Gembrook is a sleepy village tucked away in The Dandenongs in Melbourne’s far-east. It’s a place where the fog hangs in the valleys and the air is crisp and cool. By the time you reach Gembrook’s main street, it’s clear that Saturdays are days of rest and relaxation. Despite being close to noon, its seems that Gembrook is enjoying an indulgent weekend sleep-in.
The Independent stands at the entrance of Gembrook. Its white-washed walls greet its guests with a warm “hola!”; almost announcing a culinary carnival for anyone who sojourns here. This was once the local garage where many an automobile would’ve stopped by for a check-up or two. Now, it’s a pumping restaurant serving up delicious, seasonal Argentinean fanfare. Guests swing the heavy red door open to reveal that the hillside party is in here rather than in the street.
Tables are occupied by friends and families enjoying their vibrant weekend lunch while bigger parties relish in a weekend celebration of sharing wholesome dishes. We are greeted immediately and warmly, then led to a table that’s inclusive of the energy in this lively hall-like space. Latin tunes belt from speakers above, giving the venue its energetic vibe. Remnants of the old garage can still be found, such as the old roller door and manual chains to lower it, while iron beans hold the roof in place. What may have been an oily work-space out the back is now blooming with a lush vegetable and herb garden, adjoined by a courtyard.
This restaurant is master-minded by True South founder Mauro Callegari and he welcomes local collaborations between the producers and his staff who serve his creations to each table. From the fresh ingredients, right down to the handmade dishes that they’re served on (designed and potted by the local Gordon family); a culinary tango can be experienced here and worthy of a drive to Gembrook.
It’s recommended to order a series of plates to share and you can choose the Chef’s Menu for $55 if you’re struggling to make a decision. We choose to start with our own choices - a basin of warmed olives to pick at over a pot of The Independent Lager that’s brewed by popular Melbourne brewer Coopers. It’s a dynamic recipe for lunch and our courses are staggered so we can maximise our eating session. Main plates arrive to fill our tummies more.
Zanahorias (carrots) are sweetly smoked in maple syrup, chilli and peanuts, aside roasted papas (potatoes) in garlic, onion and thyme, and a hearty humita or pumpkin and sweet corn stew. A dish of zucchini flowers is dressed lightly so that a heavier serving of couscous, topped in toasty macadamias and currants, and subtly grilled artichokes can be enjoyed. Overall, it’s a full-hearted meal. It’s a effervescent way to experience this village car-stop in Gembrook on a sleepy weekend. Only, the party is in here - at The Independent - and everyone’s invited!
Road-trip through The Dandenongs to reach The Independent for a spirited weekend lunch for yourself. 79 Main Street Gembrook Victoria 3783. Phone: 03 5968 1110. Open Wednesdays to Sundays from noon to 10pm.