Good food is hard to find out in the little wheat district towns of the Wimmera. No, that is an understatement. Any food is hard to find in the Wimmera, a district in the north west of Victoria. We were caught out badly one Sunday during our drive around the tiny towns of Brim, Beulah and Rainbow. All the pubs were closed. Most, in fact, were for sale, and in desperation, I resorted to a Chicko Roll, a peculiarity of Victoria dating back to the 1950s. For those not in the know, a Chicko Roll is a large spring roll made from cabbage and barley, carrot and green beans, beef, beef tallow, wheat cereal, celery and onion. The filling is mostly pulped and enclosed in a thick egg and flour pastry and then the whole fat roll is deep-fried. My purchased version bore no relationship to the above description. There were no discernible vegetables, the inside tasted like clay, the outside resembling some form of edible cardboard. It may have spent 5 years in a deep freezer before hitting the deep frying basket of the Rainbow take- away. I told you I was desperate.
So you can imagine how delightful it was to find a pub in this remote area serving lunch and dinner 7 days a week. Jeparit’s Hopetoun House Hotel re- opened a few weeks ago, having been closed for some years. With new owners and energetic staff, is has become a little oasis in a food desert.
When we visited, the staff, who live on site, hadn’t had a break for 10 days or more, given that the menu needed to be trialled and put into place before Christmas. Talk about dedication. The smiling Mel greets all patrons warmly: she is the business manager, bar attendant, and raconteur. She knows the locals by name and makes every one feel at home, including tourists like us. Steven, the chef, is a foodie by inclination. He comes from Tullamarine, a suburb of Melbourne, and talks fondly of his mother, a Montessori teacher, who encouraged his cooking passion. Steve originally came from Sri Lanka. Other kitchen staff hail from the Punjab in India. It is so refreshing to see our talented new Australians ready to embrace work in these isolated towns. I hope they stay.
The weekend we visited, at least 4 times, they trialed their first Sunday roast dinner. Mel mentioned that they sold out at lunch time, (15 serves). She was thrilled. During one of my lunch visits, a mixed gender and very polite bikie group of 12 arrived for lunch. They were on a mystery tour of the Wimmera. I bet they were delighted to find these offerings bordering the desert.
I was also pleased to find a quality house wine at a reasonable price. The Harcourt Chardonnay, a local wine from near Bendigo, a top pick at around $20 a bottle.
The tiny town of Jeparit ( population 550) is situated 370 kilometers north-west of Melbourne. It is a long drive and one I doubt you, dear reader, will be ready to do on a whim. The success of this venture does rely on visitors dropping in for a meal. If you are out west, loitering through that open silo- towered wheat country, exploring the ancient little towns clinging to dear life, remember that the food choices are thin. Hopetoun House is your place.
Open Daily. 11 am to 11 pm