Hugging the coastline is high on many Victorians' agenda this summer as we plan our holidays closer to home. And the good news is, despite a deathly quiet year for business, much has happened in those sleepy months. Here are the new venues on Victoria's western coast to add to your itinerary, plus the inside scoop from locals on everything to visit along the way.
Geelong is having a moment. Igni, the two-hat fine-diner where Aaron Turner combines raw firepower and wild ingredients to create one of the best-tasting menus in Victoria, has survived 2020. The likes of the chicken skin crisp topped with macadamia and scallops cured in bee pollen, and smoke-dried artichoke with cured trout and sweet pea live on. The tip, though, is to book. Services are more limited, with two sittings at lunch on Friday and Saturday, and dinner Thursday and Friday only. Ryan Place South, Geelong, restaurantigni.com.
That said, Turner has become a dining magnate in Little Malop Street. His Hot Chicken Project, home to Nashville-style fried bird and natural-leaning wines, is now abutted by two – yes, two – new venues. OK Smash is his burger joint, which turns out buns in the onion-dominant Oklahoma style, and an extra heavy crust on the meat. As with the Chicken Project, you can get unusually good wines to swig with your burger – in this case, it's all about buns and champagne. Across the lane is Tacos y Liquor, a shack serving Oaxacan-style tacos where the corn tortillas are coated in cheese and topped with chipotle-spiced, slow-cooked wagyu and traditional pork and pineapple. Raw scallop tostada, all chill crunch and fiery salsa, is the go-to. Find both venues side by side in Little Malop Street, Geelong.
On the foreshore, the long-shuttered Eastern Beach restaurant was reopened in February as the Beach House by the Mulberry Group. The hospitality heavyweights behind Kettle Black and Higher Ground spent up big renovating the 1930s surf club, which now has beachy blondwood interiors and a stunning vantage of the water. The kiosk does coffees, malt shakes, burgers and granola-to-go for the sandy-hoofed while the cafe serves an all-day menu including the group's famous fat hot cakes, green eggs (with veg from their farm) through to whole fish for lunch. Upstairs, the team has also finally opened their long-awaited function space and bar, Bathers, which is your go-to for weekend sessions with DJs, cocktails, snacks and sea breeze. Eastern Beach Road, Geelong, thebeachhousegeelong.com.au
On January 21, the cafe at the Mulberry Group's social project, Common Ground Project, reopens as a more significant farmhouse-style Italian restaurant, helmed by head chef Glenn Laurie and restaurant manager Lolo Hanser, who previously owned Little Black Pig and Sons in Heidelberg. The onsite regenerative farm provides employment pathways for vulnerable groups, and vegetable boxes to those in need through the Feed Me Bellarine program. 675 Anglesea Road, Freshwater Creek, commongroundproject.com.au
Thirsty? The Anther Distillery opened in mid-November. Located in an industrial estate, the distillery bar boasts the full spectrum of their native Australian gins, crafted by Dervilla McGowan and Sebastian Reaburn and Amy Odongo. Tours are now go, and if you visit mid-January, you might catch them hand-pitting 600kg of cherries straight into the vat for their annual cherry gin. You can also do cocktail flights of an all-Australian martini, negroni and sour using their spirits. PH3 Federal Mills, 33 Mackey Street, North Geelong, anther.com.au
While you're in the area...
Amy Odongo of Anther says:
"A great bakery that's not too far from the distillery is Routley's – simple, fresh sandwiches made to order and old-school doughnuts. Great stop off for a picnic lunch on your way to the beach. For coffee, Pickers Union (just near the distillery) has great coffee and is always packed. Then, 18th Amendment is your one-stop-shop for cocktails and a Prohibition time warp. Try the Sazerac and the Martinez, perfect every time." routleysbakery.com.au; thepickersunion.com.au; the18thamendmentbar.com.au
Nathan Toleman of Mulberry Group says...
The Bellarine Peninsula
Did you know that you can catch a ferry from the city and be in Portarlington 70 minutes later? This bayside town has mussels aplenty and hospitality muscle to match. Peter Roddy and Ebony Vagg, best known for their French-leaning restaurant Noir in Richmond, have set up Pier St, a seafood-focused all-day operation on the shoreline. Portarlington mussels feature heavily, including three takes on moules frites (mussels and chips) served with Zeally Bay baguette and local butter. There are seafood platters in the afternoon, but head chef Julian Summer trained at native ingredient-focused heavyweight Wildflower in Perth, so there is also duck with hints of botanicals from around the Bellarine. 3 Pier Street, Portarlington, pierstreet.com.au
While you're in the area…
Peter Roddy says:
"For coffee, my local is The Dunes in Ocean Grove, a great spot right by the beach. Pier Front Pizzeria in Portarlington does proper Neapolitan-style pizzas and Jenkins and Sons, the local fishmonger, has stunning seafood, which is where we source Pier Street's seafood, including mussels. The newly opened Blackman's Brewery in Ocean Grove does a mean burger, and Merne at Lighthouse (Drysdale) is beautiful for a long lunch. thedunesoceangrove.com; jenkinsandson.com.au; pierfrontpizzeria.com.au/food; blackmansbrewery.com.au; merne.com.au
For drinks? "A gin tasting at the Bellarine Distillery (the Whiskery) is the best hospitality experience I've had in years, and the local pub, the Grand Hotel, has just been refurbished and has a great beer garden." bellarinedistillery.com.au/the-whiskery
The Great Ocean Road
Slightly inland at Connewarre, Moonah is a new fine diner by former Gladioli chef and keen vegetable gardener Tobin Kent. It's a 12-seat step into the world of refined, sustainable cooking. Linens, earthenware plates and antique pieces are as soothing as you need this new year to be. As are perfectly pitched, utterly sustainable dishes such as tiny, wild rock mussels paired with sweet carrots and mussel emulsion and a dead-on match of a citrusy farmhouse ale by gun sommelier Amy Tsai (ex-Brae). 95 Minya Lane, Connewarre, moonahrestaurant.com.au
In Torquay, Graham Jeffries, co-owner of the hatted Tulip in Geelong, opened his new venture, Samesyn, last December and the sustainable venue has made it through lockdown. Kangaroo with saltbush meets fried school prawns with peri peri mayonnaise and asparagus, local cheese and leek flowers in a wily a la carte menu. The name of the 30-seater means "togetherness" in Afrikaans. Perhaps after a challenging year, Jeffries will get his wish. 24 Bell Street, Torquay, samesyn.com.au
In Anglesea, we're still grieving the (hopefully temporary) loss of Matt Germanchis and Gemma Gange's restaurant Captain Moonlite at the Anglesea Surf Lifesaving Club, their Fish by Moonlite retail, takeaway and dine-in shop is an essential stop. The menu totals "flake" and "the daily catch" plus a few salads. If you ate at Captain Moonlite, you know theirs is a potato cake to be reckoned with. Germanchis also says the pending liquor licence will make oysters and bubbles possible. Shop 4, Anglesea Shopping Village, Anglesea. fishbymoonlite.com.au
Lorne has gained momentum, too, with 14 of the team behind Coda and Tonka in the CBD relocating to run the new Coda Lorne, in the Lorne Hotel above MoVida Lorne. Co-owner Kate Bartholomew and husband Mykal are among them and will run the floor. While it features some of executive chef Adam D'Sylva's city faves, including betel leaves with prawns and sang choi bao, local ingredients will star in new signatures such as dry-aged, double-roasted Great Ocean Duck and local seafood, including those suddenly abundant crayfish. Level 3, 176 Mountjoy Parade, Lorne, codarestaurant.com.au/lorne.
And if you love the XPA and blueberry sour beers from Jetty Road Brewery at Dromana, two founders (Grant Rogers and Blake Bowden) have made the leap across the bay to open Jetty Road Brewery Lorne until Easter and maybe beyond. The former Cuda bar has been redesigned by Studio Y and holds 150. Cocktails and brew-friendly snacks including Jetty fried chicken back the beers. 82-84 Mountjoy Parade, Lorne, jettyroad.com.au.
While you're in the area...
Tobin Kent says:
"Fisho's on the Esplanade in Torquay is a nice modern fish and chip shop where not everything is deep-fried. You can sit outside overlooking the beach and enjoy some lighter options such as a ceviche or an octopus terrine. I'd also go to Starfish Bakery in Barwon Heads. All their breads are great, and their muffins and squishy rolls (egg, bacon, herb mayo in a fresh roll) are local classics." fishostorquay.com.au; starfishbakery.com.au
Matt Germanchis says:
"My favourite places to go locally at the moment are Great Ocean Gin Garden in Aireys Inlet; Pearl (an awesome little fresh pasta restaurant at 8 Pearl Street, Torquay) and Samesyn restaurant." For coffee? "Surf Coast Coffee Roasters, also in Torquay. It's in this obscure factory outlet on the outskirts, but so worth the visit." greatoceangin.com.au; samesyn.com.au; surfcoastcoffeeroasters.com.au
Port Fairy's ancient pub, the Oak and Anchor, has been restored to glory by Blair and Sally Robertson, and with the help of hospitality heavyweight Ally Richardson, they now offer six big-bathed boutique suites, and an onsite bar and cafe serving breakfast and share plates from cauliflower bites to Korean beef tacos, late into the evening. 8 Bank Street, Port Fairy, oakandanchorhotel.com
Unfortunately, Ryan and Kirstyn Sessions' much-anticipated revival of their two-hat restaurant Fen at boutique hotel Drift House has already sold out all sessions.
While you're in the area...
Kirstyn Sessions says:
"We enjoy Coffin Sally for their lovely pizzas and a smart little cocktail and beer list. For coffee, we really like to support everyone but our faves would be Oak & Anchor, and Bank St & Co. There is a new little bar down the road from us in Bank Street that we have frequented quite often called Ministry of Ombibulous Studies. They have a terrific drinks list and great pickled eggs. It's great little owner-operated bar by Damon and Leesa Clausen Brown." coffin-sally.squarespace.com; bankstandco.com.au; ombibulousstudies.com.au