Buongiorno, bonjour and “g’day”! (don't you like how they're all the same thing? ~ who knew Australian vernacular was so cosmopolitan???).

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It’s your old pal Kit (Christof) Fennessy here. I've been writing this blog with your help for ten years, and there's over a hundred and fifty recipes, restaurant reviews of Australia and around the world, and general gourmet articles in these pages for you to fritter away your idle hours on.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Return to Sorrento

Morgan’s Beach Shack, Cakes and Ale, Hotel Sorrento, the Continental Hotel 

As I recently drove down to the Peninsula, I took a new (to me) road called Peninsula Link (“PenLink” to those in the know), or the M11; passing dozens of wineries, with the vines covered in nets.  The roads have changed, as has the scenery, but memories of teenage holidays I’d taken down there with friends came flooding back, and I realised it had been years since I was there last.

Mornington Peninsula is an odd part of Victoria. It’s famously the holiday refuge of the wealthy, with luxury cars in evidence and stunning architectural properties on the hills looking out over the sea.  But I don’t know if you’d call it relaxing in summer’s high season.  Last time I was there, traffic was at a standstill, Ferraris and Maseratis idling in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

But there’s a combination of poverty on the Peninsula too, with people looking for a cheap and easy life (renting in the off season), while the foreshore is littered with camping grounds.

I got off at Rosebud (what a name for a town, why didn’t they call it "Daisy Chain" or "Poncey Park"?) and drove down the main front beach road through Rye, then Blairgowrie and finally to Sorrento.

Now I should stress here, I’m talking about Sorrento in Victoria, Australia.  Not the Italian one.  I’m told tourists regularly arrive from Asia showing pictures on their iPhones and asking for directions to the coast of Italy.

Sorrento is a bit like a small country town with a posh IGA supermarket; there’s no petrol station – you have to drive towards Melbourne for city slicker things like “fuel”.  But it does have a yacht club, which is called the Couta Club (which I hear has a fantastic bar and restaurant for members and their guests), named because they’re mad for “couta” boats there – small sailing boats originally designed for barracuda fishing.  Apparently there’s another Couta Club in Perth, and one in Brisbane.

While in Sorrento, I caught up with my very informed gourmet cousin CJ to get the skinny on the dining scene in Sorrento.  So without further ado, here tis.

1 Esplanade Sorrento

This joint is always my first stop in Sorrento and offers casual dining. It’s one of the popular spots on the beachfront with a view of the water and sailing boats, as well as a pool table and a ping-pong table for holidaymakers.
The staff are international, with French and Swedish staff while I was there (well, it’s seasonal staff), and this is one of the “eye candy” places to visit.
When it opened two or three years ago, the kitchen started with a Mexican theme, but now it’s moved more into “American beach food” – read seafood, pulled pork, ribs and the like.  Quality if low brow, the kitchen can deal out meals for over five hundred heads a day during peak season.
They have a beer menu that can’t be beaten, and only serve Peninsula grown wines.  This venue is also working towards opening an adjoining Peninsula wines only bottle shop, and a gourmet fish and chip shop (due in a few months).
If you pop in, ask for CJ and tell him I sent you.

100 - 102 Ocean Beach rd
Sorrento Victoria Australia

From the Aesop fable ‘The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse’; i.e. “It’s better to have beans and bacon at peace than cakes and ale in fear” this restaurant is located up in the main shopping drag and is famed as having the best food in Sorrento.
The food styling and palate is very much in the Stephanie Alexander mould (plain but tasty); a la the Richmond Hill Larder.  The service is excellent.  While there I had the ocean trout cooked in a bag with potatoes, a coleslaw and a very, very good pinot noir (though there were a few wines not available on their wine list).
It’s taken a while to find its feet, with original tinted windows keeping locals away, and the older locals mistaking it for a coffee and cake venue because of its name, but it is the “go to” place if you want to eat well.
Apparently, restaurants are much harder to run than pubs or bars, because you don’t have the continual turn over from “ze booze”, while the overheads are huge.  Let’s hope this one can continue belting it out.

5-15 Hotham Road, Sorrento

The Hotel Sorrento sits at the top of the hill, opposite the old police station and commands spectacular views of the sea.  This a true locals haunt, though I understand the food to be traditional pub grub (read steak, schnitzel, fish and chips, etc.)
This place is also a wedding factory. There are, apparently, 5 000 (five thousand) weddings a year on the Peninsula.  I’m no mathematician, but that sounds suspiciously close to a hundred a week (I guess there’s more during the warmer months…).  The Hotel Sorrento includes a large reception venue, with holiday cabins for guests; one side more expensive with ocean views, while the other side looks out on “the park”.

The Continental Hotel
1-21 Ocean Beach Rd, Sorrento

Currently in transition, this pub does not apparently have a website (currently under construction) and is earmarked for major redevelopment to capitalize on the wedding market.
The license has been secured for half a million, and all the developer needs is another forty-nine and a half million dollars to make his dreams a reality.
Crowd funding anyone?

So there you have it in a nutshell.  Sorrento.  The beaches are beautiful, and so are the people.  Why don’t you pop down when you have a couple of days spare? I rate Sorrento a seven out of eight tentacle destination!