Bendigo is changing with the times, and putting itself on the Victorian foodie map, fast.
The last time I visited Bendigo, it was a few days ago for Teachers Games, and it is safe to say I don’t remember much of that trip. This time around, with more of a foodie focus, I was blown away by how far Bendigo has come from a culinary perspective in the last few years.
Owner of popular bar and restaurant Rocks on Rosalind, Finn Vedelsby, summed up the flourishing food scene when he described how many young chefs, bar managers and hospitality dreamers grow up in Bendigo, can’t wait to get away and work in Melbourne, go to Melbourne, become incredible chefs or restauranteurs, decide to move back to Bendigo for the quieter life they couldn’t wait to get away from, and voila; Melbourne-quality restaurants in Bendigo, using the gorgeous local produce available to them. It is this phenomenon that makes Bendigo the perfect spot for a wide age-range of Melbourne food lovers to visit for a weekend, as it is only 2 hours drive away (or the same by train) and has the perfect amount of food, art and scenery to quite easily fill a weekend away from the hectic big city life.
We began our weekender by checking into Schaller Studio, an Art Series hotel that has just been taken over by Quest Hotels. This was not your ordinary hotel, as it felt more like an Art exhibition than a spot to sleep, with most of the artwork for sale throughout the building and a fabulous, eclectic vibe. Our two bedroom Executive Studio was comfortable and cosy, with a good little working space also, and sweeping views of the city of Bendigo.
An early evening visit to Rocks on Rosalind is a must, and the place definitely captured our hearts very quickly. This stunning old bank building has been ambitiously converted into a modern dining space complete with the original stone clad vaults, high ceilings and large arched windows. The restaurant even features a ‘bank vault’ private dining room, and a mysterious underground area that can be enjoyed for private dining or cocktail parties.
The result of a partnership between Finn Vedelsby and Ben Massey (chef), and featuring an incredible cocktail list by bar manager, Tim Wastell, this sophisticated space impressed both our eyes and our palates. The menu contains an exciting array of modern share dishes, nightly specials and innovative classics. Our tip: make sure you try the ‘Frozen shell encased Gin, House Rosso Vermouth and Aperol’, one of the best cocktails we have ever had. Like a cross between a Negroni and an Aperol Spritz, it is a theatrical drink that you will always remember.
A dinner at local favourite ‘Clogs’ was thoroughly enjoyable too, and we had a taste of incredible local hospitality when hosted by Di, one half of venue ownership team there, who even walked us to her local favourite bar afterwards! This venue has been owned by the van Haandel family (of Stokehouse St Kilda fame) for the last 42 years, recently being bestowed upon son Michael and his partner, the lovely Di. This venue has something for everybody in Bendigo, serving as a family restaurant, pre-drinking destination for party-goers (and post drinking spot, with the kitchen open until 2am on weekends!) With reasonably priced, hearty Italian meals and a great cocktail list, it is easy to see why this place was absolutely pumping.
Di agreed with Finn about the changing foodie tide in Bendigo, acknowledging that for some of the older locals the modern changes have been hard for them to come to terms with (such as the brightly coloured Clogs building, a change that Michael and Di brought to the venue), but that the town itself is growing daily and making its mark as a foodie hotspot. Our tip: the arancini balls served on a delightful caramelised onion jam, and the melt in your mouth Duck Ragu, as well as some really quirky pizza offerings- we loved the Scallop and Prosciutto.
Wandering home on a balmy summer evening after much indulgence at 11pm, the town was alive. Music echoed from the many pubs as people milled around socialising. This rural city certainly knows how to spend a weekend evening! One of the great things about the town is that practically everything is a 5 minute drive, or 20 minute walk away, meaning you barely need a car. We also enjoyed a gorgeous morning walk (working off that food!) through the beautiful Rosalind park, home to walking tracks, a beautiful hidden fern garden and a huge population of Flying Foxes.
A great spot to enjoy breakfast is The Good Loaf Sourdough Bakery & Café, in the heart of town. Set inside a very interesting venue, a circular, heritage listed stone building that was formerly a Beaurepairs, this spot houses the best bread in town! Featuring simple, homecooked breakfast dishes, mostly focusing on their epic baked goods and relying on an extensive outdoor seating area, this feels like going for breakfast or lunch at an old friends house with vintage furniture and a homely vibe. Our tips: the Indian Spiced Baked beans were so enjoyable and different, and do not leave without grabbing a loaf of the epic Pumpkin Sourdough loaf!
If you have an arty side as well as a foodie side, head into Bendigo ASAP and check out the Edith Head exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery. Following on from the super successful Marilyn Monroe exhibition earlier this year, the works of one of the most celebrated Hollywood costume designers of all time, Edith Head, is on show until the 21st of January.
The perfect blend of food and art, Bendigo is more than just a rural city or a historical town, but can offer even the fussiest Melbournians with the perfect escape from our hectic city life.
Have a delicious day,
Please note: This article was written in collaboration with Tough Cookie Marketing with support of Bendigo Tourism, but all opinions are genuine.