In a town blessed with an impressive number of great restaurants, cafes and bars, the fact that Masons of Bendigo still manages to standout speaks volumes for the quality of the Modern Australian food served in its surprisingly inviting industrial-chic dining room.
Location: 25 Queen St, Bendigo, VIC 3550 Ph: (03) 5443 3877
My heart does a little skip whenever a visit to Bendigo comes up on my schedule.
Once there, I always take a walk around the Sacred Heart Cathedral, and say hi to the huge gargoyles. I’m also a big fan of the Bendigo Art Gallery and book to see whatever exhibitions they have running.
However, as someone who spends a large amount of time thinking about their next opportunity to eat, it’s the enviable dining scene in this City of Gastronomy that really gets me excited. And one of my regular haunts is Masons of Bendigo.
Update: Masons of Bendigo has been awarded One Hat in The Age Good Food Guide Awards 2023. Yet another reason to book a table there asap.
When I first visited Masons of Bendigo, it was the generosity of the portions and flavours that really struck a chord. I was part of a group and we booked for the Set Menu. What we got was a fantastic meal, showcasing great local produce – and plenty of it. In fact, I don’t think we finished it all, and that was after a racking up some majors ‘steps’ at the Marilyn Monroe Exhibition.
I recall us opening with fabulous, chewy, house-made Sourdough and a glorious flavoured (Miso?) Butter. A sign of the yummy things to come.
Perhaps it’s my British upbringing, but it takes quite a lot to make me rave about pumpkin. However, the dish we all still wax lyrical about was a plate of roasted squash. This most humble of vegetables arrived cloaked in a tangy, bubbling layer of sharp cheese, the serving platter dotted with golden, toasted hazelnuts. The sweet pumpkin, sharp cheese and fragrant nuts combo was genuinely delicious. Proof that even a mere ‘side dish’ can be a star when prepared with consideration.
Moving forward, Masons of Bendigo has migrated closer to the fine dining end of the eating out spectrum.
Often, when a restaurant does this, something of the original appeal of a place is lost. And the prices tend to soar as well. Well, we can report that at Mason’s Bendigo, this isn’t the case. They’ve managed to find a balance where attention to detail has been magnified, but flavour remains paramount.
At present, the kitchen at Mason’s of Bendigo has dropped any a la carte menu altogether.
Instead, for Dinner bookings there is a Chef Selected Roaming Menu ($105pp), with an additional $50pp if you go for the matching wines. This is the path my friend and I took, with him also committing to the wines, whilst I stuck to gin.
Incidentally, if you dine during the Lunch sitting, there is a Lunch Roaming Menu at $66pp. This gives you an amended taste of four seasonal dishes (including a dessert) from the evening options.
Editor’s Note: Both Lunch and Evening Menu details and prices were updated in May 2023
Whichever menu you decide on, local produce, treated with respect, is at the centre of every plate.
Our Chef-curated ‘Roaming’ began with the rather tame sounding Sandors Harvest Potato Hash, Truffle, Linseed. Happily, descriptions can be intentionally deceptive. What we got was a textural explosion. Lacy shards of malty, nutty linseed wafer encasing a crispy-coated, pillow-soft-centred croquette of well-seasoned potato, anchored to the serving board with a blob of creamy sauce.
The kitchen clearly meant business.
The next course gave us a Korean-influenced take on a tartare with Warialda Beef Yukhoe. The ferrous and game notes of the beef complimented by Chilli Cashews, Kohlrabi, Gochujang Mayonnaise and Spring Onion. However, the real surprise of the dish was a brilliant Savory Donut, golden with a dusting of Salted Egg Yolk. Suffice to say, if they sold them separately, I’d be driving to Bendigo regularly just to buy a bag.
Moving on, we enjoyed a re-imagined “Waldorf Salad” of Crispy Fried Quail, Guanciale, Fregola, Red Witlof. The heavily herbed Fregola proving a great vehicle for the beautifully seasoned pieces of Quail. (Picture in intro).
Next came a dark, minerally dish of McIvor Farm Pork Shoulder, Moonjarra Farm Quail Egg, Morcilla, Celeriac, Dutch Medlar and French Lentil Sauce. The iron-rich Morcilla and earthy Lentils contrasting perfectly with the sweet pork and sugary hits of the caramelised vegetables.
Oh. And that wonderful Sourdough and a pat of Smoked Miso Butter that I remembered so vividly from my first meal at Masons of Bendigo also made it to the table between courses. Needless to say, we devoured the lot.
Our mains concluded with a chunk of seriously flavoursome Lamb Rump. It came with an utterly delicious Parmesan Polenta, Jerusalem Artichoke, Salted Radicchio, blades of Crispy Chicken Skin and a kiss of Fresh Horseradish. Again, it showed a true understanding of the how to get differing ingredients to work together to create a harmonious whole.
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Indeed, even a side dish of Roasted Sweet Potato, Red Radish and Jamon got the sweet/salty, soft/crunchy thing that so many restaurants struggle to pull off absolutely right.
We weren’t sure that we could manage a dessert. Of course, we were wrong.
Whilst it sounded alarmingly rich after all we’d already put away, the Chocolate Fudge Tart was actually light and extremely easy to eat. And huge props to whoever had the nerve to serve it with both Favourite Flavours Vanilla Ice Cream and Spencer’s 1980 Muscat Custard. Many’s the time I’ve been traumatised by having to choose between ice cream and custard on a pud. Finally I’ve found a restaurant that gives me both – no questions asked.
I just have to side-track and make quick mention of the fabulous sharing dessert plate that I enjoyed the first time I dined at Mason of Bendigo. It was a sugar-spiked journey through tastes and textures. From Panna Cotta to Macaroon and back again.
Needless to say, we fought over every last crumb!
As I said previously, I spent the evening drinking a very palatable gin – my glass refilling, as if by magic. What’s more, I always appreciate a garnish that breaks the lemon rule, so was pleased to see a sprig of flowering rosemary bobbing in my tumbler.
My dining partner loved the matching wines. Better still, our charming and informative wait staff had no problem with me ‘sampling’ his vino as we navigated our meal.
Amongst the brightest drops were the 2021 Granite Hills Pinot Blanc from the nearby Macedon Ranges. Poured with the Beef Yukhoe, its dry, slatey nature worked well with the dishes strong, Asian-inspired flavours.
Similarly, the 2019 Farmer & the Scientist Shiraz – again from only a stone’s throw away in Heathcote – was great with the Lamb Rump.
Sometimes, industrial-chic can be a bit too cool and unwelcoming.
Not so at Masons of Bendigo.
Smart use of wood and mellow yellows bring the high, metal beamed ceilings down and warm the whitewashed concrete and brick walls.
Tables and a sit-up bar look onto an open kitchen. It’s an intelligent move. Being able to see the drama of food prep adds a beating heart to a space that might otherwise seen a little cavernous – a little cold.
There’s an upstairs, but I confess, I’ve yet to venture from the comforts of the ground floor. Perhaps next time I’m in Bendigo…
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From our engaging wine waiter through to everyone who placed a plate before us, the service was a delight. Staff were knowledgeable about both the food and wine and happy to share insights. That said, no one over-stayed their welcome at our table – a balancing act that takes real skill.
Bendigo is that luckiest of regional hubs – a city with its own sense of pride and unique identity and a food scene to match.
And with Masons, Bendigo has a restaurant that competes with any similarly-minded establishment in any of Australia’s capitals.
Masons of Bendigo makes great food. The chefs know their producers and choose their ingredients wisely. There’s a lot of skill and technique on display, but none of it over-shadows the beauty of the items on the plate. It’s Modern Australian cuisine given just enough fine dining polish to make it genuinely exciting, but not pretentious.
Trust us and book a table here next time you’re in town.