I can’t even really remember how long it’s been since I had an alcoholic drink. Two years? Three years? It’s definitely been a significant length of time since I had a drink, and I honestly haven’t really missed it. Most restaurants will do a half-decent mocktail, otherwise I’m generally quite content with a sparkling water or organic soft drink of some description.
I decided on my 30th birthday that I would break my drought with a single drink. In fact, I would start drinking again in polite company keeping only one rule in mind – I will only ever have exquisitely crafted cocktails or extremely expensive wine, and I would truly savour the moment by making one or two drinks last a whole day.
I chose the perfect place to rejoin drinking society, with a leisurely lunch at The Dispensary Bar & Diner in Bendigo. The Dispensary’s reputation is spreading far and wide, enough so that I had colleagues in Melbourne advising that I visit the Dispensary when they heard I was visiting Bendigo for the weekend.
Part of their appeal lies in their extremely impressible drinks list – dozens of wines join hundreds of beers, join more than a handful of spirits and pages of cocktails. There’s honestly a drink to suit everyone at the Dispensary, from sweet to smoky and creamy to crisp.
So what drink did I break my abstinence with? None other than an Aperol Spritz, light, sparkly, fruity, and oh so very drinkable on a warm day in the country. It’s the perfect drink of Aperol and Prosecco to enjoy on a summer’s day, the type of drink that works well with any type of food. Altogether a perfect choice for re-entering the world of alcohol, although it was strong enough to make me feel woozy within minutes of having my first sip, albeit it was on an empty stomach.
K took the bartender’s suggestion of the Garage Project Hapi Daze beer in a tinny, a pale ale that had an intense lingering taste of hops. A proper beery beer. I loved the design on the tin with its retro surf vibe.
As you can tell, I really enjoyed my Aperol Spritz…
…but I particularly enjoyed these Pacific Oysters, which surprised me with their freshness and lingering flavours of the sea. Is it unusual that I had some of the freshest oysters I’ve ever eaten in a tiny regional non-coastal town? Or is it simply a reflection of the pride The Dispensary take in buying the best ingredients? My only gripe is that the adductor hadn’t been cut, which meant that my attempt to slurp down the oyster in one gulp was hindered and a lot messier than it would have been otherwise.
These Super Crunch Fries lived up to their name as well, with an audible crunch every time I bit into a fry. I’m going to horrify a lot of people though, as I say that I would have preferred for these fries to be served with a homemade tomato chutney rather than malt mayo, however delicious the mayo was. I think it’s one of those personal preferences that divides the nation – mayonnaise or tomato sauce on your chips?
No such controversy with the small serve of Edamame with Pink River Salt. Edamame beans are always a crowd-pleaser, especially when cooked as perfectly and flavoured as subtly as these were.
In the interest of ordering more greens and being marginally healthy, we also ordered a side of the Broccoli with Lemon Butter and Smoked Almonds. Health be damned though, when the greens turn out to be smothered in the creamiest and richest buttery sauce you’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. The crushed almonds sprinkled on top helped to add a bit of texture to the dish as well.
Initially I shied away from the idea of ordering the steam buns as I didn’t want to be disappointed. I’ve been burned you see, by sub-par steamed buns such as the pork belly bun we had at Mathallen Food Hall in Oslo. The bartender talked me into the Fried Chicken Steam Buns though, and I’m so glad he did. The Southern-style chicken tenders were a surprisingly good much for the pillowy-soft steam buns and fresh crispy lettuce and cucumber. A surprisingly excellent combination.
The Prawn Toasts with Chilli and Kewpie Mayo were another delight. A wafer-thin sesame-encrusted deep-fried crispy layer hid a piping hot centre of juicy prawn. With an extra chilli kick, these little individual prawn toast bites really hit the spot.
While we were quite full by that point, we couldn’t resist ordering a dessert to share. I’m glad we did, because this turned out to be quite the highlight of the meal – Jasmine ice-cream with coconut, milk crumb, lime and strawberry. I think this dish in particularly highlighted the culinary genius of the chef at The Dispensary. Pairing the slightly bitter yet flowery undertones of jasmine with the snap of freeze-dried coconut and strawberry, and creaminess of milk crumb was a real work of art. One of the best desserts I’ve tasted in recent times.
Did I say one dessert to share? My mistake…naturally, we ended up ordering two desserts! The little Chocolate Fudge bites were the perfect way to end our meal, with the aftertaste of rich dark and creamy chocolate lingering on the tongue.
The Dispensary was a wonderful place to celebrate a birthday with a long and leisurely lunch. With world-class cocktails and a highly impressive drinks list, one could easily make the mistake of assuming The Dispensary is just another bar. However when you take into account the excellence of the food menu, and the innovation behind some of the dishes, it’s clear that food is just as important as wine to the proprietors of The Dispensary.
It’s definitely a must-visit for any visitor to Bendigo. Even if you don’t count yourself as a wine buff, a beer connoisseur, or a foodie, you won’t be able to help but walk away from a meal at The Dispensary feeling well satisfied with your visit.
The Dispensary Bar & Diner is located at 9 Chancery Lane, Bendigo.