Chef Josh Pelham’s guide to the Mornington Peninsula

Travelling Well | Megan Whitfield | Posted on 26 June 2020

Josh Pelham’s guide to the best cafes, walks and wineries on the Mornington Peninsula.

From working at the Michelin-starred The Square restaurant in London to Melbourne’s celebrated Press Club, award-winning chef Josh Pelham has followed his love of food around the world.

Now he calls Mornington home, having moved in 2017 to become executive chef at RACV’s Cape Schanck Resort, and revels in the tranquillity of the Mornington Peninsula and the opportunity to work with great local producers and wineries.

If you’re planning a weekend away, or just heading down for a day trip, we asked Josh to reveal his favourite local haunts. Remember to maintain 1.5 metres social distancing and to practise good hand hygiene to keep yourself and others safe. 

Young chef in uniform sitting on empty beach with basket of fresh fish and oysters

Award-winning chef Josh Pelham's guide to the best of the Mornington Peninsula.

Where I go

For a great cup of coffee… I buy beans to brew at home from Little Rebel in Dromana, but when I want to sit down and enjoy it, I usually go to Store Fifteen in Mornington (although it’s takeaway coffees only at the moment due to COVID-19 restrictions). They have lots of vegan and vegetarian options, and a great selection of local produce like dates and organic peanut butter. It really pushes you to expand your eating experiences. 

For a long lunch… Rare Hare, at Willow Creek Vineyard, which has reopened for dining. It’s a really contemporary space that highlights the regional produce and wine. It’s all about sharing plates and enjoying a glass of the Willow Creek Vineyard pinot, so it’s best to go with a group of friends. I highly recommend their Port Phillip squid. (Due to restrictions on numbers, bookings are essential.)

For a spectacular view...  I like heading to Port Phillip Estate (in Red Hill). The building, designed by architects Woods Marsh, is so beautiful and considered – it really melds into the landscape and makes the most of sweeping views over Westernport Bay. It offers quite a different outlook to the views you get from, say, Arthur’s Seat over the Peninsula. Port Phillip Estate has reopened for dining (in accordance with COVID regulations).

Coffee from Little Rebel in Dromana

Coffee from Little Rebel in Dromana.

Willow Creek Vineyard

Willow Creek Vineyard, Merricks North.

To treat myself…
It’s all about food. I go to Johnny Ripe, in Red Hill. They do pies (including their specialty, freshly baked apple pies), homemade sausage rolls, cronuts, fresh lemon curd, meringues… The best bit is they’ve only got three savoury pie options – meat, fish or chicken – so you won’t get stuck trying to decide. It’s a lovely property too, overlooking Red Hill Lavender Farm. 

For a walk… There’s a lovely long walk at Fort Nepean, although it’s closed at the moment due to social-distancing restrictions. It’s about seven kilometres long, but there’s a shuttle bus too. It goes down to the old quarantine station, and it’s surrounded by lovely mature trees and native plants. 

To unwind… There are lots of beautiful reserves and conservation areas in Mornington. I like Mount Martha Nature Conservation Reserve, right at the top of Mount Martha. It’s a nice way to spend a cruisey afternoon. But honestly, I also like to just stay in and watch Netflix. (While the park is currently open, visitors still need to adhere to social-distancing rules and no more than 20 people.) 

Group of people walking along steep, coastal boardwalk

You won't be bored exploring Cape Schanck's myriad tracks.

Fine dining strawberry dessert on white plate on grey concrete table

Cape Restaurant has mastered the art of dessert plating.

Glasses of red wine and plates of food on light wooden table

Long lunches are the name of the game at Pt Leo.

To buy a special gift…
On Main Street in Mornington there are lots of boutiques where you can find something. But I like Tully’s Corner Produce Store on the Moorooduc Highway. The quality is phenomenal, as is the way they set up their displays – they’re quite obscure and feature things like all different types of beans, fresh turmeric and heirloom beetroots and fresh flowers. They’ve got really boutique stuff that highlights some of the best produce from local farmers. 

For a special occasion… Normally I’d say Cape Restaurant at RACV Cape Schanck Resort, where we show off lovely fresh local food and wine. It’s currently closed for renovations but there is a brand-new restaurant, Samphire, that has just launched. It offers a more casual dining experience, without sacrificing any of the refinement. You can sit down to a warming winter feast of fire-roasted eggplant, local wagyu (3+ marble score) steak and chocolate fondant, washed down with a class of local Trofeo Estate shiraz from nearby Dromana.

But for a change of scene, I also love Pt Leo Estate in Merricks. Their fine dining restaurant Laura is yet another great addition to the Peninsula’s ever-evolving dining landscape. Still, when it comes down to it, simple can be just as satisfying as fine dining. And hey, at the end of the day, who doesn’t like a pie! (Pt Leo has also reopened for dining with reduced capacity as per government restrictions.)

Experience the beauty of Mornington Peninsula at RACV Cape Schanck