Welcome to Bairnsdale, three hours east of Melbourne. This is classic country Victoria. This is old-school hospitality – the type that your grandmother used to make.
This is the Riversleigh Hotel, shining bright on the edge of town with crisp white walls and a manicured lawn. Oh, and two Tesla charging stations – weren’t expecting that, were you? Check in, bask in the beaming smile of reception, explore the lengths your palatial rooms and the depth of your soft bed. Back to the car, note how quiet it is here. It’s about to get a whole lot quieter.
Head for the hills. If you didn’t enjoy driving before, you will now: sweeping bends, great roads, generous speed limits. Take that dirt road – we swear it’s not a driveway. Those are real cows, real emus and that’s the first kookaburra you’ve seen before you heard it. Park in the government-issue national park carpark and plunge into the rainforest. We do mean plunge, this ‘walk’ is steep. We do mean rainforest, this is what the colour green was designed for. Follow the echoing sounds of water, and the deepening silence. This is the Den of Nargun, a stunning natural cathedral with a raw cliff face dropping into an echoing pool. Whisper respectfully. Take a photo that won’t do it justice. Clamber up and out, back to the car. You’ve earned lunch, and it’s not far.
This is sleepy Lindenow, a town you’d blink and miss (at 110km, easy to do). This is The Long Paddock, and this is classic country food (which your grandmother couldn’t quite match, but she could match the crockery). Anton Eisenmenger and Tanya Bertino of The Botanical, Vue de Monde and Cumulus Inc. fame know exactly what they’re doing. You are in the right place, you can tell by all the cars out front. Those long paddocks of ingredients you’ve driven past will soon be on your plate. Admire the enormous scotch oven, select a very local wine, and ask what’s exceptional, because it’s all good. The terrine is wholesome and moreish, and in-house pickles and relish complement to lift it exquisitely. The pan-fried gnocchi is light, while the accompanying pumpkin, brown butter and sage make that comfy chair comfier still. The pie is… the pie is incredible, luxurious and, just… I loved that pie. This is archetypal country food, created to the highest standard. If it ends with the exquisite lemon lime pie, the sugar rush might just get you back to the car. If not, let the sunshine, the quiet chatter and the delicious lingering satisfaction wash over you.
Drive back when you can move again. Welcome to Bairnsdale.
You can book The Riversleigh here, you can read up on the Den of Nargun here, and you can book at The Long Paddock here. You will need to book.