Scorcher reviews: Moon and Mountain — ‘Oh boy, what happened to Ballarat?’
Moon & Mountain
220 Mair St, Ballarat
Oh boy. What has happened to Ballarat? The gold rush city’s dining landscape is almost unrecognisable from the culinary no man’s land I grew up in.
When I graduated high school, in the early 2000s, the pinnacle of eating out in Ballarat was the chips, cheese and gravy shop.
Pinky’s Pizza, where I worked as a teen (in my little pink t-shirt), was almost considered haute cuisine.
But get a load of the ‘Rat now. The Goldfields city, only an hour and a bit from Melbourne, now has a slew of restaurants that can take it right up to the top eateries in the Big Smoke.
Take Underbar for example, the 12-seater contemporary restaurant that’s been a huge hit with the critics. (A 12-seater restaurant back in my day would have been the waiting area at the local fish and chip shop.)
Last year, Kate Stevenson and were hooked by Catfish (before it morphed into Mr Jones), which was awarded one chef’s hat in the Age Good Food guide for its outstanding modern Thai.
Other notable restaurants include the popular and handsome Mitchell Harris wine bar, The Pub with Two Names (which was the rundown Peter Lalor Hotel back in my day) and fine diner Lola at the Provincial Hotel (opposite the station).
Another restaurant that is absolutely killing it is Moon and Mountain, a Thai-focused, street-food-style diner that’s been wowing Ballaratians since it opened at the end of 2017.
And it’s easy to see why. The space has an industrial edge to it, like something you’d see in the laneways of Melbourne, but the service has some of that personable, country town warmth to it.
After ordering cocktails and cans of lager, we started with a double round of dumplings.
The chicken, prawn and chilli wontons with pickled ginger and chilli vinegar were spongey little flavour bombs but my pick, with their chewy, charred bases, were the pork and cabbage pot stickers.
Cast your eye over the list of larger, shareable dishes and there aren’t many you wouldn’t want to order. From the moo pad prik (pork belly, holy basil, red curry) to the beef short ribs with massaman flavours, the menu is packed with Thai and Malaysian-influenced bangers that will warm your guts on those brisk Ballarat nights.
We decided to go for the quarterback – the chicken and prawn pad thai – and even though it could be considered a rather uninspiring choice, it’s one of those dishes that, when done right, is as electrifying as a full moon party.
But the dish of the day was the bad ass, menacing, caramalised pork hock with Thai eggplant and coriander. The skin was magnificently sweet and sticky, like the carpets of the pubs I used to play in, but work your way through it and the meat underneath is so tender it falls apart like my band did after high school.
The Ballarat I remember was cold and dull. It’s still blipping freezing but the town has transformed into something of a regional eating hot spot, one which lends itself perfectly to day trips on the train (that way you don’t need to worry about how many glasses you have at Mitchell Harris).
I need to make sure I get back to my old stomping ground more often.