Dining Ballart: Irish Murphy’s — and a detour via Death at the comic shop

dinner at irish murphy's ballarat

Dinner at Irish Murphy’s Ballarat

We ducked into Irish Murphy’s to escape the antarctic gale sweeping down Ballarat’s Sturt Street last night, and what a warm encounter it turned out to be.

Through the swinging doors of the airlock, through the public bar and into the restaurant, where the staff were welcoming indeed. Tucked into a cosy booth, we enjoyed an early dinner: lamb shanks ($25), bangers and mash ($20), and for me, roast beef with veg ($21).

Massive serves — dessert was just never going to happen. Tasty tucker. And while the strips of beef were a little chewy, the roast taters were the best I’ve had in eons. I was only half joking when I said next time I’d be ordering just a plate of them! Washed down with a glass of Pepperjack shiraz: spot on for a blustery day.

Old signs and display windows of bottles add to the brick-n-timber ambience. Getting there early was a bonus.

Another keeper!

Death figurine from SandmanEarlier, guided by a friend, our trip to town netted a joint housewarming present to ourselves: an absolutely stunning figure of Death, from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman books. Safe to say, we’ll be back to visit the wonderfully laid out Heroes HQ comic shop, occupying the rooms of a building forming part of a former military base.

So far, Ballaratia: all good!

Dining Ballarat: Blue Bell Hotel

blue bell bistro steakLured 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.

ballarat blue bell hotel dessertWe 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.