One of the must-do tourist experiences in Australia is the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. This is a heritage coastal drive which takes in stunning surf beaches, rock formations, shipwreck sites, rock formations sculpted by the waves, and wildlife reserves. This is the home of the iconic 12 Apostles and London Bridge (which fell down in 1990).
We started at Torquay and drove along Great Ocean Road to Warrnambool where we decamped for the night. Just 20 minutes from Warrnambool is Tower Hill reserve, where an extinct volcano crater has created an inland island. At dawn or dusk, the animals are out in force. Our pre-breakfast stroll was alongside mobs of kangaroos, wallabies and emus grazing in the reserve. A friendly local pointed out a lone koala in the gum tree overlooking the car park. The animals here are so used to human presence, you can get very close to them. The lookout points on the rise, alongside Lake View Road have spectacular views of the reserve.
Another highlight of Warrnambool is Pickled Pig. This awarded fine-dining restaurant is quite possibly the most affordable hatted restaurant in Australia. The first things you notice as you walk in are the white linen tablecloths and then the charming framed pig sketches. This is fine dining, but there is also a touch of the whimsy. It is already perfect before we saw the menu.
The service here is friendly and prompt, and full of genuine small town hospitality. The Pickled Pig has a chefs tasting menu ($85 per person), but we decided to go with the a la carte menu to try more dishes. The amuse bouche was puffed rice noodles with deliciously tangy and spicy kimchi and nublets of roast pork.
I chose the squid, zucchini, anchovie, aioli and nasturtium entrée. The squid is delicately crumbed and fried, tender with a soft bite. It went well with the salty anchovies, lightly poached peas and crunch of the zucchini buttons and ribbons.
BL’s entree had tender pieces of seared tuna arranged with shaved rounds of beetroot and radish with a broccoli emulsion and sesame powder.
I went for the dory main which came with speck flavoured braised cos and pea and potato puree. We also had a side of caramelized brussel sprouts with sesame seeds. This was delectable.
BL’s duck main was served with a carrot puree, braised leek, sautéed onion rings and a spring roll stuffed with vegetables and pork. The fruity plum jus completed the dish. This dish was another stunner.
For the dessert, I loved the crème bruleed custard with crumble and freeze-dried mandarin complemented with lemon sorbet and scorched meringue. The other dessert of chocolate mousse in between pastry layers with chocolate soil, chocolate ice-cream and citrus crumble had too much going on. The pastry was too heavy for the richness of the chocolate elements.
The food at the Pickled Pig evokes all the senses. They are beautiful to look at, smells wonderful and tastes absolutely sublime. The service was exceptional. This has to be one of my favourite dining experiences.
78 Liebig Street, Warrnambool
Ph: +61 03 5561 3188
Opening hours: Every day 6pm until late