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There is nothing more satisfying than sitting down to a table laden with stunning dishes after a big adventure knowing that you’ve really earned it. And everyone knows that outdoor adventurers can eat. A lot.
If you run a restaurant these days, it doesn’t matter how slick you are with a knife or how good you are at tossing that pan, if your produce isn’t the freshest and the finest, the final product won’t make it past the pass.
The best thing about dining in Ballarat is, without a doubt, the produce. Ballarat – like much of regional Victoria – is home to a thriving food scene that relies on a strong relationship between the farmer, the kitchen and those discerning diners who only want the best dining experiences.
It’s a hard knock life but someone’s got to live it. We’ve been tripping round to Ballarat’s restaurants, bars, cafes, and bistros to find out what the region has to offer a hungry explorer.
And we found some of the best dining in Ballarat.
The Forge Pizzeria
14 Armstrong St, Ballarat
It’s not easy making an enormous space feel cosy, yet somehow the team at The Forge Pizzeria have done exactly that. Perhaps it’s the square tables that allow for everyone in the group to talk without screaming across the table; perhaps it’s the warm brick walls decorated with local art; perhaps it’s the friendly smile that greets you as you enter followed by chopping boards laden with cut meats, pickles and crisp breads for all to share shortly after.
Or it could simply be the warmth and aroma that drifts from the wood fire oven – the ‘Forge’ for which the restaurant got its name. The Forge Pizzeria is most certainly a combination of all of those things.
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Brothers Chris and Tim Matthews’ Grandfather was a blacksmith by trade. Their grandfather worked long days by the heat of the forge combining raw materials to create new compounds superior to their divisible parts. As restaurateurs, you could say that his grandsons, the chefs and the wait staff at The Forge Pizzeria do the same.
With eight of us dining, we left it to The Forge Pizzeria team to ‘feed us’. Whether you’ve spent the day out fishing, kayaking, or just strolling the streets of Ballarat, you won’t be wondering where the nearest late night burger joint is leaving The Forge Pizzeria.
Chefs Michael Nunn and Danielle Lerpiniere put up some of their favourites for us to try which soon became favourites of our own. Charcuterie boards to share to start stacked with local cut meats, followed by chargrilled Victorian calamari paired beautifully with bitter rocket, pine nuts and currents. For the veggos, asparagus was served lightly charred from the wood fire with breadcrumbs for crunch and anchovies for salt.
Meredith Goats Cheese featured heavily on the menu, much to our delight. It melted into a pumpkin salad forming a creamy dressing, and stood up strong to Western Victorian Lamb.
It wouldn’t be a pizzeria without a well-crafted list of beers and wines. We couldn’t go past the Red Duck Hop Shark, a (naturally) hop driven ale with plenty of punch to match big savoury flavours.
And to round things off, we tried and failed to resist doughnuts. Small enough to tempt even the most satisfied customer, what they lacked in size they made up for with chocolate filling.
22 Armstrong St, Ballarat
Beer is worshipped at Hop Temple; treated with the same reverence as any deity and downed with such delight by their customers that for many in Ballarat, Hop Temple is now the place to go to confess one’s sobriety.
Commandment #1: where there is beer there must be fried foods.
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The food at Hop Temple is second to one: the beer itself. Cheesy Croquettes; molten, spicy quesadillas, and curly ‘side winder’ hand-cut chips coated in thyme & garlic salt, paired with golden, dark, and amber brews served in such a way that they make the drinking only sweeter.
You’ll also find the usual suspects: burgers, pizzas and a great line-up of salads to curb your sinful behaviour.
We were there on a Thursday night, and while it was mostly full, we could tell that on a Friday or Saturday night this beer drinker’s oasis could fill to the brim, locals and visitors alike drawn down the amber-lit alley by the music and the promise of a good night.
16 taps fuel the frivolity housed in the ‘Keg Room’ right next to the main dining area. Beers currently on tap are listed in chalk above the bar, regularly wiped clean and updated.
What if you don’t like beer? Well there is a tidy well-priced wine list with bottles ranging from around $25-$60 and a cracking list of classic cocktails done right. Start the night with an Old Fashioned, freshen up with a Pimms Cup crammed with summer fruits or try one of their unique twists on the classic Bloody Mary: the ‘Proud Mary’ with bacon bourbon or the ‘Bloody Hell Mary’ with more than your average kick.
The Mallow Hotel
18 Skipton St, Ballarat
The Mallow has seen a lot of change over the years at its home on Skipton Street, but it has always remained an institution in Ballarat, even since the early 1900s. They say it may have been a horse stables for a time and a mechanics at another. Most certainly the Mallow is – and was – known as the local watering hole.
The Mallow Hotel is a venue that has kept up with current industry trends all the while keeping its traditional charm. The Mallow Hotel is a gastropub through and through; one of the first establishments in Ballarat to showcase craft beer paired with refined hearty meals featuring stunning regional ingredients.
It was cold for a November night when we visited the Mallow Hotel, and a warm, cosy pub was exactly what the doctor ordered. We sat down in the Dining Room, just one of six spaces available — the rear courtyard is the perfect spot to taste beers in the sun (weather permitting). There is plenty space for private functions without the need to close the doors to regulars who show up every week for dinner specials and Wednesday Trivia.
The beer list is ever changing at the Mallow with 12 taps for owner, Dallas to play with. Dallas has a good relationship with local brewers Red Duck. There’s a dedicated Red Duck tap that changes with the brewery’s seasonal styles. On the flip-side of the menu, Dallas has listed the beers that you can expect to see soon; a great way to encourage punters to come back for their favourites.
Sharing plates feature thinly-sliced tempura pumpkin, salt + pepper cuttlefish with a ponzu sauce and classic, crunchy garlic bread. 300gram Grass-Fed Wagyu Rump is served with house (Mountain Goat Steam Ale) battered chips and a light salad with your choice of jus. Finish with chocolate brownie sitting on Frangelico ganache as vanilla ice cream melts to match Red Duck’s classic Porter perfectly.
In a time when all anyone seems interested in is going to the newest restaurant, getting the t shirt and hanging it in their closet to be forgotten, the Mallow Hotel reminds us that sometimes the best establishments are those that you want to go back to again and again.