Just an hour down the road, in the sprawling city of Geelong, a new food and wine scene is emerging
In Geelong’s urban heart, cosy wine bars, cocktail havens and bustling beer gardens are taking over laneways and old brick buildings. Fine dining restaurants sourcing the best local produce are finding their homes everywhere from trendy Pakington Street to blissful quiet Birregurra.
The city seems to have a new life. And it’s not a change that’s gone unnoticed. Geelong’s bourgeoning food and wine scene has recently garnered praise from some serious industry heavyweights. Attica’s Ben Shewry, whose Ripponlea restaurant was last year named 21st best in the world, is an Ocean Grove local and says since moving to the region six years ago, he’s seen Geelong lift its food game to another level.
“This place has blown me away with the quality of the food,” says Shewry, who eats out in the city and its surrounds more and more. It’s no surprise, he says, that Geelong’s food scene is booming now. “With access to such great produce it was only a matter of time.”
MoVida’s Frank Camorra grew up in Corio and often heads back to the city for a good Spanish feast.
And Kate Calder, the Geelong-born award-winning chef from Melbourne’s Coda and Tonka, says her next restaurant will likely be in the flourishing food and wine hub. “It’s all happening in Geelong,” she says. “It’s the next big thing.”
Down a city alleyway, behind an industrial-looking roller door, marked by a sign simply reading WINE, lies Geelong’s newest wine-lover’s retreat. The experienced owners of the Bellarine’s Bistro at Banks have teamed up with wine connoisseur Andy Leigh (although he hates that ‘snobby’ title) to bring you a French-inspired space where you can taste some truly unusual drops. One of its main attractions is that you can buy at bottle shop prices, then drink your purchase at the bar while chatting to Andy about its origins and watching fresh jamón fall from a shiny red slicer. Top notch cheese and olives, too.
Best dish: The freshly sliced prosciutto – whatever they have in ($8).
When Matt Dempsey, from Inverleigh’s Gladioli, and Graham Jefferies, from Melbourne’s Wildflower restaurant, decided to move into the heart of Geelong’s blossoming food scene on Pakington Street, the name Tulip was an easy choice. “Flowers just seem to work for us,” Dempsey points out. The space, designed by Melbourne architect Adam Kane, has followed suit. Light and airy, fresh and fragrant, the minute you step foot inside Tulip you know you’re in for a treat. It’s share food with an experimental edge and the experience of the chefs shines through in its delicate presentation.
Best dish: Salt and vinegar pork crackling ($7).
Award-winning ex-Royal Mail Hotel chef Dan Hunter has found a new home in the Otway hinterlands.
Housed in an original 1868 cottage, Brae is formerly the home of George Biron and Diane Garrett’s iconic Sunnybrae restaurant and cooking school. In its new incarnation it's living up to its hype – which is why we slapped five stars on it last issue.
The sleek and contemporary space allows Hunter to showcase his skill and personality using seasonal produce plucked in part from the very 12 hectares of pristine farmland on which Brae stands. The set 12-course menu includes dishes such as burnt pretzel, treacle and pork, salt grass lamb with grilled lettuce and berries and blood biscuit.
Best dish: Whatever is picked fresh from the garden that morning ($180pp plus $120pp for matching wine).
From an entry via a carpark on Geelong’s stylish Pakington Street you enter Strasse Bar, the city’s answer to Melbourne’s 1806. In fact, it was former 1806 manager Nick Reed who set up the cocktail spot last year along with Paul Marinelli from Scotchman’s Hill winery. The well-travelled duo’s approach to their cocktails is simple: everyone has different tastes. So at Strasse you chose your flavours, rather than a pre-made drink, and the boys will create something especially for you. Enjoy it along with some street food-inspired nibbles while surrounded by street art, red brick and rustic wooden walls.
Best dish: Strasse-Bourger – a hot dog crossed with a hamburger ($10) washed down with cocktails made to your taste (approx $15).
A red brick warehouse had been sitting dormant in Geelong for as long as locals could remember. Then, late last year, the doors were opened to reveal the former mechanics shop had been transformed into a cavernous space done up with leather chairs, exposed beams, industrial lighting and moose antlers.
The repurposed building is the perfect venue for a few locally sourced drinks at the bar or a full meal, share style, at one of the spacious tables. Pork sliders and lamb t-bones meet the more delicate kangaroo carpaccio and steamed Portarlington mussels in this atmospheric beer hall-cum-restaurant.
Best dish: Pork sliders ($18) with a side of burnt cabbage ($8).