If you’re driving up to Mallacoota from Melbourne and cutting through the country, our hot tip is that you stopover in Cann River. There you will see the ever-popular Wild Rye’s Bakery. Think curry beef pies with a rich, curried gravy and tender chunks of slow-cooked beef, velvety three cheese and spinach pasties, blueberry brûlée tarts whose blowtorched tops mimic a crème brûlée, or giant slabs of creamy, dense carrot cake. The bakery has its headquarters in Pambula, and freshly baked pies, roasted coffee and sourdough breads are delivered to its Cann River store every day. (But hot tip, there’s no fresh bread available on Sundays.)
Croajingalong Café is situated across from the Mallacoota inlet and offers stunning views of the water with a vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free-friendly menu. Michelle, who owns the café, is currently running it alongside her first love Andrew. The two Kiwis know a thing about great food and outstanding service. Try Michelle’s breakfast bruschetta that looks like it belongs in the Arts Space. A bed of sourdough toast is topped with fried rashers of bacon, sautéed mushrooms, fresh nasturtium, edible flowers, goat's cheese, perfectly poached eggs and balsamic vinegar – to name a few. There are also gourmet options available alongside the usual brunch suspects, and coffee served in a cup or a mug (you decide), fresh smoothies and juices.
Locals flock to Origami Coffee and you might have to wait up to 30 minutes for your morning fix – the coffee here really is that good. Takeshi, who currently manages the pop-up, seasonal café is a kind and eccentric Japanese man from Hokkaido who’s lived in Mallacoota for 21 years. He sells handmade origami out of the shed, along with coffee (by Dukes Coffee Roasters, who he also thanks for their ongoing support and his glitzy coffee machine, Athena), matcha tea and lattes, hot chocolate, peach iced teas and his own offering, the espresso spider – a Japanese take on the kids beverage that includes coffee and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The venue opens up every summer and the community won’t soon forget how Takeshi provided coffees day-in, day-out to emergency responders during the Black Summer fires.
American barbecue in an old lawn bowls club? Something you might not think you’d stumble upon, but it’s here in Mallacoota. The aesthetic itself will make you feel like you’ve stepped foot into a conference room from the ’70s with its linoleum tables and office chairs, but it adds to the experience and quirky nature of the venue. The pop-up barbecue venture is called Coota Q and is by Luke Driscoll (Big Pig Canteen, Bluebonnet Barbecue) and his fiancée Angela Smith. While Luke smokes beef brisket, fries thick slices of chorizo and assembles creamy mac and cheese, Angela buzzes around the venue serving customers. It’s always bustling and bookings are highly recommended. There are set feasts and an à la carte menu that promises slow-cooked beef chilli with nachos, popcorn chicken and equally rich desserts that will have you rolling out slower than a lawn bowl.
There’s something to be said for Chinese food you try in the countryside – namely Cantonese-influenced but offering a wide mish-mash of cuisines. It might be the glistening Mongolian beef loaded with MSG, or it might be the eggy fried rice permeated with smoky flavours from the wok. At Lucy’s, it’s the handmade rice noodles (using rice she’s ground herself) with locally-sourced abalone slices, thick, deveined prawns, sliced white onion and a cornstarch-loaded gravy. Or the grandmother’s ‘special dumplings’ that are each the size of your palm and filled with minced vegetables in a delicate dumpling wrapper. Sweet chilli sauces wait patiently in plastic jars and outweigh the minced chilli and garlic jars, and the venue is always filled to the brim with locals. It’s a Mallacoota institution that’s acted as the go-to Chinese restaurant for years. It's actually been run by the same family for a while, with Lucy originally hailing from Nanning in Guangxi where she ran a restaurant.
For a romantic dinner with a view, make the trek to Gipsy Point Lodge. The venue also offers accommodation, and its restaurant overlooks the Genoa River. Sit outdoors on the deck and listen to the sounds of yellow-tailed black cockatoos, or sit indoors and peer out of the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The owners also run Campbell’s Farm in Eden where they source their steak from, and we recommend sitting down to an eye-fillet topped with garlic butter and a side of rosemary roasted potatoes and salad. Beers by local craft brewery Bullant Brewery are worth checking out, and so is the 2017 Mitchelton Shiraz with its pronounced flavours of red fruits. You’ll want to stay for dessert made by the chef including cakes and slices like the dense orange and almond cake with vanilla ice cream.
Treat yourself to a wine tasting on the way back to Melbourne at Lightfoot and Sons Winery. Located in Bairnsdale, the cellar door overlooks the winery and its sweeping surrounds of neighbouring farmland. Sit either indoors or outdoors and sample the Myrtle Point Vineyard tasting or the mixed tasting and try wines served to you in mini beakers with comprehensive tasting notes provided for each. There are even notes included from varying staff members on each wine so you can determine the flavour profile of each. The 2020 Myrtle Point Vineyard Pinot Grigio will surprise you with its creaminess and notes of crisp green apple, and the award-winning 2018 Myrtle Point Vineyard Pinot Noir presents dark red fruits and high acidity. The Taste of East Gippsland Experience offers foods from local businesses like pork rillette by Northern Ground, pickles by the Long Paddock or housemade shiraz jam by Lightfoot and Sons, and the experience comes with three glasses of its single block wines, too.