A magnet for gourmands and explorers alike, the best way to get to know the Mornington Peninsula is by eating your way through it.
Thanks to a rich history of local farming and fishing, the Mornington Peninsula boasts an abundance of sea and fresh produce. Whatever is in season often dictates the menus of surrounding establishments, which means you can taste the harvest cooked to perfection at esteemed eateries.
Take a backcountry drive along the peninsula and fill up on delights for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here are our picks.
Tucked in the depths of Mornington’s industrial pocket, Commonfolk Coffee is the perfect alfresco hipster hangout. The warehouse-cum-café is kitted with fairy-lights, exposed beams and beautifully tattooed staff, ready and waiting to sling you their house-roasted blend. Twenty cents from every coffee helps set up sustainable farms in Uganda, adding a morale boost to your morning brew. Choose a meal from the contemporary menu to accompany it. Heroes include the banoffee-inspired smoothie, breakfast burrito and the customisable poke bowls – all starring produce from the onsite garden.
McCrae favourite Merchant & Maker has been dubbed the best café on the Peninsula three years running. Thanks to an innovative menu and recent interior makeover, modern breakfast classics fly out the door daily. White chocolate and mascarpone mousse pancakes, chipotle braised beans with slow-roasted pork belly, zucchini and chickpea fritters matched with goat’s curd. Pair it with a coffee from sibling roasters Commonfolk and you’ll be ready for a day of beach-hopping.
Opposite the beach on Rye’s Point Nepean Road, owner Rob Capa describes his café as “Brunswick, but 20 years ago.” The graffiti-clad space has a real rustic charm, kitted out with mismatched furniture, pin-up girls plastered to the walls and a hearty menu. Eggs benny is the winner here, as well as their generous-sized house burgers.
Taste a bit of Scandinavia right in the heart of wine country. Find Nordie among the familiar strip of Red Hill shops with a dark façade and green benches. The menu contains all the classics, as well as some Scandi additions you mightn’t be familiar with, such as smørrebrød, an open rye sandwich, or the Copenhagen hotdog, a locally-made bratwurst with all the embellishments. An adjoining mini-mart stocks local produce and small goods, as well as a selection of HAY furniture.
The best views in Mount Martha are just par for the course at Mr. Curtis. This tapas bar serves dishes inspired by Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines, think falafel poached eggs, saganaki or a spiced chickpea salad. Grab a table on the wraparound deck and watch breakfast blur into lunch, and lunch into dinner. Local cakes and pastries are usual fare here, as well as favourites Commonfolk coffee and daily specials.
If you’re planning a trip to the Mornington Peninsula, Jackalope undeniably needs to be a part of your itinerary – if not to stay, then to eat and appreciate. The hotel’s more casual bistro, Rare Hare, offers a great place to sit and enjoy a long lunch. Enjoy duck leg, barramundi wings and wood roasted zucchini – or if you’ve overindulged at breakfast, this is the spot for a lighter offering such as a charcuterie plate and a glass of wine. Just beware, spaces fill quickly (even on weekdays) so book your table yesterday.
Polperro comes with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from an upscale Peninsula winery. Premium pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris are served by the glass and bottle, surrounded by a colourful kitchen garden and sundrenched deck. Enjoy a long lunch in summer with duck confit, arancini and stracciatella, then kick on with drinks and tunes into the early evening.
Two hatted Paringa Estate is one of the most celebrated food and wine destinations in the Peninsula. A plush interior and slick Corbusian façade provide the perfect backdrop for a midday sojourn. Outside, the undulating vineyard slopes are only one-upped by the field of roaming Toulouse geese. The tasting menu rotates seasonally, utilising local produce every step of the way. Beef sourced from Gippsland, pork from the Western Plains of Victoria and seafood from the local coast. Wash it down with a glass of one of three series wines.
Housed in a former historic cool store and packing shed, Red Hill’s Epicurean is a restaurant and event haven in the hinterland. The Shed is the onsite restaurant, serving wood-fired pizzas to the masses alongside plant-based mains, salads, cheese boards and classic sides. As well as food, the venue also has space for a bar and a selection of local wines for mini-tasting sessions.
Stop for a no-brainer lunch at the breezy two-hatted Ten Minutes By Tractor. The eponymous restaurant with almost-too-beautiful-to-eat dishes overlooks the vines, where you can chat with winemakers who are changing up their practices and moving towards full organic cultivation. A new cellar door recently opened if you want to sample a few but haven’t got time for a meal – the winery was impacted by fire a while back and the reinvigorated cellar door experience is impressive. The name, by the way, refers to their vineyards, which are all just 10 minutes from each other by tractor. Clever, hey!
We weren’t kidding – Jackalope is a must when you come to the Peninsula. Neighbouring the aforementioned Rare Hare, Doot Doot Doot is executive chef Guy Stanaway’s one-hatted fine-dining restaurant. On offer is a five-course tasting menu that makes the most of the plentiful produce from local providores on the peninsula. The space is aesthetic and warm, mostly thanks to Jan Flook’s ceiling light installation of 10,000 amber globes that dim and brighten with a shimmering effect.
As the day reaches its pointy end, head straight for Fish Fetish on Sorrento’s main Ocean Beach Road. This humble joint has been around forever which explains the lines that form out the door on most given afternoons. Pick your poison off the blackboard menu hung above the hard-working staff. Non-soggy chips, a decent bit of fish, maybe a dim sim or calamari to mix it up, a wedge of lemon, some salt, brown or white vinegar, some tomato sauce and that’s it. Head straight to any stretch of Peninsula sand and enjoy. PS: don’t feed the seagulls.
Heralded as the wealthiest postcode in Australia, Portsea is the last town on the Mornington Peninsula. The luxurious little village is a sanctuary by the sea, and its pub is the heart and soul of the region. A recent upgrade to the venue and adjoining hotel was more than a lick of paint, adding a rotating art gallery, panoramic beer garden on the water’s edge and a few bars. Cliff’s Bar is a California-inspired burger bar with all the trimmings. Neighbouring RIP Bar will serve whisky to lure guests in the cooler months, and the second-floor Bertram Bar has panoramic ocean views.
Come for the top-notch pizza, stay for the charming service. DOC Mornington serves as the sister outfit to Carlton’s celebrated venture, featuring an adjoining Italian supermarket. You’ll find mozzarella and salumi of honourable provenance plus a great Italian-leaning wine list to back it all up. Simplicity and tradition are key here, so don’t expect complicated toppings. The San Daniele with DOP buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto is a signature, while the Pizza ai Porcini with wild mushrooms, mozzarella, pecorino and truffle oil is more than seductive.