When it comes to a ski trip, the apres ski is no afterthought. This social side of skiing is as important as the white stuff, a great night as integral to a good weekend as a fresh dump of powder.
So those headed to Mount Hotham in the Victorian Alps this season will be excited about more than just the latest round of inclement weather with the opening of Yama Kitchen & Bar.
Yama is the newest outing for Michael Ryan and Jeanette Henderson of two-hat Provenance Restaurant in Beechworth, and Hamish Nugent and Rachel Reed of chef's hatted Tani Eat & Drink in Bright.
It is a thoroughly modern place right in Hotham Central, in the space previously occupied by the White Room. It's a dark room now, though tastefully so, with illumination provided by light cubes scattered along the ceiling like an upside-down craps table. There's a roomy bar that has given the team room to extend its offering to bar snacks and cocktails, like a killer Paloma (tequila, lime, grapefruit and grapefruit soda) that will take the pain out of a day's skiing.
"We didn't want a Provenance or Tani in the snow," Ryan says on a break from prepping for the evening rush. "For us, the last thing we wanted to do was fine dining; in the snow you don't want to sit down and have an elaborate 40-course meal. Our guiding principle was that we wanted food that you'd want after a day on the slopes or the food you'd be happy to have with some drinks."
That meant shared plates, a good match for the Asian flair that both chefs like to bring to their dining. Ryan has had a long love affair with Japanese cuisine, hosting food tours of the region with Epicurious Travel and consulting to Japanese eateries in the past. Nugent collaborated with Ryan on Tsubo, an eatery in nearby Dinner Plain that dealt in a modern-Asian menu, before taking the venue over full time.
There is also a calmer palate to the food at Yama. "We wanted to make it a lot simpler than Provenance and Tani," Ryan says. "So we had a rule of no more than three main ingredients on the plate, but we have stretched that a couple of times."
Also on display will be the seasonality that Provenance is known for, though Ryan points out that this is not as easy as people think in regional Australia.
"It is quite different to the city where you can ring up and get something the same day, or at worst the next day," he says. "In the country your mindset needs to be looking at one to two weeks ahead, so it is a different way of looking at your produce."
On our visit, Ryan and Nugent's simple but tasty formula is on show right from the get go with the kimchi and cheese jaffle – a deceptively simple dish many skiers will try to copy at home – it's rich spicy kick the perfect foil for a light spanner crab roll. In the larger share plates, a Gippsland grass-fed rib eye gets slathered with miso butter and hay roasted, while a traditional okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) with squid and bonito flakes is snowflake light and packed with flavour. A side of brussels sprouts and miso powder on a bed of fresh, chopped sprouts manage to feel sinful and pious simultaneously, while it is all sin in the white chocolate miso ice-cream with sesame crunch and caramel sauce.
Still you can work it off in the snow tomorrow, right?
Mount Hotham is a five-hour drive from Melbourne (about seven from Sydney). Or you can fly QantasLink and Rex to Albury. Albury-Wodonga is two hours' drive from the mountain.
Stay right on snow at Sambuca Apartment, $1668 for two nights; hothamholidays.com.au.
Paul Chai travelled as a guest of Mount Hotham Skiing Company.
FIVE SNOWY SNACKS IN THE VICTORIAN ALPS
ZIRKY'S BAR AND BISTRO
Peter Zirky harks from Austria and was one of the first wave of skiers to colonise Hotham. His family runs this bar/restaurant/café/accommodation, the first place you will see when you enter the resort. Gluhwein, hearty European cuisine and a great view of the mountain by day. 1 Great Alpine Road, Mount Hotham; zirkys.com.au.
RUNDELL'S ALPINE LODGE
You won't want to leave the horseshoe bar at this Peppers-run mountain resort but the dining room of Graze Restaurant has plenty to tempt you away from the craft brew on tap. Starters could be a fresh and tender sumac-dusted calamari, while mains reflect the temperature outside with dishes like confit duck leg. 12 Big Muster Drive, Dinner Plain; rundells.com.au.
This welcoming shack with views of the Ovens River in Bright is the cream of the crop when it comes to wintry breakfasts. Hotham locals head down the windy road just for the ricotta hotcakes with blueberries and lemon curd or the simply perfect eggs any way with sourdough toast. 127 Great Alpine Road, Bright; gingerbakerwinebarcafe.com.au.
Stop in to this bar and bistro right next to the Hotham Village chair for doorstop brekkie burritos to keep you skiing for hours, or jugs of beer after a day on the slopes. Hotham Central; mthotham.com.au.
HUSKI CAFÉ, FALLS CREEK
The guys from Three Blue Ducks may have moved on this year, but the Huski still has the same kitchen team and cranks out hearty fare perfect for the surrounds. 3 Sitzmark Street, Falls Creek; huski.com.au.