The Arborist Geelong is a sophisticated tree house of a restaurant and bar in lively Little Malop St, conjuring delicious Modern Australian food with a Middle Eastern tweak.
Location: 75 Little Malop St, Geelong, VIC 3220 Ph: 0409 749 489
Dine at The Arborist in Geelong’s buzzing West End Precinct and you’ll wonder why more kitchens don’t take Modern Australian produce and give it a Middle East spin.
But then the smart, flavour-forward menu is just one of the attractions of this gem of a restaurant.
It also looks great. Constructed around – literally – a gorgeous European Ash Tree, this bar and dining room wears its eco credentials on its heart and it bleeds into all aspects of the decor. From the colour scheme to the materials used.
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The Arborist Geelong is a restaurant of many parts. Rather like a many-layered treehouse.
There are 2 levels of natural wooden decking as you enter through the gates. Smartly positioned burners and a solid fuel oven mean that these areas are warm even in winter, when we visit. In fact, as we are early, our charming waiter pops us under a heater with a drink and we are surprisingly cosy.
Once inside, we get to admire the beauty of the restaurant proper. There’s a bar to the left, capped by a glorious green marble slab. Tarnished copper, muted greens and natural shades of wood are the dominant shades. The dining room itself is quite small, its far side hemmed with a wall of terrazzo tiles and an olive green banquette.
But this is not the only dining area at The Arborist Geelong. Glass doors out the back open onto another decked area and I’m sure it would make a lovely spot to sip a cocktail on a warm evening. Similarly, there appears to be a rooftop, which could be worth exploring come summer.
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And the ambience? Despite the venue being flat out with a Sunday lunchtime service, calm, cool and collected. There’s a sophistication at play, from the composed staff to the classy soundtrack running in the background at just the right volume.
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The chilled vibe continues into the relaxed, sharing-style menu.
Interestingly, there’s a dedicated Grazing Menu which would go perfectly with a few glasses of Wine, propped up at the bar after work. There are elevated beer snacks like Pork Crackles w/ Chili Salt, Guindillas & Coriander and more substantial options such as Potato & Salted Fish Croquettes, Whipped Cod Roe & Bottarga. It’s the kind of food that makes you nip in for a quick drink and stay for a full feed.
Although the nibbles and more look very appealing, we go for the Feed Me ($70pp).
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From the Small part of the menu, the kitchen are smart enough to start us with those tempting sounding Pork Crackles. And they are every bit as satisfying as we hoped. Cloud-light, they dissolve on the tongue leaving a memory of salt and a buzz of chili warmth.
Alongside, we get the Sweet & Salty Spiced Nuts & Seeds. If these were for sale in my local grocer, I’d have a standing order. Paired with a briny bowl of tiny Mount Zero Olives, they are irresistible with a sip of chilled Pinot Gris.
And lastly, there’s the always welcome Zeally Bay Sourdough Baguette w/ Cultured Butter.
Our appetites well and truly firing, the next 2 dishes arrive with relief-tinged promptness.
The first is a pretty plate of creamy, smoky Babaganoush, jewelled with Pomegranate Arils and Pine Nuts. It’s spiky with garlic and we shovel happily through it with shards of crispy Pita Bread.
The second is a masterclass in sweet, salt and texture. A wedge of Baked Halloumi, bathed in Saffron & Honey, sprinkled with plump Sultanas, toasty Almond pieces and Oregano. It’s sunshine on a plate – and not just visually. I love Halloumi and eat it regularly, but this combination is a revelation and one I’ll be trying at home.
In contrast, we follow with a delicate, pearlescent offering of Cured Kingfish, Pickled Fennel, Shallots, Pomegranate & Sumac. Once more, the Middle Eastern influence of the sour, citrus Sumac and sweet, sharp Pomegranate enlivened a sashimi that is the mainstay of many an entree section.
Accompanying the Kingfish we have a ruddy Beetroot Salad. As is so often the case at The Arborist Geelong, the devil is in the details. The soil and blood notes of the Beetroot get a lift from bitter Radicchio and sugary Barberries. Hazelnuts provide crunch and Goat’s Labneh gives a lush mouth-feel.
Lastly from the Medium list, we each get a flame-burnished Grilled Lamb Kofta. Annointed with a squiggle of Yoghurt, Pomegranate & a dusting of Sumac, we pull it from its shiny steel skewer with a curl of Cos Lettuce.
If you love Kofta, Sumac & Labneh, see our recommendations for the Best Middle Eastern Food and Restaurants in Melbourne
Golden-skinned Chermoula Roasted Chicken Breast smells sublime as it wafts to our table. It’s matched with a milky dollop of Almond Hummus, soft Leeks, Preserved Lemon and a well-seasoned Parsley garnish.
Amongst the sides, there’s a brilliant Spice Roasted Cauliflower. Joined by Herbs and Grains it’s another dish that would make a vegetarian smile contentedly.
We’re also treated to a fresh, light Tomato, Cucumber, Radish & Cos Salad w/ Lemon, Herbs & Sumac and a snappy dish of Green Beans and Seeds.
Although we all feel pretty full, we struggle on and manage to polish the lot off. Yes – it’s that good.
Once again, The Arborist Geelong shows that little things – done really well – are hard to beat. A simple petit fours of Chocolate Almond Nests and a good cup of cup are a marriage made in heaven.
The Arborist Geelong stocks almost exclusively Australian Wines. We order a couple of bottles of the 2022 Tomfoolery ‘Fox Whistle’ Pinot Gris from Eden Valley, SA. It’s a lovely tipple with the gentle spicing in the food.
For once, I didn’t dip into the Cocktail List, but if I had, The Concord ($19) – Dark Rum, Gin, Lime Juice, Sugar, Muddled Grapes & Mint would have had my vote.
Finally, there’s a good array of Beers and Ciders both On Tap and Bottled.
The Arborist Geelong is a fabulous, multi-faceted gem of an establishment.
Head Chef Michael Welsh overseas a kitchen which showcases everything that is good about Modern Australian cuisine. Excellent produce is treated with respect and given just enough of salt, spice and heat to make it shine.
Put all of this in a truly beautiful building that works with nature rather than obliterating it, cultivate a relaxed sophistication, and hire knowledgeable, discreet staff, and you have a restaurant and bar that customers will want to return to again and again.
Update – Rooftop Open
The Arborist Rooftop is officially open and we can’t wait to go back and give it a whirl.
Nip up for Salumi & Pickles ($18) or a Falafel Wrap ($23) and a glass of vino.
The small, but perfectly formed, menu of tasty morsels is available Wednesday to Sunday, from 3pm.
See you there!