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Scorcher reviews: Masons of Bendigo — ‘It puts the ‘go’ in Bendigo’

Masons of Bendigo
25 Queen St, Bendigo
masonsofbendigo.com.au

Over the centuries, squabbles between countries have resulted in nations coming to blows and a lot of unnecessary carnage. But inter-city rivalries — like Madrid vs Barcelona, Glasgow vs Edinburgh and, in our own backyard, Melbourne vs Sydney — can run just as deep and became as heated as international tiffs.

Right here in Victoria, there’s always been a healthy rivalry between the two major Goldfields cities of Ballarat and Bendigo, both scrapping it out over the years for regional superiority status.

Full disclosure: I spent my formative years in Ballarat. But don’t for one moment think that will win the city any favours from me. My relationship with Ballarat is complicated (see my recent restaurant tour of Ballarat).

Both cities have really upped their restaurant game in recent years and have been duking it out to claim the regional minor premiership (Given their gold rush history perhaps that should be ‘miner’ premiership?).

One of the jewels in Victoria’s culinary crown is Masons of Bendigo, a restaurant that enjoys icon status in the city. Opened in 2012, Mason’s is an excellent, locally focussed diner that showcases the best of central Victorian produce. And it does a mighty job of it.

Due of its central location and proximity to the train station, Masons is an easy-peasy day trip from Melbourne. Or stay the night, like Mrs Scorcher and I did, and turn it into a mini-break.

The great thing about Masons is this: the food you’ll be served is seriously top-shelf but the ambiance is relaxed and welcoming; a fine diner without any fustiness. Case in point: a thick-paper placemat doubles as your menu.

Speaking of the menu, when it comes to dining at Masons it pays to leave your indecisive hat at home. The list of savoury bites runs 15 items deep, all which I was keen to order.

I want to go back to Masons to try things like the braised goat shoulder baked in heirloom carrots; tempura fried Moreton Bay bug tails; crispy fried eggplant with kohlrabi, macadamias, coconut and chilli caramel dressing.

Unfortunately for my long-suffering dining companion and me, I was wearing my indecisive hat at the time, so I put up a distress flare and called in the help of our cheery waiter.

“Go for the pork shoulder. I eat it all the time and never get sick of it,” she told us.

Bang! Sold. And what a thing of beauty it was. Sticky pork is given a slight Asian treatment with a yellow bean sauce. The dish is finished with mandarin and chilli cashews and was probably dish of the night. We also had the ginger and chicken steamed dumplings with green papaya and tom kha broth, which look like an open rose and went down a treat.

If you’re truly struggling to choose what to order, go for the excellent value $70 roaming menu. And if you’re here at lunchtime, Masons put on a hugely popular $35 spread where you get seven different seasonal tastes.

As with most restaurants in these sharing-is-caring days, bigger dishes are designed to be eaten between two. Our saltbush lamb shoulder with date molasses, bulgar yoghurt, wild figs and spiced pistachios melted off the bone like a witch under a bucket of water.

So, which city wins the culinary tug of war? I’m going to be honest and say overall Ballarat slightly edges it. Ballarat has a wider variety of top new eateries, like a team of decent players who band together to play like champions.

But Bendigo also plays in the champion’s league and with Masons it has a Ronaldo-like star player. Masons of Bendigo is just as good, if not better, than any restaurant you’ll find in the ‘Rat.

Masons certainly puts the “go” in Bendigo. I’m up for a repeat visit. Meet you there.

Check out what Scorcher has been up to on Instagram — @markjdavidson

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