Go full throttle south-west from Melbourne and a little over an hour away, you'll start rolling into Geelong, Victoria's second biggest city, and a good-looking one at that. Undulating historic streets are peppered with grand homes overlooking a pretty waterfront, and the CBD is a lively clash of Gold Rush grandeur and new world smarts – especially when it comes to food.
Geelong has fabulous dining options to burn – and that flame shows no sign of waning, with the laneway gems of Little Malop Street in the CBD, and the cafes and delis of the Pakington strip. So let's hit the road.
The coffee scene in Geelong is going gangbusters, with local specialty roasters and cafes taking pride in their selection. Coffee Cartel are excellent roasters with a sleek corner shopfront and a wall-mounted lighting fixture that declares 'FRESH' in carnival font. John Doe Specialty Roasters has an expert selection of single origins to cherrypick from, while A Spot for Joe, tucked down a lane off a carpark, has Dukes Coffee on the grinders. King of the Castle, a sexy warehouse-style cafe with wooden pallet seating and an AstroTurfed outdoor area with wood barrel tables, offers Padre coffee, a tight selection of quality baked goods and the option of almond milk, and Mr Miller is a crazy-cute coffee window where you can grab a brew and a toasty local pastry treat.
Coffee Cartel, 1-80 Little Malop St, Geelong, 5222 6115
John Doe Specialty Roasters, 237 Ryrie St, Geelong, 5221 3028
A Spot for Joe, 33 Little Ryrie St, Geelong, 0451 419 855
King of the Castle, 24 Pakington St, Geelong West, 0400 170 502
Mr Miller Coffee Co., 111 Pakington St, Geelong West, no phone
Get to Geelong early, and get there hungry, because you're going to want to shoehorn breakfast, brunch and lunch in. Freckleduck is a breezy space with white tiles and light wood and a cafe menu given a five-star spin (try the coffee spritz for a caffeine hit on a hot day). 63 Degrees is a bountiful explosion of healthy, organic produce in a sprawling, friendly space. Relax on the deck with coffee from North Geelong's Roastcraft and browse the effervescent menu that includes corn cakes with kale and pomegranate, and mojito-cured salmon. James St Bakery, with a French baker twirling out all sorts of bready treats, is a perfect stop for a classic baguette in the little red skip parklet outside. Sticking with the French theme, the French Corner Cafe is a sweet and intimate cafe, with cosy rooms decorated in muted tones and wooden cheese boxes, and a menu that puts aFrench spin on cafe classics. (If you're in a rush, at least stop for coffee and an Eiffel Tower-shaped shortbread.) Following the French connection through to Cajun food, Pistol Pete's Food n Blues brings a taste of the American south to Little Malop Street with po'boys, jambalaya and fried chicken.
Freckleduck, 131 Malop St, Geelong, 5298 2262
63 Degrees, 140 Pakington St, Geelong West, 5222 2889
Box Office, 77 Preston St, Geelong West, no phone
James St Bakery, 10 James St, Geelong, 5221 3909
French Corner Café, 100 Pakington St, Geelong West, 5223 2728
Pistol Pete's, 93A Little Malop St, Geelong, 5221 0287
Chefs Matt Dempsey and Graham Jefferies' Tulip has a lovely, airy feel with a Scandinavian decor vibe and an unfussy menu that highlights quality ingredients, especially meats like Wessex saddleback pork belly. Zigfrids Dining Hall pairs a moody, low-lit interior with an equally alluring menu of octopus carpaccio or cider-steamed Portalington mussels. The Telegraph Hotel blends art deco with pub classics taken to the next level (duck spring rolls to snack on, rolled lamb leg with dates and shallots), while Le Parisien offers a seafood-centric French menu and gorgeous waterfront views.
Tulip, Shop 9, 111 Pakington St, Geelong West, 5229 6953
Zigfrids Dining Hall, 66 Pakington St, Geelong West, 5221 1555
Telegraph Hotel, 2 Pakington St, Geelong West, 5222 2471
Le Parisien, 15 Eastern Beach Rd, Geelong, 5221 8132
There is quite the wine country around Geelong, but in Geelong proper, there's Union St Wine, a superb wine store and bar, with a select choice on rotation by the glass and a spunky red meat slicer ready to shave a few tissue-thin slices of Serrano ham to go with the house-marinated South Australian olives. Buy a bottle to take home or pay a tenner to drink it in-house while you listen to the owner's vinyl collection. The well-regarded restaurant, There There, is undergoing a change in direction, but the excellent, woodsy Captain back bar is still busy serving good brews. Beer lovers can relax in the Geelong outpost of Little Creatures that has set up shop in a massive old woollen mill, while those looking for something with a bit more gilt and velvet can settle in for cocktails at Gin & Co, where black and white movies and cheesecake pin-up girls adorn the walls, or head to Mrs Hyde for classic cocktails. For a sweet-tooth Saturday night, head to Armageddon Cake, a dedicated dessert bar with vintage furniture and luscious treats, and for those who like some Austin, Texas-style barbecue and rock 'n' roll with their suds, stay tuned for the imminent arrival of the Geelong branch of Fitzroy's famous Workers Club, opening soon in Little Malop Street.
Union St Wine, 8 Union St, Geelong, 5221 6291
Captain, Tolmie Place (off Gheringhap St), 5229 4546
Little Creatures, Cnr Fyans and Swanston St, Geelong, 5202 4009
Gin & Co, 30 Aberdeen St, Geelong West, 5221 4335
Mrs Hyde, 11 Malop St, Geelong, 5223 1228
Armageddon Cake, 7 McLarty Place, Geelong, 0404 400 701
Workers Club Geelong, Little Malop St
In what is rapidly looking like a real foodie town, (there's Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food right in the CBD, holding fantastic workshops in their shiny steel kitchen) it's unsurprising that there are some great suppliers in the area. The somewhat misleadingly named Pako Convenience Store is an enormous Asian grocer, with fantastic staff and how-to recipe sheets in holders above the necessary ingredients. Heritage Meats is a classic old-school butcher with steadfast quality and award-winning sausages. Geelong Fresh Foods is like a farmers'-market-meets-dream-deli, while V&R Fruits spins a similar but slightly smaller gourmet operation, with a yoghurt van propped out the front. Warren & Hutch is a superb provedore, stocking local ethical goods, lush house-made cakes and convenient take-home meals.
Jamie's Ministry of Food, 106 Moorabool St, Geelong, 5222 8413
Pako Convenience Store, Shop 3, 94-96 Pakington St, Geelong West, 5221 1885
Heritage Meats, 200 Pakington St, Geelong West, 5229 3462
Geelong Fresh Foods, 171 Pakington St, Geelong West, 5221 6004
V&R Fruits, 5 Pakington St, Geelong West, 5222 2522
Warren & Hutch, 156 Pakington St, Geelong West, 5229 7720