Portsea Hotel, Portsea
With multimillion-dollar projects springing up all over the Mornington Peninsula, the region's beachside stalwarts are refreshing themselves to keep up with the Jackalopes. Portsea Hotel for one. A recent refresh by design firm Projects of Imagination has spruced up the giant waterfront hotel with a new events space overlooking the bay, a burger bar and whisky den, an art gallery and an entertainment space, which will host live gigs and yoga sessions for the #fitspo crowd. Chef Paul Tyas (ex-Grosvenor Hotel and The Point, Albert Park) is heading the main kitchen and is delivering a polished menu with coiffed pub classics, plus fresher share plates, seafood and grilled meats.
3746 Point Nepean Road, Portsea, portseahotel.com.au
Pier Street Kitchen, Dromana
Dee's Kitchen in Dromana has become Pier Street Kitchen, an all-day cafe with a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern skew. They're ticking all the good cafe boxes with specialty coffee, all-day breakfast, children's menus and also craft beers and local wines for adults. Get around the spiced sausage rolls or the excellent falafels with silky hummus and bright salads.
19 Pier Street, Dromana, 03 5981 4666, pierstreetkitchen.com.au
Hotel Sorrento is also getting a touch-up. On Boxing Day, it launched The Cellar, a new wine and whisky bar, serving local wines, cocktails and Euro-style wine bar food in an old world space of leather booths and exposed limestone walls designed by Wendy Bergman, who was behind the luxe renovation of Giant Steps and the Mount Erica Hotel. Always a summer playground, there will be live music on Sundays.
5-15 Hotham Road, Sorrento, 03 5984 8000, hotelsorrento.com.au
The Greek @ Customs House, Geelong
Great Greek on the water has come to Geelong at the hands of Sydney's pioneer of modern-Greek cuisine, Peter Conistis. The chef-owner of Sydney's Alpha has turned the heritage-listed Customs House into a seafood-focused taverna. As in Sydney, you can expect tweaks on your Hellenic classics (haloumi comes with candied black walnuts and slow-roasted lamb is cooked in clay) but local calamari, octopus and anything else he can grab fresh off the boat is the clincher, selected from the big display up front and grilled in the olive wood-fired oven in the courtyard.
57 Brougham Street, Geelong, 03 5246 6500, thegreekcustomshouse.com
Hot Chicken Project, Anglesea
Chef Aaron Turner has swung open doors to a second Hot Chicken Project between a cafe and a day spa in Anglesea. As in Geelong you can get Nashville-style hot chicken, fries, slaw and stacked burgers, but thanks to beach proximity, they're doing seafood specials – mussels, calamari, whiting, crabs, whatever they can get their hands on. It's licensed, so slinging their usual custom-made low intervention wines, plus tinnies of Turner's own wheaty session ale. Keep an eye out for their summer sessions in the carpark. Open daily, noon-9pm.
143a Great Ocean Road, Anglesea, thehotchickenproject.com.au
Captain Moonlite 'Moonliters', Anglesea
Also in Anglesea, chef Matt Germanchis and Gemma Gange have expanded on their excellent restaurant at the surf lifesavers club and now offer accommodation in a two-bedroom beach shack. "Moonliters" comes with a serious kitchen and a pantry stocked with Dr Marty's crumpets, the restaurant's own yoghurt and vegetables from Kinsfolk farm. They also have a games room with a full-size pool table.
Bookings via Airbnb abnb.me/V94A5YjmbS from $250 a night.
Gladioli, Port Fairy
Gladioli is back, and now it's on the beach. Chef-owner Matt Dempsey shuttered his hatted Inverleigh restaurant in 2016, finding it too difficult to maintain standards while commuting from his home in Port Fairy. Dempsey has reopened the restaurant in the heritage-listed Seacombe House – the bluestone vacated in January by Kirstyn and Ryan Sessions when they closed their fine diner Fen. Gladioli has picked up where it left off. The tweezered mod-Oz menu built on gun produce such as Great Ocean Road ducks, Shaw River cheeses and the local seafood is available a la carte or as five or eight-course tasting menus.
22 Sackville Street, Port Fairy, facebook.com/GladioliRestaurant
Frank Camorra is taking his eternally popular hatted Spanish restaurant to the beach, opening a permanent branch office at the Lorne Hotel. Kane Voukon, who was head chef at MoVida Aqui and is also a Barwon Heads local, is heading the MoVida Lorne kitchen. While still Spanish in focus, the menu will reflect the restaurant's seaside location in dishes such as pickled Spring Bay mussels and grilled Apollo Bay octopus. There will also be daily specials that focus on "seafood, simply cooked", says Camorra. For drinks, there's a strong selection of Australian, Spanish and wider European wines, including some that have seen some skin contact, a few sherries and vermouths, and a short list of refreshing, beachy cocktails.
176 Mountjoy Parade, Lorne, movida.com.au/lorne
Blackman's Brewery, Torquay
Chef Glenn Laurie departed Heidelberg's Little Black Pig and Sons last year, with eyes on opening a place in the city, but he's made a sea change instead and taken the reins at Blackman's Brewery in Torquay. The pitch is a little different to his last post doing home-style Italian. Here, the menu is more broadly European and built to work with the beers, but his produce focus has drastically lifted the offering since starting mid-May. Cheeses for pizzas are coming in from That's Amore, on Saturdays they might do big paellas and Laurie hopes to introduce a lot more fresh seafood. Embracing the brews, dessert might be a granita and jelly made using strawberries salvaged after they've been used to flavour a strawberry gose beer.
26 Bell Street, Torquay, 03 5261 5310, blackmansbrewery.com.au
Great Ocean Road Gin, Aireys Inlet
Small batch craft gin company Great Ocean Road Gin combines botanicals and ingredients such as kelp, salt bush, coast daisy and local honey and peppermint from the Great Ocean Road region to create gin with distinctly coastal characteristics. Now there's a scenic spot in Aireys Inlet to enjoy it in too. The Tasting Room and Gin Garden offers gin tastings, gin cocktails, craft beer and wine alongside local cheese plates, dips and olives. Over summer it'll be open seven days a week from noon for your summer garden sipping needs.
32 Great Ocean Road, Aireys Inlet, greatoceanroadgin.com.au