-year career at Oakridge to focus on eco-pioneer Joost Bakker’s ambitious Greenhouse Future Food Systems project: an 87 square-metre home and urban food centre with the lofty aim of growing all the food its inhabitants eat.
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Welcome To The Yarra Valley

The Yarra Valley is only 50 kilometres from Melbourne. It’s really unique in that there’s such cool cheese, wine and farming happening so close to the city. The valley goes from Coldstream up into the Rubicon Valley, which is about an hour-long stretch. It’s a pretty small area. Coldstream, which is where we are, is where the suburbs end and the valley starts. The Rubicon Valley is where Yarra Valley Caviar is and it’s surrounded by another mountain range, which is really cool for hiking and for fly-fishing. We live in Fitzroy and it’s absolutely not a problem to drive 45 minutes to an hour to get to and from the Yarra Valley. It’s a really beautiful place for a day trip.

Lunch Cooked (And Grown) By A Former Fat Duck Chef

Start with lunch at Tarrawarra, which is a winery close by. It makes really great wine and there’s a gallery with a lot of beautiful artwork for sale all the time. Their restaurant is quite small and has about 40 seats so it’s pretty intimate. Mark Ebbels is the head chef and he’s a really great cook. He was chef de cuisine at Bacchanalia in Singapore and before that was at The Fat Duck, so there’s some super-refined technique, but served in a really nice way. It’s not technique thrown in your face. He’s a vegan but he doesn’t just cook vegan food. The menu has a really big vegetable focus. Through summer, he does great things with tomatoes and zucchinis. He does some preserving and fermentation of different things. There’s often a meat or fish element on each plate of food, but it’s usually just a flavour element. The vegetables are always the main star. There’s a really big vegetable garden there and he’s growing a lot of the veggies, but what he’s not growing, he finds from local farms. We have a lot of similar suppliers: friends that are growing our food. It’s just super yummy and the menu is constantly changing. Every time we go there, it’s never the same. It’s always keeping with the seasons.

An Essential Stop When Visiting The Yarra Valley

It’s not food, but if you’re coming to the Yarra Valley, Four Pillars Gin is a really, really awesome thing. I think the gin is super world-class and Stuart Gregor the owner is such a generous philanthropist. He does a lot for charity. He does a lot for the community. He does a lot for OzHarvest. But he’s just a good bloke that wants everyone that visits his place to have a good time. There’s really amazing hospitality when you go in there. The staff are really friendly and you can do a free gin tasting. It’s just a great place to hang out, particularly in the afternoon. Matt Wilkinson is doing a lot of food for them now. He’s got a head chef in Pope Joan in the city and Matt’s out here doing a lot of events. There’s not a restaurant or kitchen as yet, so they’ll bring in a smoker and just do really cool roast pork shoulders and put that in a roll. Just delicious stuff. He’s also using a lot of the distillery’s waste products and turning it into different foods. The pigs at Yarra Valley Berkshires, the local pig farm, are fed botanicals used to make the gin. All of the pigs we use for our charcuterie comes from them, which is really cool.

“One Of The Best Cheesemakers In Australia”

Jack Holman at Yarra Valley Dairy is, in our opinion, one of the best cheesemakers in Australia. He’s a really dedicated guy that’s been there for at least a decade and really knows his craft. Yarra Valley Dairy is very, very good cheese but he also has his own cheesemaking business called Stone and Crow where he pushes the boundaries a little bit more. For his Stone and Crow stuff, he uses a really small dairy called Little Yarra Dairy which is the same dairy that we get our milk from for our cheese making program. He does a really great washed rind called Nightwalker. We’ve been serving a two-year-old Moonshine, which is like a cheddar-style cheese. It’s got these amazing little salty pocket residues like you find in a really good Parmesan, but it’s rare to find in cheddar. Also, to get a two-year aged cheddar in Australia is quite hard, but he has his own ageing facility where he’s making sure he’s doing it right. His stuff is a little bit different and not everyone loves it, but we do. It shows originality, it’s handmade and it’s artisan. He sells his cheeses at local farmers’ markets and sells it direct to a few restaurants in the city.

A Cult Winemaker’s Local Hangout

For dinner, hit Graceburn which is Mac Forbes’s cellar door-bar-bistro kind of thing in Healesville. It sells all of Mac’s wine. He makes some great chardonnay and pinot [noir] which are the classics of the valley, but he also makes some wines that you don’t always see, like riesling which is quite rare around here. He’s got a lot of back-vintage stuff and different releases. Mac’s wines are up there with the best. There’s also a really short menu of share plates and snacks that changes all the time and is really great. The food’s not as refined as what we do but it’s all local, very rustic and very yummy. He’s only serving local cheeses and works with Jack Holman from Stone and Crow in the Yarra Valley Dairy, too. It’s a really fun little place that makes you feel like you’re in the valley and you’re drinking wines from Mac that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s really casual, really fun, pretty open and very small. They’ve got some great staff in there, and it’s always a good time.

A Classic, Old Country Pub

The Healesville Hotel is great. There’s a really great restaurant in there and there’s a little butcher’s shop on the side called K&B [Kitchen & Butcher]. It does a lot of local meats, some charcuterie, cheese and other bits and pieces. You can stay there as well. It’s like a classic old country pub with rooms upstairs and the pub downstairs. There’s really good food, great local wine lists and great local views. We’re usually at work when things are going on, but Christmas, weekends and any Sunday arvo on a nice day are always going to be pumping down there.

Where To Buy Organic Produce

On Saturdays through spring and summer, there’s an awesome organic farmers’ market in Healesville that’s called the Healesville Organic Market. There’s a lot of organic growers and producers from the area that come and sell their fruit, vegetables, meats and stuff. Of particular note is a stall called Timbarra Farm. It’s a family that grows a lot of fruit and vegetables and we also buy chickens from them. They’re about 20 minutes from the restaurant and each season we collaboratively plant with them. Whatever we’re not planting, they’ll plant for us. We buy directly, so on Sunday evening they send us an email with what they have, we order by Monday and then it gets picked on Wednesday afternoon and delivered to us on Thursday. At the markets, the family does veggie boxes for locals, but also sell a bunch of stuff that you can just go and buy from them, which is really, really cool.

Local Cafe Culture

There’s a bakery-cafe in Lilydale called Locavore Studio that does really good coffee and really good bread and pastries. The sourdough is really yummy, and it does really great fruit danishes with local fruits, which are all really yummy. It’s a great one for people that are coming out in the mornings to get a little coffee and a snack before they have lunch. There’s another cafe called Round Bird Can’t Fly which is really cool. It’s kind of your classic Melbourne cafe that does great avocado toast and has sweet Instagrammable dishes, but there’s also really good coffee and it uses a lot of local products as well. That’s also in Lilydale which is only 10 minutes from us at the restaurant. There’s also a bakery called Habituel in the centre of Healesville which is by Phil Sexton, the guy that created Giant Steps winery. The bakery has a stone mill and mills its own flour. We don’t think they’re using one hundred percent of their own flour, but they make some really great sourdough, some really great pastries, and really good coffee as well.

Our Favourite Local Cellar Doors

The Seville Estate cellar door is really cool and really interesting and the owners have just done some renovations there which are quite nice. Jamsheed is really cool as well. They’ve got some really interesting wines and make some really nice pet-nats [petillant naturel, a no-additive sparkling wine] as well. You’ve also got a lot of classic, old-school cellar doors like Yarra Yering that are really nice. For a bit of glitz and glam, there’s the Domaine Chandon cellar door. It’s not my thing generally, but it’s nice to swing by and have a little taste of some bubbles. A lot of the small producers that we really like that are doing less interventionist, skin-contact stuff don’t have cellar doors because they’re small production. Obviously the Oakridge cellar door is pretty specky [special] to sit in and try some really nice wine.

Asian Cuisine Meets Australian Ingredients

Khanh Nguyen, the chef at Sunda, has got some amazing skills. He used to work for Mark Best at Marque and a few other really great restaurants. He’s cooking south-east Asian food but with a lot of Australian native ingredients which is a really interesting mix. There’s a lot of really bold flavours and lots of punchy, delicious food made using local products. Things like a kangaroo tartare. He’s using local products in a really different light which is really cool. The service is awesome and there’s a great little wine list. It’s quite affordable and not expensive at all.

The Perfect Neighbourhood Wine Bar

We’ve been fans of Etta since it opened but think it’s definitely stepped up a level since [new chef] Charley Snadden-Wilson got there. The food is really delicious, simple share plates and, again, not overly expensive. Sometimes with a lot of wine bars, you don’t want to sit in there and have a meal with your friends because it’s a bit too full-on. Etta has a really good balance of all of the elements: it’s a great wine bar, a great little restaurant and because it’s in Brunswick East, it has a really nice community vibe. Then again, we live quite close as well, so maybe that helps. On a nice evening, we can jump on our bikes, ride there in 10 minutes, have some nice food and wine, ride home and go to bed and it’s all done. Hannah [Green], the owner who also runs the floor, is amazing and used to be at Attica. The wine list is ever-changing and there are always really interesting wines on there. It’s a really nice mix of classic and natural wines which is nice because we love both. Sometimes people get too caught up in one or the other, so having a balance of both is really cool.

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