This weekend heralded the arrival of yet another Mike, this one a colleague from the US. To welcome him to Australia and Victoria in particular, Jane took us all on a half-day tour of the Yarra Valley. I packed a few super sandwiches and some fruit to line our stomachs as we travelled, since the main attraction would be wine tasting. It became apparent quite quickly that Mike knows a lot about wine, so the expedition proved to be as educational as it was enjoyable. We managed to cover five of the smaller vineyards, encountering a variety of hosts, almost all of them chatty, and Michael amassed a substantial collection of reds to take home (lucky Jane had a kombi, rather than a little hatchback, to fit them all in!). The added bonus (for Mike especially) were encounters with a laughing kookaburra, a small flock of galahs, and about a dozen kangaroos, one with a joey in its pouch.
As the clock ticked past 6pm we decided we needed something more substantial than even the local shiraz. The Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander winery in Healesville proved to be a worthy dinner location. It has a modern industrial feel, with high ceilings and glass walls that amplify the loud chatter of its patrons. The menu offers the kind of pizzas and snacks that you'd expect to find at a trendy pub or cafe, and also features a list of hotpots. I had eyes only for the housecut chips ($8, made from organic "Dobsons" potatoes and served with aioli) and so chose the avocado, rocket and "handmade in Healesville" corn relish sandwich ($9) to round out the meal.
The chips were super-thick cut, skin on, and just perfect with the aioli - well worth the extra couple of bucks over the standard around Melbourne. The sandwich was pretty good too (avocado in big, buttery slabs and very sweet relish), but I prioritised the chips since the quantity was all a bit much. Michael went for the vegetarian hotpot option, coriander fried rice cake with panang vegetable curry ($21). It similarly proved excellent, with curry samples had by all at the table. Also worth a mention is Jane's pizza, which included some amazing mushroom tapenade.
It'll be a while before Michael and I find ourselves in Healesville again, and the Healesville Hotel will probably always have the bigger reputation, but I'll happily recommend a meal (particularly dinner) at GS/IB.
Address: 336 Maroondah Highway (cnr Don Road), Healesville
Ph: 5962 6111
Price: veg mains ~$17