"You Sexy Thing" purrs from the sound system.

There’s a tequila sunrise on the bar. From the kitchen comes a piping hot vol-au-vent. Just off the Western Highway, the 56-year-old Great Western Hotel Ballan has been restored to its former 1960s glory by the team who also own the famous Farmers Arms Hotel in Daylesford. Business partners Mitch Duncan and Mel Nolte saw the iconic building last year and fell in love with its authentic look and almost intact interior. “We have done a lot of work to bring it back to its mid 20th century splendour,” says Mel. “It had the band room, the ladies’ lounge, the pool room, the rounded bar all set in this classic boomerang-shaped building,” says Mitch. The Great Western Hotel Ballan is not a theme pub, but it is a venue that has captured and celebrates the good times of the 1960s-‘70s.

After removing layers of dark paint and nicotine, the duo restored the blonde wood panelling and added etched glass windows featuring a peacock. For authenticity, the bar floor was laid with red linoleum, while the band room has been transformed into an inside beer garden with fake grass carpeting, palms and monsteras, beach umbrellas, and festoons of coloured party lights. The offer here is deliciously fun, family-friendly dishes with vegetarian options, some seriously good fish and meat plates, and 1960s throwbacks. The highlight is the prawn cocktail that is way too tasty to be ironic. Served in a martini glass are small, plump prawns folded through shredded lettuce and a tangy Marie Rose and garnished with a lemon wedge and jumbo prawn tails. This starter teams up with a chicken and gruyere vol-au-vent, BBQ pork slider and grilled saganaki. There’s grilled porterhouse and eye fillet from Cape Grim and a super succulent pork chop, crumbed and fried until golden brown, served with hand-cut potato wedges and refreshing apple coleslaw. Retro desserts include a popcorn topped caramelised banana split, and a sensational Rocky Road inspired cage of chocolate hiding a luscious chocolate brownie dotted with raspberries, roasted peanuts, and Turkish delight smothered in white chocolate mousse. With a compact but interesting wine list of local and European wines, and a cocktail list that includes classics such as Fluffy Duck and a Brandy Alexander, the Great Western Hotel Ballan is a good place to spend time at the bar. “Think Palm Springs meets Western District graziers’ pub!” says Mel with a laugh.

Pork Sliders Great Western Hotel. Copyright RIchard Cornish 2021 2 uai
BBQ Pork Sliders Photography by RIchard Cornish

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About the author

Cornish Richard
Richard Cornish
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Richard Cornish is an award winning food writer whose love of the land lead him to explore the issues around food, where it comes from, how it gets to us and why some foods taste better than others. He writes for The Age, SMH, DMT Life and has written eight cook books including co-writing the Movida series with Frank Camorra.