Insider's Guide to the Mornington Peninsula

Mornington Peninsula is just a hop, skip and a dip from Melbourne. We asked local James Vercoe, Restaurant Beverage Manager at iconic Port Phillip Estate in Red Hill and keen cycling enthusiast, for his insider tips on the best places eat, drink and hang out on the Peninsula.

Best place for an afternoon tipple
If you've worked up a heard earned thirst and it's a beer that you crave, Mr Paul’s Beer and Wine in Mornington is the only place for me. A quaint, beautiful hole in the wall only seating about thirty guests, they serve 15 craft beers on tap. When it’s wine that’s whetting my thirst, a short trip down to Rye’s Independent Wine Store is in order. They have some great wines by the glass, or you can also grab a sneaky bottle to take home.

Favourite winery to visit and their ‘must taste’ vintage
Obviously I am a little biased, but Port Phillip Estate has become a Mornington Peninsula icon. The architecture, the views, the food and most importantly, the wine seem to amaze everyone that comes through the door. The Kooyong Estate Single Vineyard Haven Pinot Noir is always a stand out for me, and the 2012 vintage shows its signature notes of blood plum and cherry, a wonderfully savoury palate and a finish that goes on and on.

Best café for breakfast and what to order
Milk Bar and Co in Mount Martha is easily my favourite breakfast spot on the Peninsula. The menu itself always looks enticing, but I tend to go for the specials board, where there are always about four or five mouth-watering options to choose from. I recently enjoyed crispy pork belly with crushed green peas, manchego, pickled fennel, chilli scrambled eggs and salsa verde.

Best restaurant for a splash out meal
My favourite special occasion restaurants are the quaint Paringa Estate with its intricate menu, creative chef and efficient staff, and of course Ten Minutes By Tractor which shows its class through an elaborate degustation menu and professional service.

Best kept local secret
Just off the main drag in Mt Eliza is Dashi, a little Japanese den specialising in small plates, sushi and of course, sake. The precision and artistry of the food shows everything you want from fine Japanese cuisine. I love washing down my gyoza or pork bun with a sake from their extensive list.

Tastiest coffee in town
Hidden away in the industrial estate off Tyabb road in Mornington is Commonfolk. They roast all their beans onsite, sourced from some pretty amazing places all over the globe. Most importantly, their coffee is fantastic. For me, their single origin ‘Sumbili-Rwanda’ with hints of peach is my bean of choice.

Favourite local producer and what to take home with you
Peninsula Fresh Seafood's Dromana Bay mussels. Without doubt my favourite thing about living in Safety Beach is the fact that they set up their van on the beach and sell each day's catch, including fresh mussels. I always grab a couple of kilos and my girlfriend and I cook them simply with coriander, chilli, lime, shallots, garlic, ginger and a good swig of local beer.

Best place to mix in with the locals
Mornington Peninsula Brewery on a Thursday night. $15 for a wood fire oven pizza and a pot of one of their delicious beers. Tradies, hipsters, oldies and all enjoy a drink at this great brewery bar. Pale ale in the summer and their award winning brown ale the rest of the year.

Time your visit for Noi e Vicino Noi – Us & Near Us, Sunday 6 March. Port Phillip Estate will be swinging open their doors fora tasting of a single site wine over three vintages, followed by abespoke Sunday lunch in the Cellar Door Kitchen overlooking the vineyard to the sea.