I’ve just got back from a weekend with friends in Castlemaine. This sleepy little Goldrush town has gained a new lease of life in recent years with lots of “tree changers” opening up book stores, cafes, antique shops, bars and restaurants. We rented a house on the outskirts of town, uncorked a few bottles of wine and settled in for the weekend. There are my tips on where to eat and drink:
The Good Table
The Good Table is a tiny little restaurant but its fame has spread thanks to its focus on simple, seasonal, local produce. There’s an easy charm to the dining room with its high ceilings and bare tables. Our set menu started with a single grilled Hervey Bay Scallops each delicately topped with garlic chives and lemon oil. It was delicious but I would have loved more than one. Next there were bowls of spiced crumbed rabbit legs to share. Heavy with paprika these were like a grown up (and addictive) version of chicken nuggets. Then rather strangely we were served one whole fried snapper for a table of seven. This resulted in only a tiny serve of fish each which felt a little stingy. Thankfully we got more than one serve of the braised pork neck served as a stew with borlotti beans and heirloom tomatoes. It was rich comforting food. The meal finished on a high as I’m still dreaming about the ricotta and lemon bombeloni: light and fluffy, coated in a crust of crunchy sugar and slathered with chocolate sauce. It’s one of the best desserts I’ve had all year. The food at The Good Table is fantastic but service could be more attentive and some servings more generous in size.
Details: The Good Table, 233 Barker Street, Castlemaine (Ph 03 5472 4400)
Damage: Reasonable. The set menu with limited wine came to $75 a head.
The Public Inn
The Public Inn is not your typical country pub. There are wine barrels built into the wall which you can order wine by the glass from. We got to the Public Inn late at night so were happy to find out they were still serving at 9pm. There’s traditional pub food like fish and chips but it’s rockling fillet with house made tartare sauce. There’s also more adventurous dishes like pink duck breast and crispy skinned confit of duck leg ($35) served on top of a peach, radicchio and mint salad $35
Details: Public Inn, Corner Barker & Mostyn Streets, 165 Barker St, Castlemaine (Ph 03 5472 3568)
The Governor’s Cafe at the Old Castlemaine Gaol
The best view of Castlemaine has to be from the Old Castlemaine Gaol. Conveniently there’s also a cute little cafe up here so you can survey the town with a latte in hand. The coffee is smooth and creamy and there’s a menu of breakfast and lunch dishes plus some serious looking cakes. We didn’t move beyond beverages but it’s a lovely setting amongst planter boxes of vegies with rugs for when the wind gets a little chilly.
Details: The Governor’s Cafe, Old Castlemaine Gaol, Bowden Street, Castlemaine
What to do
- There are regular tours of the old Castlemaine Jail for prison aficionados like my friend Jade.
- Castlemaine has lots of interesting shops to browse in, particularly the amazing secondhand book stores. I also recommend Mulberry’s delicatessen for a fantastic cheese selection.
- We visited the Botanic Gardens but these are on the small side and probably more an attraction for locals rather than tourists.
- Once a month there’s a farmers market in the centre of town which is great for a browse and for some takeaway dumplings.
Where to Stay
We rented The Potager cottage about 10 minutes drive outside of Castlemaine. It’s a beautiful old sandstone building and staying there feels like you’re stepping back in time. The Potager has a large swimming pool and garden to relax in. The original cottage was built in the 1860s and a real sense of history has been retained with lots of antiques throughout the house.
There were nice little touches like the good quality butter, free range eggs and sourdough bread in the kitchen. The kitchen itself was well equipped for cooks although in a house this size a dishwasher would have been a welcome modern convenience. We loved our time at The Potager and if you’re looking for a place to rent with a group who don’t mind sharing rooms it’s a great option.
Details: The Potager, Castlemaine. The main house sleeps four (one double bed and two singles) and there is an additional studio which sleeps three (one double bed and one single).
Damage: The minimum booking on a weekend is two nights at $800 for two couples for the main house only.