The Dispensary Enoteca

Posted on August 27, 2011

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Every now and then, this city girl needs to take a break from all the traffic and dramas of city living. So it was on a typically grey overcast winter’s day that I packed my bags, boarded a vline train out of Southern Cross Station and bid a nonchalant farewell to Melbourne – a least for the weekend. Call me old fashioned, but I quite like long distance train journeys. There is something particularly charming about train travel; it’s not fussy like air travel and I really enjoy lazing by a window seat watching the world pass me by as I drift in and out of slumber. Could life get any better? Apparently it could. Bendigo greeted me with blue skies, a sunny embrace and most importantly, a booking to its top rated restaurant that night. I do live a good life.

So Melbourne, before you go on thinking you’re the only one in Australia who can do the whole laneway thing well, let it be known that your regional cousin has learnt a trick or two. Concealing a foodie favourite in a tiny alley off the main street – why I think I’ve just found my home away from home!

The Dispensary Enoteca (9 Chancery Lane, Bendigo VIC) has been on my radar for some time now. Ever since my last visit this lively country town, I’d received no less than 3 solid recommendations for it (all from city folk mind you!). My curiousity was most definitely aroused. It was quite a quest to actually get there too which added a bit of mystery to the place. Being a narrow alley between two shop fronts off the A300 Highway, Chancery Lane did not warrant a demarcation on the city map I had. It was only through the guidance of some friendly locals that we found it, and once found, it was ever so obvious to find. You just had to know where to look. Oh how very Melbourne.

This place was described to me as a gastro-pub, which naturally conjured up images of a pub that’s been rejigged with a modern fitout and good pub grub. Gastro-pub this was not. I think wine bar is more accurate. The place is small, seating not much more than 20 diners inside. Very cosy; so much so that it became a bit smoky from kitchen fumes from time to time. For those wanting better ventilation, there’s also outdoor seating. The gally style kitchen sits just behind the counter space and the rest of the area is filled with shelves upon shelves of wine, beers and ciders.

Now while I’m all for changing menus to make the most of seasonal produce and what not, let me point out a downside to that, particularly when the website is not updated as frequently. See, I had already chosen my meal based on their web menu and was ever so excited about it…until I discovered their actual menu had changed. Disappointed would be overstating it, but I was a bit thrown. Oh wells, just more time to sit, drink and think about the new options.

For entree we went for their confit duck pie in brick pastry (~$18). Lovely tender pieces of duck in a crisp shell and a lightly sweet sauce. Delicious.

For mains, their specials proved all too tempting for us. I was sold on the dry aged wagyu rump with duck fat potatoes and buttered horseradish beans($34.50). The meat was nicely cooked, but the dish as a whole was lacking somewhat. My expectations of duck fat potatoes is crispy baked potatoes. Why use the fat of a duck otherwise? The fat is meant to be there to make things crisp up! So that was a little of a let down. The major issue we had with this dish was the lack of sauce. What is it the French say? Sauces are crucial to rounding off a dish, it’s what makes all the elements work together. In this case, the absence of a sauce really did leave the dish feeling a bit unfinished.

So a slight miss on 1 main, but I would argue that they more than made up for that with the second special of the night – seared barramundi on chorizo and lentils with lemon mayo and pomme frites ($28.50). At the risk of sounding a bit pretentious; this dish was in perfect harmony. Flavours were in balance, textures were great and it just all worked so well together; there really was nothing to fault. Without a doubt, the favourite for the night.

Dessert was a no brainer for me: cherry pudding and choc cherry icecream ($14 or $16). A flavour combination I adore, but unfortunately don’t see enough of. This was a very adult affair. It was quite intensely chocolate, of the darker bitter kind. It felt rather luxurious on the palate but the child in me still wished it was just a touch sweeter.

The Dispensary take their food and wine seriously, and it shows. There were a few misses that night, but not enough to complain about. Service was lovely with enthusiastic staff who clearly know their stuff. Great way to start the weekend in Bendigo!

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