A Weekend in Ballarat

Have you been to Ballarat? I think my last trip there was in primary school on a visit to Sovereign Hill to dress up in 1850s attire and pretend to be an early settler during the Victorian gold rush. Great times (I love playing dress-ups). A couple of weeks ago, I returned to Ballarat (in a different capacity) for a weekend away to celebrate the launch of Broadsheet's 'Restaurant Ballarat'. 

I travelled with fellow bloggers Mandy Banh and Melanie Lionello. The drive from Melbourne to Ballarat was about an hour an a half. Mandy was kind enough to drive, while Mel and I fed her (and ourselves) raw treats. You can't have a road trip without snacks.

The red curry barramundi at Catfish Thai a.k.a. the best fish dish I've ever eaten

The red curry barramundi at Catfish Thai a.k.a. the best fish dish I've ever eaten

Just to let you know, I was invited to spend the weekend away by Visit Ballarat, so our activities and accomodation were provided for free. However, as always, what I write on my blog and social media is my own opinion. I value your trust, so I prefer to disclose these things to you.

We arrived at our accomodation, Twelve Errard, which was light-filled, cozy and freshly renovated (and the thoughtful owners had left the heating on for us because it's bloody cold in Ballarat). We had a spacious, three bedroom apartment and I am pleased to report (as someone who appreciates these things) that the beds and pillows were on point. Firm yet comfortable mattresses, warm yet breathable blankets and excellent pillow shape and density.  

After settling in (and assessing the lighting for photos), our first stop was Catfish Thai for a Thai cooking class with head chef Damien Jones. Damian trained in Michelin-starred Nahm Restaurant in Bangkok before returning to Ballarat to open Catfish Thai (which has been awarded a hat). Plus he makes his own fresh coconut cream and curry pastes from scratch. What a legend.

He makes the coconut cream by blending the flesh of a fresh coconut with some water, straining it through a muslin cloth and then letting it sit until the coconut cream rises to the top. The flavour is incredible; so much fresher and more delicate than canned coconut cream. Along with a freshly ground curry paste, it makes all the difference in a curry.

During the cooking class, we made a dry red curry paste to season some fresh barramundi, which was then wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled. I would seriously drive back to Ballarat to eat it again. We also made 'nahm jim', which is a green chilli, garlic and lime dipping sauce to go with some grilled squid. It was a great exercise to learn how to balance sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavours.

After devouring all of the delicious Thai food, our next stop was Stems Flower Market to try our hand at floristry. Our project was to create a 'tablescape' out of local foliage. Without knowing anything about horticulture and having forgotten the names of the plant-matter that we were using to make the tablescape, I'm going to describe it as branch segments with leaves, twigs with pretty green bits, sticks with dangly berries and some gumnut clusters.

Mel, Mandy, me and florist Ellie feeling pretty smug about our tablescape

Mel, Mandy, me and florist Ellie feeling pretty smug about our tablescape

It was surprisingly therapeutic arranging the foliage to create a beautiful, lush tablescape. I think we were all pretty proud of ourselves. The tablescape was destined to be the table runner on the huge communal table at the Restaurant Ballarat launch dinner that night. It actually looked amazing, with tall, elegant candles dotted amongst the leaves.

The dinner was held at Housey Housey, a rustic warehouse space in the heart of Ballarat with high ceilings and exposed brick walls. The food was a 'harvest feast' supplied by a range of local restaurants and producers: Salt Kitchen Charcuterie, Catfish Thai (they supplied the entrée, a warm chicken salad with banana blossom, chilli jam and fresh coconut cream, which was the standout dish in my opinion) and Peter Ford Catering.

The next morning, after going through the generous goodie bags provided at the dinner (we got to curate them ourselves from a selection of local produce) and taking some snaps, we stopped off at Eclectic Tastes for a much-needed coffee before the drive home.

It was a fun weekend and so nice to bring a bit of the local produce home. If you're keen for a little getaway that's still close to Melbourne, it's worth checking out what Ballarat has to offer. You can easily plan a food and wine adventure, and if you like Thai food, Catfish Thai is a must!