Inspiration Destinations Australia Coast Modern: The Perfect Food-Lover’s Weekend on Victoria's Bellarine Peninsula

Coast Modern: The Perfect Food-Lover’s Weekend on Victoria's Bellarine Peninsula

Just over an hours' drive out of Melbourne, the Bellarine region, with Victoria’s second-city of Geelong at its heart, has long been popular with Melburnians fond of sand dunes and salty air, not to mention fish and chips. But, in the past few years, a new wave of Bellarine fine diners has been attracting a more-than-fast-food crowd.

The Bellarine region in Victoria is best-known for sand and surf beaches, sunny brunches and take-aways on the sand but the tide has been turning in the past few years and the dining scene in Geelong and surrounds has been upping its game. Add in some great bars, luxury stays and spa pampering and you have a weekend of coastal indulgence.

Here are our top picks for the perfect Bellarine getaway and where to eat while you're there.

Total relaxation: The Lon Retreat and Spa

The Lon Retreat is a great place to stay on a food-lover's weekend of the Bellarine - Luxury Escapes
Credit: Nikole Ramsay

With just seven outsized residences, The Lon Retreat has done well naming its rooms after cloud formations because after a night there will see you floating on air. My abode, Cumulus, is like a separate cottage with high, wood-panelled ceilings, a sandstone open fireplace and immaculate soft furnishings. There is a bay window for watching the sunrise or a secluded outdoor nook hidden by saltbush and shrubbery; the bathroom is nearly the size of the bedroom and features a standalone bath fed by the area’s natural mineral springs. The kitchen has boutique teas like lemongrass and ginger, or you can grab a premade Vesper martini from the mini bar. The Lon also has excellent massage therapies.

French affair: Claribeaux @ Curlewis Golf Course

Neighbouring The Lon, the town of Curlewis was named after Septimus Lord Curlewis an early settler; Claribeaux restaurant is named for Septimus’s nephew, a Geelong Grammarian who devoted his life to the civic affairs of the Bellarine. This golf club diner has a love of all things French: start with an oyster dressed lightly in finger lime with a few pearls of cod roe on top, follow with a twice-baked goats’ cheese souffle, surprisingly light with tempura zucchini flowers and a sorrel sauce, and finish with a sweet-bitter banana tarte tartin with crème Anglaise.

Claribeaux restaurant is a great place to eat on a food-lover's weekend of the Bellarine - Luxury Escapes

Singapore swing: Baah Lah!

A mash-up of two Singlish phrases to represent the heritage of chef Brian Anderson, the exciting thing about Baah Lah! is that what is on the menu very much depends on what seasonal produce takes Brian’s fancy. And we are not talking the veggie aisle at Coles. On our visit, Brian offers up handpicked figs from a local friend’s tree dressed simply with condensed milk or mulberries harvested from Brian’s father’s farm on a bed of mulberry puree. We have tiny rice cups filled with sweet corn soup and leek sauce and raw Wagyu with mulberry jam. Visit this simple space with local art hung throughout and see what Brian has foraged because this is a chef who can make anything taste sublime, lah.

Baah Lah! restaurant is a great place to eat on a food-lover's weekend of the Bellarine - Luxury Escapes
Credit: Amy Evans/Jin Ong

Blooming fabulous: Tulip

A modern bistro, Tulip is also a veteran of the Geelong fine dining scene, serving a menu of roasts and hearty sides from its off-street premises that opens out into a courtyard decorated with pot plants from the store opposite. But under new owners, Dan Ford (previous manager) and chef Mike Jacques this old dog has learned some new tricks. Mike, ex-Press Club in Melbourne and a stint in London, has a sustainability focus and much of the menu’s vegetables are supplied via a partnership with Farm My School that turns over unused land in schools to build market gardens. Get your school-farmed zucchini with lemon and almonds or some kipfler potatoes baked, then deep-fried and smothered in garlic and rosemary butter. The loin of Western Districts lamb comes with a smoky flavour from being slow-cooked over redgum and served with an indulgent lamb-fat sauce. This is thoughtful, hearty fare with a good heart.

Tulip is a great place to eat on a food-lover's weekend of the Bellarine - Luxury Escapes
Credit: Chris McConville

Too good: Two Noble

Executive chef Mario Tambajong has transformed the upstairs of historic pub The Sawyers Arms Tavern into a culinary trip through south-east Asia. It’s a light, bright space with cream lanterns hanging from the ceiling and modern Asian fusion on the plate. If there was one dish that I would happily walk all the way to Geelong to revisit it would be Two Noble’s hiramasa kingfish with burnt onion and soy, a twisted kingfish cerviche with a hit of chilli oil. A Bass Strait scallop topped with corn and spring onion is fresh and vibrant, the perfect foil for rich roasted duck in hoisin and Cointreau sauce with a side of witlof. Finish with a pineapple ice cream sandwich or a Poppy’s martini with Roku gin shaken up with elderflower rhubarb and lemon. Or both.

Shaken and stirred: Felix

Just off bustling Little Malop Street in Geelong is this small wine bar with big flavours and a clear passion for French-inspired bistro fare. Start with a cocktail, they are some of the best in a fairly crowded strip, and the Cetri(y)olo with Martin Miller’s gin, cucumber and lime sets the perfectly balanced tone. A spanner crab profiterole sees sweet crabmeat piled high into a choux pastry base and finished with lemon mayonnaise; a kingfish cerviche balances the tart lime cure with a side of buttermilk for a perfect yin-yang starter; and pumpkin orzo has the right amount of bitterness from its burnt butter sauce.

Felix is a great place to drink on a food-lover's weekend of the Bellarine - Luxury Escapes

Night cap: Non Disclosure Bar

One of the newest bars on the Little Mallop strip, Non Disclosure Bar nods to the era of Capone, with its dark room lit by a central chandelier and Art Deco-patterned black wallpaper, but there is nothing taxing about this faux-speakeasy; it actually has a great sense of fun. For example, my Business as Yuzu-al (Roku gin, Australian yuzu liqueur) allows me to print a picture of my pet Old English Sheepdog on top of my drink, much like you can on your morning cappuccino. Later, after a friendly chat with the barstaff I have my cocktail horizons expanded with a Last of the Oaxacans, a mezcal-forward drink with maraschino and Chartreuse and, as if to prove that this new Geelong hospo crew are all in this together, I spy Baah Lah!’s Brian Anderson and his partner at the opposite end of the bar winding down after a no-doubt busy service.

Ignore the weather forecast, forget the beach and head to the Bellarine region where you can happily have a two-day progressive meal that you will never forget.

The writer was a guest of Visit Geelong & the Bellarine.

Feature image: Nikole Ramsay.

About Paul Chai
Paul Chai has been a travel writer for over two decades. He has dived with great white sharks in South Australia, walked the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival and stuffed himself with enough food and wine working on the Good Food Guide to make his GP shake his head. Chai is currently managing editor of Dream by Luxury Escapes.

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