August 31, 2020 | 4 minute read
The ‘Rat', as it’s affectionately known to locals, has so far escaped the hipster invasion visited upon nearby Bendigo and Castlemaine, but it can’t be far away. The signs are all there: a cafe that does double duty as a record store, a Swedish bistro, and delicious small-batch doughnuts. Now’s the time to hit Ballarat in that sweet spot somewhere between total gentrification and traditional country-town charm. Kickstart your day at one of these great B-town cafes.
* At the time of writing, activities and places mentioned in this guide are at varying stages of recovery from COVID-19. Please check government and business websites for specific details on opening times and any restrictions before you travel.
The first clue that Ballarat is inching towards hipsterfication is a newcomer on the café scene, Fika. For the non-Scandi-literate, 'fika' is a Swedish word for the ritual of the coffee break. The key to fika is that it can’t be done alone – to fika right, you must fika with friends. Though the menu isn’t especially Swedish, this stylish café is the perfect spot to catch up with friends for coffee and a cinnamon roll.
If you’re still 'hungrig' (peckish), try Fika’s spin on eggs benny with Otway pork belly and tart apple slices, or a not-so-classic Reuben bagel with spicy pickles and homemade Russian dressing. The coffee comes all the way from Melbourne roasters St Ali, but the doughnuts from local bakery Vegas & Rose don’t have far to travel.
Nowhere straddles the line between old and new Ballarat better than L’Espresso. Located bang in the centre of town, L’Espresso gives off an old-school Italian café vibe with some new-old-school touches. Gleamy wood, vintage coffee equipment and classic Vittoria coffee share space with shelves of vintage vinyl, and the seasonal menu showcases local produce, with unexpected breakfast options like creamed rice and lamb’s fry.
This big, bright, family-friendly café was bursting at the seams when we dropped in for coffee and a perfect, flaky croissant one Saturday morning. The menu covers all of your standard brekkie requirements – smashed avo (with Meredith Dairy feta, natch), eggs benedict (with Istra bacon – bonus) and blueberry pancakes (with mascarpone – but you can chuck some ice cream on for an extra $2).
If you manage to score a sunny day, park yourself at one of the outside tables – although Yellow Espresso is on the main strip, this is Ballarat, so the traffic won’t bother you.
The eccentric décor at Little Bird no doubt pulls in its fair share of Sturt St foot traffic, but the food is what keeps them coming back. The walls are papered with vintage Women’s Weekly mags, and the shelves are packed with colourful canisters, teapots and glassware not seen since your last visit to Nana’s.
Once you’ve found a spot at one of the Formica tables or in one of the coveted booths, grab some mac’n’cheese croquettes or breakfast tacos with scrambled eggs, or skip straight to a giant slice of cake from the counter display. No judgement.
This busy corner café makes some bold claims upfront: “great food and strong coffee” is its rallying cry. Ballarat brews have come a long way in recent times, but Webster’s stands alone in being truly Serious About Coffee. Batch brew, cold drip, almond-milk mochaccino, plain ol’ cappuccino or something called “gold-mesh filter” – Webster’s is your friendly neighbourhood caffeine dealer and Industry Beans is the supplier.
If you’re not already exhausted from choosing your caffeine delivery method, the breakfast menu might be the end of you – lucky you have all day to make a decision. Brekkie dishes champion fresh local produce and range from chocolate granola to ham-hock eggs benedict to polenta waffles. You had me at strong coffee.
Ballarat might be a good 90 kms from the coast, but that doesn’t mean you should leave your boat shoes and Breton shirts at home. Gigantic and beautiful Lake Wendouree plays host to B-town’s very own yacht club. Enjoy a hearty breakfast while watching sailboats and black swans bob about on the sapphire-blue water from the sun-drenched deck of 'the Yachty'.
The family-run café offers modern Australian food and a super-relaxed space for kicking back and reading the weekend papers. Push the boat out and get yourself a breakfast cocktail to wash down your Canadian pancakes.