Part of the appeal of a few days in Daylesford and Hepburn Springs is the chance to enjoy great, locally produced food and wine in idyllic surroundings. And a meal at Frank & Connie’s Kitchen is ticks all those boxes.
Editor’s Note: Recently, Head Chef Caliopi Buck and her partner Cara Kunze have extended their reach with Harry’s Hepburn. Read more about it at the end of this piece.
Location: 97 Main Rd, Hepburn Springs, VIC 3461 Ph: (03) 5348 1156
A weekend away with friends is always an appealing thought. And when the destination is a late autumn break in beautiful Daylesford and the promise of a someone else doing the cooking – even better!
However Daylesford, like every other place with more than a handful of restaurants, is suffering from staff shortages. Many bistros and cafes are having to close for a day or 2 each week and chef’s are doing their best to alleviate problems by offering limited menus or restricted dining options. Or both.
With this in mind, we booked our table at Frank & Connie’s Kitchen (which is actually situated in Hepburn Springs) well in advance of our trip. And this is our Top Tip for anyone planning a nice meal out during these difficult times. Whether you are staying close to home or heading somewhere new – book early.
The hospitality industry is under-staffed and no amount of pleading will get you a table at a popular venue if there aren’t sufficient people manning the stove tops.
Frank & Connie’s Kitchen – The Space
It was a murky, chilly night, but undeterred, we decided to walk to Frank & Connie’s Kitchen.
By the time we reached the main street of Hepburn Springs a mere 12 minutes later, we were cold and desperate to get inside. Thankfully, the warm lights of Frank & Connie’s Kitchen were as welcoming as we’d hoped.
Once through the door, heat, the buzz of conversation and the tantalising aromas of spices and slow-cooked meats enveloped us. Just what we we wanted.
We were quickly shown to our seats and sat back to take in our surrounds.
The modest dining space was already full of dinners, seated at simple wooden tables. In a cute design whim, the chairs vary from table to table. The white-walled room had an uncluttered, rustic charm. A place for both intimate conversation and the relaxed sharing of food.
An open galley kitchen ran across the back of the room, giving those who sat facing it a great view of the dishes being prepared. Above the serving counter, a chalk board carried the menu, which was also available to download by phone.
So what of the food?
Frank & Connie’s Kitchen – The Food
The menu is divided into Little Plates, Bigger Plates, Sides and Sweeties and Afterwards.
Being a group of people who like to try are many dishes as possible, we decided to share a few of the smaller offerings and then our own, exclusive main.
Our joint dishes arrived fairly promptly, given the restaurant was full and there were only 2 wait staff working the floor.
The Saganaki was pan-fried with a burnished golden crust and it’s pungent saltiness worked well with it’s Honey drizzle. Crispy Eggplant came in sturdy sticks, dressed in a Black Vinegar-based dressing. Yum! The Chargrilled Calamari was soft and yielding and given an acidic zing from the addition of caper berries.
Our neighbours at the next table were rhapsodic about the Betel Leaves heaped with Blue Swimmer Crab, Caramel Pineapple and fragrant Kaffir & Finger Lime. They certainly looked pretty-as-a-picture and I made a mental note to order them if I come again.
All good so far, so on to our solo plates. And here I have a few quibbles.
Firstly, 3 of us – myself included – choose the Lamb Ribs, which were cooked for 4 hours and came with Chimmichurri. Now let me say straight off that the Ribs were divine. They were sweet, yet savoury from a really good marinade.
They were also a masterclass in slow-cooked perfection, with the juicy meat falling from the bone. The herb-forward Chimmichurri was the perfect foil to the fatty Lamb.
However, it wasn’t a huge stack of Ribs, and that was all that this ‘Bigger Plate’ entailed.
When we asked our very helpful waitress if the Ribs came with anything, she looked surprised at the very idea. And yet the Market Fish option was a comparatively complete plate with Fish, Fennel, Potatoes and a Sauce.
All for virtually the same price as our lone Ribs. I find inconsistencies like this baffling. And annoying.
As a result, the Rib-eaters ordered 2 Sides to bulk out our meal on the advice of our waitress – a Potato dish and the Charred Broccoli. Again, the Broccoli, accompanied by a Miso Cashew Cream, Japanese Vinaigrette and Salted Cashews was beautifully balanced.
But it was also only 4 slender pieces at a cost of $19.50. And our visit was before issues in the supply chain pushed the price of broccoli up to $11kg.
In contrast, my companions who had the Fish were very happy with their meal, as were those who ordered the Ragu and Ricotta Gnocchi, which smelt delicious.
One of our party broke from the pack and chose the Duck. Her patterned plate arrived with succulent slices of perfectly rested Duck Breast on a bed of glossy, richly-sauced Du Puy Lentils and wilted Greens.
It was ideal fare for a nippy evening, and she polished it off like the trooper she is.
We forewent dessert in favour of cheese and biscuits when we got home. That said, the scent of the Greek Donuts coming out over the pass as we left almost made us change minds and retake our seats!
Special mention must go to the Prosecco that our waitress recommended. So pale as to be almost clear, and with a very fine bead, those who quaffed it reported it to be outstanding.
The Red drinkers were similarly content with their choice of Pinot Noir.
The rest of us stuck to a Gin and Tonic, and it was nice to see a couple of local distilleries on the Drinks List.
We loved the relaxed, yet cosy, vibe of Frank & Connie’s Kitchen.
The menu reflects the culinary passions of chef/owner Caliopi Buck, flitting from Greece to South American via the Middle East. This magpie approach to cooking makes for an interesting selection of dishes. All of which are executed with knowledge and care.
Our only issue was why some ‘Bigger Plates’ required Sides, whilst others didn’t.
But that won’t stop us returning if Eatability finds themselves in Hepburn Springs again. And we’re definitely having the Greek Donuts when we do!
Location: 115 Main Rd, Hepburn Springs, VIC 3461 Ph: (03) 5348 2297
Harry’s Eatery – as it is also known – is the day-time sister (brother?) cafe to Frank & Connie’s.
Open from 8am-2.30pm, 7 days a week, it’s all about the baked goods, locally sourced small goods and imaginative Brunch options at this gorgeous casual dining spot.
How does Grilled Mortadella ($25) sound? Served with Creamed Leek, Crumbed Poached Egg, Radish, Pickled Onion and Spiced Plum Sauce on Sourdough, we reckon it’s a winner. Similarly, the Harissa Tofu Scramble ($24) reads like a vegan’s dream, with House Naan, Lemon Tahini Chickpea Salad, Labneh & Za’atar adding to the excitement.
And did we mention that the Sourdough is made in house? Really, what more could you want?
Make sure you try breakfast – or lunch – at Harry’s the next time you’ve in stunning Hepburn Springs.