The Stables Gallery Cafe
Address: 58 Service Street, Bairnsdale, Vic, 3875
Phone: (03) 5152 4724
Open: Wednesday to Saturday, 8.30am until 4pm Sunday 10am until 4pm
Bairnsdale, a busy country town set on the Mitchell River, is a bit off the beaten track for a Melbourne city girl. The shops range from Rivers and Bi-Lo to Harvey Norman and camping stores. But since The Stables Gallery Café opened, it’s become right up my alley.
The building dates back to the 1800s, when it was used as a horse stable for the Terminus Hotel next door. While the name may not be that original, the concept certainly is. Aside from being set in a historical brick stable, the café rubs shoulders with an art gallery. The gallery provides Community College students in East Gippsland with a creative space where they can work on their masterpieces.
When the gallery is closed, the college conducts art classes. Music sessions and theatre are also regularly held upstairs, and on the third Saturday of each month you’ll find an artisan market with exclusively local products and artworks.
The talent was very impressive. From sculptures and portraits to furniture and paintings, all of the pieces were quite modern. You can choose to sit inside and admire the art, or outside in the grand courtyard (sun or shade) and take in the impressive building with its whimsical outdoor sculptures.
Whatever you decide, make sure you head upstairs to the second level and sneak a peak at the work in progress.
The area is clearly an art space: you have to navigate around easels to have a look around, and doodles are found around every corner alongside paint and brushes. There is also a great view down to the courtyard from the front window.
As well as providing young artists with a platform to display their work, the café employs hospitality trainees from the college who are undertaking the hands-on cooking elective in the General Education program. Completing a Certificate 1 in Hospitality at the college can involve an eight-day work experience component at the café. Some of the staff have continued their work with a Certificate 2 in hospitality, which involves paid work at the Stables Gallery Café.
There is no doubt that the Stables Café serves the best coffee in town. They offer a house blend as well as single origin beans; the latter rotates weekly. Barista Steven Stagg pours a smooth latte, a mean chai and a deadly iced and hot chocolate. He’s relocated from Fitzroy, so it’s little wonder that the coffee is spot on and the place is a touch quirky.
The menu is small but delicious. Usually the small counter and coffee making space is home to a refrigerated glass cabinet, full of cakes and sweet treats made in the Community College’s Hospitality Training Kitchen. When we visited, Steve said he was having “one of those days” and unfortunately the cabinet was out of action.
The savoury selection, while limited, is tasty and unfussy. Stuck somewhere between breakfast and lunch, I wasn’t ravenously hungry and ordered a piece of banana bread. Aside from the packaged butter, it looked most appealing. It arrived warm and was deliciously moist. You could really taste the banana.
The boys had salads; strange, I know! The Thai beef salad featured wafer-thin slices of raw beef, tender and with a touch of pink. The meat rested on a bed of mixed green leaves with sliced cucumber throughout. A cap of red capsicum added colour to the dish while the dressing contained hints of garlic, lime, fish sauce and sugar.
We also sampled the chicken Caesar salad. Served with a mayonnaise dressing, the strips of chicken were perfectly poached. They were perched on a bed of crisp lettuce, also topped with thinly cut red capsicum. Beside the chicken were two poached eggs, both halved. As usual, I pinched the anchovies… although it wasn’t an ideal follow-up to the banana bread.
I have never encountered anything quite like the Stables Gallery Café. Sure, there are other ventures that support local artists and the community, but the work on display and the service is up there with the best. Usually, an altruistic venture in the hospitality industry can mean compromising on the quality of the establishment, its service or its produce. That is certainly not the case here. Even Santa made a pit stop here.
Soaking up the heritage atmosphere gives one the feeling of being on holiday, yet unlike a trip away from Melbourne, you don’t find yourself muttering grumpily, “Coffee is so much better at home.”