“Foster takes the hero produce you expect to find at a place like this — free-range old-breed pork belly; aged Sidonia Hills beef — and shows it off. ” – Necia Wilden, The Australian

THE name is — as yet — unchanged but Annie Smithers Bistrot in Keyneton, regional Victoria, is leaving the past behind.

The Pitch: Classy regional dining in Piper Street, the foodie heart of Kyneton, Victoria. Never mind that Annie Smithers the person left the building more than two years ago; new owners are maintaining both the spirit and the sense of place at this upscale provincial bistro (oh all right, Bistrot).

The reality: Annie Smithers the celebrated chef is a hard act to follow but, by golly, I think the husband-and-wife team of Tim and Michelle Foster — he cooks, she looks after front-of-house — have done it by a process of evolution, not revolution. The main dining room is largely unchanged: polished timber floors, exposed-brick walls, trapeze lighting, bare tables with sweet little flower settings; the place positively glows with love and care. The smaller entrance room, formerly a shop, has been converted into bar dining, a lure for locals and casual passers-by wary of signing up for $38 mains.

The cuisine: There’s a knack — and a lot of hard work — in knowing how to forge a new identity, gently. Foster’s menu is as much about gardener as cook, but his is no mere produce-driven cafe document. The man has technique to burn, and this is haute modern bistro food, with a strong sense of aesthetics and style. Pan-seared scallops come with sweetcorn puree, grilled corn, confit chicken wing, sauce vierge and crisp basil; the default starter of raw kingfish is given a beetroot cure then plated — very prettily — with smoked yoghurt, fresh horseradish, pickled beetroot, radish, quinoa and garden leaves. There’s generosity in everything we order. Even a simple slab of rabbit terrine — sized for country appetites — comes with house-pickled watermelon, rocket, fennel slices and ripe fig. First-rate housemade sourdough and quality butter land just before an “amuse” of duck and pork sausage plated with rocket and cubes of beetroot, and all mains come with salad.

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