Not often this happens but this month we have been able to compare a Melbourne dining evening with another in Bendigo and it was like-with-like … they were surprisingly comparable and we loved them both.
At the Sageleaf Bistro in Burwood Road, Hawthorn in Melbourne, we shared a tasting platter with a glass each of local bubbles, then moved on to mains of roast rump of lamb with a confit of potatoes, shallot, olives and tomato with parmesan cream and picada (his) and pan-roasted confit of duck leg with parsnip puree, mushroom and grape tartlet (hers) sharing a side of buttered greens and slivered almonds. The mains were matched with a Mt McLeod pinot noir and we finished with two hot chocolates. (Details from our receipt and the published menu)
Three nights later, at the Bouchon restaurant in High Street, Bendigo, north-west of Melbourne, we sat down to a shared platter of charcuterie for two (housemade rillette, terrine, salami and jamon with croutons, mini brioche and chutney) with two more glasses of local (Balgownie) bubbles, followed by mains of chicken ballotine stuffed with wild mushroom duxelle, pomme puree and tarragon and chicken jus (hers) and Murray Valley pork belly confit, braised cabbage and bacon, fried sage and jus (his) matched with a Mandurang Valley merlot and another shared side of buttered greens (beans this time) also with slivered almonds. Instead of hot chocolates we finished up with a peppermint tea and a brulee on one side of the table and an espresso and a Glenmorangie single malt on the other. (Details from our receipt and the published menu)
Surprise, the tab was only marginally different, probably a result of the Glenmorangie addition on the chilly Bendigo evening.
The things we noticed most on each night – apart from the fact that our tastes are eminently predictable – were the high quality of the ingredients and the care taken with presentation, but also the attentive but unobtrusive service in both restaurants. No fuss, no waiting either, no hurry and thankfully, excellent tables. Sageleaf is in a bright modern room and has the simple feel of a 21st century bistro; Bouchon is in an old brick-lined room, perhaps a refurbished factory or warehouse, narrow and cosy in a French-styled Australian way. Neither was too noisy or too reserved and the other guests seemed to be perfectly normal people, just like us.