From fine-dining to Asian fusion and from boutique wine to craft cider: Ballarat’s foodie scene is booming.
When Mitchell Harris Wines opened in an old industrial building in 2013, it stood out in Ballarat’s CBD as a pocket of Melbourne quality and cool. Fast forward several years and while this wine bar and cellar door is still a standout in the city, it’s now part of a thriving drinking and dining scene that sees a passion for the region’s local produce combined with innovation and creativity. Here’s our pick of places to seek out for breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between.
Located in a plum position in central Ballarat, this atmospheric little spot does a great line in brunch. With Tassie oak-inflected interiors rendered in clean lines that complement its Scandi name (which means coffee break in Swedish), Fika brews St Ali beans to serve alongside imaginative menu items.
Have fun choosing between Nan’s Hotcakes (with streaky bacon, egg and Canadian maple butter), Not Another Smashed Avo (with Meredith feta, dukkah, pomegranate and a tomato medley on sourdough) and Boy From The South (with pulled pork, vintage cheddar, buttermilk bun and slaw).
See also Yellow Espresso, a few blocks away, for similar ambience and brunch and coffee pedigree.
Head to Hydrant Food Hall for breakfast, brunch or lunch in industrial-cool environs. Tucked down a laneway off one of the CBD’s main streets, this plant-filled heritage warehouse is the perfect spot to linger over your food. Think delicious breakfast creations like chocolate pancakes with salted caramel, banana, peanut butter and vanilla mascarpone served up with Seven Seeds coffee, and lunch with options ranging from a teriyaki salmon poke bowl to a slider board stacked with mini burgers, slaw and sweet potato crisps.
A vibrant and modern space inspired by the hawker dining bars of South East, Moon and Mountain is one of the city’s hot dining tickets and open for lunch, dinner and late-night drinks. Choose from a seasonal share menu with an Aussie twist that could span everything from lemon and honey chicken wings, pan-fried scallops and DIY spring rolls to pork belly baos and lobster rolls. And from king fish sashimi, pad thai and heaping helpings of vegetarian laksa to roasted chicken green curry. Moon and Mountain’s drinks menu, designed to complement its Asian flavours, includes cocktails made with fresh ingredients including an M&M Spritz, with Aperol, yuzu, kaffir lime, lemon and Prosecco; and Thai Me a River, with gin, Thai basil and pandan syrup.
Teddy Powlett and chef Liam Downes, the guys behind the winning formula at Moon and Mountain, have struck gold again with Winner Winner, a deluxe fried chicken joint on Ballarat’s central Armstrong Street North. Pop in for a snack of popcorn chicken or smoky barbecue chicken ribs; choose a meal for $19 that includes your choice of protein (from tenders to wings to Southern fried tofu) dialled up to your choice of ‘heat’ (including ‘end my life’) and accompanied by sides, sauces, pickles and white bread; or go all out on a bucket – you know you want to.
You’ll find the highlight of Ballarat’s foodie renaissance in an unassuming space with no sign at the door. Underbar is a 16-seat fine-dining restaurant that opens on Friday and Saturday evenings to serve a seasonal tasting menu shaped by local produce. Chef Derek Boath brings experience in some of the world’s top restaurants to the table and ensures each sitting is an intimate and immersive experience for fine-food aficionados. Reservations open on the first day of each month and get snapped up quickly.
A long-time Ballarat favourite, Forge Pizzeria is a winner every time. Its central outpost (with a second in Alfredton in the city’s west), is based in an old heritage building where exposed brick walls suit the ambience of its roaring wood-fire oven. Chewy and flavourful, its pizzas include the classics alongside inventive creations like Pancetta, with cured meat, potato, garlic, mozzarella and local Meredith goat’s cheese, plus plenty of veggie options including the plant-based Vegan Mushroom. There are heaps of pasta dishes salads to choose from too, and desserts including a Nutella and strawberry pizza.
7. 1816 Bakehouse
The guys from The Forge have teamed up with baker and entrepreneur Josh Chapman to open an artisan bakery, patisserie and cafe next door on Armstrong Street North. 1816 Bakehouse is a temple to all things dough: take your pick of pumpkin loaves; semi-sourdough focaccia loaded with fetta, basil and olives; Nutella and pistachio cruffins; pork pies; or pear and apple crumble pies.
For a pub meal with a twist, head to the eccentric, contemporary Argentinian-inspired grill restaurant at the Pub with Two Names: a historic venue that was reopened in 2018 following a creative makeover by renowned artist David Bromley and his wife Yuge.
Meigas is an authentic tapas bar in the heart of Ballarat, with all the flavour and atmosphere to match. Order share plates of everything from patatas bravas and pimientos fritos (blistered bullhorn peppers with goat’s cheese) to fish tacos and fried chicken with lime. Wash it down with a cerveza or two, wine or Spanish cider, and don’t forget the churros dipped in thick, warm chocolate sauce. A Spanish non-negotiable.
Melbourne’s not the only Victorian city with laneways: you’ll find Hop Temple hidden at the end of one festooned with a canopy of umbrellas. Based in some converted stables, this seriously eclectic bar is all exposed brickwork, upcycled furnishings and colour pops, stocked with over 220 craft beers and ciders. It also offers a menu of small bites, pizzas, cheese boards, burgers and more and regularly hosts fun events including musical trivia, drag bingo and bar choir.
This industrial-chic wine bar and cellar door is based in a 140-year-old former produce store, tentmakers and motor workshop. Today Mitchell Harris Wines showcases the cold-climate drops of the local regions, including the Pyrenees, Macedon, Ballarat and Henty, as well as its own. It serves a simple but innovative bar menu to match with your wine, and regularly hosts tasting events.
A 15-minute drive out of Ballarat in the small lakeside town of Learmonth, this cider-focused cafe is a destination in itself. Inside, it feels like a warm and welcoming country kitchen with its timber accents and exposed brickwork, and there’s a garden seating out back for sunny days. Café Sidra serves delicious and hearty homemade food – like sausage rolls, quiche and moreish carrot cake – to wash down with a tasting paddle of its house-made cider. As well as a cider cellar door and cafe, this family-run space also serves as the town’s general store and post office.