Spotted by Locals
Alfredo "Freddy" La Spina, High Country
Chef, foodie, wine lover
Freddy La Spina grew up in Whorouly, near Myrtleford. His wife, Lisa, is also from Victoria's north-east and together they serve authentic Sicilian-influenced dishes at Bar Paradiso and Bar Idda in Melbourne's cool, eclectic inner north.
The La Spinas recently returned to the high country to explore its fresh produce, amazing wine, great cooking, hospitality and stunning countryside – from lunch at Boynton's Feathertop Winery to dinner at Tani Eat & Drink in Bright, to coffee at Myrtleford's Cafe Fez, and the King Valley's "Prosecco Road" wineries.
As they commented during a weekend of wining and dining: "It's been three days of glorious weather, fresh air, star-filled skies and of course, the amazing food and wine! So much talent up here and great use of local and seasonal produce. You see everyone supporting each other and a great sense of community, which is lovely."
Lisa and Freddy are hosting a food tour to Sicily in 2013 but, who knows, you might one day catch them undertaking tours of Victoria's high country, too.
"Everywhere you go there was somewhere to stop and sample," Freddy says. "Farmers have stalls at their front gates, selling the most amazing, tasty things. You should absolutely bring an Esky."
Food and wine
"He's chef of the year as far as I'm concerned," says Bar Idda's Freddy La Spina when asked to rate Hamish Nugent's Tani Eat & Drink, Bright's newest restaurant. The menu is deeply informed by what nearby small producers have in season.
Lunch at Boynton's Feathertop Winery at Porepunkah included delicious salmon sourced from nearby Harrietville. And for dessert? Lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf panna cotta with chocolate ganache and mandarin. Delicious. Served with a glass of prosecco, of course.
The King Valley is famously known as the Prosecco Road, as well as the key place to source great Mediterranean varietals such as pinot grigios and temperanillos.
Freddy's cellar door stops included Sam Miranda at Oxley; Whitfield's Dal Zotto; Pizzini; and Cheshunt's Politini Wines, for seriously good cool-climate wines.
And for a bit of the other? Freddy recommends Bright Brewery's Staircase Porter, a traditional dark ale.
Places to stay
Freddy and Lisa La Spina stayed at The Buckland Luxury Retreat, environmentally friendly, boutique accommodation where secluded guest studios are built in a native peppermint forest overlooking Buckland Valley. All studios have king beds, fine linen, a well-appointed kitchen and bathroom, sitting room with hearth and a verandah. Breakfast is included in the tariff and Bright township is within easy reach.
Freddy and Lisa also checked into Casa Luna, at Myrrhee, which is near Whitfield and within easy reach of quite a few wineries. "I read the guest book at Casa Luna and another guest had written, 'Who needs Tuscany when all this is three hours away,'" Freddy says. "That sums up the high country perfectly for me. We'll be pencilling in some more trips from Melbourne."
The term "homewares" simply isn't ample enough to describe Myrtleford's Red Ramia Trading, where building and decorating materials (think doors, shutters and staircases) are sold alongside teak furniture, rich fabrics and clothing from Istanbul and beyond. In one corner of the vast space Red Ramia occupies on the Great Alpine Road is Cafe Fez, where staff serve gorgeous fruity cocktails and generous sharing plates that pop with spice.
At No.15 Great Alpine Road, Naomi and Bronwyn Ingleton run The Butter Factory, making hand-made butter using cream from high country cows and Mount Zero Pink Lake Salt. A pure buttermilk, the only one of its kind in Australia, is also made and sold at the factory. In keeping with the factory's European style of butter, Naomi has trained with the legendary Noma restaurant's butter maker in Copenhagen, as well as the best makers in France. Guided and self-guided tours at the Myrtleford works are available, there's a cafe on site and the store sells plenty of creamy local produce.
The incredibly popular A Tavola! cooking classes hosted by Katrina Pizzini at Whitfield's Pizzini Wines are as hands-on as ever in 2013, be it making vegetarian dishes, classic Italian fare or quick and healthy meals. Book your place when you book your travel to the high country.
This article first appeared in The Age and is reprinted courtesy of Fairfax Media.