Great Ocean Food: Golden history

November 28, 2019 BY

We had two family functions to attend on the weekend. Both were in country Victoria and some distance apart, so we stayed at The Provincial Hotel in Ballarat on Saturday night.

It seems to me this town built on discovering gold is experiencing an economic resurgence. This modern commercial “boom” is not so much a rush but a steady stream of visitors to the region which commenced with the ever-popular Sovereign Hill in the ‘70s. This behemoth of tourism is regularly on the list of Victoria’s top destinations and continues to attract nearly half the two million or so tourists the city attracts each year.

I would guess that almost everyone reading this article has visited the heritage gold mining museum at some stage. Nearly everyone I know had a school excursion there to learn the
history of gold mining and its role in the development of Victoria; an impact which is very difficult to overstate (Ballarat went from little more than a sheep station to a city with a population of 60,000 in a decade). The continuing prosperity of the goldfields earned Ballarat the nickname “The Golden City” in the 1850s and the beautiful buildings and architecture we admire today is a direct result of the discovery of alluvial gold in the mid 19th century.

The proceeding decades have seen boom and bust, but the stunning landscapes and the wonderful buildings remain. The Provincial Hotel is one such property. Situated on historic Lydiard Street opposite the railway station, the hotel has been completely revamped. Simon and Gorgi Coghlan started work in 2018 and have created a haven for the discerning traveller. It has stunning
new interiors, a first-rate restaurant and a beautiful homely feel inspired by the small hotels of Europe. There is no hiding its former grandeur with a dramatic staircase and exterior of which
Scarlett O’Hara would be proud. But the frosty reception our femme fatale from Gone with the Wind so famously exhibited to Rhett Butler is completely absent at The Provincal. The staff were welcoming and the food and service exceptional.

On this occasion we had only breakfast in the well-appointed dining room, but I’m looking forward to sampling the dinner menu on another visit. The hotel is a classic example of modern tourism
where a fading icon has been restored to become a destination in its own right. No offence to Sovereign Hill, but as kids would say, “been there, done that”. I’m looking forward to more small hotels
opening in the regions of Victoria. They would do well to reproduce some of the ambience which has been achieved at The Provincial. Following is a recipe for potato boulangere, a classic French
provincial dish proudly made with local potatoes.

Potato boulangere

INGREDIENTS

• 6 desiree potatoes
• 150g unsalted butter, melted
• 1 teaspoon caster sugar
• 2 onions, thinly sliced
• 2 cups chicken stock
• Sea salt and white pepper

METHOD

Preheat oven to 180C. Combine 100g butter and sugar in a medium saucepan, add onion and cook over low heat for six minutes or until soft, then increase heat to medium and cook for another 15 minutes or until caramelised. Season to taste with sea salt and white pepper. Slice potatoes very thinly (preferably on a mandolin) and  arrange in a single layer in a medium baking dish. Scatter with
some of the onion mixture then repeat with remaining potatoes and onion and season to taste between layers, finishing with potato. Bring chicken stock to boil in a small saucepan. Pour over potatoes until just covered and add remaining butter. Bake for an hour until potatoes are tender and the top crispy.