Dianne Ray fondly remembers gathering around the dining room table as a child, enjoying a big breakfast in the presence of her loved ones.
Growing up on a dairy farm, fresh seasonal produce was always abundant and family breakfasts were, in every sense, paddock-to-plate.
“Dad would come into the house with eggs and bacon, and it was a big thing for us growing up,” Dianne recalls.
It is this feeling of togetherness, sharing in the joy of good local fare that Dianne wanted to re-create when opening her new venture The Shared Table.
Located in Buninyong, the restaurant is a place to connect with loved ones while partaking in the flavours of the region.
Punctuated by a distinct “share table”, the space conjures up the same emotions Dianne has always experienced when dining with family and friends.
“I always loved having dinner parties at my place. Having the guests and yourself all in the kitchen, really enjoying the food, sharing and embracing something different and discovering new flavours and textures,” she says. Image
Dianne didn’t expect to enter the hospitality industry. That was until about 10 years ago when she gave up her career as a clinical nurse and started a part-time apprenticeship with renowned Ballarat chef Peter Ford.
After working for only six months, Dianne was presented with one of the toughest hurdles of her life – she was diagnosed with breast cancer. But she continued to work in the kitchen, saying it allowed her life to take on a sense of normality.
“Peter was incredibly supportive during this time because he knew how important it was for me to keep working. I needed it for my recovery. I didn’t want to feel sick, I wanted to work.”
Coming out the other side an even more resilient woman, Dianne worked under the mentorship of Peter for a total of seven years before moving on to Craig’s Royal Hotel then Mitchell Harris Wines. In 2017, she looked into the possibility of opening a restaurant that would continue on with the philosophy of sustainability ingrained in her over the last decade.
The mother of four says the style of food served at The Shared Table is inspired by the shared threads of commonality between European and Asian treatments of food, exactly how she likes it.
“The food here is to be passed around. Shared bites, small plates and larger, all designed to play with flavours, textures and new tastes,” she says.
The space has been designed by IF Architecture, the same company which designed the likes of Melbourne’s Attica, Cutler & Co and Etta. Dianne said she wanted the restaurant to pay tribute to the building’s historic roots while celebrating the new age.
“I wanted it to have a smart informality, but still be different,” she says. “We were dealing with a heritage building that had previously been condemned, and we wanted to bring it into the 21st century. We wanted to peel it back to where it was, but take it to where it’s going.” Image
There’s no doubt that Dianne’s vision has been achieved. Looking up, you see the bare textured roof shingles of centuries gone by, juxtaposed by smooth shades of copper, green and brown. Everything in the restaurant has been handcrafted by local tradesmen, from the bespoke dining chairs to the stone tabletops, the corrugated Mt Buninyong feature wall to the shared table, which carries its own sentimental story.
“We had a large oak tree at our house and the children loved to play on one of its big branches,” Dianne says. “When it fell, Tim Williams (who worked on the restaurant’s fit-out) took the trunk and had it milled for us. He then combined it with a blackwood from his property and completed it with a piece of sheoak, which has copper-like grains that complement the restaurant interior.”
As well as evoking feelings of calm and nostalgia, Dianne said she wanted the restaurant to break down barriers between chef and diner, providing guests with an insight into the cooking process.
“Our open kitchen creates a connection and understanding of what it takes to produce the dining experience,” she says. “People in this industry work very hard and their wage is quite minimal, so I wanted to raise awareness into the timely process and the costs involved in getting the meal from its source to the plate.”
“Growing up on the farm, I learnt to be respectful of the effort that goes into growing and producing food, and even opening this restaurant has been a huge learning curve for me.”
The Shared Table is open for dinner from Thursday to Saturday, and for lunch on Saturday and Sunday. The eatery will feature a regularly changing set menu, which can be mixed and matched.
“There are small dishes available if you only have time for a short stay or plates of plenty to indulge in if you want to linger longer,” Dianne says. “It’s a special space to treat oneself or simply relax and enjoy a warm and happy ambience.”
Words by Della Vreeland, pictures by Angela Hayward. As printed in Uncover Summer 2019
The Shared Table is located at 317 Learmonth Street, Buninyong