From cool climate country wineries to the hottest urban fusion restaurants, these eight foodie experiences are among the best Geelong and The Bellarine has to offer.
Truly boutique in each and every way, BAAH LAH! Dining is quite the addition to Geelong’s already thriving dining scene. The restaurant’s plates? Handmade by head chef/ceramicist Brian. The photographs and oil paintings adorning the walls? Created by local artists. Even the produce that graces the plates has either been homegrown at the family farm in Katandra, foraged locally, or sourced from sustainable and ethical small-scale suppliers.
Artfully arranged share plates are the mainstay at this ultra-modern Asian fusion restaurant, and the menu – inspired by Brian’s Singaporean heritage – dives into both Malay and Chinese cuisines. The kitchen earns rave reviews for its banquet menu, which can cater to diners who are gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan (at least 24 hours’ notice is needed). Expect to sample dishes such as Cantonese-style roast duck breast with hoisin caramel and pickled fennel, seared kingfish with soy pearls and rock samphire, and coconut custard and pandan cigars accompanied by a condensed milk sorbet.
A 1960s shearing shed turned thoroughly modern tasting room, Austin’s Wines in Moorabool Valley offers one heck of a spot to spend a lazy afternoon in the sun, whatever the season. Second-generation owners Scott and Belinda Austin oversaw the conversion, which finally came to fruition in February 2022 after a whopping six years in the making. Outside, striped bean bags adorn the lawn, and parasols and picnic tables occupy a patch of gravel in front of the winery’s doors. Inside, the original rafters still line the building’s lofty ceiling, while stark black bar pendant lights hang over the space. Wine or dine here and you’ll drink up vast views of the greenery unfolding in almost every direction.
Rock up to the tasting bench for a flight of the house wines – there are up to 13 to choose from, spanning two different labels – and nibble on a selection of local and imported cheeses served alongside crusty bread, local honey, olives and grapes. For something more substantial, drop by on the weekend, when food trucks stage pop-ups outside.
A petite restaurant that accommodates a maximum of 26 diners at any one time, has a Japanese lean. Its very name means ‘charcoal’ in Japanese and the menu revolves around the stuff, with white charcoal, or binchō-tan, employed to flame-cook almost every dish. You’ll find everything from kushiyaki (skewers) to bao with a smattering of other pan-Asian inspired dishes, such as corn cobs topped with miso butter and pecorino, and mushroom and pork dumplings with szechuan sauce.
It’s truly a family affair here: the sleek, minimalist space was designed by owner and front of house manager Alex Yurong Pan (who also happens to be an architecture graduate), while his wife, Mia Meng Cao, is a sommelier, guaranteeing there’s always an interesting bottle open behind the bar.
This beautiful, sprawling Swan Bay property wears many hats. Home to a winery, cafe, cellar door and farm, the grounds even accommodate babydoll sheep and llamas you can meet and feed for a small additional fee.
As you might expect, plenty of homegrown produce finds its way onto the table at Basils Farm. The seasonal, produce-driven menu might feature sweet potato miso dumplings with crispy kale plucked fresh from the pesticide-free kitchen garden one day; the next, you might find spiced grilled squid with a salad showcasing the property’s plantings.
But it’s not just the menu, the minimal intervention wines, the sandpit the kids can play in or the llamas that lure people back: it’s the wildly serene setting amid fig and citrus trees, backed by the chatter of native birds and offering knockout views over the bay.
When only the comforting taste of home-cooked food will do, head to Annie’s Provedore & Produce Store. This deli-cum-cafe oozes rustic charm and serves up hearty portions of your favourite dishes while also keeping an eye on food miles and taking only the best from the array of local produce. Swing by for breakfast and devour a slice of pumpkin, quinoa and chia loaf toast, smothered with ricotta, local honey and wild fennel pollen; for lunch, try a beef burgundy pie served with a rocket, balsamic and aged parmesan salad. There are also plenty of tasty options to take home: cured legs of ham hang from the ceiling, tables are laden with jars of pickles and preserves, and fridges are stocked with cheeses, dips and fresh pasta.
An impossibly cosy spot in the thick of the Bellarine Peninsula, Scotchmans Hill – a producer of cool maritime climate wines – has long been revered as a must-do on the Bellarine Taste Trail. Chief winemaker Robin Brockett has been at the helm of Scotchmans Hill for some 30 years, creating vintages of a consistently high pedigree that have earned the winery a place among James Halliday’s Top 100 Australian Wineries.
Soak up the country cottage vibes from the confines of the impeccably styled cellar door, or enjoy a spot of lunch at Scotchmans Hill Bistro, devouring modern Australian fare while looking out across Port Phillip Bay from the undercover patio.
Between its muted apricot facade and the olive trees standing sentinel beside French doors that lead to the cellar door, there’s a definite continental feel to this Moorabool Valley winery. To be precise, we’d say a whiff of provincial France. Even the winery itself was built to mimic the cellars and caves of Europe and feature a distinctive strawbale design, meaning the walls are constructed from thick, load-bearing straw bales.
Not only is Lethbridge Wines highly decorated, bestowed with the highest possible rating of five red stars by the illustrious Halliday Wine Companion, but it’s also wildly sustainable. The estate’s lo-fi wines are made from hand-picked grapes that are macerated by foot and fermented with indigenous yeast in small open fermenters. Stop by to try one of this boutique winery’s savoury drops, with chardonnay, riesling, pinot noir, shiraz and nebbiolo among its specialities.
This venue has a dining space to suit every plausible mood and occasion. Cruisy Sunday lunch with the family? The Lawn, with its generous outdoor picnic table seating, is the ideal spot to share a few wood-fired pizzas and a bottle of local sauvignon blanc. Fancy some drinks to kickstart a romantic weekend away?
Visit the atmospheric Front Bar for a cocktail. Looking for somewhere lively to visit on a Saturday night? Make a beeline for The Atrium, the open-air beer garden. Restored to its former glory in 2022, Portarlington Grand Hotel is set to become a new local landmark.
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