Hidden Gems in Central Geelong You Really Need to Visit Post Lockdown

Words by Mackenzie Pennycook 
Images Supplied

Hidden throughout central Geelong are some truly drool-worthy restaurants and bars; we’ve spoken to some locals and compiled a list of our favourite spots to check out on your next trip to Geelong.

Mavs Greek Restaurant

73B Little Malop St

Mavs Greek Restaurant Geelong Mavs Greek restaurant is the brainchild of the Mavromoustakos’ and holds the title of Geelong’s only authentic Greek restaurant. At Mavs you’re able to sample the best Greek cuisine Geelong has to offer with a number of smaller dishes designed to share, with bigger meals if you’re not keen on sharing (the food is so good I wouldn’t blame you). The fresh and homemade Greek food goes hand in hand with the extensive wine and cocktail list at Mavs. Hidden behind the bustling Little Malop street, Mavs is well worth the find if you’re on the hunt for authentic Greek food.

For bookings head here.

18th Amendment Bar

82A Little Malop St

The 18th Amendment Bar GeelongSitting above the restaurants along Little Malop sits one of Geelong’s most well-hidden gems. The small door and dim staircase almost conceal the award-winning 18th Amendment Bar. Situated upstairs, the bar offers an abundance of cocktails that are not only delicious but also incredible to look at. Think dry ice, edible flowers and beautiful glassware. The bar aims to capture the feel of a Chicago speakeasy bar, transporting you back to the prohibition era. 18th Amendment bar houses an extensive cocktail and spirit list, with expertly trained bartenders ensuring there is always something for everyone.

Head here to book a spot at 18th.

Sober Ramen

85 Little Malop St

Sober Ramen Geelong Ramen Dumpling Sake Nat WineSober Ramen is helping to quash central Geelong’s craving for delicious, authentic Ramen with a modern twist. Sober offers ramen, dumplings, sake and natural wines, alongside speciality cocktails. The tiny restaurant offers the creature comforts of a traditional Japanese ramen restaurant, with an extensive menu and a number of fan favourites including a spicy ramen with three different levels of heat! Open Tuesday through Sunday for eat-in or takeaway ensuring delicious, quick ramen is always on the cards for those in central Geelong.

To get your hands on some ramen head here or follow their socials.

Tomodachi Izakaya and Bar

85A Little Malop St

Tomodachi Izakaya and Bar GeelongTomodachi Izakaya and Bar brings casual Japanese dining to Geelong. Located on little Malop in the heart of Geelong Tomodachi has numerous Japanese dishes designed to share alongside bigger, heartier main meals. Tomodachi also hosts a number of classic cocktails with an imaginative Japanese twist. The meals are quick and delicious with beautiful presentation making it a perfect destination for a quick bite with friends. Open 7 days for lunch and dinner Tomodachi is a venue not to be missed.

To secure your spot head over here.

Valhalla Brewing and Taproom

12-14 Union St

Valhalla Brewing and Taproom Geelong BarValhalla Brewing and Taproom is a go-to spot for ‘seriously drinkable’ beers. Valhalla is a taproom and microbrewery located in the centre of Geelong on Union Street. Valhalla prides itself on producing quality, handcrafted beer. The taproom has a number of taps, some featuring Valhalla’s own brews and other taps reserved to showcase other local and independent breweries. Valhalla regularly hosts live, local music, adding to its cruisy and casual vibe. Open 7 days Valhalla is available at all times to provide excellent quality craft beer and bar snacks.

For bookings or inquiries suss the Valhalla website.

King of the Castle Cafe

24 Pakington St

King of the Castle Cafe GeelongKing of the Castle cafe offers Instagram-worthy brunch that tastes even better than it looks. The award-winning cafe is no stranger to being one of Geelong’s favourite breakfast and brunch venues. The cafe has won multiple awards with its extensive range of menu options, alongside great coffee and bakery sweets. The cafe has customers sitting in a rustic, industrial feel dining hall lined with plants making it the perfect space for a delicious brunch and a coffee surrounded by greenery.

To keep in the loop with King of the Castle head to their website or follow their socials.

Pistol Pete’s Food and Blues

93 Little Malop St

Pistol Pete’s Food and Blues Geelong Restaurant MusicPistol Pete’s Food and Blues aims to bring the authentic taste of America’s Southern states to central Geelong. With food inspired by places such as Memphis, Clarksdale and New Orleans the authentic taste of Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi are just a short walk away from Geelong’s CBD. Offering live Jazz and Blues performed by international, national and local artists. Along with gumbo, waffles and PoBoys, this fully licensed venue is bringing Southern American comfort food to regional Victoria.

To discover what all the fuss is about and to book a table of your own head here.

Lipari

10 Union St

Lipari Espresso Bar Geelong Lipari is a Geelong fan favourite, often fondly regarded as one of Geelong’s best Italian restaurants. The homely space offers authentic Italian food, handmade pasta, homemade sauces and fresh bread. The fully licensed restaurant also boasts a great local wine list and a number of imported beers to accompany your meal. Open six days for lunch and dinner Lipari is always available for your authentic Italian fix.

To satisfy those pasta cravings book via the website. 

Courthouse Cafe and Gallery

40 Gheringhap St

Courthouse Cafe and Gallery Geelong Courthouse cafe and gallery offers a range of wholesome, healthy food and has become a must-stop for local business people in central Geelong. Their huge range of takeaway sandwiches, focaccias and wraps quite often sell out so be sure to get in quick for a pre picnic stop. Courthouse also offers in house dining with a range of homemade meals and sweets sure to satisfy every customer. Courthouse is the perfect place to grab a quick and healthy bite to eat in or takeaway for a picnic in the park just a minute’s walk away.

For catering inquiries or to book a table head over to the website.

Sweet Cheeks Cocktail and Dessert Lounge

Level 1/71 Yarra St

Sweet Cheeks Cocktail and Dessert Lounge GeelongSweet Cheeks cocktail and dessert lounge is Geelong’s newest late-night haunt for the sweet tooth. With a Palm Springs inspired aesthetic and an in-house pastry chef the brightly coloured space offers plenty of pancakes, desserts and cocktails. Sweet Cheeks is sure to have something for everyone, including cocktails inspired by everyone’s favourite childhood choccy, the curly-wurly. Situated in the heart of Geelong it’s a must-stop for anyone looking for a sweet treat. Open late Wednesday through Sunday Sweet Cheeks is sure to cure those late-night cravings.

For a full menu of sweet treats and to secure a spot suss them out here or be sure to follow their socials for live updates.

OHO in ISO: John Harris from Mitchell Harris Wines

After 8 years at Domaine Chandon, working with winemaking teams from all over the world, John had the desire to create his own brand. After moving back home to Ballarat and joining forces with his wine-loving in-laws, the Mitchells, Mitchell Harris was born.

What is happening with the restaurant business at this stage?

Apart from a couple of days at the start of the crisis, we have been able to keep our doors open, although trading under a very different business model. During the two days that we were closed, we remodelled our bar into the Mitchell Harris Take Away Wine and Convenience Store, and our kitchen team created a new Take Away & Heat at Home menu. One of our bar managers is baking bread and we’ve been able to keep our whole permanent and part-time team on board, doing deliveries, taking orders, cleaning, doing maintenance and even making donuts!

How did harvest go and what impact has the lockdown had on this part of the business?

Luckily, we had just finished harvest by the time the first lockdown laws were announced, and we handpicked the last blocks practising early safe distancing. Yields were considerably lower this year but the quality is very high. 

Sadly the lockdown laws prevented the Curious Winemaker program team from coming together to help press off their batch of Pyrenees Shiraz. However, Craig (Mitchell), our kids and I, got our hands dirty and pressed it off whilst we live streamed the process via Instagram and WhatsApp.

How do you think things will go for Ballarat once restrictions are downgraded?

There will be some short-term, acute pain for some no doubt, but the long term growth prospects for Ballarat are still very good. We have seen our sense of community strengthen during the pandemic with greater connection between local business and the community. 

Perhaps people will reassess their desire to live in densely populated urban environments and will realise that they can work at home or remotely.  Ballarat with its world-class education and medical facilities, growing industry sector and thriving hospitality scene will continue to shine and prosper.

How do you stay positive in this time?

I guess for the first few weeks, amongst all the unknown and the fear, we had the somewhat perverse feeling of exhilaration as we essentially started a new business. All of a sudden we were thrust into start-up mode and peddled frantically to turn our winemaking and wine bar business into a takeaway delivery model. 

We have been overwhelmed with the amount of support we have received from our regular customers, our fellow hospitality colleagues and the community in general. Being able to deliver the same Mitchell Harris service and quality into peoples homes and to keep putting smiles on their faces has been immensely rewarding.

What have you been watching or reading in iso?

Sadly, I haven’t necessarily had any additional spare time. Between business survival and homeschooling, I have read a lot of spreadsheets and financial reports but also a couple of brilliant Tim Winton books, The Shepherd’s Hut and The Boy Behind the Curtain. At home in the evenings I’ve been raiding the cellar and watching the new series of Ozark, Life After Death and revisiting The Fall on Netflix and we were captivated by The Capture on ABC iView.


Details:

Mitchell Harris
38 Doveton St, North Ballarat

Mitchell Harris is currently doing take-away and delivery to homes around Ballarat. The venue will be reopening to a limited number from June 1. Check their socials for updates.

OHO in ISO: Mauro Callegari from The Independent, Gembrook

Images supplied

At The Independent Gembrook, Mauro has designed a modern Argentinian menu. He honed his skills working world-wide in kitchens in Melbourne, London and Buenos Aires and was part of the opening team of Conran’s Almeida Restaurant in London. Closer to home he’s worked in the kitchens of some of Melbourne’s most respected chefs including Marcus Moore at Sofitel and Raymond Capaldi at Fenix.

What is happening with the restaurant at this stage?

At this stage, the restaurant is selling ‘Ready to Heat at Home Meals’. We are delivering to local suburbs, Thursday to Sunday, and to some surrounding suburbs on alternating days. People can also arrange to collect from the restaurant Thursday to Sunday 11am-4pm. We are currently working on launching ‘Ready to Eat Meals’ on the weekend, where customers can pick up our dishes hot or receive them by delivery if they are local. 

How are your staff going?

Our staff are all well. Whilst remaining positive and in good spirits, we are all concerned about the current situation and what the future will look like. 

There are twelve staff involved in the restaurant operation at the moment. Together we are prepping, packing and delivering meals as far as Beaconsfield and Belgrave and most suburbs in between. 

I am keeping in contact with staff through our Facebook staff group page. I also check in with them by phoning them, sending text messages and having meetings at the restaurant. 

What’s the feeling around Gembrook at the moment?

From the very beginning we were all concerned about how we are all going to come out on the other side of this. This situation has placed so much strain on our business. It has affected us personally and emotionally but the community is sticking together. They are popping in to say hello, that in itself is support. They are buying our products, sharing our posts on social media and spreading the word that we are now trading with our ‘Ready to Heat at Home Meals’ available to purchase online. 

The week we closed our landlord contacted us and offered their help. Neighbours, suppliers, local groups, staff and our families are all working with us to support us. 

What changes are you considering for the business once restrictions are downgraded?

We are currently making a lot of changes in regards to service and our offerings. We review our profit and loss statement daily to see where we can cut unnecessary costs. We are also working towards a new marketing plan. Everyone is also involved in doing small projects that are difficult to do when the restaurant is in operation such as maintenance, filing, cleaning and gardening. 

What have you been watching or reading in lockdown?

I’ve been reading a book called ‘Where Dreams Come From’. I’ve also been spending my time cooking at home and going for walks with my son. I’ve been watching ‘That 70’s Show’, it’s a good laugh when you need to relax. 


THE DETAILS:

The Independent Gembrook
79  Main Street, Gembrook

Pierrepoint Wines

Andrew and Jenny are the kind of family hosts you expect from a little cellar door on a private property. They love what they do, though like most growers and makers, they question their own sanity. We didn’t have any further questions after sampling the wines, though. They’re all a perfect education in terroir – that fancy French word for the intangible combination of place, climate, season, and ‘vibe’ that makes wines taste the way they do. Regular music gigs held at the venue make it worth signing up to the newsletter.

These little places are why we leave the city for a long weekend.

Buxton Trout and Salmon Farm

If you’re new to fishing, impatient, or really you’re just interested in a BBQ with fresh fish you caught yourself, then this place is ideal. The gear is supplied by the farm, you catch the fish, the friendly staff help you with the rest. Then, et voila, you have the freshest fish right there for your BBQ in the park-like surrounds of the farm.

There are several different areas of waterway on the farm, so if you’re impatient for lunch and just need fish now,  there’s a more densely populated pond where your plate-sized fish will volunteer fairly readily. If you’ve got more time and patience, and are happy to get a little more lost in the serenity, then there is a more challenging area with less fish for you too.

The BBQ area is substantial and well equipped, and the expansive grass area is perfect for throwing a rug down under a tree.

Basils Farm

The Bellarine Peninsula is home to some amazing little finds, most of them set away from the main roads and found by local knowledge or that article you read once somewhere. Basils Farm is a vineyard and restaurant at the end of a spectacular driveway, through the vines, and almost on the beach overlooking the water to Queenscliff. Getting out of the car and discovering where you are is just the start of a beautifully surprising adventure.

With an almost Royal Mail–like attention to the provenance of their produce, they are crafting tasty dishes with veg from their extensive garden (a small section of which you are free to roam). The wines made on the estate are equally as fine and detailed. Two styles of chardonnay are particularly interesting, as is the maritime influence seen in the pinot noir.

Bunbartha Beef and Fine Produce

From farm gate store to impressive food emporium: Kelly started selling her family’s beef products direct to the public at the back of a fruit and veg market. Before she knew it, with huge public support for her approach to organic goodness, she added a health foods and natural goods store. This is like a familiar Fitzroy fave in the middle of country Victoria. It’s a hub for locals who want local, ethical food, but it also carries all your regular natural products. It’s possibly the biggest organics, natural products, and food market we’ve ever seen.

Yering Station

There’s something lovely about plated single dishes from an à la carte menu, and professional, attentive service. In contrast to the ‘all dishes on the table, share the love’ approach, there’s an almost quiet, contemplative joy in studying the menu, ordering for yourself, and then talking with your company about all the elements in your meal as it comes out.

The Rathbone family have been custodians of this vineyard and property since the mid ’90s, though there has been wine made here before then. Very good wine, in fact. The Ryrie brothers, then the De Castella family, made some impressive red wines here. Sadly, with the destruction of the wine industry from a little bug called phylloxera, the property moved to other agricultural practices. The vision of a few pioneers in the 1970s and ’80s saw the first returns to grape growing and winemaking.

Of course, at the cellar door you can sample the excellent wines made on site by chief winemaker Willy Lunn. The cellar door is one of the older buildings on site, formerly the winery from 1859. Now it does triple-duty as cellar door, gallery and produce store. The produce is a representation of the monthly farmers market held in the barn. It’s all local, all lovely.  The gallery showcases artworks from emerging artists and also hosts the annual Yering Sculpture Prize. Money from the gallery’s sale commissions go to the Children’s Leukaemia charity, Larch – a long-standing Rathbone family commitment.

All that makes for interesting conversation over a meal at tables set in a mighty glass, stone and steel structure overlooking the rolling green pastures, vineyards, hills, and skies until tomorrow. When the food arrives at the table, you’ll be tempted to whip out the phone and Instagram it, but resist the urge. Just take in the view, the setting, and the beauty, and re-post someone else’s picture.

 

Best’s Wines

If you’re new to wine, this is a must-visit for a lesson in the history of wine in Australia. If you’re a seasoned wine-lover, then this is a pilgrimage.

Best’s is like walking into a piece of Australia’s post-goldrush past a time when wine growers had little idea what would grow well or what would make a good wine in a country so far from the indigenous soils of grapevines, so they planted one of everything.

Now Best’s is a modern wine-making facility owned and operated for four generations by the Thomson family after a series of Best family splits, deaths and sales. It is a complex history which Viv will gladly regale you with. The property is set on the flat land of Great Western, at the foot of the Grampians. Beneath the rustic log-cabin cellar door there are the original dug-in storage vats, lined with years and years of paraffin wax. You are free to walk down to explore among the museum stock, the old barrels and vats, and the ancient wine-making machinery.

The wine here is a happy place for this author. Old cabernets so fragrant they could be worn as cologne, and intriguing white blends worthy of the high scores given by revered wine writers like James Halliday. The museum tasting experience of six old wines is a rare treat. It’s not often you’ll get to taste a 1999 cabernet at a cellar door. For beginners, it’s a treat to see how wine ages, and the virtues of cellaring.

Go for the history lesson, stay a while for the wine.

Helen and Joey Estate

A winery with a name is not unusual. Most are named for families, properties, or a geographical feature. In France, wines are named for the place – the region, the Chateau (winemaking house) and the quality of the vineyard. It’s refreshing to find a placed named simply for the names of the two people who own it. Helen and Joey have hit the ground running since purchasing the Fernando vineyard a few years back. In short order, Helen has made a passionate lunge at carving out a corner of the Yarra Valley wine industry.

The cellar door is a simple building perched on the hill with amazing views across the valley floor to the ranges beyond. Keep an eye out for a few unicorns between. The focus is squarely on the wines, made skilfully by Meg Brodtmann. The range is extensive, but the core is always the Alena, Layla, and Inara wines, expressing the strengths of the valley in chardonnay, pinot, syrah and cabernet. Take a look at the ‘Wayward Child’ labelled wines, too. The skin-contact pinot gris is rosé pink, and textural.

Simple local produce platters can be taken out onto the deck, and with a few glasses of vino, you can while away an afternoon with friends, watching the light change across the valley.