If there is one thing Ballarat can claim as inherently its own, it’s its goldfields history.
And while locals have long known the wealth of stories born from the mid-1800s, there is an entire new wave of passionate and creative individuals who are harnessing the city’s past and using it as the basis and inspiration to propel into the future.
Some born and bred in Ballarat, others finding their new home in the city, these entrepreneurs, avid foodies, designers and businesspeople are responsible for injecting a burst of art, class and contemporary chic into a place once dubbed as old, cold and gold – maximising on yesterday’s grandeur to further enrich their hometown.
Among these people are much-loved couple Simon and Gorgi Coghlan. Simon and Gorgi own Ballarat’s The Provincial Hotel, a relatively new accommodation offering which pays tribute to the past while adding a touch of ultimate elegance and modernity to one’s visitor experience. Built in 1909, the now-boutique hotel recently underwent an extensive refurbishment under the Coghlans, styled with antique furnishings, local art pieces and modern finishings. Its accompanying restaurant Lola, named after the infamous goldfields maiden Lola Montez, serves up a European-inspired menu headed by French chef Philippe Desrettes and also acts as an idyllic space to savour one’s morning coffee and pastry.
But The Provincial is but one of many boutique offerings that have recently emerged in the local accommodation space. A labour of love for creative couple Martin Shew and David Cook-Doulton, Lascelles Ballarat is yet another brand that has become synonymous with pure luxury, acute design and ultimate comfort. The Victorian terraces have been meticulously transformed to showcase modern decor, vibrant colours and contemporary furnishings while staying true to their past. With three apartments on offer, the light-filled terraces exude grandeur and are a prime example of blurring the lines between yesterday and today. Just recently, Martin and Davis further enhanced their repertoire with the addition of the gothic-inspired and opulent Lyon House and are set to continue expanding their brand with an upcoming hotel project that will revolutionise the local accommodation sector.
Of course, it’s not only places to stay that are putting Ballarat on the map of late. The city’s food and wine scene is becoming highly coveted, and it’s all due to those passionate leaders who are making it their mission to place the region’s fine fare under the spotlight.
Among them is hospitality guru Matthew Freeman who opened his second café venture Johnny Alloo over a year ago. Named after the goldfields’ first Chinese restaurateur John Alloo, the space’s minimalistic, art-deco design is a perfect complement to its historic exterior, setting an ambient scene for a space of coffee, community and connection. Serving up a warming brew and equally heartening menu of brunch options, baguettes, and European-inspired dinners, this eatery pays homage to the culinary tales that have existed in Ballarat for more than 150 years.
The juxtaposition of old and new is a common theme within Ballarat’s food and wine scene.
Another eatery that pays homage to its past is the much-loved Hydrant Food Hall. Housed in an historic fire hydrant store, this laneway cafe is owned by husband-and-wife duo Elise and Sam Rowe. One of the city’s most family-friendly spaces, the Hydrant is renowned for its rotating seasonal menu and prized favourites that keep locals and visitors coming back for more. With an industrial-inspired interior punctuated by hydrant red hues and picture-worthy dishes that are too good to eat, this eatery is an example of how Ballaratians are taking the stories of days gone by and giving them a new lease on life.
Also family-owned, Drive is another café that takes pride in its former story. Located in the city’s historic suburb of Golden Point, the local haunt is owned by Ballarat’s Staley clan. Housed in a former 1970s Mobil fuel depot, Drive serves up quality coffee, a stellar menu of brunch dishes, and a smart lunch offering. Combined with its unpretentious, community-oriented vibe, the old petrol station seeps with tales of the past that are juxtaposed against modern timber and matt black interiors.
Neighbourhood cafe Cobb’s Coffee sits pretty on the corner of Lydiard and Sturt, and it’s this very location that inspired the coffee hub’s name.
“…mid-1800s the parking bay in front of 2 Lydiard St would have been filled with horse-drawn carriages,” owner Brendan Wrigley shared with his fans on Instagram.
“The biggest company in town was Cobb & Co, and their name became synonymous with the corner. They were renowned for their dedication to speed, efficiency and quality. We reckon they’re pretty good traits to try and replicate, so it seemed fitting to name our humble coffee shop in memory of the iconic Gold Rush era business.”
The juxtaposition of old and new is a common theme within Ballarat’s food and wine scene. After falling in love with an abandoned 150-year-old produce store, tentmaker and motor workshop in the centre of Ballarat, the Mitchell Harris team decided to move its wine bar and cellar door to the space in a bid to showcase the finest wines and fare from across the region. Headed by winemaker John Harris and his beloved in-laws, the Mitchell family, the wine bar is a prized possession for locals and visitors alike. The bar’s interior incorporates existing steel beams and a palette of plywood, formply and black steel – taking cues from the building’s industrial past then bringing it into today to create a relaxed, contemporary space. Add in Mitchell Harris Wines’ multiple accolades, including the recent reader’s choice Gourmet Traveller Wine List of the Year award, and it’s plain as day why this is a real mecca for locals and visitors alike.
Established in 1857 in Soldiers Hill, The North Star Hotel is yet another perfect blend of yesterday and today, having changed through many hands in its 160-year history. Fully renovated in 2020, the prominent pub took on a Melbourne-inspired aesthetic, accompanying its menu of classy city pub fare. Think handmade pastas, poke bowls, eggplant parmas and snapper fillets as well as all the usuals including hearty steaks, fish and chips and chicken parmas.
Sit down for a woodfired pizza at Carboni’s and you’ll start to unearth the tenacious and colourful character of Italian national Raffaello Carboni who arrived on the Ballarat goldfields in 1853. In a similar vein, Carboni’s chef Donatello Pietrantuono was also drawn to Ballarat by the region’s earthly treasures (albeit it being local produce rather than gold) and has since proven he has what it takes to merge past and present to create something you know you’ll only find in Ballarat.
Ballaratians are taking the stories of days gone by and giving them a new lease on life.
There are few buildings in Ballarat with as many ghost stories as Craig’s Royal Hotel.
But that’s exactly the reason it continues to hosts the who’s who of society. From poets, princes and prime ministers, the walls of this 1862 building have heard it all. Years of restoration means guests today get the same boutique experience as the likes of Prince Alfred and Dame Nellie Melba.
Further complementing the city’s culinary scene is its arts and cultural sector. Sitting proudly on historic Lydiard Street South, the new National Centre for Photography punctuates Ballarat’s arts precinct and is a prime example of the integration of historic wonder and modern beauty. The former Union Bank building is an iconic architectural site which houses dedicated gallery spaces and is set to become a hub of educational programs, with its own professional darkroom, photobook library, and in-residence events. As well as serving as base for the Ballarat International Foto Biennale, the centre will not only open up opportunities for budding artists, but will set the future vision for an ever-evolving city of culture.
With each year, new minds and new collaborations are causing a local revolution of sorts as passionate locals thrust their energies into enhancing Ballarat today. All that’s left now is to see what’s instore tomorrow.