Bite-sized Ballarat: A taste of Spain at Café Meigas

Yamelly Perez and Jose Fernandez at Café Meigas in the Bridge Mall, Ballarat. PICTURE: ADAM TRAFFORD

Yamelly Perez and Jose Fernandez at Café Meigas in the Bridge Mall, Ballarat. PICTURE: ADAM TRAFFORD

WHEN ordering churros, hold the icing sugar. 

And do not add chorizo to the paella. 

"That's the Spanish way to do it," says Cafe Meigas co-owner Yamelly Perez.

"When people ask for churros, we just use regular sugar." 

It's these simple rules that have catapulted Yamelly and her chef husband Jose Fernandez into Ballarat's food scene.

"The restaurant is authentically Spanish," Yamelly says. "We are getting a lot of the Spanish community coming from Melbourne." 

In the first three weeks of opening their Bridge Mall cafe, the pair decided to scrap focaccias, croissants and milkshakes from the menu. 

"Jose was not comfortable cooking it," Yamelly says. "We had tapas, but the menu was in English. We both thought this isn't right." 

That's when Yamelly and Jose decided to take the plunge and serve only authentic Spanish cuisine. 

"We thought, if it is going to work it is going to work," Yamelly says. 

Six months later and the couple has managed to transform their cosy, laneway cafe into a Little Spain. 

Rustic wooden tables and chairs add character, while it's hard to miss the healthily-stocked deli fridge showcasing local meats and imported cheeses. 

Even pork legs hang from the deli roof. 

"It still has a bit to go this one," Jose says, while walking us around the cafe. 

"One day we will have this all up and running. The fridge will be fully-stocked." 

Yamelly stresses there is a big difference between Spanish and South American cuisine. 

"Spanish food is not spicy. We use a lot of olive oil, garlic, chorizo and wine," she says. "People ask for tacos and we have to explain that is Mexican." 

Depending on where you are in Spain, the menu will vary. 

Cafe Meigas' menu pays homage to Jose's childhood neighbourhood of Galicia, in north-west Spain. 

"About 40 per cent of the menu is from Galicia," Yamelly says. 

Black pudding and octopus are more common in the north, while white beans are from the south. Seafood, pork and paella are staple dishes across all of Spain. 

"I grew up in restaurants," Jose says. "My family had a restaurant called Rio Mino in Galicia for 30 years." 

The talented chef also has a PhD in Biology and a photography diploma. 

Jose met his wife Yamelly in Venezuela in 1998. 

"I met him when I was 17. In November we were engaged," Yamelly says. "We got married and came to Australia for our honeymoon and never left." 

"We got married and came to Australia for our honeymoon and never left"

The couple always had plans to open a cafe, but did not think it would be in Ballarat. 

In 2011 Yamelly had the choice of studying nursing in either Melbourne or in Ballarat. But the regional tree-change took precedence over living in a large city. 

"I liked the buildings, the faces and how people would say 'good morning' as you walked down the street," she says. "When you're in Melbourne you don't get that." 

The pair also wanted to channel Spain's friendly customer service culture in Cafe Meigas. 

"I always try to talk to people (in the cafe)," Yamelly says. 

"I know your time is precious, but if you have a coffee and take a moment for yourself it is nice." 

Yamelly says most customers take the opportunity to dine in. 

"About 99 per cent of the time people will stay in (and eat)," she says. 

And the couple's different approach to dining seems to be paying off - scoring a table at Cafe Meigas is no easy task. 

"Sometimes we will close at 3pm because we have sold out," Yamelly says. "It depends. Sometimes we are fully booked on a Tuesday night, but the next week we may not be." 

She hopes Cafe Meigas will also attract more people to the Bridge Mall. 

"We want to change the image of Bridge Mall. Nobody ever came out here," she says. 

"We know you can't please everyone, but we will always do our best."

Cafe Meigas

Coliseum Walk, Bridge Mall

03 5331 9444

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