The frontage of Public Inn Castlemaine is restored gold rush circa 1850s but the inside is now a modern bistro and bar.
The eatery moves from formal to casual seamlessly. You can choose to sit on some drinking chesterfield couches by the fireplace, at the relaxed bistro tables or in the formal restaurant area overlooked by a magnificent wine barrel and stone mosaic wall by local artist Helen Bodycomb. The natural wood/Danish inspired decor creates a calming neutral colour palate.
At lunch time there are several options available at Public Inn. There’s the a la carte lunch menu, a 2 course set menu (available 12-3pm 7 days) and an all-day bar menu of pub favourites from small bites to substantial plates. This makes Public Inn a great all round eating house – especially if you’re trying to find a place open for an early dinner or just want some snacks to match your drinks.
To start we ordered a sharing plate of entrees ($28) consisting of piping hot Istra prosciutto croquettes with a squiggle of creamed sweet corn, mounds of rabbit rillette and my favourite, circlets of smoked Skipton eel wrapped in kaiserfleisch atop some sweet beetroot puree.
To mix it up we then had two courses from the $39 ‘INN and Out’ menu, which included a glass of regional Sangiovese from the barrel wall. The barrel wall is unique because wine is poured directly into goldfields style carafes at various volumes and because the wine is made less than 100 miles from Castlemaine it doesn’t need to be bottled, corked or packaged. They also serve local beer, wine and ciders and on our visit (during a summer heatwave) they even had a spiced radler on top – apparently a refreshing drink sort of like a mix between cider and iced tea.
From the set lunch we picked an entree of turkey breast terrine served with a grape and chilli salsa, dehydrated berry and coriander. The flavours were inventive but the texture of the terrine was too firm for my liking – you could pick up the whole thing with a fork, like a steak.
I much preferred the more classic dish of tender confit of rare Tasmanian farmed Atlantic salmon, served with a blanket of watercress and a shaved citrus and fennel salad.
The highlight of our meal was definitely dessert. Our chocolate plate had three types of chocolate mouse – dark, milk and white – resting on a sprinkling of chocolate soil and crunchy ‘aero’ chunks. One person would have struggled to finish it and it was only $15.
Castlemaine is a great day-trip or mini-break for Melburnians and I recommend Public Inn for sophisticated dining in a relaxed environment. Because you don’t want to work too hard when you’re dining out on holiday.