The Best Restaurants in Ballarat
Words by Sofia Levin
Images by Liam Neal
Just 1.5 hours from Melbourne CBD, Ballarat is the most underrated food destination in regional Victoria.
From boomtown to food town, former gold rush city, Ballarat, is having a moment. As well as the broad appeal of new wine bars, character-filled accommodation and an impressive art gallery, Ballarat’s hidden gems speak to the migrant history of the area through food. Here’s your itinerary on where to eat, drink, shop and explore during a long weekend away in Ballarat.
9am: Breakfast with Heart
A Pot of Courage
For breakfast that feels as good as it tastes, A Pot of Courage is a not-for-profit social enterprise cafe that empowers women of diverse cultural backgrounds through training and employment opportunities. The menu reflects the patchwork of people who work there, whether you order Colombian arepas and Bangladeshi dhal for breakfast, or the banh mi that attracts queues come lunch. Browse the local art on the walls, pull up a seat at the “Have a Chat” table and exchange stories with strangers. If you’re in a position to pay-it-forward, do so. Barkly Square,
25-39 Barkly Street, Ballarat East, apotofcourage.com.au
10am: Shop Local
Homewares, Antiques & Vintage
There’s no shortage of shopping in Ballarat Central and surrounds. Windflower on Sturt Street is a burst of colour and delight, stocking uncommon seasonal flowers, handmade objects from candles to glassware, art and unique gifts. After the owner’s rose farm lost all of its business when the pandemic cancelled events overnight, she launched a pop-up florist that became a permanent fixture. Windflower is the silver lining. Ballarat is also a haven for vintage and antique shopping, with stores such as Rocket and Belle, Antik, That Little Vintage Shop and Antiques Goods & Chattels all in close proximity.
415 Sturt Street, Ballarat Central, windflowerstore.com.au
12pm: From Eureka to Ethiopia
A few doors down from Mitchell Harris Wine Bar, Merkama African Cafe proudly stands out with its green, yellow and red street sign mirroring the Ethiopian flag. Owner Temam Hussen named the restaurant after his daughter, with Merkama translating to “beautiful” in his native tongue. When Merkama opened in 2014, it was one of few multicultural food offerings in the area. It remains the only African one. Temam makes his injera (fermented Ethiopian flat bread) from scratch with maize, sorghum and self-raising flour. The tasting platters are the best way to try a little of everything, but the ye’gomen wat (think Ethiopian collard greens) and doro wat (chicken stew) are the picks. Call ahead to organise an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, $15 for up to four people.
30 Doveton Street North, Ballarat Central, facebook.com/Merkamacaf
2pm: Beekeeping & Candle Making
During winter, join local beekeepers Amanda Collins and Scott Denno for a wax and wine workshop, where you can learn about bees over vino and nibbles while making your own candles. When the weather warms up, beekeeping workshops range from beginner to advanced half and full-day sessions. The duo refers to themselves as the “accidental beekeepers” after they realised people were interested in learning how to keep bees but didn’t know where to start. Now they run the workshops from their Ballarat home, accompanied by their two friendly dogs.
306 Errard Street South, Ballarat Central, backyardbeesballarat.com.au
5pm: Heritage Accomodation
The Provincial or Hotel Vera
There are two standout options for accommodation in Ballarat Central. The 23-room Provincial Hotel was built in 1909 and is right opposite the train station. Options range from suites to two-bedroom apartments, with colour-coordinated bookshelves and local artworks lining the hallways. Lola is an all-day European restaurant on the ground floor powered by local produce. There’s also a central courtyard strung with festoon lights over a caravan-turned-bar.
File Hotel Vera under “coming soon” – it will take Ballarat accommodation up a notch when it opens in Spring 2022 inside a former medical building from the 1880s. Heritage features such as original fireplaces have been restored across seven luxury suites, while lavish bathtubs and Australian art will add modern touches. It’s also the new home of Underbar, Ballarat’s much-lauded, hatted restaurant from Michelin-star chef Derek Boath (formerly of Per Se in New York). Book well ahead to nab one of 14 seats and be sure to visit Pencilmark Wine Room in the old Underbar spot.
6pm: A Drink Above, A Drink Below
Ellington’s Wine Bar & Rooftop
Ballarat newcomer Ellington’s arrived in the city at the start of 2022, bringing with it the area’s first rooftop bar, which is also heated and undercover. Upstairs, the volume is cranked up and espresso martinis fly off the bar in a greenhouse-like space. Downstairs is more relaxed and charming with European wine bar vibes and the kind of handsome timber counter that tempts with negronis and treats with a bottle. Wines can be purchased to go or popped for $10 corkage alongside deep-fried olives ascolane stuffed with veal and parmesan.
405A Sturt Street, Ballarat Central, ellingtonswinebar.com
7.30pm: Ballarat’s Hottest Restaurant
Dinner at Ragazzone Italian
Shimmy up to the pale pink bar or sink into chocolate leather banquettes at Ragazzone, Ballarat’s hugely popular modern Italian restaurant. Start with house charcuterie and plunge into pasta, whether pappadelle with beef cheek ragu or ravioli with ricotta, egg yolk and guanciale. Better yet, outsource all decisions to the chef with the generous $90 set menu.
319 Mair Street, Ballarat, ragazzone.com.au
9.30pm: Last Drinks in a Laneway
Renard & 18th Amendment
Look for the narrow laneway strung with lampshades and follow it down to 18th Amendment, Ballarat’s most atmospheric spot for a nightcap. The prohibition-inspired drinking den is beneath the old Masonic Hall with original bench seats and beams. There are more than 160 whiskies available, but for entertainment value, the cocktails come shrouded in dry ice and topped with bubbles of flavoured smoke.
If your vibe tends towards disco, try Renard. This cocktail bar and social club can be dubbed a bistro-teque – half way between a disco and bistro. Original cocktails highlight native Australian ingredients and seasonal produce, with a natural-leaning wine list to boot. The menu, served from 4pm to 10pm, is also worth a look in. Hello, fried flathead sandwich with green goddess sauce and pickled iceberg.
Both venues close at 1am Wednesday to Sunday, so there’s no reason you attempt both in one night.
10am: To Market, To Market
Ballarat Farmer’s Market
Time your Ballarat weekend with the local farmer’s market on the second and fourth Saturday of the month. There are more than 60 stalls selling vibrant heirloom produce, local arts and crafts, clothing and booze. If there’s an opportunity to self-cater, look for Alkira Organics and stock up on Red Duck beer and gin and Jean Paul’s wines and Artemi vermouth. Also don’t miss the Malaysian chilli oil from Flying Chillies, a market stall run by A Pot of Courage cafe manager, Lilly Wright. Eat her Malaysian street food for breakfast while you’re there and make sure you check her website for cooking classes.
Ballarat Botanical Gardens, Zoo Dr, Lake Wendouree, ballaratmarkets.com.au
11.30am: South American Brunch
Every time a customer asked Jose Fernandez to put empanadas on his menu at Spanish restaurant, Meigas, a little piece of him died. He decided to open a South American restaurant and showcase far more than the empanada. Colourful Pancho brings a taste of South America to Ballarat, from Venezuela to Mexico. On a Sunday Melbourne’s Latino community drives up for a meal and the cafe hums with Spanish chatter. There’s ceviche, tacos and patacon con carne (fried plantains with pulled beef), but look to the specials board for dishes such as chicken mole and octopus tostadas.
36 Armstrong Street North, Ballarat Central, facebook.com/panchoballarat
1.30pm: Beer O’clock
Aunty Jacks, Midtown Cellars or Hop Temple
Ballarat is bountiful with beer. Aunty Jacks has 18 taps, including a dozen of its own local brew. It’s set in a multi-level industrial space fitted out with quirky vintage finds and memorabilia. At Midtown Cellars, a bottle shop lines one wall and a bar occupies the other, so you can either pay corkage ($10 for wine, $2.50 for beer) or stock up for your travels. There are some 175 Australian beers available. Hop Temple is another pick, with 17 taps and 200 craft beers in the fridge. They’re also big on Texas-style barbecue, smoked with local red gum. Follow the laneway down the side of Roy Hammond, which is also worth visiting if you enjoy gin or Korean-inspired food.
3pm: Dinner To Go
Saigon Noodle House or Carboni’s
If self-catering doesn’t appeal, here are two vastly different options to take away dinner for later. Saigon Noodle House does some of the city’s best Vietnamese, whether a warming pho, Vietnamese coleslaw or marinated pork chop on rice. Carboni’s has everything you need for a quick Italian dinner, including fresh pasta and homemade sauces, charcuterie and antipasti, and ready-made meals.
4pm: Check into a Luxury Caravan
Jean-Claude Van on a Dam
A 15-minute drive out of Ballarat, Jean-Claude Van on a Dam by Wonderinns is a luxurious 1970s York caravan that takes glamping to the next level. Set on a small dam (complete with a rowboat), it’s heated, fitted with a king-size bed and still has room for two chairs and a small table set with homemade brownies, card games and a speaker. A spacious deck has been built around the caravan, connecting it to an outdoor kitchen and bathroom. Local marshmallows are supplied to toast over the fire, while breakfast barbecue provisions include eggs, bacon, pancake mix, fresh brioche rolls and muesli.
5 Mount Helen Drive, Mount Helen, wonderinns.com.au
7pm: Japanese on the Ballarat Border
Kambei Japanese Restaurant
If you’d rather leave the cooking and washing up to someone else, Kambei Japanese Restaurant is less than 10 kilometres from Jean-Claude Van on a Dam (or a five minute drive from Ballarat Central). Chef and owner Yutaka Kimura named the restaurant after his great, great grandfather and is known for his teishoku sets. The premium set comes with sashimi, lightly battered tempura, chawanmushi egg custard, pickles, rice, miso soup and dessert, but it’s worth ordering the unagi kabayaki, smoky grilled eel seasoned with sweet soy and sansho pepper, on the side.
1/501 Main Rd, Golden Point, facebook.com/kambeiballarat
11am: Hike off Breakfast
After cooking a leisurely breakfast at Jean-Claude Van on a Dam, check out and drive seven minutes to Mount Buninyong, an extinct volcano 745 metres above sea level. It belongs to the Keyeet Balug clan of the Wathaurang (Wada Warrung) people, with an Aboriginal burial site found in the 1860s. There are walks through the crater and a short climb up some steps to a lookout tower, with 360-degree views of surrounding regions. On a clear day you can spot Mount Buninyong from Melbourne’s high rises.
1.30pm: The Best Regional Restaurant You’ve Never Heard Of
The Shared Table
The Shared Table is just an eight-minute drive from Mount Buninyong. Behind the charming, country facade of the heritage building is a slick interior designed by IF Architecture (Attica, Cutler & Co.) that upholds the space’s history. Old meets new with corrugated polycarbonate sheets in earthy tones layered on the walls, hunter green banquettes and a backlit, nebulous mirror reflecting the open kitchen. Emergency nurse-turned-chef Dianne Ray offers a stunning, $85 three-course menu that includes dishes such as chicken skin waffles with summer truffles and raw scallops with ponzu jelly on Okinawan shortbread cookies. It changes monthly, and there’s even a $30 three-course tasting menu for mini gourmets.
317 Learmonth St, Buninyong, thesharedtable.com.au
3.30pm: Visit a 138-year-old Gallery
Art Gallery of Ballarat
The heritage-listed Art Gallery of Ballarat was established in 1884, making it the oldest in regional Australia. It’s also the largest, with the main collection divided into themes such as Belief, Country, Disruption and Home. Temporary exhibits have included explorations of colourless artwork, a crocheted collection of extravagant banquet dishes and top works from western Victorian students.
40 Lydiard Street North, Ballarat, artgalleryofballarat.com.au
Produced by Seasoned Traveller in partnership with City of Ballarat.
Around the World in 80 Lesser-Known Melbourne Restaurants
FREE food guide when you subscribe.