Review: Meigas Cafe, Ballarat Victoria

On a recent trip to Ballarat with my father and brother, we spent a whole day at Sovereign Hill, exploring the ‘ye olde’ way of life at the time of the Gold Rush. My brother particularly liked watching the demonstration of how they made the boiled lollies of the time, and my father enjoyed the demonstration of pouring gold into ingots. Personally, I simply enjoyed spending the weekend away with my family – living in another city means I don’t get to see them as often as I would like. Thankfully, this will change next year when K and I move back to Melbourne and start saving in earnest to buy a house and start a family!

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Excellent reviews online combined with my ongoing quest to expose my father to cuisines that he’s never tried before meant that we had dinner that evening at Cafe Meigas, a tiny little Spanish restaurant down an alleyway off Ballarat’s main pedestrian mall. I highly recommend making a reservation – luckily I had made a reservation as I didn’t know how popular it would be on a Saturday night. In the two hours that we were there, we saw at least ten groups of diners being turned away due to capacity.

While perusing the menu, my eyes were definitely too big for my stomach. I ordered six dishes between three people and asked the waitress whether she thought it was enough food. “It’s probably a bit too much,” she answered honestly. “But what I can do is have all the entrees and appetisers served in tapas size, so you still get to try all the dishes you want.” What service!

Tabla de Embutidos (chorizo, serrano ham, salchihon, olives, manchego cheese)
Tabla de Embutidos (chorizo, serrano ham, salchihon, olives, manchego cheese)
During the day, Cafe Meigas also serves as a continental deli selling all manner of smoked meats, cheeses, imported tapenades, and more. No wonder then, that the Tabla de Embutidos was absolutely fantastic. I adored the subtle manchego cheese and tart plump olives, but Dad’s favourite was the thinly sliced chorizo which he had never tried before. He enjoyed this platter so much in fact, that I had to take him to the supermarket afterwards to show him where he could buy prosciutto, chorizo, ham, etc to make up his own platter in the future.

Ensalada Iberica (Lettuce, tomato, spanish onion, olive, cucumber, asparagus, serrano ham, manchego cheese seasoned with olive oil and red wine vinegar)
Ensalada Iberica (Lettuce, tomato, spanish onion, olive, cucumber, asparagus, serrano ham, manchego cheese seasoned with olive oil and red wine vinegar)
The Ensalada Iberica was my attempt at ensuring that we ate some vegetables but I was disappointed by the asparagus which wasn’t fresh. Rather, it looked as though it had come out of a jar or can as it was rather limp. The rest of the salad was lovely and fresh, but I simply couldn’t get over the disappointment of the asparagus.

Croquetas
Croquetas
The Croquetas were much more enjoyable.  The fillings change every day, and we were lucky enough to have the tasty seafood croquetas on the night that we were there. With a crispy crunchy shell and soft cheesy insides, the croquetas were simply to die for. The difficult part was figuring out how to split four croquetas between three people!

Patates con Aioli
Patates con Aioli
The Patates con Aioli were roasted well with that special kind of crispy skin that I love. I found the massive dollop of aioli on top a bit strange though. I would have preferred the dish had the potatoes been more evenly coated in a thin layer of aioli more like a potato salad.

Albondigas en salsa de almendras (Spanish meatball in almond sauce)
Albondigas en salsa de almendras (Spanish meatball in almond sauce)
I almost forgot that I ordered the Albondigas en salsa de almendras, as these meatballs came out quite a bit later than the other tapas. It turned out to be a very pleasant surprise – the nutty sauce was extremely flavourful, and the meatballs were incredibly tender. I definitely could have done with a bit of bread to soak up the sauce, because it was just that good.

Paella Mixta
Paella Mixta
We finished off our meal with the Paella Mixta for two, a mix of chicken and seafood. Cafe Meigas were very generous with the servings – whereas some places might use cheaper frozen “assorted seafood” mixes for their paella, they use a great fresh range of mussels, prawns, scampi, clams and fish to make their paella. It made a big difference as well, as it meant that the paella was really infused with the fresh ocean flavours and aromas that made it a fantastic meal.

Churros
Churros
I was absolutely stuffed to the brim by this point, but I managed to convince my brother to share a dessert with me – the Churros. After all, how can you have a meal at a Spanish restaurant and not finish with churros right? These were absolutely piping hot and straight out of the fryer – but were surprisingly not too oily! Dipped in the rich melted dark chocolate, they were just delightful.

All in all, our meal at Cafe Meigas was really enjoyable. They were very accommodating in terms of their flexibility in serving things tapas style rather than full-sized entrees, and the food itself was really well done. Without knowing Ballarat very well, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was one of the best restaurants in the area!

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Review: The Forge Pizzeria, Ballarat Victoria

To cap off a recent weekend in Ballarat visiting attractions like Sovereign Hill and the Gold Museum, I went with my brother and father to The Forge Pizzeria in town for lunch on the Sunday before driving back to Melbourne for my late afternoon flight back to Sydney. Recommended with a high rating on Urbanspoon (now Zomato), The Forge Pizzeria is absolutely massive. Dressed up as an old warehouse with the requisite exposed bricks and industrial reclaimed furniture, the restaurant can easily seat 200 people or even more. The massive brick pizza ovens take pride of place along the walls though, and you can see the pizza chefs at work if you just peek over the bar.

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We ordered a few cold drinks to start our meal. I decided to combine dessert with my beverage, and ordered an iced chocolate which came with a delicious scoop of creamy vanilla ice-cream. It probably could have been blended up a little bit better as the chocolate mix hadn’t quite integrated with the milk, but I quite like getting bursts of chocolate¬†so it worked quite well for me. Dad’s strong iced coffee came with its own scoop of ice-cream as well, which my brother quickly ate under the guise of ‘taste-testing’ the coffee!

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On the menu was a pulled pork pizza with an apple slaw topping, so of course, I had to order it, because who ever turns down pulled pork? Unfortunately this pulled pork was a little dry, I assume as a result of having been cooked for a second time in the pizza oven. It’s unfortunate because the flavour was definitely there – it just lacked the texture that you would hope for. It’s too bad that the pulled pork wasn’t used in a pasta instead of a pizza, as I think it would have been a much better choice.

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The potato pizza was a much better choice. You can’t go wrong with wafer thin slices of potato, a healthy sprinkle of rosemary and salt, as well as an absolute metric ton of melted cheese. Simple pizzas always win, and this won in spades from the crowd-pleasing toppings to the crispy but fluffy crust.

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Remembering how much my father had enjoyed the grain salad at Gazi, I ordered the quinoa and lentil salad for him to try. While it was enjoyable in its nuttiness, it lacked a certain punch which could have elevated it into something special. The grain salad at Gazi included pomegranate seeds which really added bursts of flavour, and I feel like the Forge Pizzeria should have added something like that to their quinoa salad to make it really sing.

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We finished off our meal with one of the specials of the day, gnocchi with Italian sausage and wilted spinach. This was the first time that Dad had tried gnocchi, and he kept asking me, “This is potato? Are you sure this is potato?” I can understand the confusion – this gnocchi was so light and fluffy that you would find it hard to believe that it was made with something as dense as a potato. Combined with the rich tomato sauce and the spicy sausage, this dish was a real winner.

I can understand why The Forge Pizzeria is so popular with the locals – the prices are good and it really caters well for larger groups. The menu can be a bit hit or miss, so I would recommend ordering some simpler pizzas for a guaranteed good meal, rather than opting for fancier versions like the pulled pork.

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