In 2013 the Ballarat food scene certainly heated up. What a wonderful selection of fine places we have here in Ballarat and surrounding regions, with another six or so venues opening up early in 2014 we certainly are on a culinary journey and I look forward to adding many food adventures to your to do lists in 2014.
The Restaurant of the year is of course Catfish Thai. We waited till late in September, nearly a whole year without Damian Jones in the mix. I’m glad it took so long as this restaurant is blowing people away all over Australia, not just us locals. A few weeks ago I spoke to the former hostess of Melbourne’s Longrain, the first thing she asked me was, ”What’s this new Thai place in Ballarat everybody is talking about?"
It's hard for me to explain just how good the food at Catfish is, everything is being made with so much love in that kitchen, the front of house guys know every nuance of every morsel on the plate, the pride they have for chef/owners Damien and Danielle is palpable. I am looking forward to interviewing Mrs Jones In January. Damian has given us a true fine food destination, selecting only the best of everything from the cutlery to the edgy dinnerware and clunky, cool serving bowls. CatFish Thai must be experienced to be fully appreciated.
The chef of the year, this was a tough one, I had so many options, however there was one young man who went above and beyond. This young chef wears his heart on his chef jacket sleeve. He lives the true chef life. He goes out of the kitchen to meet the producers and develops his menus around what is available in our region. He tastes every meal going over the pass to make sure the flavours are balanced, he plates and re-plates every dish until it is as aesthetically appealing as it is tasty. This chef produces a consistent product for both large and boutique affairs. He misses all the social events in his family’s lives because he is taking his food passion one step beyond. If you have been to the George Hotel and ordered the pizza then you made the wrong choice, you should have grazed the menu from Chef Liam Downes, Ballarat Bestie chef for 2013.
I spend a lot of time in sugarland. Ballarat has many cake and coffee destinations and they are developing signature treats. When someone says to me, "Suze where can I go for authentic and beautiful Baklava?" I say, "Go to Frangos and Sons." If I was asked for the best vegan cakes in town I would direct them to Vegas and Rose and if I was asked for the best Autumn pear and ginger cake I'd have to say L'espresso. For the best cake indulgence in 2013 head to Howitt street Wendouree and try Red Bird Café. The accomplished lady chef at Red Bird doesn’t like the limelight, so sneak in and be sure to try the very unique and a little bit left of centre cakey delights and a great coffee as well.
Bestie new café, Meigas in Coliseum Walk. This gregarious couple are bringing a great thing to Ballarat, from the creme caramel, authentic churros and real hot chocolate. I love that the special board is in Spanish, this is because Jose and Yamelly want to spend time with each and every customer expressing the details of the regional Spanish dishes, the preparations and the traditions. Meigas is upbeat, quirky and an excellent addition to our local foodie scene, don’t be scared. Get amongst it! We have a great selection of Asian eateries, we have sensational French bistro fare thanks to Phillip at the Royal Craigs Hotel and Alain at Le Petit Patissier and Paul Williams at Le Peche Gourmand. We have pub classics and now we have our own little Movida.
The catering scene in Ballarat has added a new dimension with the inclusion of Mr Beaton's catering and cooking school. Chef Simon Beaton has an eye and a flair for food that is less pedestrian that the usual suspects. What seals the deal for Bestie catering is the skill, talent and style Simon delivers with each an every event.
Best French affair, Le Petie Patissier. Alain may just be the most popular man in Ballarat, have you noticed the ladies all popping in for there French sticks and pastries. Alain has that certain 'Je ne sais quoi.'
Best Smallgoods, Sebastian at Country Style Smallgoods. Sebastian is bringing amazing house produce to Ballarat. Chorizo, morcilla, smoked chicken, prosciutto and beautiful local bacon. Wilsons are selling Istra Smallgoods cryovaced and so thin that its impossible to separate, while our boy Sebastion is making deals with Casa Iberica and the Melbourne food scene. What the !*#!
Best Pub, I briefly mention Chef Phillip at the Craigs Hotel. I am not one for the pokies, but I cannot ignore the talent that comes together in the magnificent Craigs Royal Hotel. Phillip knew eight years ago when he came to Ballarat, that he would have to build his dream team. Good chefs were hard to find a few years back. Phillip has worked side by side with his talented team, they were charged to keep the food uncomplicated and like a true French bistro with the usual Australian suspects. For modern Australia food, it is hard to go past The Craigs. It's no counter attack but definitely best hotel of the year.
Most anticipated Venue opening, Bellini on Sturt St. When will our new fine Italian restaurant open? I’ve seen the interior and may I say even John Cincotta would be excited about new look of his old hunting ground.
Best local produce is a hard call. It's almost impossible to single anyone from the many great local food being grown, produced or created in our region. Lucky for us later this year on April 5th Ballarat producers will be able to enter our first annual Produce Awards being held at the 2014 Rural Lifestyle Expo. For anyone interested you can submit your produce and ideas here, until then I’ll just have to go with one. It is hard to go past Nardia and Andrew at Goldfields Farmhouse in Creswick. These guys, I believe, sell more cheese outside of Ballarat than they do locally, this is something that befuddles me. How can this be so given this beautiful crafted cheese is produced in our own back yard? Yes it’s ok to have your favourites, the little French numbers, the Italian of course, but If you haven’t tried Goldfields Farmhouse cheeses you are missing out. If you need direction pop out to their shop in Albert Street in Creswick and Nardia will be only too happy to point you in the right direction, let you know what’s ripe and what you can match.
Best bread to eat your cheese on, Basillio Sourdough. Giorgio’s bread just gets better and better, which seems impossible as it has always been stand out. I recently tried the rye with a little hint of orange and thyme and I ate the whole loaf on my own. Check out the pies and pastries also available at their shop on Norman Street, Wendouree.
Best coffee, Charisma Coffee, it doesn’t matter how you like your cup of Joe. This coffee is exceptional, perhaps that’s why Marcus Downs is winning awards across Australian and abroad. We have too many fine Baristas in Ballarat to single out just one. It would be easier to tell you where the worst coffee is at.
Butchers are the new superstars and like good baristas Ballarat has our fair share of mighty men in out meat rooms. I’d like to give a little bit of kudos to Pete at Davis, although he isn’t on the chopping block, he is working with our chefs to source the best possible cuts, to find the impossible and weird cuts that are trending from overseas to supply a consistent and guaranteed number, to keep it local and always deliver on time. In the local industry you would be hard pressed to find a more respected meat man.
The opening of Mitchell Harris wine bar ensured a venue for the more sophisticated and mature palette in Ballarat. Locals are broadening their regional wine repertoire and less of us oldies are ending up swaying over pints of Guinness in the wee hours of the morning. To mix of adult venues we added Freight Bar and the Ballarat & O'Briens Brewing Company. Then the bespoke restored and very cool completion of the Main Bar music venue complete with great local food and sensational wood fire pizzas. How can I choose only one Bestie from the above? If I must choose, I think it might just be Mitchell Harris, but only buy a screw top and because I love the words 'urban pop up'.
Best meal on the run, Sushi Noodle on Mair Street. Best Brekkie Harvest Café and Food Store on Lydiard Street. Best home quick fix, Midvale Meats' house smoked ham, lots of it squished into Basillio Sourdough. Best local food initiative, the Ballarat East Community Garden food swap. I love it. Next one is 13 January 2014. I'll be there with my plums for sure.
Ballarat smashed the foodie scene in twenty thirteen. It is a fact. I know there is just one more thing you want to know. What was my Biggest OMG Food Moment In 2013? It would have to be the twenty course sausage degustation challenge, Ballarat’s Best Bangers 2013. For sure our butchers are super stars.