Ballarat's best bars, restaurants and cafes right now

Published on 29 April 2022

Photo: Eclectic Tastes' potato gnocchi, pulled lamb, pea puree, mint and feta (image: Tara Moore).

The ’Rat is rocking. With a clutch of hot new openings bolstering an already formidable line-up of great places to eat and drink, writes Richard Cornish, the city is booming anew. 

In what has been a tectonic shift in Ballarat’s culinary offer, a new generation of chefs, artisan food makers, winemakers and businesspeople have transformed this gold-rush city into one of regional Australia’s most dynamic food and drink hubs. An entire city block in the heart of town is now a thriving restaurant quarter. Small cafes can be found in suburban houses, and innovative brewers and distillers are calling Ballarat home. And all of this joins a tradition of great pubs and sincere country hospitality. The culinary offer in Ballarat is broad and deep, making it a destination to explore and discover. Here’s some of the highlights of what the region is dishing up.

DINE

The finer diner: Underbar
One of the hottest degustation dining venues in the country, Underbar is temporarily hibernating before spreading its wings in luxe new digs. Chef Derek Boath, known for his exquisitely finessed seasonal 10-course chef’s tasting menu, has found a luxurious new location for the restaurant at the new Vera Hotel and will reopen in spring. The current restaurant site on Doveton Street, meanwhile, will reopen in June as Pencilmark Wine Room, a savvy new spin-off wine bar. Read the full story here.
Pencilmark Wine Room, opening June 2022, 3 Doveton St N, Ballarat, instagram.com/pencilmarkwineroom; Underbar, reopening spring 2022, at Vera, 710 Sturt St, Ballarat, underbar.com.au.

Terrific Thai: Mr Jones Dining
Local chef Damien Jones cooked with acclaimed chef David Thompson in London at Nahm, the first Thai restaurant to win a Michelin star. Coming home to Ballarat, Jones brought with him the gift of Thai flavours of lemongrass, palm sugar and betel leaf, finely tuned in the set menu he serves in a smart modern dining room.
Mr Jones Dining, 42-44 Main Rd, Bakery Hill, (03) 5331 5248mrjonesdining.com.au

Latin casual: Pancho
Jose Fernandez was born in Spain but grew up in Venezuela. While his other venue, Meigas, shows off his mastery of Spanish bar classics, at Pancho he celebrates the street food of Latin America. There could be an African curry from Brazil, a Peruvian swordfish ceviche punchy with lime and coriander, or superb fish tacos from Veracruz, Mexico.
Pancho, 36 Armstrong St N, Ballarat, (03) 5309 3070, @pancho_ballarat

Local and seasonalThe Shared Table
Out in the historic village of Mount Buninyong lies this old store with an interior by IF Architecture, the team responsible for the dazzling interiors of Attica, Cutler & Co and Etta. Chef Dianne Ray’s work is no less captivating, layering flavours using Asian sauces, house ferments and judicious use of pork, lamb and dairy, plus other local produce in her three-course set menus.
The Shared Table, 317 Learmonth St, Buninyong, (03) 5374 2076, thesharedtable.com.au

Provincially French: Lola
Set in the Edwardian splendour of the The Provincial Hotel, Lola is a bright, light dining room with a Mediterranean feel and distinctly French à la carte menu from Normandy-born chef Phillippe Desrettes. Sweet and salty caramelised onion and anchovy pissaladière and twice-cooked Gruyère soufflés are just the beginning.
Lola, The Provincial Hotel, 121 Lydiard St N, Ballarat, (03) 5331 3399, theprovincialballarat.com.au

Mangia Italiano: Ragazzone
Will it be the Moreton Bay bug with peperonata on a potato wafer or the ricotta ravioli with egg yolk, mushroom and guanciale? You’re in for a good time either way: these Ballarat bad boys – as ragazzone translates into English – serve modern Italian food with a smile and a swagger.
Ragazzone, 319 Mair St, Ballarat, ragazzone.com.au

DRINK 

Wine and fire: Mitchell Harris Wine Bar
Set in an old garage, Mitchell Harris is a wine bar run by winemakers and is all about the pleasure of shared company over a good glass or bottle. They share their love of wine, pouring some exceptional local and international drops as well as their own wines, and complement it all with a log fire and a crowd-pleasing, all-day grazing menu that runs from dips to grilled sirloin.
Mitchell Harris Wine Bar, 38 Doveton St N, Ballarat, mitchellharris.com.au

Rooftop wines: Ellington’s Wine Bar
Watching the sun go down over historic Sturt Street from this rooftop bar is pure pleasure. Have a glass of a delicious local Pyrenees red in your hand and some local charcuterie on the plate to dial the experience up to 11. Though it’s only opened recently, Ellington’s has already proven very popular with the locals, so booking ahead is a good idea.
Ellington’s Wine Bar, 405A Sturt St, Ballarat, ellingtonswinebar.com

Best brews: Hop Temple
Down a colourful alleyway lies this warm, inviting barn of a bar offering 200 craft beers and no fewer than 17 brews on tap, with a good selection of wines by the glass to boot. Praise be.
Hop Temple, 24 Armstrong St N, Ballarat, hoptemple.com.au

The classic pub: The Mallow
This gold rush-era pub ticks all the boxes: blazing fires, a carved timber bar, a gantry packed with good whisky and a very good gastro-pub menu. Drink deep.
The Mallow, 18/20 Skipton St, Ballarat, themallow.com.au

The cellar door: Eastern Peake
A new modern cellar door for the multi-generational winemaking Latta family out at Coghills Creek offers structured tastings of the family’s award-winning wines. Bookings are essential – with good reason.
Eastern Peake, 67 Pickfords Rd, Coghills Creek, easternpeake.com.au

Higher up the shelf: Kilderkin Distillery
Out by the quiet parklands at Mount Pleasant, Kilderkin Distillery wows with gin tasting flights and cheese platters.
Kilderkin Distillery, 14A Hill St, Mount Pleasant, kilderkindistillery.com.au

CAFÉS

Café in an old house: Clothesline Café
Yep, there’s a Hills Hoist out back of this old weatherboard house, but out the front you’ll find baristas pulling great Code Black while a team of experienced chefs make exceptional café eats. Get a load of the ham hock with pea Hollandaise.
Clothesline Café, 202 Humffray St S, Bakery Hill, (03) 4444 2562, clotheslinecafe.com.au

Quick coffee: Fika Coffee Brewers
These St Ali alumni make what many locals say is the best coffee in the heart of town using Sensory Lab beans. Smart, fast and efficient.
Fika, 36A Doveton St N, Ballarat Central, fikacoffeebrewers.com.au

Coffee on the lake: Eclectic Tastes
Out near the historic Lake Wendouree district is this wedge-shaped former corner shop popular with Ballarat professionals who come for the excellent coffee, charming ambience and dishes like blueberry ricotta pancakes and gnocchi slathered in pork and pine nut ragu.
Eclectic Tastes, 2 Burnbank St, Lake Wendouree, eclectictastes.com.au

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