I recently spent three incredible days in and around a little place called Forrest, just two hours south-west of Melbourne amongst the Otway Ranges. It’s about 40 minutes inland from its flashier cousins Lorne and Apollo Bay, which boast beautiful beaches, nightlife and cafes galore. But what Forrest lacks in outward sex appeal it makes up for in understated charm and extreme natural beauty.
I‘m ashamed to admit that I’m a girl from Melbourne but had never even heard of nor come across Forrest until a few weeks ago. It was in a desperate search to get out of town at an affordable price, which led me to cast the net wide on the interweb ‘houses in Victoria that are dog friendly’, yep, that was my search. Castlemaine, Daylesford and coastal towns were out because the long weekend had inflated their price.
But then, like a freshly baked Pav glistening through the oven door, an Aussie shack shone back at me. Equipped with a wrought iron bath and verandah, it boasted its own lake and 20 hectare property dotted with cows and kangaroos, surrounded by a forest full of mountain biking trails. We were sold.
Normally the pictures oversell a property slightly, but today we were in for a treat because it was even better than we’d envisaged.
And to top off an already incredible find, in amongst a handful of shops in Forrest Township – a brewery, a pub, a general store and a bike shop cafe – there is a restaurant called Bespoke Harvest that embodies all that Sustainable Table is about. With a set menu, changing daily with the seasons, it’s a magical place to while away an afternoon enjoying 8-10 dishes of pure magic over four courses.
There’s a restaurant in Forrest called Bespoke Harvest that embodies all that Sustainable Table is about.
It’s less than half an hour from the lauded Brae run by the ever-talented Dan Hunter. If Brae has been on your wish list for a while, but the $350 a head price tag seems unachievable, then empty your piggy bank and piece together a cool $55 and head to Bespoke Harvest. Even Dan Hunter knows a good thing when he sees it; he chose this place as the venue to host his staff Christmas last year.
Run by Emma Ashton, a Forrest local who spent twenty years away before the pull of small schools and a village atmosphere drew her back to Forrest to raise her family. Head Chef Simon Stewart commands the kitchen, but you get a sense that the vision of this place is very much shared. It actually started out purely as accommodation with a café that offered a few sandwiches for the guests but has since evolved into a complete dining experience, the type you plan your weekend around.
We had our three year old with us, which was no problem, as there is a beautiful outdoor dining area surrounded by fruit trees and the restaurant’s own productive patch. For anyone who’s familiar with dining with toddlers, to steal an hour of peace to enjoy lunch is a rarity, but on this occasion we spent almost three glorious hours indulging in the delights of Bespoke Harvest whilst Luca tasted each dish with us, or played with the vintage tractor in the garden and explored all the wholesome delights that city kids sometimes miss out on.
Words never do a meal justice, but what I loved most about this place was the commitment not only to the taste but to the journey the food had taken. Ben, our passionate waiter described in detail where certain ingredients had come from and even told little anecdotes of his time visiting producers and learning about the ecology on the farm.
On any one day the menu has been sourced from 20-30 local producers, with Head Chef Simon often stopping by to collect bits and bobs on his commute from Colac into work. When sourcing meat, they purchase the whole animal and use every part in dishes throughout that period; on the day we were there it was served in the form of lamb sausage and lamb shoulder.
Although they offer a set menu, the team are more than happy to cater for dietary requirements with a little notice.
I’m loath to pick a favourite dish, can I share three? Maybe four?
The haloumi, rhubarb & broad bean provided the perfect combination of sweet and salty and was an ideal segue into the selection of entrees, of which I adored the octopus, fermented daikon & Vietnamese mint salad, which was both refreshing and tantalising.
I also loved the beetroot, purslane & Persian fetta salad which was once again a perfect choice for the day – juicy with a bit of crunch and some greenery to balance it all out.
I’m not a big meat eater but my hubby loved the lamb shoulder which he announced was cooked to perfection. I must admit it was pretty darn tasty!
Simon’s take on Eton Mess was another sensation, piled high with berries, pepitas, mascarpone, goat’s cheese, cream and meringue, it was definitely a decadent way to end an already indulgent afternoon.
We’re blessed to have so many incredible food options available to us here in Australia, which admittedly can make me a little fickle. I’ll often try something once, give it a mental rating and then move onto the next big thing. But Bespoke Harvest, and Forrest in general, are two places I will be returning to for years to come.
Bespoke Harvest – Bespoke Harvest in Forrest Victoria uses fresh produce from their garden and surrounding farms to capture the taste and flavour of the Otways. Their menu aims to deliver 80% local ingredients showcasing the best of the Otways produce. I don’t need to say much more because I have raved about it endlessly above.
Open for lunch Fri-Mon (Thursday by appointment). Dinner Friday & Saturday. Accommodation on site.
16 Grant Street Forrest 3236 The Otway Ranges Victoria
Forrest Brewing Company – We didn’t eat there, although you can, but enjoyed tasting the beers they had on offer and left with a dozen longnecks which says something! Sitting outside on a sunny day is just divine. It’s dog friendly and seems to be the finishing point for the many mountain bikers who are attracted to the area. Not a bad way to refuel after a morning of exercise.
The Forrest General Store – We stopped by here for a coffee and a sweet treat on Saturday morning. I’d say the milkshakes are a tad better than the coffee, but we really enjoyed sitting out whilst indulging in a fresh cinnamon doughnut. Whilst there we encountered some horses returning from a ride through the forest and picked up some delightful freshly baked bread that was still warm.
I’m hesitant to share this one because it was honestly perfection. It’s ideal for a family with a dog, or even a couple/friends wanting to get away from it all. There is no connected television or internet, which was a welcome exclusion but they do have a rocking indoor/outdoor sound system which gave us just enough connection to the outside world not to feel too ‘little house on the prairie’.
You have to come prepared as there really is nothing around, but again, this is all part of the charm. If you love having long baths whilst overlooking quintessential Australian landscapes, then this place is for you.
Having a private lake and jetty with old fashioned barbeque was a particular treat that I have not encountered anywhere else. We could’ve stayed another week and still not found ourselves bored.