Spotted By Locals: Peter Russell-Clarke's Goldfields

Peter Russell-Clarke

CHEF, AUTHOR, AMBASSADOR.

The celebrated foodie rediscovers the Goldfield region of his childhood and delights in what he sees, eats and drinks.

Peter Russell-Clarke is one of Australia's original TV chefs and a creative force. His Come And Get It cooking show screened on ABC-TV for years, and he's a cookbook writer and publisher, an illustrator, painter, farmer and a United Nations food ambassador.

So when he and his wife, Jan, plan a road trip, great food and wine are always on the menu.

There is no reason why you can't order a good red with a delicate fish.

Peter was born in Ballarat, and the Russell-Clarkes recently spent a relaxing weekend exploring the Goldfields' largest city as well as Bendigo, Smeaton and Heathcote.

"My early days at Ballarat are simply fond memories," he says. "But it's interesting to come back and find that those fond memories haven't changed, nor have any of the buildings of the area."

Ballarat's history is integral to the nation's narrative, he says.

''With the Eureka Stockade we showed we had a spirit of fairdinkum-ness; that we understood the right and proper thing for people.''

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The Battle of Eureka Stockade took place in December 1854, and the rebellion's symbol, the Eureka flag, can be seen at Ballarat's new Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (made.org).

The Art Gallery of Ballarat (artgalleryofballarat.com.au), the oldest and largest in regional Australia, is also a great place to spend an afternoon  browsing a comprehensive collection of Australian paintings.

WHERE TO STAY

Russell-Clarke says Ballarat's Ansonia on Lydiard hotel (theansoniaonlydiard.com.au), with its mix of antique charm and modernity, is a good base from which to explore the region. Across the road from the hotel is Her Majesty's Theatre, and a short walk brings visitors to Ballarat's hub of restaurants, cafes and antiques shops.

In Bendigo, the pair opt to stay at the boutique Fountain View Suites (fountainview.com.au), housed in an 1863-built former bank. "Exquisite, very salubrious," is Peter's verdict of the accommodation.

EXPERIENCES

In between the city visits, the pair drive to Tuki (tuki.com.au), a trout farm, restaurant and retreat near Smeaton run by Robert Jones and his family. At Tuki, guests are provided with fishing rods and shown to a selection of ponds. Jan lands a trout within minutes; Peter's catch takes longer, but eventually two fresh fish are caught, cleaned, wrapped in foil and readied to be cooked on the restaurant's open fire.

Peter orders a Guildford  shiraz to accompany the meal. The wine will go well with the food and the views over the distant Blue Pyrenees.

"When I was a boy we were told to only drink white wine with fish,'' he says. ''That is wrong; there is no reason why you can't order a good red with a delicate fish."

Lunch at Tuki also includes a tasting platter of smoked lamb sausage, local potatoes, pate and cheese. Later, Jones produces a copy of Peter's  Freshwater Trout Cookbook - and a 1991 visitors' book in which Peter drew a small sketch.

Then it's on to the cellar door at Henry of Harcourt (henrycider.com), where orchards set at the foot of Mount Alexander produce the pink lady apples used to make Henry's Original Cider.

FOOD AND WINE

Bendigo's Wine Bank on View (winebankonview.com), across from the Fountain View Suites, brims with sophistication and regional Victorian wines, and Peter is impressed. A short walk away is Masons of Bendigo (masonsofbendigo.com.au), where chef Nick Anthony sources and showcases central Victorian produce and serves the Russell-Clarkes a tapas-style array  of tastes that Peter judges to be "as good as anything you'd get in Melbourne".

He chooses a riesling from Best's Great Western (bestswines.com) and a Heathcote II shiraz (heathcote2.com) to accompany the meal.

Peter also recommends Heathcote's Flynn's Wines and Heathcotean Bistro (flynnswines.com) as a gem where food and wine is perfectly paired, and the Willow Room (willowroom.com.au), a Heathcote restaurant that showcases local wines and produce. Popping into the heritage-listed Tooborac Hotel and Brewery (tooborachotel.com.au) for a craft ale is prized, too.

Peter champions farming co-operatives – his UN appointment is based on his work helping to establish them – and is involved in one near Shepparton. Doubtless the produce from many more co-operatives will one day also be part of this connoisseur's guide to grazing in Central Victoria.

Spotted by Locals is brought to you in association with Tourism Victoria.

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