The food and dining scene in Ballarat is thriving. From the craft beer hall tucked down a laneway, to incredible Thai food from esteemed chef Damien Jones, to catching your own trout for lunch or sipping wine in the peaceful backcountry of the Pyrenees, there are so many unexpected food experiences to discover. Here’s our guide to six of the finest.
“Ballarat has grown to be a craft beer capital,” says Zac Hill, venue manager of craft beer and food hall, Hop Temple. Set at the back of Hop Lane – a vibrant laneway with a canopy of red-and-white umbrellas hanging over murals by local artists on the historic walls – Hop Temple has been championing local craft beer since opening in September 2015. While interstate and international labels are scattered throughout the 16 taps and 220 bottles in-house, the majority of beers are Victorian. Among those brewed locally is the full range of gluten-free beers from the O’Brien brewery, made using millet and sorghum.
On the food front, Hop Temple is keen on smoky meats, and share plates like sidewinders (spiral-cut chips) and buttermilk fried chicken to snack on with your afternoon brew. There’s also more substantial fare in pizzas, burgers and slow-cooked meats with slaw and pickles to support any additional pints, as well as options for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free appetites.
Rear of 24 Armstrong Street North, Ballarat Central
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Mitchell Harris Wines
Ballarat has always maintained a healthy beer and pub culture, but has never made much noise on the wine front. Mitchell Harris has changed that.
“We really wanted to make this a place where people could come to learn about wine,” says John Harris, one of the four owners of the brand. “We wanted to de-mystify some of the complexities of the process and share our enjoyment of it.”
In partnership wife Shannyn and brother- and sister-in-law Craig and Alicia Mitchell, John launched Mitchell Harris Wines in 2008. Mitchell Harris Wines sources grapes from four Victorian regions, working with vineyards in the Pyrenees, Tarrington, Macedon and Ballarat, making most of it at Taltarni, just north of Ballarat.
A small portion is also made on-site at the urban cellar door in central Ballarat. This is part of the winery’s Curious Winemaker Project, where John passes on his 25-years of winemaking experience to curious punters. The project sees 30 participants become amateur winemakers over the period of a couple of months, getting hands-on at every step of the process, from the vineyard through to bottling.
The Mitchell Harris Wine Bar in central Ballarat is set in an 1870s-built produce store, where visitors can taste the selection of Mitchell Harris wines, or stay for a leisurely lunch, dinner, or one of their regular tasting evenings. The bar also acts as a wine shop. “People can duck in here and pick up a bottle of something really interesting that they won’t find on any other wine list in town,” John says.
After many years working with David Thompson in the kitchens of Darley Street Thai in Sydney and Nahm in London (the first Michelin-star Thai restaurant in the world), Damien Jones returned to his hometown of Ballarat to shake up its food scene.
First he opened the French-leaning restaurant Lydiard Wine Bar, which he ran for four years. In September 2014 he switched direction with Catfish, and has since won a swag of awards for his highly regarded contemporary Thai food.
“All the venues in Ballarat are really boutique and really focused in what they do,” says Jones of his return to Ballarat. “They have strong concepts that are really well executed, and there are good people behind them. There’s pride in Ballarat with the venues doing things this way.”
Thai food is labour-intensive, but Jones still creates everything from scratch. He says because of this high level of involvement, not a lot of people understand how to cook Thai cuisine correctly. One way he’s making it more accessible is by hosting cooking workshops.
One Saturday per month, Damien opens his kitchen to teach classes. Participants prepare curry pastes and coconut cream from scratch, and learn to make four recipes, which they later eat for lunch with a glass of wine. The classes are limited to eight guests, so there’s plenty of one-on-one time with the chef to nut out the intricacies of cooking with Thai ingredients.
Athletic Club Brewery
Brewer Peter Parry opened Athletic Club Brewery in November 2016, after being inspired by a trip to the US where he was attracted to the community feel of small-batch breweries. Athletic Club Brewery is both a small-batch brewery and a bar in the centre of Ballarat, where punters can sit upstairs and enjoy a tasting paddle of beer with a meal, while keeping a keen eye locked to the brewery’s activities on the lower level.
Craig Blackmore is the head brewer here, Peter’s son Jack Parry is the assistant brewer. The team has created eight staple beers, ranging from a pale ale to a German-style Schwarzbier. They also produce the odd seasonal short-run – like a sparkling ale for summer and a choc-vanilla milk stout for Easter.
Parry also runs self-brew sessions, where punters can learn the nuts and bolts of brewing their own beer in a commercial setting (which differs greatly to home-brew methods) and decide which style of beer they want to make. “We go through the grain mash process, the steeping of the grains, the addition of the hops and everything else until the fermentation process,” says Parry. “Then [at the end] they come back to bottle or can their beer.”
Tuki Trout Farm
Located in Smeaton, 30 minutes’ drive north of Ballarat, Tuki Trout Farm is run by Robert and Jan Jones. Encompassing a restaurant, accommodation, grazing property and the fish farm of its namesake, the farm has been running since the mid-‘80s.
“Offering trout fishing was an entry point into the tourism industry,” Robert says. “Now I’m the producer, the butcher, the chef and the presenter.”
At Tuki, the ponds are designed so that even a first-timer will catch lunch at the end of their line. Once you’ve netted your fish, Robert will have it cleaned and gutted, cooked and plated up within minutes. “It’s about showing that this trout is so fresh that the heart is still pumping,” he says.
Along with having a go at catching a trout, visitors can dine at the restaurant, which features the farm’s smoked trout, pate, lamb sausages and beef steaks on the menu. The wine list comprises only Central Victorian drops, and produce from the on-site veggie garden is used in the kitchen as much as possible. There’s also plenty of produce to take home. Don’t forget to BYO Esky.
A 45-minute drive west of Ballarat is the Pyrenees, a region of undulating landscapes known for its shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. When Ballarat architect Ewan Jones bought the property in 1972, it was a bush block with clear scars from the area’s gold mining past. But the alluvial soils, heavy in quartz and slate, also make for great grape growing.
Cabernet sauvignon and shiraz were planted first, with chardonnay added in 1980. Son David and wife Jenny purchased the family business in 1994 and have been running the winery since.
The Jones’s employ organic viticulture practices in the vineyard. Their grapes are dry grown, relying on the rain of the wetter months between winter and spring for a good drink. They run peas and oats as cover crops to up the nitrogen of their clay-based soils, and hand prune and harvest for that extra level of care.
This combination of practices in the field, along with precision in the winery, has resulted in Dalwhinnie Wines gaining a reputation for premium, fine-dining wines. “The quality hasn’t happened overnight though,” David says. “That’s taken four decades to develop.” These days, Dalwhinnie Wines can be found on some of the best lists in Melbourne and Sydney, as well as exported to California, London, China, Hong Kong and the Philippines.
Visitors can take a tour of the vineyard as well as enjoy tastings at the cellar door. “We classify ourselves as wine educators,” says David. “We let visitors know about the clones and characteristics, so they go home with an image of what good wine is about.”
Broadsheet is presenting a series of Sunday roasts in stunning locations in Ballarat. Book tickets via the links below.
Sunday Roast #1 at the Art Gallery of Ballarat - SOLD OUT
Sunday May 7, 1-4pm
Sunday Roast #2 at The Pub with Two Names (former Peter Lalor Hotel) - SOLD OUT
Sunday May 21, 1-4pm
Sunday Roast #3 at Ballarat Botanical Gardens Conservatory - SOLD OUT
Sunday May 28, 1-4pm
Sunday Roast #4 at Bishops Palace - SOLD OUT
Sunday June 4, 1-4pm
Restaurant Ballarat is celebrating Ballarat Heritage Month this May. View the full program.
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