I think I've found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, as hiding at the base of the Dana Street hill and just down Albert Street to the left is Ballarat’s most colourful treasure. And it’s also full of leprechauns...
Suzi: Hi Noreen. I’ve come for my daily bread – soda bread, that is – and a fix of Irish cheer in what must be the grooviest church I’ve ever been to.
Noreen: Top of the morning to you, Suzi.
S: How did you guys go under my radar for so long? When did you open for business?
N:We opened in February. It’s a real melting pot of everything I love – good home-cooked Irish food, vintage clothes and retro pieces.
S: How long have you lived in Ballarat and Australia?
N: We moved here from Ireland 15 years ago, lived in Brighton and then my partner was head-hunted by the University of Ballarat three years ago. We bought the church on Christmas Eve. Since then, I’ve turned our lounge room into a cafe.
S: I see you’re selling lots of vintage?
N: I’ve always sold vintage clothes. Ballarat is becoming quite well-known for its vintage chic.
S: That’s so cool. I’m so over people saying "oh Ballarat, it’s so cold and, oh, Sovereign Hill is there!". I love your coffee machine and I’m loving this coffee...
N: The coffee is Gravity and we are the only place in Ballarat to use Gravity. The beans are organic, a rich and chocolatey roast from New Zealand. I drank 40 different brands until I found the perfect blend. The machine is a retro reproduction. We asked for a green retro machine and Gravity found us the only one in Australia.
S: And so to the leprechauns – you’re all Irish, right?
N: Yes, I call them the slaves, my nieces and nephews from Ireland. I couldn’t do all this without them.
S: They look pretty happy for slaves. How many people do you seat?
N: We are licenced to seat 20 to eat, but can fit a few more in for coffee on the uber orange lounge (a must-see for design students).
S: What’s your most popular dish?
N:Well, we are becoming famous for our burger, the Ballykissangel burger. The steak sambo is also very popular. We had caramelised onion on it – that was very yummy – but now that I’ve developed carpal tunnel syndrome, I can only stir the slaves who, in turn, forget to stir the onions and no slave would want to wash those pots.
S: Can we try a Guinness?
N: Yes, in our beef and Guinness pie, which is the next most popular dish. However, the Guinness in Australia just doesn’t taste the same as at home.
S: You should call Andrew Lavery at The Rat brewery – he does a fine stout.
N: Andrew, call me.
S: Let’s talk soda bread...
N:We’ve had some problems with the flour in Australia as well. At home, we used a flour called wheaten meal. It gives the bread a great structure and makes it very moist. All the flour we try from here keeps coming out doughy. If anyone in the area has wheaten meal, we’d love to use local.
S: I love the ode to chickens on the menu.
N: Our free-range eggs are from Smeaton, supplied by Winston. He knows each one of his chickens by name. He also supplies us with organic veg from his market garden.
S: Word on the street is you do the tastiest salad sandwich around?
N: That would be the Irish salad sandwich. It’s very simple – just lettuce, some carrot and a little cucumber. But it’s the mayonnaise that makes it great – proper Irish mayo with real fresh eggs. We use Hellmann’s mayo. A lot of people are afraid to try the sandwich because it is Irish.
S: Don’t be discouraged – we can be very set in our ways here in Ballarat.
The Retro Church Cafe is a real find. In the vein of our other groovy cafes such as Musika, Bibo, Eclectic Tastes and Cornucopia, they are taking Ballarat to the next level of coffee culture – more of a new age therapy than a fuel stop.