25 Queen Street Bendigo, Victoria 3550
|Opening hours||Tue-Sat noon-3pm, 6pm-9.30pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Bar, Business lunch, Degustation, Food shop, Gluten-free options, Green-eco focus, Licensed, Outdoor seating, Private dining|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Chef||Nick & Sonia Anthony|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 5443 3877|
Bendigo's 19th-century gold boom is still writ large and lovely in its grand, optimistic buildings and broad streets. Less immediately evident but more easily devourable is the local food boom forging ahead now – people are growing and cooking with passion and nowhere with more gusto or appreciation than at three-year-old Masons.
Chef Nick Anthony's menu is enthusiastic with nearly 40 savoury dishes and nine desserts, most of them reasonably complex, and plucking from Asian, Middle Eastern and European flavour profiles.
I feared the plethora might be a sign of scattergun fervour leading to slapdash cookery. But after stoically making deep inroads into the menu my verdict is no: chef's vision is focused, his aim is true and he does a lovely job of showcasing central Victoria's bounty and augmenting it with canny combinations and careful cookery.
Juicy meadow-raised chicken is cooked slow and low, then crumbed and served with yuzu mayo and pickled kohlrabi. Sticky pork hock and tiger prawns are the heroes of a towering super-fresh Thai-style salad.
A pork assiette honours McIvor Farm old-breed black Berkshire pigs, grown free range and happy down the road. Roasted belly comes with caramel-crisp skin. Cheek is formed into mini-schnitzels of jelly tenderness. Just-pink fillet slurps up pumpkin puree. Crackling is coiled, crisp and sparky as a firecracker. This is pork shown to absolute best advantage with deep, honest flavours that speak of oodles of TLC.
Desserts are technically precise, fun and crazy delicious and the tasting plate means you're not left making tricky decisions between, say, vanilla and pear brulee and yoghurt panna cotta with blueberry gel.
Service is friendly and capable and the dining room is elegant and comfortable, wrapping up an experience so good it may even prompt a browse of Bendigo real estate.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)