Izakayas, pintxos bars and ramen shops bring more dining buzz to the Geelong area

Sober Ramen in Torquay follows on the footsteps of the original in Geelong, with a likeable menu of soups, potstickers ...
Sober Ramen in Torquay follows on the footsteps of the original in Geelong, with a likeable menu of soups, potstickers and sake. 

Restaurants continue to sprout in the fast-growing Geelong and the Surf Coast region, with casual Japanese, pintxos and more adding greater depth and breadth to the dining scene.

There's a double dose of wordplay in the name Sober Ramen, a new addition to Torquay (shop 1, 32 Bell Street). A nod to both soba noodles and ramen as a favourite hangover cure, it was a no-brainer for Alex Pan (Sumi) and Nathan Johnston (Coffee Cartel) when they opened Geelong's first ramen bar in 2017. They channel the popularity of the original in Torquay via the same steaming bowls of soup, including black garlic ramen, along with pot-sticker dumplings, sake and a smart wine list.

Since July, Pan and Johnston have been busy at Cantonese institution Man Bo (361 Moorabool Street, Geelong). The refreshed Sunday yum cha, now available on Saturdays too, is proving a hit with locals. Along with the expected dumplings and buns, there's more traditional fare including chicken feet, beef tripe with black bean, and century egg porridge. Plans are also afoot for an oyster and champagne bar upstairs later this year.

Long-time Cantonese favourite Man Bo is in new hands in Geelong, but its weekend yum cha is still going strong.
Long-time Cantonese favourite Man Bo is in new hands in Geelong, but its weekend yum cha is still going strong. Photo: Istephan Cingoz

At Sabroso Pintxos Bar (86 Little Malop Street, Geelong), siblings Candice and James Costoso have tapped into their Spanish heritage with their first restaurant together. Family recipes such as chicken and chorizo croquetas and crisp potato topped with ratatouille join a full fleet of tapas and raciones, including meatballs in picada sauce, which might be followed by churros and a glass of sherry. Live acoustic flamenco music at weekends is on the cards.

Dark timber booths evoke a sense of privacy at Hana (35 Malop Street, Geelong), an izakaya-style restaurant with just 40 seats. Owner Tony Ye previously ran a small restaurant in Melbourne before relocating to Geelong. At Hana he's crafted a menu of favourites such as udon soup and gyoza alongside succulent eel unagi don and wagyu ramen. The line-up of sake, umeshu and Japanese whiskey adds to the authenticity.

At Bao Place (197 Pakington Street, Geelong), there's more on offer than just pillowy buns filled with braised pork, honey duck or maple hoisin tofu. Load up your bao with soft-shell crab, beef brisket or fried chicken, burger-style. Or try kingfish sashimi with finger lime, yuzu and radish, spiced miso lamb ribs or nori butter scallops with bonito and furikake.

Soft-shell crab "bao-gers" are among the options at Pakington Street newcomer Bao Place.
Soft-shell crab "bao-gers" are among the options at Pakington Street newcomer Bao Place. Photo: Gail Thomas

Two doors down Pakington Street is Winepress (201 Pakington Street, Geelong West), a smart new wine store that's the first solo venture for Nick Veanes, who has worked in Melbourne restaurants including O'Connell's and The Railway Club Hotel. He's stocked the shelves with a wide range of interesting bottles, including sparkling rosé from locals Spence, Frankland Estate riesling and Cyril Gautheron chablis. Veanes also organises Saturday tastings with local winemakers.