“OWYAGOIN’?” In they come, out of the paddocks and into the front bar of Gippsland’s Tinamba Hotel. It’s Boags all round here and Home and Away on the wide screen … Just another country watering hole, you might think, until you step into Tinamba’s restaurant next door.
Suddenly, you’re in a more genteel place. A dining room of pleated lamps and linen napkins where a log heater glows in one corner and a black grand piano awaits some ivory tinkling in the other. What connects the two spaces is a go-ahead management team — led by owners Damien Gannon and Brad Neilson — and a very able kitchen brigade. They have put tiny Tinamba (population 500) on Victoria’s culinary map. And whether you’re in the mood for a twice-baked Maffra blue cheese souffle in the restaurant or a chicken parma in the front bar, this hotel is going to please.
For a little place in “the middle of nowhere’’ (Gannon’s expression), the Tinamba sure offers plenty of choice. The main menu is supported by a rotating slate of “specials” that can have you cruising between just-shucked Tassie oysters, pan-fried ricotta gnocchi and a bouillabaisse. “Soup of the day” is my pick and if Maffra Tanjil Blue and potato with garlic oil and croutons ($15) is on, snap it up. Deeply aromatic and well balanced, this was almost a meal in itself.
Tinamba chefs source plenty of local produce and their entree tasting plate is a handy platform for it: smoked beef and couscous here, sweet potato and capsicum arancini there. But there’s a tendency here to over decorate.
A carefully cooked (230gm) slab of Gippsland porterhouse ($38, above) came attended by (cold) pickled cauliflower, potato mustard noisette and a cheese croquette when all it really needed was the shiraz jus and a cos lettuce salad. Elsewhere, baked pork loin comes with potato chickpea “smash” ($36), beef cheek with stir-fried Asian greens and sesame carrot puree ($36). Tinamba offers half a dozen desserts and the best way to sample them is to order the Quartet for One ($18). Expect treats such as strawberry sorbet, blueberry bavarois and a peach tea meringue.
Not just Boags. The Tinamba keeps a good cellar, well stocked with top drops from Gippsland. A Blue Gables moscato from Upper Maffra comes by the glass ($9). So does a Nicholson River rose from Bairnsdale and a Glenmaggie sav blanc from Tinamba. But there are bubbles from France as well and some handily priced “small bottles’’ to go with your local cheeses.
On a quietish midweek evening, staff are personable and well informed. But, please, let’s see wines by the glass poured at the table.
Gannon and Neilson have put a lot of effort into gentrifying this dining room, with good napery, comfortable chairs and dinky lamps. Somehow, it’s not twee.
No wonder they come from far and wide to the Tinamba. The hotel’s two-course $30 lunch special (with a glass of beer, wine or soft drink) is pretty well unbeatable.
If ambition sometimes gets the better of the Tinamba team, there’s no doubting their enthusiasm.
Tinamba Hotel Restaurant
4-6 Tinamba-Seaton Rd, Tinamba
Lunch Wed-Sun, dinner Wed-Sat
Midweek lunches, elegant dinners
Eye fillet with fondant potato