Vegecareian Festival is back, along with a new immersive lightscape

Words by Tehya Nicholas
Images Supplied

If it’s universal compassion you’re after, a day trip to Vegecareian Festival might be an excellent place to start.

In 2013, the Western world’s largest stupa — aptly titled the Great Stupa, standing tall just a short drive outside of Bendigo — began hosting an annual spring festival dedicated to the love of animals and plants. They called it Vegecareian Festival (emphasis on the care) and fast became one of the state’s most popular multicultural family-friendly events before it was shuttered by the pandemic. The one-day extravaganza returns this October 1st, marking a new period of exciting events brightening the Great Supa calendar.

Vegecareian teaches a lot more than just the joys of eating vegetables. The day is infused with the stupa’s central principle of compassion; market stalls of locally made produce are available to purchase, cooking demonstrations feature dishes from around the globe for some free education, and family activities are dotted throughout the day. In an outstanding act of 21st Century altruism, a Buddhist monk will be present to bless your pet if you’re up for bringing them along. Dogs, cats, chickens, and donkeys have been known to receive a blessing in the past.  Even if vegetarianism isn’t your thing, soaking up the goodwill in the air does something nice to your insides.

Marketing and Events Manager at Great Stupa Matthew Griffin told us recently visitor numbers can be expected to grow to between 1000 and 2000 people on the day, plus animal companions. “We wanted to bring people together for education about animal care, introduce people to a vegetarian lifestyle, and give them an opportunity to learn how to cook vegetarian food,” he explains. This free, multifaceted festival is an awesome expression of compassion (a rare and valuable practice in today’s fast-paced world) and marks an exciting opportunity to mingle with the local community.

Once your belly is full with uniformly excellent food and you’re ready for more pleasantries at Great Stupa, head back once a month for their brand new lightscape experience, Enlighten. Vermillion red, cobalt blue, canary yellow, and more vibrant lights have been designed to shimmer off the canvas white of the stupa and flow across their garden, Peace Park. The immersive show presents an exclusive opportunity to view the stupa after dark while live performers roam throughout the evening for your entertainment. Their first event is slated for August 13th, and will be held throughout the year on multiple nights and on special occasions. Tickets are available via their website.


WHAT: Vegecareian Festival
Great Stupa of Universal Compassion, 25 Sandhurst Town Road, Myers Flat (Bendigo) VIC 3556
 Saturday October 1st, 10am-3pm
MORE INFO: Great Stupa of Universal Compassion

We wish to acknowledge the Dja Dja Wurrung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Making street food magic at The Laneway in Healesville

Words by Tehya Nicholas 
Images Supplied

Heather Alcock, who served homemade pies, cakes, salads and more in her bustling cafe in Healesville for twelve years has now turned her attention to something a little spicier.

Down the leafy stretch of the Maroondah Highway, when the straw-yellow fields fade into tree-lined suburbia, Alcock’s Mocha & Lime cafe stood as a faithful outpost to locals and travellers alike. She had nailed the formula of a great neighbourhood cafe: leafy location, lack of pretension, good coffee and seasonal, fresh brunches.

When Mocha & Lime was forced to close in June this year due to structural problems inside the building, a collective outcry went up from neighbourhood coffee lovers. Alcock, ever enterprising, found a new spot just up the road: an exposed-brick warehouse space with ample natural light, outdoor seating and an idyllic, sprawling garden, owned and co-occupied by her friends at Alchemy Distillery. She told us recently, “We just hit them up for this space. They’ve been asking me for ages [to do something], but I didn’t want to take on too many projects… But now, we thought we’d better jump on it.”

What’s new at this new venue surreptitiously titled The Laneway? Well, practically everything. Alcock has seized the location shift as an opportunity for a complete culinary and aesthetic redo. Where Mocha & Lime championed downtempo cafe classics in the kitchen, The Laneway slips into something a little spicier. Alcock and her team are careful to avoid strict labels early in the game, but gave us murmurs of “Mexican street food” and “South American inspired bites”. When the kitchen receives its final pieces of polished cookware and last lick of paint in the coming weeks, hungry customers can order salsa-laden nacho plates, cheesy quesadillas, and tostadas of every variety.  Alcock has been sure to uphold her passion for serving locally grown and prepared produce.

“We’ve brought in Yarra Valley Smokery pork and chicken so we will use this across a few dishes,” she explains. “Plus, we have vegan tostadas with chipotle beans.” Seems she hasn’t forgotten the plant lovers.

Among the light, bright meals, their speciality coffee is an aficionado’s delight, served with all the milky suspects you’d expect at an inner city cafe. Local beers, an array of alcoholic Mexican imports, cocktail classics, and gin and vodka-tasting paddles from neighbours Alchemy Distillery flow across the day if that’s your kind of thing.

Softly opening the third week of July for light bites and drinks, your first chance to drop by for a taste of the South American-inspired turn from Alcock is soon upon you. It may be unusual for a community favourite to curveball into a new culinary domain, but their loyal band of customers and budding newcomers are here for the swing.


WHAT: The Laneway
WHERE: 242 Maroondah Hwy, Healesville
WHEN: Open Monday, Thursday, Sunday 8am-5pm, Friday and Saturday 8am-8pm, Closed Tuesday and Wednesday
MORE INFO: The Laneway

We wish to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

A taste of Mexico in Woodend

Woodend has expanded its culinary repertoire with the opening of a Mexican restaurant and bar – and just in time for the winter.

Las Margaritas is the newest addition to the town’s food scene, boasting everything from nachos and tacos through to cocktails and tequila.

Situated on Woodend’s main drag, Las Margaritas opened at the beginning of June and is one of the only haunts in the Macedon ranges offering visitors and locals a genuine taste of South America.

And the best part, the menu is chock-a-block with options for the vegans, vegetarians and even the gluten-free folk out there.

“We are a casual and fun place that brings a bit of the city to the country,” owner operator Seema Been says. “We pride ourselves on our cocktails and meals, chimichangas and tacos.”

Having been in the hospo industry for 15 years, Seema has worked in a number of Melbourne businesses spanning from pubs to Latin restaurants and Spanish tapas eateries.

She says she bought the business during lockdown without even seeing it.

“I’ve been coming to the Macedon Ranges for years and had a soft spot for Woodend so when an opportunity arose, we grabbed it,” she says.

“Once we got the keys, we had our work cut out to open asap.”

The menu is indeed worth writing home about. Start your experience with a mouthwatering aperitivo – some corn on the cob with tajin, burnt butter and chipotle mayo, or potachos topped with melted cheese, salsa, guacamole and sour cream.

Or maybe savour your own tostada, double decker tacos, fried tortillas or tacos – dubbed as God’s gift to the world.

The selection doesn’t stop there. The menu also boasts signature paella, enchiladas, burritos, quesadillas, fajitas and salads – all perfectly accompanied with your favourite beverage and ready to turn your chilly winter’s eve into a helluva warm one.

“It’s not a job, it’s a passion for food and drinks,” Seema says. “Especially in the current environment; to shop for ingredients and present a menu that appeals to the taste buds and pockets.

“The journey has just begun for Las Margaritas with plenty more to come with the change of season.”


WHAT: Las Margaritas
WHERE: 81 High St, Woodend

We wish to acknowledge the Dja Dja Wurrung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Seriously good bagels are happening at Out of Order cafe in Bendigo

Words by Tehya Nicholas
Images Supplied

Despite society’s best efforts to eschew carbohydrates, the humble bagel has us in a chokehold. From its beginnings in Europe through to its migration to the U.S and Australia, the delicious ring-shaped bread has stirred up deep and fierce loyalties. The latest town in the bagel grip? Bendigo, thanks to a forward-thinking, bread-loving couple.

Kelsey and Taylor, two Bendigo locals with a wealth of hospitality experience behind them, have built Out of Order cafe, a speciality bagel and coffee shop serving classic, crowd-pleasing bagels for breakfast and lunch.

“We’d been playing around with the idea of opening our own place for a little while. Somewhere that we can have more creative control,” Kelsey tells me of the venture.

Within two months of deciding to take the small-business gamble, the couple had found a location in the heart of town and were busting open Bendigo’s food repertoire of toasted sandwiches and meat pies. They wanted New York style, stuffed-to-the-brim bagels that give your jaw muscles a workout, and they found it. Needless to say, the locals are loving it.

5 & Dime Bagels are delivered fresh daily from Melbourne and packed full on sight with fresh, local ingredients. Their menu boasts classics like the Reuben and the Lox, as well as plant-based options for the vegans out there. Of course, cream cheese (both the dairy and dairy-free versions) features heavily — a fact sure to please bagel traditionalists.

Micro roastery Coffee Cartel from Geelong provide the beans, which in the hands of their expert barista, is a combination no one can resist.

“It is going really well. We’ve got some awesome regulars that are coming in every day. That makes us feel that we’re doing something right,” Kelsey explains.

Chewiness, delightfulness and freshness is the Out of Order promise. Some good vibes, as the A-frame sign outside their front door says, can also be expected.

WHAT: Out of Order cafe
WHEN: Open Monday to Friday 6am – 2pm, Saturday 8am – 2pm
WHERE: 352 Hargreaves Street, Bendigo
MORE INFO: Out of Order

We wish to acknowledge the Dja Dja Wurrung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

New grill restaurant opens its doors in Ballarat

Images Supplied

The people of Ballarat have been treated to yet another culinary delight this month with the opening of new restaurant Griller’s Mark.

Housed in a historic building smack-bang in the centre of town, the eatery opens its doors only three months after the sudden closing of franchise Burger Road which was located in the same space.

According to spokesperson Noble Sehmi, Griller’s Mark prides itself on serving up a diversity of fare fresh off the grill – we’re talking ribs, burgers, steaks, wings, and more ribs.

But this isn’t just a haunt for the meat lovers of the world. Noble says when opening the restaurant, it was important the menu catered for people with a range of dietary requirements.

“Our ribs, desserts, and burgers are our speciality but I believe we have options to cater to people from all walks of life,” he says.

More often than not, one person in the family or a group has to suffer as they are unable to find any options on the menu. We believe that will not be the case with (us).

“We have an extensive burger menu that has quite a holistic approach to accommodate meat lovers, vegetarians, vegans, and people with dietary requirements.”

Take the restaurant’s southern fried giant mushroom burger. Dubbed The Masterpiece, it comes lathered in cheese sauce, lettuce, tomato, jalapeños, onion rings and the Griller’s Mark special sauce, making it a more-than-mediocre menu option for vegetarians (can be made vegan-friendly too).

Of course, the cause for salivation doesn’t stop with the mains. Indulgent thick shakes, mouthwatering desserts and a whole lotta drinks are also available to perfectly round off your meal.

“We did explore the market of Ballarat and found a lot of burger places, but no one is doing these many varieties of ribs and deserts in such a cozy atmosphere that we are providing,” Noble said.

As to opening up a restaurant during such uncertain times – it was an endeavour tackled with optimism.

“Opening a restaurant is always challenging with so many moving parts in the project, so as a unit we never let COVID hold us back,” Noble said.

“It was extremely important for us to stay optimistic during these times. We had to change our plans a few times to suit the outside situations and stay in-line with restrictions, but we had a backup plan to open for takeaway/delivery only if restrictions were to stay.”


WHAT: Griller’s Mark
WHERE: 58-60 Lydiard St Nth, Ballarat

Ballarat revives the tradition of cemetery picnics with Cemetery National Picnic Day

Images Supplied

In what may seem a little mysterious – or perhaps even a little spooky to some – on Saturday 22nd May, Ballarat is hosting a one-day outdoor picnic event the city hasn’t seen since the 1800s.

The Cemetery National Picnic Day, located at the Ballarat New Cemetery, is inviting folks to experience anew what those in the 19th Century thought was a jolly good time; a lovely day in the sun reconnecting with loved ones who had passed away, surrounded by picturesque cemetery grounds.

A collaboration between The Ballarat Cemeteries and The Gatehouse Ballarat as a part of the Ballarat Heritage Festival, the event is a little more elaborate than just a rug, some damper and looking at funny headstones.

There will be live music performances, a small market to peruse around, picnic hampers catering to most dietaries, a treasure hunt, tombstone rubbing, and even a horse-drawn carriage ride to get you feeling really antiquated. For those looking for something prim and proper, high tea at The Gatehouse Ballarat is just a short walk away.

While you’re there, why not pop in on one of the historic tours across the day, covering subjects like the history of Ballarat New Cemetery, the World War I veterans who hailed from the city, the history of cremation in Victoria, and Ballarat’s rich Chinese heritage dating back over seven generations.

We can’t think of a better way to demystify death and the burial process than to enjoy the grounds and learn about its history.

WHAT: Cemetery National Picnic Day
WHERE: Ballarat New Cemetery, 1250 Doveton St N, Ballarat Central
WHEN: 10am-5pm, Saturday 22nd May 2021
MORE INFO: Ballarat Heritage Festival

Belcibo & Co

This could be a really short article on Belcibo & Co. It could just say “Italian chef cooks the food his Nonna made”.  That would be enough to let you know this place has great food. It would be enough to let you imagine the easy-going vibe. But we need to wax lyrical about the experience, about the food, just to ram the point home.

Chef Omar is Sicilian. He’s out front, cooking the food his Nonna made with a little flair, and a lotta love. For example, the Linguini Siciliana is a traditional pesto dish, as made in Sicily. It has fresh ricotta stirred through to make it rich and creamy. It’s Italian comfort food layered with generations of passion for making people comfortable. The Pappardelle has a 16-hour slow-cooked oxtail in a luscious sauce stirred through fresh pasta. Generosity is the order of the day – there’s no way you’re leaving hungry.

In addition to Omar’s Sicilian classics, Belcibo also has a wood fired oven turning out pizzas Friday to Sunday. Check the full menu here, it’s a great read.

Belcibo & Co is licensed (for those easy afternoon lunches that will probably slide right into a lazy evening at home in a food coma).

The Milk Bar

The former Milk Bar on the corner of Fryers St and Corio St in Shepparton has had a few guises over the years, and it has to be said none feels quite so comfortable as its current incarnation as The Milk Bar cafe and restaurant. Owned and run by Chloe Innes-Irons and supported ably by her always energetic father Mat, the place is lively, bustling, and welcoming. If you recognise Mat Innes-Irons, it might be from his time owning the Australia Hotel, or Friar’s Cafe. The experience shows at The Milk Bar.

Chef Bronson is genuinely passionate about his food, and his love for south-east Asian flavours really makes some of his dishes sing. The hot tip is to keep an eye on the specials, because Bronson always has something on the go!

The Milk Bar opened post-lockdown and became an almost instant community favourite. No doubt the quality of the food made from as much local produce as possible and locally sourced drinks list has a large part to do with that, but as Dennis Denuto says, “It’s the vibe” too. There’s no one thing that makes a great venue great. The Milk Bar has the enthusiastic owners and staff, the passionate chef, the attention to detail in a local cafe/restaurant that makes the experience complete.

Not the kind of family to sit still, the Innes-Irons have always got events planned for  The Milk Bar; specials, new ideas, music. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for all of those opportunities to be part of a fun and interesting experience – there’s bound to be something on when you’re visiting over a weekend. Look out for things like musicians in the back yard, Vietnamese themed dinners, Mother’s Day stalls, and Friday Tapas Knock-offs.

The Brewers Table

For the coffee snob, passing through country centres suffering lack of caffeination used to be the subject of dread and the topic of longing conversations. OHO has seen those days pass by, thanks in no small part to the proliferation of good coffee houses all through regional Victoria like the one we’ve found in Seymour, The Brewers Table.

There are signs, both literal and figurative, that the coffee will be good here. For the former, the chalk lists your coffee options, blends or single origins, made to your liking. To the latter, the presence of Mansfield Coffee Merchants coffee packaging attests to the excellence of the product. The names of locals and travelling regulars adorn the back wall as testament to loyalty from both sides.

Like most businesses who survived the lockdowns, and given the opportunity to reevaluate priorities, The Brewers Table have returned to their core strengths: Breakfast, Brunch, Coffee, local produce; Support the locals who supported them; Cook great food from local ingredients; Be excellent to everyone. 

The crowd is diverse – some travellers in the window, excited by recognising Mansfield Coffee Merchant on the pour, a crew of workers meeting over a table laid out with big breakfasts, two local wine makers discussing the upcoming vintage over espresso. Eggs bene’s are flying out to the late breakfast crowd, and beef salads to the early lunch crowd. The staff know people, calling out names, asking after family.

“Hi Stuart, hi Judy. How’s your mum Tiffany? Thanks Chelsea!”

It’s all personal, local – even if you’re passing through. Oh, and if it’s a nice day, do sit out back in the garden. It’s a slice of heaven.

The Trawool Estate

It takes some serious imagination and no small amount of bravery to look at a property between two small-ish regional centres in an albeit idyllic valley, and transform it into a food destination. It seems to be that when you apply imagination and bravery, along with no small amounts of skill and doggedness, that no amount of hither-to unknown-ness of a location will impede the success of a venture. Apply this to the small valley between Yea and Seymour, and you have The Trawool Estate.

Transforming this property between Yea and Seymour on the Goulburn Valley Highway was no small task. All the accommodation was gutted and refitted along with three restaurants added. The business is entirely renewed. Wild Water serves Australian contemporary cuisine and Turbine, the recent winner of Best Regional Hotel Restaurant at the AHA awards, serves elevated asian with Australian ingredients.  Herb Garden Pizzeria is the place for wood-fire pizza and beers when the sun is shining. The kitchens commitment to regional comes from understanding where the property sits – squarely in one of the most productive and beautiful parts of regional Victoria.

Details are everything, or so the old saying alludes. These are not lost on the folks at The Trawool Estate. The little pre-mixed cocktails that kept those in-the-know satiated during lockdown are now served in those very same single serve bottles to guests in the rooms. The cocktail list is as extensive as the wine list is considered, and again local producers are to the fore. Speaking of cocktails, if you’re up for it, don’t miss the master-classes – definitely a stay-over event.

Make sure you follow the social media pages – The Trawool Estate runs some fairly astonishing events, with many planned ahead.