STORY BY SARAH LANG
Daylesford’s Farmers Arms Hotel is the type of character-filled, friendly pub that every country town wishes it had - and which dozens of metro pubs have tried try to emulate. The beautiful red brick building, complete with red geraniums in window boxes, gilt signwriting on windows and clipped hedge houses the quintessential character filled bar. Memorabilia adorns the bar whilst posters and photos are pinned to the large community board on the wall and whisper tales of the thousands of connections that have been made here for over the past 150 years.
Written out on the dining room blackboard are a few well-known pub favourites but the menu goes well beyond standard country pub fare. There’s Italian style braised lamb shanks served with mash sit happily alongside a Korean bibimbap. Served in deep glazed hot bowl, it is filled with steaming vegetables and slices of tender beef sitting on a bed of rice, its edge cooked until crusty. Finished with an egg yolk with a serve of kim chi and sriracha sauce on the side, this dish is more akin to a Melbourne laneway café food. That said it sits well with a menu filled with local ingredients and a real sense of generosity.
Head chef Chris Timmins grins as he approaches, “I’ve just come back from the vineyard”, he laughs. The pub’s owner, Mitch Duncan, has planted vines at his nearby vineyard. From these is made one of their house reds, Farmer’s Arms “Moonchaser” Shiraz Refosco. “We had a photoshoot there with all the chefs. I took a few shots myself,” says Chris. He is an avid photographer, heading out into the country when he’s not busy running the kitchen, with its chefs and an army of kitchen hands.
“It’s so important to make sure the chefs are inspired,” says Chris, “They are incredibly talented and they have so many great ideas, even the apprentice! You have to let them grow.” This marks a real cultural shift for the hotel. Chris becomes very earnest when talking about the team with whom he works.
“The energy is fantastic. Every season, we change the menu. The first place I start is to get each of the chefs to do research. And that includes what produce is being grown locally and readily available.”
So, the kitchen was receptive when the local Daylesford Neighbourhood Centre approached the Farmers with a box of oyster mushrooms. They were grown as part of a social enterprise program operated by DNC to employ community members with disabilities. Chris was inspired to create an entirely new dish to hero the mushrooms and the local spirit they embodied. “The Local Hero” showcases the delicate oyster mushrooms along with magnificent local heirloom tomatoes from Mt Franklin Organics, wilted spinach, served with a wedge of chargrilled polenta, a parmesan crisp and a drizzle of truffle oil. The result is a well-balanced dish that is bright, clean with the trademark generosity of the kitchen. It is the perfect dish for the cool Autumn weather when you are craving a more hearty meal.
“You can’t just serve oysters on their own. They need to have other flavours and textures to really make it work,” he explains. “My style isn’t fussy. I just make food that makes people happy,” he says with that grin. “Using such a beautiful, locally grown product – it was a no brainer.”
Farmers Arms Hotel; 1 East St Daylesford; open 7 days from noon; thefarmersarms.com.au