What better way to start the day than to head to Coffee Basics in Castlemaine where they do all their own roasting on site. Best coffee available up that way – and we did have a few to compare.
Then headed to a side trip to the gold mining town of Maldon. There are a few nice small towns up that way but there are some that can be given a miss. This was one worth getting out and strolling around. You can also catch the steam train from here as well.
We were not planning on stopping in Daylesford as I have no interest in people going for a ‘spa weekend’ but since we were passing through it we decided to stop in for happy hour and a nibble as well. The highlight was the golden oldie in the Tourist Centre recommending a place “that will have something you probably have
never tried before. They bring out small plates of things and they just keep on coming. It will blow you away”. AKA Tapas.
Passed on that and headed to A Perfect Drop. And what a place it is. For a town with a drained soul, this place was the pick of the bunch. A nice old homestead with a great wine list and food to match. We got a drink and lazed by the fire ordering a few bits while I courageously lost scrabble. But I have been told it gets busy so book ahead if you want a full meal.
I kept my eats small as I wanted to try the new Chinese place that had just opened in Castlemaine called Taste of the Orient. It has just been opened by a couple who have migrated straight from Hong Kong – so you know it has to be good – and it was. Get in early as by around 8.30pm they will only do take away.
Bendigo is a great mining town with a bit more of a city feel to the place. And for a place in the sticks, boy does it have one hell of a Brunch place.
To put the Old Green Bean into perspective just imagine – A fantastic Brunch venue with good coffee, a selection of around 10 Belgium hot chocolates, a decent standard menu in the heart of town. Now imanine that this place is the only brunch place in town with some heart and half empty. If this was Melbourne, the place would be pumping, lines out the door, but not here.
Funnily enough we were not in the mood for eggs so a 10.30am nachos sounded good. Not the bog standard type either – all ingredients are fresh and the cheese is feta rather than some oily gunk ladled on top. Huge for the 2 of us and so, so good. I can vouch for the hot chocolate as well!
Back here for dinner but had a short road trip to complete first.
I then somehow found myself in Echuca – up on the border of NSW. Honestly I thought it would be a hole – in the nicest sense of the word. But sometimes low expectations can lead to the unexpected and I was blown away by the beauty of the place – only 1hr 15mins from Bendigo. It has a Leyland Brothers-esque mining town which we had to pass through to get tickets for the Paddle Steam Boat down the Murray River. Well worth doing – especially at dusk if you have a decent camera.
For a town in the middle of nowhere the place has one of Victoria’s top restaurants and the day previous they had been awarded a Hat from the Good Food Guide.
You could tell the staff of Oscar W were pleased and we got a great seat overlooking the Murray. A perfect place to watch the sun set while kookaburras and cockatoos flocked around the banks. We had dinner plans but wanted to try a small sample of the menu so had crispy calamari, chorizo, rocket, aioli, lemon and chips. Great all round.
Back in Bendigo we drank the local liquid gold at The Wine Bank on View which operates from a heritage listed bank building in Central Bendigo. Nice place with plenty of atmosphere.
A good stop before continuing on to The Dispensary Enoteca. The place has everything going for it – located in the only Bendigo laneway in town and a great fit out inside to boot. The staff are on the ball too. So much going for it but where it stumbles is in the area that matters – the food. I am not saying it was bad – you could just tell why it had yet to be awarded a Hat that it so thinks it deserves.
Starters included Semolina Gnocchi with a fricassee of exotic mushrooms, green herbs, ricotta & truffled pecorino. Everything gelled except for the gnocchi
which was too dense and lacked any sort of seasoning. A bad start.
I had the terrine which was good but nothing about it blew me out of the water.
As it was spring, one of the mains we chose was the Spring Lamb on pearl barley and broccoli. It had been slow roasted and the succulent meat just fell away. The glazing was beautiful as well. Where this dish fell down was the richness. It was so rich that half the serve would have been perfect.
The Roast Pork Belly looked visually stunning but was let down by the majority of the crackling still being gelatinous. What is with my bad luck with crackling in the north of Victoria?
One of the best wineries of the area also includes a cidery as well – Bress Winery is a must visit if in the area. The place takes it name from France’s famous Bresse chooks.
One the way back to Melbourne I insisted at a stop at Holgate Brewery. And a damn fine decision it was too! Tasting paddles ahoy!
We were planning on eating dinner in Kyneton at Mr Carsisi which had just taken out the prestigious The Age Good Food Guide award for best new regional restaurant. But alas it was Fathers Day and they were booked out.
– so we headed directly across the road to Pizza Verde – also mentioned in the AGFG.
We started with the Duck Liver Pate which went down a treat.
And the pizzas were decent too – Hawaiian and Diavola to be exact.
So there you have it.
If you are planning on heading up that way and need are hints to tips
don’t hesitate to get in touch. You might even find a Wine Dog…