Melburnians love to complain about Arctic winter blasts, but cold rainy days in the city have a silver lining – it usually means snow is falling at Mt Buller.
And this winter, there has been plenty of snowy action since the season opened on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, when Five of the Best had a peek at the resort for the first time in several years.
The three-and-a-bit hour drive to Buller is half the fun. Make sure you stop for a break (and pick up your snow chains) in Mansfield. There are several great places to relax and refuel (including the always pumping Mansfield Coffee Merchant), but our favourite is the newcomer Harry’s Fork, where chef Chris Redmond serves hearty, well-priced meals using north-east Victoria’s best produce. It’s also open early for breakfast, right through to dinner.
Up the hill, we checked in to the freshly-renovated Duck Inn (right), where Karen Stanish and her friendly staff go above and beyond to make your stay fabulous. Our family room’s beautiful view stretched over the snow gums to the mountains beyond – even more breathtaking when snow started falling. Duck Inn is also one of the most peaceful places on the hill, tucked on the northern edge of the village with easy access to everything in the resort via free shuttle.
There’s much to explore at Buller, and dining has stepped up a notch this winter with many options for meals and snacks. And here are five of the best of them.
1. Black Cockatoo
Mt Buller Chalet Hotel, 1 Summit Rd, Mt Buller, 5777 7918
After several years in the culinary wilderness, Mt Buller Chalet’s flagship restaurant is back on top. A major renovation has transformed the beige hotel dining room into a moody, sophisticated space – an ode to the Black Cockatoo with dark, charcoal wood panels on the walls and flashes of copper, leather and steel. The charcoal theme flows into chef Tristan Keene’s tasty menu, with the whiff of smokiness and charred barbecue across most of the dishes (try the “feed me” option for $80, or $90 with dessert). The vast open fire in the adjoining bar is the only feature left unchanged in the renovation – still a perfect place for an apres ski cocktail.
2. The Whitt Garage Cafe
Ski Club of Victoria, 195 Summit Rd, Mt Buller, 5777 6024
Here’s another fabulous addition to Mt Buller’s winter hospitality. The Whitt’s new Garage Cafe is serving the tastiest coffee on the mountain, roasting their own beans and serving blends from Mansfield Coffee Merchant. Thaw out next to a big firepit outside this tiny cafe or pull up a stool inside, where iPads are bolted to the wall in place of newspapers (which would blow all over the mountain with a strong gust). Tucked behind Ski Patrol, Garage Cafe is halfway down Bourke St at the Ski Club of Victoria. Use the Skip app to order a coffee and muffin at the top of the hill, and it’ll be ready to pick up by the time you ski down. Open from 7am, seven days a week.
3. Kaptans Restaurant
Pension Grimus, 150 Breathtaker Rd, Mt Buller,5777 6396
No visit to Buller is complete without dinner at Kaptans at Hotel Pension Grimus. The walls of this consistently-top-notch restaurant are literally lined with mountain history, curated by one who knows – the legendary Hans Grimus, who’s been part of Buller’s fabric it all began in the 1960s, and continues welcoming guests to this day. Every dish is a winner on the menu, but the veal schnitzel is the stand-out, along with Kaptans’ signature dessert, the Salzburger Nockerl, a choc-chip and hazelnut soufflé with hot chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream.
4. The Bird Cage
Mt Buller Chalet Hotel, 1 Summit Rd, Mt Buller, 5777 7905
From breakfast through to late night cocktails, the Bird Cage is the hottest new place to refuel. Local produce is a feature, with on-the-money dishes like a “burrito bowl” with succulent chipotle beef brisket, baby spinach, spiced brown rice and lime – a perfect pick-me-up at any time of day. Anyone who frequented the former Apres Bar will be amazed by the transformation. It’s warm and welcoming space (especially during happy hour from 4-6pm), with snacks through to generous meals.
5. Mt Buller Fish & Chippery
Level 1, Village Square, Mt Buller, 5777 6277
One of the great things about skiing and boarding is the amount of energy you burn, allowing you to eat fried food with impunity, but nobody should have to eat soggy bain-marie chips and dimmies. The new Mt Buller Fish and Chippery fries to order, so the chips are fabulous and there are plenty of fish/salad for the carb-phobic. If the quality of the seafood stays as high as it was on the opening weekend, this place will go off like a frog in a sock this winter.
And while you’re there, try…
224 Breathtaker Rd, Mt Buller, 0400 164 264
Buller’s famous Pension Grimus is also home to a superb coffee at Grimus Grind, a hole-in-the-wall coffee joint on the ground floor of the hotel, right near Bourke St. Anton Grimus (son of Hans and Lottie, and an Olympic skier to boot) has a cult following for his expertly-poured Dukes Coffee (and some truly wicked Nutella hot chocolate), served with a selection of muffins and other sweet treats from 7.30am daily. Also keep an eye out for Anton’s coffee cart/truck, with a commercial coffee machine built into the rear of an ex-Army Land Rover Defender, complete with the camo paint job.
Husky sled rides
Corn Hill Rd, Mt Buller, 0418 230 982
Imagine flying across the snow on a sled pulled by a team of Siberian huskies? Old-school dog-powered sled rides are available for all ages and abilities at Mt Buller. Take in gorgeous trails at a leisurely pace, or try drive your own team up Corn Hill Rd to the Howqua Gap Hut. Don’t forget to rug up.
231 Summit Rd, Mt Buller, 5777 6010
Right on Bourke Street and warm as toast, Snow Pony is a snow bunny paradise delivering good coffee, tasty food and awesome convenience.
Top of the Shakey Knees Chairlift, northern slopes, Mt Buller, 5777 7969
A favourite among mountain staff, Tirol pumps out delicious egg and bacon rolls, fresh pasta, homemade soups and wood fired pizzas. The north-facing deck is a perfect recharge zone on a sunny day.