Friday 4 January 2013

The Unpublished 12: Sunday Lunch in Benalla

Last year, The Age newspaper in Melbourne, Australia revamped its travel section, cancelling the Sunday Lunch column which I'd had the pleasure to contribute to from time to time. One of my country lunch reviews was left unpublished, so here it is now for your foodie pleasure...

Sunday Lunch: North Eastern Hotel

Passing beneath the elegant art nouveau lettering on the facade of the North Eastern Hotel in Benalla (about 200km northeast of Melbourne), we’re pleasantly surprised to find an expansive, relaxed interior, with lots of dark timber detail and natural light.

To one side there’s an area of low-slung lounge chairs, to the other a spacious dining room next to a bar topped with redgum timber.

The North Eastern’s menu is “a touch of fusion, towards gastropub,” according to co-owner Tony Ashton, crafted by himself in collaboration with young chef Sehan Waters. As the "Northo" only serves Sunday lunch once a month, followed by a blues session hosted by Neale Williams, we’re looking forward to a treat.

My house-smoked Atlantic salmon ($17) is just the ticket for this warm sunny day, flaked through a salad of orange, pickled fennel, chilli and snow pea tendrils. It’s fresh and tasty with a smooth smokiness, though the tendrils are a little unwieldy. Narrelle’s oysters ($18.50), finished with the “Northo Way” Asian-inspired dressing, are superb.

The sunshine is making us hanker for a bold white wine, so we share a bottle of the Mt Pilot Estate 2010 viognier chardonnay ($54) from Eldorado.

For main course, Narrelle’s selected the master stock duck Maryland ($32), whose richly flavoured and tender meat neatly contrasts with the crunch of the crispy egg noodles and wok-tossed vegetables beneath.

My bruschetta-style veal parma ($23.75) is a delicious upmarket take on the popular pub dish, with pesto, locally-sourced double-smoked ham and a speckled topping of tomato salsa along with house-made rosemary potato chips.

The other half of the Ashton duo, Helen, delivers a verbal dessert menu and we order the vanilla bean pannacotta ($10) and the mocha semifreddo with chocolate Cointreau sauce ($10), swapping plates halfway through.

It’s all excellent, and we’re full. Bring on the music.

Reviewed by Tim Richards, who was hosted by V/Line and the North East Victoria Tourism Board.

North Eastern Hotel, 1 Nunn St, Benalla, 5762 7333, serving meals 12-2.30pm Wed-Sat (and 2nd Sunday each month), 6-8.30pm Tue-Sat.

To stay nearby: Top of the Town Motel (, Belmont B&B (, Glen Falloch Farm Cottage (

The Unpublished is a random series comprising my never-published travel articles. For previous instalments, click on the The Unpublished Topic tag below, then scroll down.

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