A rocky overnight crossing, tossed and turned on the high seas, we hit landfall, early, the clear cold morning belying the tempest of the night before. With almost a week to spare, we find ourselves in sunny ... Oh, I'm sorry, I’m fully aware how hard this is reading the exploits of us exotic travel writers from your office, dark and dingy. It is a tough life been sent to all corners of the globe, un-earthing secret little places, off that well-trodden track. As they say, someone has to do it.
Where was I, yes, if you find yourself with a week to spare in sunny ... Geelong!
That’s right, I’m not another Bourdain, Zimmern or indeed Bryson. No one would send me here, in fact finding a week of things to write about is well-nigh impossible. And last week I was in Tassie. It’s not that I have anything against Geelong. A great position on Corio Bay, a short drive from Melbourne, here the weather is just a tad more gloomy on any given day. They have a magnificent football arena, Kardinia Park; we can hear the cheers from our accommodation in the city centre.
Burrowing deep as you have to do with a week here you do start to unearth some points of interest. You can be having a craft brew in Collingwood in an hour, so that’s a positive. On the way is the Werribee Zoo, not the most exotic location, but the animals have heaps of space and they take conservation very seriously here. If you time it well, the Avalon airshow is around here, watch as crazy pilots defy death, or not. South-west of Geelong is Colac, the gateway to the other side of Colac and beyond to the great ocean drive. The Otway National Park and Cape Otway are great places to watch as koalas doze for hours in the dying manna gums.
Closer in on the Bellarine Peninsula is Wallington, the capital of the world in mini golf, hours of fun. Closer still on the Corio waterfront, bollards, lots of bollards … yep they do like the bollard here. I need to do some research with a week here, it’ll surely test my Twitter hangers-on and Facebook so-called-friends to navigate us to through this town that does seem to do a lot of parmis. Every night is parmi night.
Caffeine will be your first task, and it turns out there's a wealth of choice. Get to know the team at Fuel cafe if you are staying in the city. This grungy, supremely well-run coffee depot cranks out so many excellent brews. The line is long but they churn through it. James Street Bakery also knows how to pack a grouphead plus some decent bread.
Over in the west - I know everywhere is west in Geelong - look for 'Paco' or Pakington Street, just about everything you need is here. Industrial King of the Castle has a pretty neat pop-up-in-a-shed look about it and good coffee to boot.
It's generally considered a good idea to stay away from the ocean shore area for food. It's a nice view and all but as you know the circles in a Venn diagram of places with views and those that serve good food rarely overlap.
One great little spot that you'd miss in passing is Union Street wine bar. There is limited seating, so don't go rocking up with the team but the wine is really out there and interesting. They have one of those Berkel ham slicers, which they chose over an espresso machine, so we supped on bellota ham with sardines, good bread plus a neat little plate of curds and something red to swill.
Tulip on Pakington is more substantial, local oysters smothered in ponsu, salt and pepper pork crackling, chicken giblets on toast, waygu flank with beetroot, lentils and celeriac. So yum and just what you want to eat. Well, just what I want to eat at least. Out of town Noble Rot at Point Lonsdale was a quiet lunch spot with lots of lovely tins of anchovy, occy, plus chorizo and bread.
The food here isn’t exactly breaking new ground, just well done, effortless and unaffected. I do have a little concern about this trend of serving sardines, anchovies, octopus etc straight from these tins. I could bring my own along and do that.
And we save the best for last, you need to build up to places like this. Just near the stadium is a hotel called the Clarendon Hotel, and in here you can get the famous drive-through parmi. Impressed? I know you are. Pre-order from the surprisingly long menu that also delivers schnitzels (though the difference here wasn't explained as they have to same toppings) and the ever so fancy 'Kiev'. The parmis are huge, and absolute bargain if eating a kilo of flattened and fried chicken is high on your bucket list.
Got me thinking, though, a well put-together parmi can be a much more qualitative experience that the purely quantitative methods of the Clarendon.
With a heavy heart we depart, off to my next destination, where will my compass take me this time, I hear you ask? Maitland!
Veal parmigiana with puttanesca and buffalo mozzarella
4 veal cutlets, bones still attached (pork cutlets work fine too)
Flour for dredging
2 eggs, well beaten
Panko or home-made breadcrumbs
Grapeseed oil for frying
Puttanesca sauce, recipe below
2 fresh buffalo mozzarella or fresh bocconcini
½ cup freshly grated parmesan
Place the cutlets in between cling film and bash out to about five millimetres thick with a meat tenderiser. Season well, dust in flour, shake off excess, dredge in egg, then coat well in breadcrumbs. Heat a large skillet till hot add a good splash of oil and fry each parmi on both sides for about two to three minutes until crispy. Drain on absorbent paper. Heat oven to 180C, place parmis on tray coat each with sauce, sprinkle with parmesan and top with mozzarella. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve with vegetables or salad and chips.
50ml olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tin Italian peeled tomatoes, chopped
¼ tsp dried chilli powder
1 zucchini, diced quite fine
4 anchovy fillets, mashed
½ cup Kalamata olives, chopped in half, seeds removed
2 tbsp small capers, drained or rinsed
6 basil leaves, torn
Heat oil and fry onion and garlic until soft, add tomatoes and chilli, cook for five minutes. Add zucchini and anchovy and continue to cook for another five minutes. Add olives, capers and basil.