Friday, 27 April 2018

Cafes of Bendigo

I was in Bendigo last weekend for my brother John's wedding to his longtime partner Chris, so while I was there I thought I'd check out the cafe scene.

The regional city, 150km north of Melbourne, has a wealth of attractive gardens and buildings inherited from the gold rush era of the 19th century. Now it has a fine collection of cafes too. Here are four I visited...

1. Cortillé, 322 Lyttleton Tce, Bendigo.

There's a bunch of good cafes near the railway station on the west side of the CBD, and this is one of the best. The interior, spread through two shopfronts, is a light-filled space with bricks walls painted white, floral artwork on the walls, and comfortable modern furniture.

Its coffee comes from Axil Coffee Roasters, and it's great stuff. The cafe's food menu is divided into those famous three meals: Breakfast, Lunch, and Waffles. The most interesting breakfast dish is the scrambled tofu with kale and enoki mushrooms, and at lunch there are items ranging from Moroccan lamb to a vegan pad thai.

2. Bay Leaf, 102 Mitchell St, Bendigo.

This cafe with Greek-inspired dishes was my and Narrelle's favourite of the four places we visited.

Mediterranean cuisines are perfectly suited for adaptation to a brunch menu, with their sharp flavours and unfussy ingredients, and the crew at Bay Leaf have cleverly converted Greek standards by adding a few extras: for example, the traditional cheese and spinach pastry spanakopita becomes a breakfast dish by adding a poached egg.

My own 'big breakfast' was an assortment which included some spectacular slow-cooked beans and a zucchini-based fritter. Lovely food from a menu with plenty of vegetarian options.

3. Get Naked Espresso, 73 Mitchell St, Bendigo.

The '90s live again at this grungy cafe, which specialises in coffee rather than food. Its interior off Mitchell St is a pared-down space with old armchairs and quirky posters on the walls. But wait! Step through the back of the space and it opens onto a surprisingly vast outdoor area, which turns into the bar known as Handle Bar in the evening.

The coffee is from Honeybird Coffee Roasters, an outfit based in Mount Beauty, and it's excellent; though I wasn't that fussed by the double-shelled reusable plastic cups the coffee is served in if drinking on the premises. It keeps the coffee hot, but doesn't have the classic feel of ceramic.

The Mitchell Street premises is one of three, and ideal if you're after a quick caffeine jolt rather than a meal.

4. Brewhouse, 402 Hargreaves St, Bendigo.

This is the biggest of the cafes we visited, with a rambling interior decorated by colourful graffiti-like images across its walls. On a Sunday it was heaving with groups of family and friends - including our post-wedding party across two long tables. The service seemed to falter under pressure, but the staff stayed cheerful.

Brewhouse roasts its own coffee and accompanies it with an extensive menu, so this is the place for a leisurely catch-up over brunch. I tried the Smashing Pumpkins: pumpkin and sage smash with feta, kale and dukkah, and scrambled eggs [see image, top right]. It was good, though personally I'll be happy when the kale trend passes and that bitter crunchy stuff can be taken off menus. 

Narrelle ordered the Eat Your Greens dish, which matched eggs with asparagus, broccolini, green beans, spinach, avocado, and pumpkin hummus. It was very green. And good.

For more info on visiting Bendigo, see Bendigo Tourism's website.