A few weeks ago I visited Bendigo for a long weekend and wrote up my take on things to do in the city. Today is part 2 of my Bendigo trip with notes about where to eat. Firstly thanks to my two sources of Bendigo foodie information – the lovely Melbourne Gastronome who recently took a food and wine trip to Bendigo and surrounds and my friend N who grew up in ‘Benders’.
You can take a Melburnian out of Melbourne but you can’t take a love of laneways out of a Melburnian. Chancery Lane off Pall Mall is Bendigo’s laneway of food and art in the CBD and it was our first stop on our arrival into town. At one end is the bustling wine bar The Dispensary and the other end is the Spanish-inspired El Gordo, with a designer boutique, beautician, paste-ups and witty stencil art in between.
The Dispensary, 9 Chancery Lane Bendigo +61 3 5445 5885
This all-day cafe/restaurant/bar seems to be the place to eat in Bendigo, or maybe it was just the holidays. On the weekend it was booked out for lunch and dinner, with one solitary spot on the long central table remaining for the first lunch sitting on the public holiday Monday – just right for us!
The ambience and decor is pure, dare I say it, Melbourne alleyway dining. Small tightly packed tables, a long banquette, a long communal table and a wall of wine, with staff bustling here, there and everywhere.
The food is Mediterranean influenced with an a la carte list of small to large dishes available for lunch ranging from a wallet-friendly $15 to $34. There’s also a good value lunch offer available 7 days a week with a limited menu allowing a choice of two courses and a glass of Victorian wine or craft beer plus coffee/tea for $35. From the a la carte menu we shared three dishes – saganaki, roasted quail and 18 hour slow cooked lamb cushion.
The saganaki was not particularly memorable – can’t go too wrong with a hunk of fried cheese – while the generous proportion of quail was well-cooked but underseasoned and sitting atop a quinoa and almond salad that was overseasoned.
The most successful dish was the lamb cushion, which is not a dish that I would normally order. Beautifully tender braised meat with a dollop of harissa and a Middle-eastern salad using giant couscous and smokey eggplant puree lifted the dish beyond the ubiquitous slow-cooked-meat-and-mash seen on many menus. It was also a bargain for $28 and a dish I’d happily return for.
El Gordo, 9 Chancery Lane Bendigo +61 3 5445 5885
El Gordo means ‘The Fat One’ but is actually also the name of the big national lottery price in Spain. I’m not sure what the cafe is referencing so let’s just say they specialise in food, coffee and art exhibitions in a hole-in-the-wall space.
We had lunch there near to their closing time which meant only two choices remained – a duck and celeriac pie or a bacon, potato and Emmental pie, both made by Piper Street Food Company in Kyneton.
I chose a wide range of different pastas that I thought would fare well in our accommodation’s microwave. Of them, I most enjoyed the gnocchi with a very flavoursome Napolitana sauce, while their home-made chicken liver pate (a very generous tub for around $6.50) was delicious on lavosh and with some equally reasonably priced Dutch smoked cheddar.