We in Avenel were thrilled to read the review by John Lethlean in The Australian newspaper recently describing OUR little wood fired pizzeria, the Bank Street Wood Fired Pizza and Garden, as "arguably the best in regional Australia"!
We have always known that it is good, really good. But when someone like John Lethlean, who knows his food and produce, and his restaurants, describes it in such glowing terms, then we get very excited.
I can't think of a weekend (at this stage it is open only on Friday, Saturday and Sundays though soon it will open on Thursday nights for special wine themed dinners) when the streets around the restaurant in our sleepy little town are not full of cars and we can see a big crowd inside, animatedly enjoying their meal and their friends. In the warmer months diners are having their meals in the shade of the garden's big elm tree.
Callum Kaka and his team makes a speciality of using local produce – smoked ham and sausage from our local Butcher (who at this very moment is back in Scotland chasing up relatives of his father and learning to make black pudding and haggis!), local Swiss Brown mushrooms from the Avenel Mushroom farm, local olives and olive oil, along with herbs and vegetables from his own extensive and beautiful garden.
His wine list is almost entirely regional. He has been a stalwart supporter of the local vignerons and the wine list features many small producers, like myself. He has my Prosecco, Vermentino and Shiraz Roussanne, a couple by the glass, and is keen to stock my Primitivo once it is in the bottle!
Similarly the waiting staff are all local, in the main bright and energetic teenagers who will leave school in the coming years and make perfect young waiters if they study in Melbourne. Or like one of the young waiters, Tom, come home from study and the city each weekend to work here. All are quietly polished in the ins and outs of running a restaurant – how to set up before service, wait on tables and take orders, clean up tables and wash up afterwards. Often we see them working alongside Callum getting pizzas ready or pulling them out of the oven and cutting them up.
Locals are regulars. As are wine and food lovers from Shepparton, Seymour, Euroa, Mansfield. People also come from Melbourne, and like John Lethlean, from parts of regional Victoria further afield.
Callum and his team, like the Ryan family out at Mitchelton, the Purbricks at Tathbilk Estate and the Fowles family at Avenel are working really hard to put Avenel and our area on the map. If they all have it their way, it won't remain a sleepy little area and one of the best kept secret in Victoria for long!
The town of Nagambie has now been bypassed. Soon that little town will be a perfect tourist hub around the lake without the huge trucks barreling through it on their way north to Brisbane or back to Melbourne...the perfect time for wine and lover to venture north and explore.