Buongiorno, bonjour and “g’day”! (don't you like how they're all the same thing? ~ who knew Australian vernacular was so cosmopolitan???).

Also, "a good day to you, sir/maam" for our American pals, "Ni Hao" to China, and "Здравствуй" to our Russian comrades, "etcetera etcetera and so forth"... (for Yul Brynner).

It’s your old pal Kit (Christof) Fennessy here. I've been writing this blog with your help for ten years, and there's over a hundred and fifty recipes, restaurant reviews of Australia and around the world, and general gourmet articles in these pages for you to fritter away your idle hours on.

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Now, what's on the bill of fare today?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bendigo Provencal: A Maldon / Castlemaine weekender


35A Reef Street
Maldon 3463
03 5475 2194
0466 069 093

Bonjour!  Ca va?  Beauty!

Qu’est que si que ca?  Why am I speaking French while being whole heartedly Aussie?  Let me tell you a story about last weekend.

We went away with some friends up to the Central Goldfields of Victoria; specifically a weekend in Maldon with a day trip into Castlemaine.  We ate at an auberge, I gorged like I was on a Bacchanal, ended up like a haggis AND came up with the concept of "Bendigo Provencal".

Central Victoria around Easter is just beautiful: the quality of light, the smell of wood smoke, the frosts at night, the old old buildings with tacked on timber lean-to extensions, the hard rocky soil, the colours of the trees, the extensive Aussie bird life (kookaburras, parrots, magpies, silver eyes, and more) sitting on moldering car wrecks, and the general air of bucolic peace. The whole thing was extremely reminiscent of my childhood holidays in Bendigo, and “Australian” without being about thongs and racists wearing flags in Cronulla.

The area has become known colloquially as “North Northcote”, since escapees from Melbourne’s northern suburbs have bought weekenders a short hour and a half up the Calder to go trawling the town centres with their whippets in tow.

Maldon is an historic mining town, with no water.  The miners got the gold from the rocks by burning the soil.  This resulted in the de-nuding of all the hills around and about, which are now reforesting.  The streets are like something out of a Western: weatherboards, historic, with lots of tea rooms, a couple of pubs, deep gutters for flooding, and stacks of antique shops that also sell curried egg sandwiches and bikinis so they’ve got everyone covered.  Car clubs regularly trawl through, and while there I saw a muscle car club and a military vehicle enthusiast conga line drive through and stop for refreshments.

Castlemaine is a much bigger affair, and coincidentally where two of Blue Vapours stable of authors live: Simmone Howell and Ellie Marney (both HOT young adult fiction authors, check them out).  The main town is dripping in groovy restaurants, micro-breweries and, while there, they were gearing up for the annual bike race around town; lycra clad cyclists zipping around the giant town hall and banks in the historic town centre practicing the course.

Though distinctly Australian, there was something curiously French about the whole thing.  What I’m coining as “Bendigo Provencal”; the timber in the buildings, the old found doors, the whole thing has a rustic charm and food, rustic food, is taking centre stage.  Maybe it was the cheese and wine I took along?  But then we went to what I can only describe as an auberge (a country inn) and all doubts were removed.

Something definitely smells garlicy in Central Victoria...

The auberge we went to is called Rendez-Vous, and is a kitchen attached to a B&B at the bottom of the street we stayed in in Maldon.  The place used to be a pub, and subsequently a restaurant, in the “historic” Eaglehawk Hotel.  And it’s latest incarnation is particularly charming – while not being high food.

Didier, the front of house man, and his wife Marie, who cooks the food, are French originally but have been living out here for over thirty years; returning home occassionally to discover that their French has become anachronistic and no one understands them any more.

You have to book ahead, and order your food by lunch time, so they can make it for you.  And the table service isn’t like a restaurant.  It’s Didier, saying, “hello, how do you like it?” and pottering around like a man in his own house, which he is.

The front room was intimate and crammed with locals (not to put too fine a point on it – I’d recommend you don’t discuss nefarious activities, or everyone will know your business).  Our table was in the family lounge room; they must have sent the kids packing since they had a booking.

It was honest and authentically Frenchie-froo, including individual soufflés, muscles oops! mussels (see below), veal medallions, seasonal veg, fish and a short crust pastry for vegetarians.  Not fine food, but tasty, and the menu changes on a monthly basis.  They only had two prices for wine: $25 or $30 (they had one super-dooper one for fifty dollars) and so we just got Didier to choose for us.

I like limited menus and small ranges of wines, you just have what you want, and the situation seems more palatable if you are to miss something.  Didier and his wife Marie were friendly and welcoming, and while I agree with Didier they are “amateur enthusiasts” in the kitchen, at least they were enthusiasts.  I give it more than a pass.

Six tentacles out of eight.


Anonymous said...

My God! You read like a fruity online 'Cosumming Passions'.
Bon appetite!
The Hooded Claw ///

Anonymous said...

It's spelt mussels...