Nobody likes a good bargain more than me – have you ever heard of me extolling the virtues of the Entertainment Book? (Of course you have, I talk about it all the time!) While I don’t use it as often now that I’m not dining out all the time, by splitting the book with my brother, I still get some good discounts when I do go out to eat.
A family dinner at The Mill Restaurant in Hardware Lane earlier this year is a good example. We stopped in for a quick dinner after K and I finished work, and before we dropped my dad off at the airport before his late night flight overseas for Chinese New Year. With a 25% off offer (up to $35 value), it essentially meant that one person in our group of four dined for free – bargain!
We managed to grab a table by the window overlooking Hardware Lane. While it was a mid-week evening, there’s still always lots of people-watching to be had in one of the busier food precincts in the city.
First main – the Pan-seared Salmon. If there’s one complaint to be made about this main (and honestly, with all the mains we ordered), is that there’s very little focus on what goes on the side. While the salmon was cooked adequately and had a nice crispy skin, the side salad was absolutely pitiful.
The daily special of the Bacon-Wrapped Steak is precisely what your doctor would tell you to avoid to maintain better health. Who can turn down crispy bacon and juicy steak though, especially when served with a generous amount of crispy and crunchy golden chips on the side?
The house-made Mill Burger was served with the same crunchy chips on the side but surprisingly, it was the burger itself that was the highlight. The fat and juicy burger patty was seared to perfection with just the slightest hint of a charcoal crust, the cheese was melted and the extra hit of prosciutto really brought it all together on the soft sesame-crusted bun. Great example of a simple burger done well.
We finished off with the Roasted Chicken Breast, which was unfortunately a tad dry. Again, four limp green beans and half a potato do not make a great veggie side – and the glazed peach was a strange addition that didn’t add much to the dish overall.
The Mill Restaurant offers a fairly standard modern Australian menu with the requisite steaks, burgers, chicken, fish and Italian pasta options. While you won’t find anything particularly innovative or mind-blowing on the menu, the prices are reasonable (especially if you dine with a discount) and the atmosphere can be quite cheery with the noises and laughter of Hardware Lane spilling into the restaurant. Just make sure you order some veggies on the side to share!
The Mill Restaurant is located at 71 Hardware Lane in Melbourne CBD.
K and I recently celebrated our second wedding anniversary with a quick weekend getaway to Launceston. I also celebrated by cracking what I still think is one of my funniest jokes – “Two down, two to go!”. Unfortunately not everyone gets my sense of humour…but my husband does, and he laughed at the joke. I guess that’s why we’re married!
I booked our anniversary dinner at Geronimo Aperitivo Bar & Restaurant, a new(ish) addition to the Launceston scene which first made its way onto my radar in an article published by Qantas. It was the description of the connections to the family farm that drew my attention. Would you find many other restaurant owners who would say “We are trying to create as stress-free an environment as possible where the animals can grow and be happy. I want my chefs to come out here and touch them because we want a relationship between producer, land and animal.”?
We were greeted, seated and presented with our menus by our friendly waitress who was just superb throughout the evening. She was helpful and friendly without being obtrusive, and was able to explain each dish to us well. We made up our minds fairly quickly about drinks – it was deciding on food that would prove to be more difficult. We started off our meal with a cocktail each.
K chose a Southside, a much fancier version of one of his go-to drinks of gin and tonic. Mixed with the tang of lemon and the freshness of mint, it was just the right drink for the uncharacteristically warm Tasmanian spring day.
Following my one single birthday drink at The Dispensary in Bendigo, I had the same drink at Geronimo – a refreshing Aperol Spritz. This version was much lighter than that at The Dispensary, indicating slightly less Aperol and slightly more Prosecco in the mix which suits me well.
We got some House-Baked Rolls to start, crusty and warm, perfect for dipping in the rich and full-bodied olive oil.
K had to order the Jamon and Manchego Brioche Toastie as soon as he saw it on the menu. It’s the type of dish we would eat when we were in Spain last year – just a simple ham and cheese toastie, but amplified and made a million times more delicious. This version was incredible, with the brioche literally melting on the tongue as soon as you took a bite.
Who orders a single Oyster? Me, that’s who. I would have ordered more but K recently had yet another bout of gout, and had to swear off shellfish for a few weeks to get his uric acid levels back down to a less risky level. While I wasn’t able to cut out all seafood in solidarity, I did at least just have a single fresh, briney, oyster rather than the two or three I wanted.
The Pan Seared Scallops and Cauliflower Three Ways was a surprisingly good dish. I was a little doubtful when the dish first came to the table as the scallops were much smaller than I had expected, and looked almost like the tiny anemic frozen scallops you can get from the supermarket. Instead, they proved to be remarkably soft and tender, with a delicious almost caramel glazing.
I bet you’re also wondering how there was ‘cauliflower three ways’ on this dish as well…there’s a spiced cauliflower puree, roasted cauliflower florets, and crispy cauliflower leaves as well!
We continued with the Angel Hair Pasta with Calamari, one of my choices even though I didn’t know what ‘longaniza oscura’ was. Luckily it turned out to be a delectable salami-style sausage, rather than something far less palatable like tripe! Flavoured with squid ink, the longaniza oscura helps to add additional seafood flavours to the pasta, complementing the subtle calamari flavours.
K finished his Southside cocktail quickly, and ordered the Old Spiced Old Fashioned to get him through the rest of our meal. Smoky without being over-smoked, a slight hint of citrus, smooth and amply spiced, this cocktail is much more suited to slow, savouring sips.
We ordered a Mixed Leaf Salad to go with our shared main course. Lightly dressed with a vinaigrette and mixed with some light puffed grains, this salad was simple but did the job well with beautifully fresh baby salad leaves that almost looked hand-picked.
This was our main course – lightly seared Lamb Rump for K the meat-lover, and beautiful Baba Ganoush and grilled eggplant for me the eggplant-lover. K enjoyed the tender lamb, but my highlight was the rich and smokey babaganoush. It made the perfect accompaniment for the crispy crunchy fried chickpeas. This is one dish that is best shared between two as it is quite rich and could be overwhelming if eaten alone.
Onto dessert, despite our already full bellies! K chose a rather unusual dessert, using an ingredient I would never associate with sweets – parsnip! His Star Anise Caramel Cake was served with confit parsnip and parsnip ice-cream. I tried a little bit and wasn’t a big fan as it didn’t quite hit that sweet dessert note. K enjoyed it as a change from the usual type of desserts, as the flavours were quite subtle and not quite as rich or heavy on the palate.
I chose the intriguingly named Kitchen Sink which fulfilled its name as it was served in a metal tub not unlike a kitchen sink! This dish included much more traditional dessert flavours, and resembled a deconstructed lemon cheesecake with its use of lemon curd and white chocolate. The crunchy honeycomb and macarons were almost like a cheesecake crust. The only downside to this dish is that it was difficult to get a good mix of all ingredients on the spoon at once.
Geronimo Aperitivo Bar & Restaurant isn’t really the type of restaurant you would expect to find in Northern Tasmania. Exuding a cool yet relaxed atmosphere, with a comprehensive drinks list and a superb menu, Geronimo wouldn’t be out of place in the laneways of Melbourne or streets of inner-west Sydney. A wonderful place to have our second anniversary dinner – thank you Geronimo!
Geronimo Aperitivo Bar & Restaurant is located at 186 Charles St in Launceston, Tasmania.
My measures of what I consider to be ‘good value’ in a meal are somewhat skewed. At one extreme, I think $500 is a reasonable amount to pay for a meal at The Fat Duck. At the other extreme, I think any more than $20 for a main at an everyday casual restaurant or pub is daylight robbery.
That murky area between $20 and $500 is where I can find it hard to decide. At the end of the day, ‘value for money’ comes down to food source and quality, innovation of the chef, atmosphere of the restaurant and promptness and friendliness of service. If all those elements are ticked off the list, then the price point becomes less of a focus.
What I can say for certain is that Masons of Bendigo ticks all those elements on the list and definitely rates as ‘good value’. As one of the few restaurants in Bendigo that regularly earns its Chef’s Hat in the Good Food Guide, I chose Masons as the destination for my birthday dinner during our weekend sojourn to Bendigo.
Given that their menu offers nearly a dozen options each under smaller bites, larger plates and sides, K and I decided to make it a lot easier on ourselves by opting for their chef’s choice ‘Roaming Menu’ for $62.50 per person. Putting yourselves into the hands of a chef and trusting them to guide you through a delicious dinner has never led me wrong so far. In fact it worked particularly well for my 28th birthday dinner at O Bar and Dining, and it was the same for this 30th birthday dinner.
We started with some house-baked charcoal sourdough bread – soft, dense, and still warm from the oven. There’s nothing better than freshly baked bread!
Having had some drinks earlier in the day at The Dispensary, I decided to go non-alcoholic and chose a local natural Blood Orange Sparkling Mineral Water from Daylesford and Hepburn Springs Mineral Springs Co. From the same range, K chose their Organic Cola. Mine was particularly light, fresh, spritzy and refreshing without being sweet, while K’s was very easy on the palate without the strong medicinal undertones that often characterise organic colas. All in all, I’d definitely try more of the Daylesford and Hepburn Springs range.
First course was made up of some Pork Belly Skewers, topped with some roasted shrimp pieces and interestingly, sweet chunks of pineapple. It sounds like the recipe for a bad seventies dinner party dish – pork, prawns and pineapple – but surprisingly, it works! The melt-in-your-mouth quality of the smokey pork definitely helps, especially when contrasted with the prawn pieces which have slightly more bite.
I was delighted when our second course arrived, because I had been eyeing the Cauliflower and Manchego Croquettes on the regular menu. I’ve only really just started discovering the delights of Spanish manchego cheese – creamy, buttery, and cheesy without being too strong. It’s the perfect everyday cheese to suit all situations. In this situation, the manchego really helps to complete these delightful little cauliflower croquettes, helped by the snap and crackle of the flaxseed and parmesan crisps that add a bit of textural interest to the dish.
What first arrives at the table looking like a big heap of salad leaves is the Crispy Fried Spiced Calamari Salad. The liberally-dressed salad leaves hide the real star of the salad – the lightly battered and beautifully fried calamari. I don’t know whether the spices are hidden in the batter or coating the calamari under the batter – either way, it’s stunning. Honestly, I would have actually preferred to eat the fried calamari as separate ‘popcorn calamari’ bites, rather than mixed through a salad, as I think it could shine better standing alone.
Like the broccoli we had at The Dispensary which was coated with lemon butter, the Steamed Organic Broccoli here at Masons was beautifully creamy and buttery. Like The Dispensary, some texture is also added to the dish with a topping of crispy fried shallots to make it just a little bit more interesting.
Our main dish was the Roast Wanbi Plains Lamb Loin, with lamb served two more ways – a crispy belly, and a rolled shoulder. K loved the hefty serve of tender and succulent lamb in this dish, but I have to say that my highlight had nothing to do with the lamb, and everything to do with the delicious crispy beetroot crackle – just like chips/crisps, but better. Unfortunately, other parts of the dish didn’t quite hit the mark – like the slightly pickled little baby beets sitting on top of the lamb, which was quite stringy and fibrous.
I could hardly do justice to the final side dish, but did manage to squeeze in a few Roasted Mount Prospect Russet Burbank Potatoes. What a mouthful for a fairly simple crunchy roasted potato. The real highlight here was the delicious cheesy cream on top.
While I said above that I could hardly fit in the final sides, that obviously doesn’t apply to desserts, which go in the ‘dessert stomach’. It’s a real thing, ask any student of anatomy. We finished off with the Masons Dessert Tasting Plate, which is made up of:
Berry & Lychee Pannacotta
Chocolate Delice with Caramelised Popcorn
Salted Caramel Macaron
Strawberry Eskimo Pie
Lemon Cheesecake with Sweet Dukkah
White Chocolate Pot with Coffee Soil
Vanilla bean Favourite Flavours ice-cream with Persian Fairy Floss
While all the desserts had their own merits in small doses, I think that the one I would pinpoint as wanting a full serve of it rather than a small taster would be the Strawberry Eskimo Pie. The strawberry ice-cream (from local ice-cream maker Favourite Flavours) was just the way a strawberry ice-cream should be – full of real rich and deep sweet strawberry flavour with no artificial colouring or sweeteners at all.
Masons of Bendigo really ticks all the boxes for me. Our waitress for the evening was incredibly friendly and welcoming, and talked us through each dish of the tasting menu so we knew what we were having. The atmosphere was lively, full of Bendigo families celebrating special occasions and couples out on a Saturday night date.
The food was exceptional – smaller bites more so than the main, but still excellent overall. And priced at only $65 per person for a meal that fills you to the gills and has you rolling out the door, you really can’t go wrong! Masons of Bendigo is definitely worth a visit if you’re ever in the Goldfields region of Victoria.
Masons of Bendigo is located at 25 Queen St, Bendigo.