8 Church Street
This quant little café is housed in the “Old Church”, in Bellingen. The church has been restored, and is now home to three shops, AVE café, a kitchen shop and a nursery. The building itself is gorgeous, with beautiful stained glass windows and pitched archways which lead you from the hallway to the main dining room. The body of the church features high racked ceilings and original floorboards. It has been decorated with cute little period displays such as the tea cups display on the old side board, some enamel pots and kettles on the piano and various vintage lounges and matching lamps.
The décor is in contrast from a modern kitchen which is situated centrally in the dining room, allowing guests to appreciate the hard working solo chef and the busy waitress attending to tables and drinks.
When we visited there were six or seven tables being served throughout our meal.
We were given our menu and I noticed that there were some lovely desert options and a very interesting “High Tea” option which I made a mental note that we would have to come back and try.
Today we were in for lunch. I had already seen a couple of meals come out of the kitchen and they looked spectacular. For me it was a decision between the Fettuccini made on site and served with Pancetta, Roasted Pumpkin, Pine Nuts, Baby Spinach, Chili, Garlic and Olive Oil or the Baked Eggplant Gratin. The Eggplant Gratin was described as layered Roasted Capsicum , Eggplant and Zucchini topped with Cauliflower Puree and Parmesan Cheese.
It was a difficult decision but when it came to ordering I chose the Baked Eggplant Gratin. The waitress had gone through the specials of the day which I barely heard, I had enough trouble deciding between the menu items. Brett decided on the special of the day which was a Pancetta wrapped lamb on a Celeriac Puree with Baby Greens and a Red Wine Jus.
We had a bit of a wait on our lunch but given we could see the lone chef it was easy to understand why so we didn’t mind too much.
When our meals came out I was a little disappointed in my dish, I was expecting a more modern take on the gratin. Possibly something like and Eggplant, Zucchini, & Capsicum stack on the Cauliflower Puree. My meal was 95% cheese sauce. I hunted through the cheesy soup for a few pieces of thinly sliced eggplant and the odd piece of Capsicum. I couldn’t taste any Cauliflower puree and I didn’t find any Zucchini.
In all fairness to the chef I did receive what I ordered which was a gratin, and I don’t know why I was imaging a stacked vegetable dish but I didn’t find my meal appealing, it appeared to be a dish straight off an 80’s café menu, and it had very little in the way of vegetables. I probably should have taken a photo but at the time I felt there was nothing to photograph, my meal was a white gratin dish with a grilled cheese covering it completely, there was nothing more in sight.
About halfway through lunch my dear husband, love of my life, offered to swap meals with me. I have to say, in fairness to the AVE, hubby thoroughly enjoyed the vegetables in cheese sauce.
I tried the lamb dish and I nearly died, it was exceptional. I have never had such moist tender lamb, it was a melt in your mouth moment. I cannot image how the chef managed to get the lamb so moist. Hubby’s meal was presented beautifully, it was tasty and it had a nice amount of zucchini and other greens accompanying the meal.
We looked over the desert menu, there were a few tempting deserts such as Lemon Lime Tart served with Blueberry Compote, and a Belgian Chocolate and Almond Fondant with Raspberry Coulis and Vanilla Bean Ice- Cream. I did consider desert but I guess I was still a little disappointed about my meal and I wasn’t sure how long our wait would be for a second course.
Lunch menu prices range from $16.50 to $28.00 (including specials menu), Dinner menu prices range from $26.00 to $34.00 (not including specials menu).