A foodie’s guide to Victoria’s Goldfields

Travelling Well | Wendy Hargreaves | Posted on 23 February 2021

Victoria’s Goldfields region offers a wealth of food and wine treasures, all less than two hours’ drive from Melbourne. 

Victoria’s Goldfields boast a rich Gold Rush history, but the real treasure is found in the region’s food and wine. (For nine-carat treasure hunting, check out our guide to where to find gold in Victoria).

The sheltered valleys of the Central Highlands hold a rich vein of orchards, crops and vineyards, along with some of Australia’s best beef, lamb and pork.

With easy access to the Goldfields’ harvest, restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs in towns across the region are celebrating local producers on their menus and wine lists.

All of this is less than two hours' drive from Melbourne, and a short hop from RACV’s Goldfields Resort, where RACV members receive discounts and special offers, as well as access to a bounty of savings on local experiences when booking through RACV Attractions and Ticketing


Das Koffeehaus in Castlemaine, Three Founders at RACV Goldfields Resort and Mason's of Bendigo are three must-visit restaurants on a Goldfields gourmet getaway.


Foodie guide to the Goldfields

Bendigo

Named a “City of Gastronomy” by UNESCO, Bendigo is flying high when it comes to food and drink.

Food editor Dan Stock describes the city’s food cred as a “perfect storm”, with excellent hospitality professionals moving to the region at the same time as local producers are creating amazing ingredients.

“If you look at the whole Goldfields region from Bendigo to Ballarat, it’s a really exciting time,” he says. “There’s a real sense of place in the food being served.”

Bendigo’s Sonia and Nick Anthony have pioneered the celebration of local produce at their restaurant Masons of Bendigo, which continues to impress after almost a decade of trading. Now a new generation of restaurants is following their lead.

Among them is Ms Batterhams – a speakeasy-style bar and bistro which opened just before lockdown hit. They recently reopened with cocktail shakers blazing. “It’s a fun place for a drink and they’re serving some really clever food,” Dan says.

“And then around the corner opposite the fountain you’ve got another new place at Alium Dining, where a young chef is doing really delicious stuff in beautiful old historic building. The prices are good and the flavours are fantastic.”

Castlemaine

As a new resident of Castlemaine, Dan Stock has enjoyed exploring the town. He has a few favourites, but top of the list is Wild Food and Wine in the town’s old fire station (home of the former Public Inn).

“It’s easy, really delicious, accessible food in a wine bar environment,” says Dan. “They do a really good half roast chicken and a great smoked salmon, and they champion local produce and wines. It’s a winner.”

He also enjoys food shopping at The Mill precinct, Castlemaine’s thriving centre for arts, food and drink. He finds his local cheese, milk and yoghurt at Long Paddock, nine-grain bread at Sprout bakery and smallgoods from Oakwood.

Carrot cake at Cafe Sidra in Learmonth

Best-in-show carrot cake at Learmonth's Cafe Sidra.


Roast chicken dinner at Three Founders in Creswick

The menu at Three Founders, at RACV's Goldfields Resort, showcases local produce.


Learmonth

As food destinations go, the pretty township of Learmonth might not be the first place that comes to mind. But just one visit to Café Sidra on the town’s tree-lined main drag, a stone’s throw from Lake Learmonth, and you’ll likely be planning a return visit. 

This café/bar/providore/post office is home to some of the best homemade food and hospitality in regional Victoria thanks to husband and wife team Anthony Penhall and Belinda Brooksby.

The couple opened Café Sidra three years ago in a charming old shop dating back to 1855 (you can’t miss it at 321 High St). During lockdown, the café transformed into the town’s hub for mail, supplies and produce, along with a rocking cellar door for Learmonth Cider’s brewing and education facility across the road in the town’s former school.

Now that we’re in COVID-normal, Belinda and Anthony are welcoming diners back to their café and sprawling back garden. So if you love cider, pull up a perch and try Belinda’s grazing platter with homemade pickles and pate, local charcuterie and cheese, best served with a tasting paddle of local cider. Leave room for cake, as Belinda’s baking skills have are renowned – especially her best-in-show carrot cake.

And you can take home a bag full of the region’s best produce from Café Sidra’s little general store. The town is also planning a cider festival for June 2021.

Creswick

Family-friendly dining can be tricky to find in a region renowned for excellent food and wine, but senior chef de partie Mark Boyd has found a way to keep all ages happy at the new Three Founders restaurant at RACV’s Goldfields Resort in Creswick.

Mark has worked in kitchens with culinary luminaries including Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White, but with seven children of his own, he recognizes the importance of looking after his youngest patrons. 

“It’s hard to find a good family restaurant, where there’s respect shown for the kids’ menu,” Mark says. “We make sure the kids are looked after with a really good gnocchi bolognaise, or flathead in the fish and chips, with more fish than chips.

“And we make sure the kids are served first, with a family sitting at 5pm for the younger families. It’s the little things like that that make a family holiday so much better.”

Mark opened Three Founders last year, fresh from a $1.6 million refurbishment, just as Victoria was thrown into lockdown.

“We’re about offering quality, with a focus on local ingredients, but we also want to offer value,” Mark says. “Our T-bone steak comes in at 400g ($40) with truffled mashed potato, chargrilled broccolini with toasted hazelnut and a star anise red wine sauce. There’s quality, but also quantity.”

The locally inspired menu also showcases regional producers and taste artisans. There’s award-winning beef from Ballan-based Sher Wagyu, handmade smokehouse meats, terries and charcuterie from Salt Kitchen in nearby Delacombe, heavenly hot chocolates from Ballarat’s Grounded Pleasures, and freshly baked treats from Michel’s Fine Biscuit Co in Castlemaine and The Regimental Condiment Company’s chutneys and pastes, to name just some of the menu’s local heroes.

Check the Three Founders website for opening times and restaurant availability.

Close up of fresh pasta dish at Ragazzone Italian restaurant in Ballarat

Perfect pasta at Ballarat newbie Ragazzone.


Decadent delights at Daylesford's Chocolate Mill.

Decadent delights at Daylesford's Chocolate Mill.


Daylesford

In proof there are silver linings in a pandemic, Daylesford gained several new venues in 2020.

In the pits of winter’s lockdown, Jen and Owen Latta combined their two smaller local businesses, a wine shop and a deli, into one big corner space in the former IGA supermarket (26 Vincent St) to shine a light on small, lesser-known wine and cheese makers.

Winespeake + Deli (named as a nod to Owen’s Ballarat winery Eastern Peake) has impressed Herald Sun food editor Dan Stock, who lives a short drive north in Castlemaine.

Dan says the corner café/store is a great place to sit and taste expertly curated wine and cheese, or fill your own fridge to create a feast at home.

Also catching Dan’s attention in Daylesford is Beppe, a new Italian bistro making knockout wood-fired pizzas in the weatherboard building that once housed fine diner Mercato. Opening just before the lockdown restrictions hit in March, Beppe is run by Liam Thornycroft and Samantah Mackley, who already have strong form for taking over the nearby Cliffy’s Emporium two years ago.

Daylesford is also home to some seriously good hand-made chocolate, ice cream and cakes at The Chocolate Mill, where RACV members can save 10 per cent on all chocolate purchases. Watch the chocolatiers transform Belgian coverture into a huge range of chocolate creations, then settle in to enjoy a sweet treat in the café.

Ballarat 

A Goldfields food and drink adventure would not be complete without stopping in Ballarat.

For a laid-back beverage, head to one of Australia’s smallest micro-breweries, Red Duck, where husband-and-wife duo Scott and Vanessa Wilson-Browne are pouring a selection of small-batch craft beers brewed with big personalities. On tap you’ll find everything from Licorice Lagers and double IPAs to summer ales infused with coconut blossom. 

And while the popular Kilderkin Distillery in currently closed (it’s moving to a new location), you can still sip on some of their fine gins at the RACV Goldfields resort’s Springs Bar and Terrace. Red Duck’s delicious brews are also available to try.

Channel 10's The Project co-host Gorgi Coghlan, who juggles a double life as a country hotelier and restaurateur, spends a lot of time on the Western Highway between Ballarat and the TV studios in South Yarra. But her love job is running the Provincial Hotel and Lola restaurant with her husband Simon. Every day, they’re asked by patrons for local dining tips.

One of Gorgi’s local favourites is Underbar, a 16-seat fine diner in downtown Ballarat where chef Derek Boath brings three Michelin star experience to regional Victoria in one of Australia’s finest degustations (starting at $125pp – but book early).

“Underbar is such an outstanding dining experience,” Gorgi says. “It’s equivalent to the best degustation I’ve enjoyed around the world and we are genuinely so excited to have this standard of service and execution in Ballarat.”

Gorgi also recommends Ragazzone, a new pasta and wine bar popular with younger diners, along with Meigas for Spanish and Pancho just across the road for South American.

For picnics, she orders a gourmet hamper from Vegas and Rose and finds a sunny spot to spread a rug with her young family on the banks of Ballarat’s Lake Wendouree.

“The Shared Table in Buninyong, just south of Ballarat,  is another lovely dining experience,” Gorgi says. “It’s a stunning room and really well executed food.” 

But Gorgi’s hottest tip is her own restaurant Lola. And a courtyard in the heritage-listed hotel will offer drinks from “Clara the Cocktail Caravan”.

 “It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a Lola Spritz, made with an elderflower cordial we make ourselves using elderflowers from our kitchen garden,” Gorgi says. “And make sure you order the spaghetti vongole. It’s the best I’ve tasted.”


Plan ahead

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, some bookings are restricted or temporarily suspended. Before heading off on your next Victorian adventure, phone ahead to check local alerts, opening times and ticketing availability.