Gastropub Dining in Gippsland
Address: 4-6 Tinamba Seaton Road, Tinamba, Gippsland
Phone: (03) 5145 1484
Open: Wednesday to Saturday, lunch and dinner
Sunday, lunch only
When the Editor of Herald Sun Food responds to a personal tweet about visiting a restaurant with, “You will LOVE IT, guaranteed”, your expectations instantly skyrocket. We had been looking forward to our trip to Gippsland Lakehouse, largely because the drive presented the opportunity to visit Tinamba Hotel for lunch. Established in 1874, Brad Neilson and Damien Gannon (formerly of Neilson’s Restaurant in Traralgon) bought the hotel in 2009. The quaint pub — which boasts shining reviews in The Age Good Food Guide — is completely unassuming, glued to its historic spot on the neighbourly street with sprawling paddocks a couple of cow-lengths up.
Wicker chairs and shiny black urns spruce up the otherwise neutral verandah. Just inside the front door is a baby grand piano and Chesterfield couches. A decorative wrought iron bike sculpture doubles as a brochure stand, while the dining room branches off to the left. Dark walls, carpet and furniture ensured our attention was directed at the colourful food, even if the early ‘90s love ballads were a touch distracting.
Head Chef Paul van Ruiten is in charge of the kitchen and makes the most of the wonderful local produce. Honey comes straight from the family farm, while the hotel garden is a working progress. From Wednesday to Saturday, Tinamba offers a two course lunch with a glass of wine, beer of soft drink for $30 (or three course for $39.50).
We opted for mains and desserts, but starters such as the goats cheese mousse with sourdough crisps, roast carrot pearls, balsamic glaze and sunflower seed dukkah caught our eye… but not our sweet tooth. Our lunch kicked off with homemade damper instead of a traditional bread roll, baked with Maffra cheddar and chives and speckled generously with sesame seeds.
On the topic of bread, Tinamba also participate in Bread for Good, a nationwide campaign launched last year by UNICEF, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Good Food Guides to help save children facing famine in the Sahel region of West Africa. Surely that gives them some extra brownie points.
Onto the mains. The pan-fried Black Dory fillet was the favourite. It arrived on a bed of poached salmon and potato salad, topped with ribbons of pickled pumpkin and surrounded by a green moat of salsa verde.
Despite the beef in the stroganoff being slightly overcooked, the flavours were beautiful. The textural combination of the sticky shitake rice, roast vegetables and crispy onion gremolata put all childhood memories of sloppy stroganoff to bed.
Also ordered was the ricotta gnocchi, served in a deep black bowl with a rich bolognaise sauce, crisp shards of bresaola, shaved Grana Padano and toasted pine nuts.
The side salad of baby spinach leaves, crunchy snow pea sprouts, Parmesan cheese slithers, juicy sweet corn kernels, toasted pepita and sunflower seeds and sweet port dressing was vibrant and refreshing, while the broccoli with hazelnut dukkah and a sticky balsamic glaze was devoured in no time.
To finish, we ordered two of each dessert. Both were presented beautifully and far outshone any Victorian countryside dining experience we had previously encountered. The crushed brown sugar meringue with berry compote, rehydrated blueberries and quenelles of lemon curd cream looked like a deconstructed fairytale, and tasted like one too.
But it was the white chocolate and passionfruit mousse that stole our hearts. The airy, silky mousse rested in a pool of passionfruit pulp, surrounded by what was described on the menu as “toasted Italian meringue” but more accurately resembled tiny poached meringue drops with micro basil sprouting from each peak. Plump segments of blood orange added tang, and an elongated pastry grissini studded with sesame seeds added crunch (pictured first at the top of this post).
The clientele were a mix of family groups, older people lunching and those — like us — just passing through. The staff were attentive but not stiff, and came with a side of humour to boot. Tinamba Hotel is completely accessible: not too posh and definitely not too country pub. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal and would gladly return on the way back to Melbourne. Good one, Gippsland!