Lured by a shopping docket discount of 50 per cent off meals, last night we had our first dinner out since moving to Ballarat: at the bistro of the Blue Bell Hotel, probably the closest eatery to the Tor that doesn’t serve tucker in a cardboard box. (My god, you should’ve seen the length of the line-up at McDonald’s drive through down the corner …)
The Blue Bell’s bistro is on two levels further divided by a low wall: the lower section has television screens with captions and gambling, the other just a wall. The wall was preferable, though it was further from the bar, and mercifully further from the top 40 muzak. Ambience-wise, better than a roadhouse, but not exactly homely.
Still, we weren’t expecting fireplaces and shagpile, and the menu is a solid order-at-the-counter pub outing: Thursday nights are parma night and many of the tables were taken. There were three steaks on offer, plus a reef ‘n’ beef special, a variety of pastas, lamb shanks, salads, seniors and kids meals … they have the bases covered with pork belly and Greek lamb pizza adding interest.
I went for a 400g rump steak with pepper sauce, Kirstyn tried the special with garlic sauce — both under $30 — and we were both well satisfied. Both cuts came cooked an accurate medium, with a handful of innocuous salad and a handful of tasty chips.
We washed it down with a glass of Oomoo shiraz ($8 a glass), but a bottle change mid-pour meant a surprising difference in taste and I didn’t go back for a second. Don’t know what happened to the normally dependable drop, there.
We forced ourselves to sample dessert from the display case: an, um, interesting take on black forest cake for me and a vanilla slice for her; not disappointing, just lacklustre, and quite surplus to requirements, really. I mentioned the 400g steak, right? The coffee, however, was pretty damn fine.
Add in friendly, efficient staff and the verdict was: the Blue Bell hits its target, and we’ll be back — I reckon the place would register high on the Dad scale with the cut of those steaks — but might give the dessert a miss and go straight for the coffee.
Extra points for off-street parking and an excellent website, complete with PDFs of the menu.