Scorcher mixes food review with transport review — he LOVED one of them
– By Mark ‘Scorcher’ Davidson
As I write this, the Hurstbridge line is completely juicy-fruited, partly closed due to level crossing removals and track upgrades. Traffic in the area is bedlam and 3AW Breakfast listeners are phoning in daily to report clogged roads and bloated travel times.
So in solidarity with the good folk of Hurstbridge, who are almost prisoners in their own suburb at the moment, I decided to schlep my way on public transport out to the end of the line for my review this week.
Two hours and 10 minutes it took me. A packed replacement bus and two trains. You’re welcome.
But once I arrived at Greasy Zoe’s I instantly forgot about the taxing journey I’d just endured. The moment you walk into the former grocery store a wave of calm and bonhomie washes over you. The feel of the place puts you in good spirits; from the moment you’re greeted by the affable Lachlan you immediately know you’re in for a good time and some good food.
Greasy Zoe’s has the look of a log cabin, with a cute-as-a-button kitchen in one corner – fire from the grill dancing away, pots and pans hanging from the tessellated wall – and a record player spinning tunes from local bands in the other. The eponymous Zoe moves silently around her domain, cooking with such tranquility you barely notice she’s there.
Oh, and take no notice of the name. It may sound like a fish and chip shop but this gorgeous little 15-seater is anything but. And from where I was sitting, Zoe didn’t look greasy either.
If you’re not from the area, it’s well worth making the trip out just to sample Zoe Birch’s phenomenal food. Everything is prepared in-house and sourced from small-time local farmers and producers, many of whom they call friends. There’s no menu and guests are fed an ever-changing array of dishes, dictated by the seasons and suppliers’ stock.
As Zoe explains to me: “If Helen from Timbarra farm tells me she has a heap of turnips, well then, turnips will feature on the menu for as long as they need to.”
The absence of a menu means diners have two options: $65 for six courses, or $85 for nine. We went for the former, where the first part of Zoe’s magical mystery tour comes as bite-sized treats.
Wapengo oysters, the only certified organic oysters in the country, were elegantly creamy, a great way to kick off proceedings; the puffy choux pastry with gooey zucchini filling was unique and as satisfying as swishing two free throws after the buzzer to get into the high school basketball finals; and the freshwater mussels from Eildon – rarely sighted on restaurant menus – served with parsley oil and ice plant were a delight to sample.
A larger dish of sugar-cured golden trout, smoked potato, capers and trout roe was as delightfully smoky as an illusionist’s performance. More Zoe magic. She and Lachlan make fortnightly trips to Eildon to fish out the trout, cure them in-house and dress them up in a dinner suit of smoked potato foam and crispy parsley.
Wood-fired organic lamb with home-made mustard came with beetroot done two ways, a heroing of the humble vegetable. Freshly picked hours before it arrived on the plate, beetroot accompanied the lamb in puree and ribbon form, with the leaves served as a brittle blanket. It would be a shame to let any go to waste.
No doubt the next time I visit Greasy Zoe’s the Hurstbridge line will be fixed. But even if it was still cactus, I’d happily spend two hours on the train again to experience the warm welcome and fine food of this wonderful little destination restaurant.