We've driven a lap of the esplanade at Lorne before realising we have overlooked the dear little enclave of interesting eateries and shops around Erskine Creek, away from the madding seaside crowd.
With wooden tables and benches set up between red geraniums and potted olive trees under the shade of market umbrellas, Ba Ba Lu Bar already looks Mediterranean before you get to read the menu of terrific-sounding tapas, montadito (tasty morsels on bread) and ensalada — described as beachside fare.
You can be lucky at weekends to find it's paella day, when ebullient owner Sacha Meier cooks up a huge pan of the Spanish classic filled with plump shellfish including prawns, pippies and mussels, calamari and sometimes a few native flat oysters he's able to get from nearby Portarlington.
He says he came to the coast 14 years ago to surf but got "stranded". Meier has been operating his appealing eatery for nine years now where, at night, diners come for a menu of tall, martini-style drinks and a range of beers and cider.
However, on this sunny Sunday we decide to share a few tastes to start. First comes a few montadito — hand-filleted white anchovies with olive tapenade and boiled egg, smoked eggplant and blue cheese, and confit sardines with tomato mojo and onion jam (all are $4 each). They are delicious little mouthfuls and perfect with Mitchell Harris sangiovese rose ($15 a glass, $60 a bottle).
Next comes a seemingly endless variety of small tapas plates: fried local calamari and garlic aioli ($22), chargrilled lamb breast with mojo rojo ($11), spiced beetroot salad with tahini and yoghurt ($12), chargrilled local octopus with red pepper and parsley salad ($22), and the piece de resistance — a ceviche of Peruvian-style snapper ($19) with chilli, sweet potato, lime and sweet corn.
My husband had earlier set his mind on the local fresh snapper served simply grilled with chips ($22) and lots of lemon. I can't resist a sample of the paella ($32.50) that has guests queueing for a serve from the communal feast.
Reviewed by Tricia Welsh who was hosted by Tourism Victoria.
Ba Ba Lu Bar, 6A Mountjoy Parade, Lorne, 5289 1808. Open Mon, Thurs-Fri 6pm-late; Sat-Sun 8.30am-10pm; 8.30am-late daily in summer. See babalubar.com.au; VicRoads 528 G9.