In what has become somewhat of a ritual, my brother and a few of his mates are working at the Wye River General Store over the summer (although the fantasy teen-movie-esque summer of bonfires, beers and lifelong friendships has apparently been stymied by the greasy reality of two months working the deep-fryer). This period also coincided with my mum’s 60th birthday, so we packed-up and spiraled down the Great Ocean Road to Wye River for a rare family sojourn.
A special venue was required for the big birthday. While the (two) options in Wye River are fantastic (the Wye River General Store is highly recommended), they did not quite fit the bill. Surprisingly, there were few nearby venues that did. Resolving to progress deeper into the wilderness, we lunched at the hatted Chris’s Beacon Point Restaurant, in Apollo Bay.
Chris’s is about 45 minutes past Lorne, off the Great Ocean Road, and down a few bumpy trails, just after you think you may have gone too far. Perched among the Otways, the phenomenal view of hills rolling down to the turquoise ocean is displayed through the panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows. The decor is simple (why would you want to distract from the view?) but the high ceilings, and clever use of space, gives the 85-seater a light and airy feel, which is still comfortable and relaxed.
Established in 1979 – the menu sells the Greek food philosophy of simplicity, bold flavours and fresh produce – but it is also clear that Chris is rolling with the times, and taking inspiration from his life in Australia.
All of the Hellenic favourites are there, done well, and often with a twist. For example, the gooey saganaki with collapsed roasted tomatoes dusted with lemony sumac, toasted walnuts and basil pesto, or perfectly crisped flour-dusted calamari with a smear of herb-laden tangy tartare.
A stand-out was the meaty char-grilled octopus with the depth of a red-wine-braise on a lively rocket, apple, beetroot and feta salad, with pistachio crumbs, that was a mouthful of beach holiday.
However, there are dishes that are a far cry from the taverna, such as the pork, veal and pistachio terrine, a rich game liver parfait, to be spread on thin toast with a sticky red onion jam, or the mini-mound of fennel, cornichon and caper salad. The glossy ocean-trout gravalax with saffron dressing, pop of caviar pearls and oozing yolk of the dukkah crusted poached egg, although teetering on the verge of over complicated, was a silky feast for the senses.
Generous-sized mains (hovering around the $40 mark) reflect Greek hospitality. The fish of the day was a thick fillet of blue-eye served on a comforting bed of tourlou studded with feta, and topped with a dollop of salty olive tapenade. I would have preferred my fish moister and flakier, but overall it was bold and satisfying, produce-driven dish. The confit duck leg was excellent, with juicy flesh falling away from the bone and flavoured with a rich gravy which let through a slight caramel flavour of pear, and served with nubs of waxy potato.
The desserts continue the theme of modernising the classics. The trio of ice-creams comprised a subtle bubble-gum mastic flavour, a ball of real and raw tasting pistachio impaled with a pistachio praline shard, and a crowd-pleasing scoop that nailed a combination of honey and lavender.
The lemon verbena pannacotta had a delicate herbal-lemon flavour, with a perfect creamy density. It teamed well with the pistachio-studded biscotti, although I thought the apple sorbet and mandarin jelly, while beautifully refreshing, were unnecessary.
There is also the a medley of flaky, honey-drenched, nutty baklavas and Turkish delight with mastic ice-cream that stays faithful to the classics (evidently selected by the birthday lady).
Steeped in tradition, yet rolling with the times, Chris’s continues to cement its place as go-to dining experience on the Great Ocean Road that is worth driving a little further for. A relaxed vibe, breathtaking view, and a creative menu showcasing quality Australian produce.
Chris’s Beacon Point Restaurant & Villas
280 Skenes Creek Rd.,
Apollo Bay, 3233
Phone: 03 5237 6411
Open nightly seven days a week from 6PM and lunches on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 2PM.