A woman smiles across the table at Felix as she dines on her food. A great spot for special occasion dining.

Geelong’s best restaurants for that special occasion

Just a quick drive or ferry ride from Melbourne, Geelong is making strides in the wining and dining scene, becoming the ideal place to settle around a table to celebrate a special occasion.

With breathtaking food, mood-setting ambience, beautiful spaces and first-class service a guarantee, Geelong has just the place for a truly special night out.

Make sure to check out the restaurant’s website or give them a call to book ahead of arriving.

ALMA GEELONG

Geelong really scored big when chef Jesse Hughes (formerly Vue Grand Queenscliff) opened up ALMA, a contemporary South American shared-style restaurant back in 2017. In what was Hughes’ first venture, ALMA has become one of Geelong’s best dining destinations, earning a solid reputation for their South American flavours featuring the best produce served in an unadulterated way, edgy styling and exceptional service. Making it a perfect spot for a special occasion.

The food at ALMA is sourced as locally as possible, from market gardens and farms that carry the same ethos as the team. On the menu, you’ll find a great selection of small and large sharing dishes, like snapper ceviche, burnt broccoli, crispy skin barramundi, Hopkins River Sirloin and roasted sweet potato. There are also indulgent desserts, dessert-style cocktails and digestifs. The drinks list showcases mostly Australian and South American wines, and also has an extensive beer list.

With mood lighting, deep green banquette seating and stunning artwork adorning the walls, ALMA is sure to impress.

Where: 93-95 Ryrie St, Geelong

BAAH LAH

Representing one of the best eateries to join the Pako strip in recent years, Baah Lah! Dining has been giving the local foodies something to truly get excited about since arriving in 2019.

Baah Lah’s elegant, produce-driven menu is all about Singaporean flavours and techniques, channelling head chef and owner Brian Anderson’s heritage. With a decade spent honing his craft into something approaching peak deliciousness, Anderson has crafted a menu boasting Singapore’s combination of Malay and Chinese cuisines with a focus on land and sea dishes that are ideal for sharing.

Stamped with innovation and packed full of personality, Baah Lah! places seasonal and locally sourced produce at centre stage, delivering a polished, evolving menu that reflects the best of the region and surroundings, with much of that grown at the family farm in Katandra (including walnuts, mulberries, apricots, boysenberries, lemon), and at a Werribee greenhouse that works with local Indigenous community members who are working towards their certificates in Horticulture, supplying the likes of baby corn and Asian vegetables to the restaurant.

Giving a whole new meaning to the notion of provenance, Baah Lah’s standout quality goes beyond their menu, and into the décor and crockery. The photographs lining the room come from the eye of Anderson, and partner Amy Evans, of mushrooms foraged from Daylesford, while the seasonal dishes are served in ceramic plates and bowls crafted by Anderson himself in the couples own Pottery studio.

The DIY method even extends to the chopstick holders, soy bottles, and water bottles, when they can’t make it themselves, the resourceful duo source supplies from surrounding local businesses – from the candles and the flowers to the hand soaps and moisturiser. It’s this ethos and approach to business that really sets Baah Lah! apart from any other eatery on the popular dining strip. This is one special occasion spot when you’re looking to impress.

Where: 1/100 Pakington Street, Geelong West

BARWON EDGE RESTAURANT

Barwon Edge Restaurant offers Middle Eastern-inspired dining on the banks of the Barwon River. Expect the spices, flavours and techniques of the Middle East to come to life on your plate, with dishes like yellow fin tuna with tahini, buttermilk and mint or slow-cooked lamb shoulder with braised chickpea, tomato and date on the menu.

With newly renovated interiors that celebrate texture and natural tones with a touch of mid-century styling it makes for a perfect night out for that special occasion.

Another one from the team behind Alma and Felix, they’ve honed their place in executing contemporary dining in Geelong.

Where: 40 Windsor Rd, Newtown

The interiors at Barwon Edge Restaurant, tables are set up for some special occasion dining.
Barwon Edge

BLACK SHEEP

Tucked away in the very heart of the National Wool Museum, Black Sheep is kind of like an Aladdin’s cave of gins with the luxe décor to match.

Taking over the ground level space previously housing Denny’s Kitchen, this magical wonderland showcases a healthy stock of Geelong’s finest boutique gins and some equally fine food, served in a warm, exposed-stone dining room, plus a lounge with chesterfields.

Made for sharing, the menu is bursting with bright and delicious European flavours. You’ll find items like roasted garlic pizza, lemon pepper calamari, crispy pork belly, and roasted garlic pizza if you’re after something small. For the more substantial dishes, choose from the crumbed chicken Wiener Schnitzel, roasted pumpkin risotto, a 200g Eye Fillet, oven baked fish of the day, mushroom ravioli, and mouth-watering wood-fired pizza. Add on some sides like French fries, sauteed broccolini and Austrian style Mac n Cheese and you’re in for the night.

For the sweet tooths, we spy stuffed Apricot dumplings, a mini premium cheese platter and a gin and tonic lemon tart. Intriguing right? As for drinks, Black Sheep takes you on a journey from local gin tastings to delectable cocktails with a sheepish twist.

With a range of signature gin and cocktails matched with a European spin on some seriously good food built for sharing, Black Sheep Geelong is looking to become a gin-uine treasure for those special nights where indulgence is a must.

Where: Ground Level, 66 Brougham St, Geelong

EMERGE

For an intimate occasion, Emerge Dining is a favourite within the region specialising in premium steak.

Focusing on simple ingredients of quality, flavour and locality where possible, Emerge offers something for everyone; from a sesame seared miso tofu and a gluten free beef wellington to Seafood Otway Fettucine with prawns, scallops, salmon, mussels, chilli, tomato and olive oil.

The specialty here is the expertly prepared steaks, which are flavoursome, tender and cooked to perfection. Choose from with Mayura Station Limestone Coast Wagyu, Sher Wagyu Ballan, O’Connor Gippsland Porterhouse and Cape Grim. There’s also sauces to accompany, sides like Heirloon carrots in honey and hand cut chips cooked in wagyu fat, as well as oysters, arancini and chargrilled octopus to start.

Warm, friendly yet intimate and personal setting, Emerge makes for the perfect close-proximity dinner date situation when you’re looking for something a little more than just an average meal. You’ll also be receiving some of the tightest service served alongside an impressive winelist.

Where: 112 Ryrie Street, Geelong

EMPIRE GRILL

The name Empire Grill is synonymous with Geelong fine dining, renowned for providing a sumptuous experience, where critically acclaimed food and wine combine to make an experience that is truly out of the ordinary.

Inconspicuously placed on McKillop Street, Empire Grill has been a favourite special occasion restaurant for more than 30 years now, with an a la carte menu boasting a fine collection of dishes that are contemporary in their execution, vivid in their taste, and expressive in overall satisfaction. A mix of modern Australian with European and Asian influences, utilising the finest and freshest of what the Geelong region has to offer. Think Goats Cheese Tortellini, Mushroom Fricassee, slow-cooked beef cheek, confit duck, and char-grilled eye fillet. For more extravagant occasions, the five-course degustation is our pick.

The quality of food shines through into the interior, where you’re met with a bank of windows facing the street, high-backed chairs, white linen-dressed tables and attentive, cheerful staff create a welcoming mood.

Where: 66 McKillop St, Geelong

FELIX

Spawned from the brilliant team at ALMA, Felix is defined by three things: warm service, elegant setting and decadent dining.

Tucked up Downes lane (off little Malop street), Felix focuses on a celebration of seafood, vegetables and fine beverages and boasts an unapologetically extravagant decor alongside (think classic European sophistication), making this one of the most remarkable dining experiences in town.

The menu is refined and beautiful, including dishes like oysters with a delicate shallot and red wine vinaigrette; Black Pearl sterling white caviar; duo of lamb, pan-seared market fish with vierge and fennel; and roasted eggplant with tomato and zucchini. The opulence shines through to dessert with Tirami-choux with espresso, mascarpone and vanilla or dark chocolate sorbet.

Rounding out the finest new venue in town, you’ll find a beautiful wine list and selection of top-shelf drops, and the staff are possessed with noticeable poise, pushing the experience beyond expectations.

This is everything great about elegant fine dining in Geelong.

Where: 9 Downes Lane, Geelong

FISHERMEN’S PIER

Sitting pretty along Geelong waterfront and offering fresh, hand-picked seafood on the dining menu, you’re guaranteed to have a unique sea-filled treat at Fishermen’s Pier.

Dubbed the complete package, with silver service, sparkling stemware, exceptional atmosphere and a glorious location, the award-winning Fishermen’s Pier operates with a successful formula, with fresh seafood and other superb dishes cooked to perfection with friendly, professional service.

From an indulgent seafood platter for up to three – including salmon fillet, freshly shucked oysters, prawns, freshly cooked lobster and scallops – to whole baby barramundi, Lobster ravioli, mussels, seafood croquettes and seafood chowder, this is one of the finest places with the most stunning views in town.

Where: 1a Yarra Street, Geelong

PROVENANCE WINES

Sitting pretty on the banks of the Barwon River in Geelong, Provenance Wines is a unique and beautiful venue for absolutely any occasion – from weddings, gala dinners and cocktail evenings, to meetings, conferences and even just your birthday or anniversary, Provenance make sure you don’t draw a blanc when it comes to planning your good times.

From the moment you walk through to the meticulously restored restaurant and Cellar Door, the attentive and friendly staff will make you feel right at home.

Relax, take in the high ceilings and bluestone walls, and enjoy the range of award-winning wines including Sparkling, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Rosé, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Nebbiolo while Head Chef Nathan McIver takes you on a journey with local, seasonal ingredients.

Here you’ll experience modern Australian cuisine, beautiful plating and well-considered dishes that are unsurpassed in both quality and value, from Slow Cooked Pork Belly or Charcoal Chicken Breast to cheese platters and Charcuterie boards.

Dinner is only served on Saturday nights making this quite a special spot when it comes to celebrating (if you can score a booking), otherwise there’s the option to dine for lunch from Friday through to Sunday.

Absolutely unsurpassed in quality and value, the Provenance exists to serve you quality!

Where: 100 Lower Paper Mills Rd, Fyansford

TULIP RESTAURANT

Tulip Restaurant is an institution in the Geelong dining scene located on the bustling Pakington strip. Having received a Chef’s Hat in the Good Food Guide from 2013-2020 and again in the 2023 guide, recognising the efforts of the new ownership team.

Manager Dan Ford and Chef Mike Jaques have taken the helm of Tulip and have continued the quality, spirit and atmosphere that visitors love, while refining and elevating the experience to embrace the best of modern Australian fine dining in regional Victoria.

The delicious food is best shared as part of the Chef’s selection menu, and paired with the best of local and international wine.

Where: 111 Pakington St, Geelong West

Inside special occasion dining spot Tulip Restaurant. Tables and chairs are set up, a red brick wall is at the far end.
Tulip Restaurant - Image by Chris McConville

TWO NOBLE

Two Noble is Geelong’s Asian fine dining destination. Here the flavours of South East Asian cuisine fuse with modern Australian flair, always celebrating local food producers.

Led by Executive Chef Mario Tambajong, the menu at Two Noble is a culinary journey through South East Asia, with an emphasis on shared dining.

Nestled upstairs in the historic Sawyers Arms Tavern in Newtown, Two Noble offers a unique fine dining experience and perfect spot to celebrate a special occasion.

Where: 2 Noble St, Newtown

Interiors and bar of Two Noble restaurant, with light tones, wood chairs and ceiling pendants.
Two Noble

1915 GEELONG

Set in the former Federal Woollen Mills, one of the city’s most iconic and historic buildings, and beneath the historic North Geelong smokestack, is 1915, a whimsical restaurant laced with old-world charm. A grand, all-occasions bistro, 1915 is definitely one of Geelong’s most unique dining and drinking experiences, proving to be a powerful dose of history infused with a modern spirit.

Polished concrete, lofty ceilings, bright pendant lighting, exposed beams, and weathered red brick feature across the open-plan with a grand staircase leading to a sweeping second floor. The airy space is bathed in light, providing the ideal atmosphere for indulging in fine-dining finesse on the Northside of town.

The menu is inventive, elegant and Mediterranean-inspired; with a focus on sourcing the best local ingredients to make this a truly unique and memorable experience. Small plates include marinated olives, freshly shucked oysters and Hervey Bay scallops baked in their shell with butter and herb crumb, while mains include chargrilled Black Angus, an ancient grain salad, fluffy handmade gnocchi, as well as zucchini lasagne. There’s also a pretty indulgent pizza menu with handmade Neapolitan style pizza bases and Salerno tomato – with gluten-free bases available on request! Desserts include white chocolate cheesecake, a chocolate mudcake, gelato, or a lemon curd with short bread crumb and meringue.

As for wine, curated by one of Australia’s most respected sommeliers, Jeremy Shiell, you’ll be pressed not to find something that you like with 150 local and international wines. There’s also a large range of beers and an exceptional cocktail list on offer.

Where: BH2 / 33 Mackey Street, North Geelong

This article originally appeared on fortemag.com.au and has been republished and modified in partnership with Visit Greater Geelong & The Bellarine.

Header photo from Felix Restaurant.

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