The restaurant plays on a rural theme, with a corrugated iron roof and recycled wood. In front, there is a nice red tractor. In the kitchen, Laurie prepares rustic Italian dishes with super fresh produce from the vegetable garden and the farm, visible through the restaurant’s bay window.
Typical are the handmade tagliatelle with pomodoro sauce, scallops and bottarga, dried fish roe and Ravens Creek pork cutlet with frittedda – accompanied by a Pinot Blanc Domaine Ostertag Les Jardins d’Alsace, the Hanser’s hometown.
La Cachette, a 25-seat bistro hidden in a cul-de-sac by the water, where I have lunch the next day, also brings a French touch to Geelong. It’s the dream project of Geelong-born Matt Podbury, who came from abroad with a CV boasting stints in Michelin-starred restaurants in the UK and France.
From his time in Lyon, Podbury brought the culinary art of bistronomy, which focuses on food made with love and eaten without fuss in a warm setting. His partner, sister and father all work in the restaurant, adding a family warmth.
“Bistronomy is an attitude,” says Podbury. “It’s about making people happy.”
He delivers this – and an unforgettable meal. The Spanish mackerel, brined, torched and served with purple artichoke and bottarga (dried fish roe), is sublime. Potato tortelli and cream of tarragon baked with blackberries and cocoa are not far behind.
Everything leaves its kitchen cooked to order (there’s no cool room to store food) and its wine selections are impeccable. A Clos Lapeyre Jurançon Sec 2016 with its yellow wine cream turbot is inspired.
But it’s not just solo establishments courting diners in Geelong.
Little Malop Street, a few blocks from the waterfront, has become a bustling neighborhood of restaurants and bars, thanks to places like The Hot Chicken Project, Tacos y Liquor and Ok. Smash – three casual outfits by Aaron Turner , owner of the city’s famous Igni restaurant.
At the end of a lane off Little Malop, a new restaurant is proving particularly popular. Felix, of the owners of the South American restaurant Alma, opted for a modern European menu with an emphasis on seafood and vegetables, served in an airy space that housed a car radio store.
Further afield in North Geelong, 1915 Restaurant in the heritage-listed Federal Mills redevelopment is both a stopover and a destination. The cavernous space retains the industrial aspect of the old woolen mills (opened in 1915). With a kitchen on the ground floor, a dedicated wine cellar and cocktail bars on two levels, 1915 can accommodate 370 people.
Chef Andy Symeonakis plays up the laid back, fun vibe with big flavors and crowd pleasers.
The Spirit of Tasmania ferry service, which travels from Melbourne to Corio Quay, less than a mile away, is sure to bring cargoes of customers to 1915. ‘We could be the ideal departure lounge says general manager Rob Macafee.
In the same building as 1915 is the boutique gin distiller Anther. Several gins are available for tasting, including the new version Fluorescence, its collaboration with the Royal Botanical Gardens of Victoria, Geelong Dry and a limited edition barrel-aged cherry gin. Co-owner and distiller Dervilla McGowan’s true love, however, is Goddess Strength, Anther’s take on sea-strength gin and his homage to remarkable women hidden in history.
Anther is just one of many distillers in the area. If you want to avoid the 250 kilometers round trip required to visit them all, they are presented at the Geelong Chamber of Gin in Black Sheep, a restaurant in the National Wool Museum, in the heart of the city. The Chamber also stocks drops from around the world.
“It’s a great way to get into gin,” says manager Paul West.
If wine is more your thing, across town is Provenance Wines, in the paper mills built in the 1870s, where visitors can experience a wide range of award-winning drops under a 10-gabled roof. meters and original wall art by a Geelong-born artist. Rone. Paired tastings are offered, with a contemporary menu from Chef Nathan McIver.
The fact that many of these places are in renovated historic buildings adds to the fun. Not only are these beautiful backdrops, but they serve as a reminder of Geelong’s proud industrial past.
The new R Hotel, where I am staying, is an example of this. In its newest form, as a serviced apartment hotel, a modern tower rises behind the 1860s facade. It was formerly the Bay-view Temperance Hotel and Ritz Flats, but “Ritz” has was dropped for “R” after its Parisian luxury namesake objected.
From the balcony of my apartment there are stunning views of the waterfront landmarks including the rejuvenated Cunningham Pier, the giant sky wheel and the figurative bollards along the esplanade, beach and gardens.
Geelong Gallery, too, is located in a mix of old and new, with various extensions and renovations added to the original 1915 building. Now in its 125th year, the gallery is at the heart of the city’s cultural renaissance. town (the Geelong Arts Center is undergoing major redevelopment across the road).
Recent exhibitions include jeweler Blanche Tilden, Rone and, through February, Australian impressionist artist Fredrick McCubbin and Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize.
“There have been a lot of master plans in Geelong over the years,” says gallery director Jason Smith. “We see this coming to fruition.”
The skies remain stubbornly gray as I return to Melbourne via the 12-seater Moonah, another vaunted, produce-focused restaurant, this time in the Connewarre Wetlands.
Here, former Brae chef Tobin Kent creates a 10-course menu of intricate dishes that embrace organic, local, naturally farmed, wild, local and seasonal – all things that let the ingredients do their thing. the bulk of the work, with Kent left to apply deft light touches. “I’m inspired by the way things grow in nature,” he says as sunlight momentarily pierces the darkness, through the billabongs and adjoining farmland.
The Cantina at the Common Ground Project 675 Anglesea Road,
Freshwater Stream, (03) 5264 5082.
La Cachette BistroSteampacket Place, Geelong Waterfront, 0478 522996.
moonah 95 Minya Lane, Connewarre.
Felix 9 Downes Lane, Geelong, 0447 288 454.
Restaurant from 1915 PH2, 33 Mackey Street, North Geelong, 0499 33 1915.
Anther PH3 Federal Mills, 33 Mackey Street, North Geelong, 0424 781 543.
Gin’s room at the Black Sheep Ground Floor, 66 Brougham Street, Geelong, 03 5223 2536.
Wines of Provence 100 Lower Paper Mills Road, Fyansford, (03) 5222 3422.
Hotel R Geelong 10 Bellerine Street, (03) 4206 0500. Rates start at $200 per night for a room, $245 for an apartment.
Geelong Gallery Rue du Petit Malop (03) 5229 3645. Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize until February 20. Frederick McCubbin – Whispers in the Acacia Branches is until February 13.
The writer traveled as a guest of Tourism Geelong and the Bellarine.