A new restaurant at the Common Ground Project in Freshwater Creek will serve its first customers today (Thursday, January 21).
The Italian-themed La Cantina restaurant is linked to the social enterprise and regenerative agriculture farm and will be headed up by chef Glenn Laurie and venue manager Lolo Hanser, a husband-and-wife team who met at London’s River Cafe and opened Little Black Pig & Sons in Melbourne.
Laurie said he will take a simple and seasonal approach to Italian cooking at La Cantina.
“The places that I like in Italy are the little places in the back streets, where you can get a glass of Amarone for 10 euros and a panino with a big chunk of mortadella, and you go outside and sit on the street to eat.
His menu will be structured around produce grown on the farm, with other ingredients sourced from the Surf Coast and Otways areas.
“To work with farmers and showcase the best that’s grown in this region is a dream come true. I want to do the produce justice, and prepare regional Italian dishes without too much fuss,” he said.
While the menu will change from week to week according to what’s being grown on the farm, examples of dishes Laurie may serve include grilled leg of lamb with peperonata and olive sauce, Swiss chard and buffalo ricotta ravioli with sage butter, and fresh figs with buffalo mozzarella, basil and mint.
Lolo most recently worked at Captain Moonlite in Anglesea, Samesyn in Torquay and Igni in Geelong.
“We want people to come and feel comfortable, perhaps try something new that they love, and then go and tell their friends about this place they discovered in a tiny town outside Torquay,” she said.
Mulberry Group founder and chief executive officer Nathan Toleman said the dream with Common Ground Project was always to create a produce-driven farmhouse restaurant.
“Being able to source food directly from the farm, we knew it would offer chefs an amazing opportunity.
“We’ve spent the last two years preparing the soil and building the farm and now we’re excited to be able to bring Glenn’s delicious food to the region, all the while continuing our commitment to regenerative farming practices.”
During the day, guests are encouraged to explore the farm between courses, seeing the vegetable beds where much of the menu is grown.
Common Ground Project has operated as a regenerative agriculture farm for the last two years, focussing on soil health and growing nutrient-rich food.
The farm also operates as a social enterprise and runs a program to employ and train disadvantaged members of the Surf Coast community, working most recently with Diversitat, an organisation that assists refugees and asylum seekers.