There are not many guarantees in life, but this is one of them – there is no shortage of places to eat in Melbourne, and you could have enough options for all tastes and budgets to last a lifetime.Melbourne is a food lovers paradise and just one of the many reasons why I love this city. One of the great things about Melbourne is the many neighbourhoods that have their own cultural focus, the vibrant markets offering fresh produce, and a bustling CBD.
So, where do you eat in Melbourne?
Our visit was a combination of getting suggestions from friends and just exploring on our own. Our focus was not on fine dining but value for money and family-friendly locations.Despite being a relatively small city (four million people) at basically the end of the earth, Melbourne has food that’s up there with places like New York City or London and has the kind of variety you won’t find anywhere else.
While Sydney gets all the international attention, Melbourne is where it’s at if you travel mostly just to eat a lot. The influence of multiple waves of immigration is felt at every level, from the city’s longstanding obsession with coffee to a European drinking culture to many Vietnamese and Chinese food. Basically, any kind of food you want, Melbourne has it.
There’s plenty to eat in the main Central Business District (the locals just refer to it as “the city”), but a lot can also be found in surrounding neighbourhoods like Fitzroy, Carlton, and Richmond. And while you can certainly go all-in on fine dining, these days, a lot of the more.
Exciting spots are casual, focused on family-style menus or small plates or things to share. And then you have the cafes. Melbourne is a coffee town, but “coffee shops” are unheard of - cafes are almost always table-service affairs with full menus with actually exciting things to eat.
Competition is fierce, which means you’re more likely to get ham hock benedict or a full Indonesian breakfast than plain old bacon and eggs at some of the cooler spots around.
The Melbourne food scene is exciting and insanely varied, and yes, also pretty expensive. But if you like to eat, you need to get Melbourne on your list. And maybe plan on doing more than just three meals a day - you’ve got a lot to get through.
Tiamo – Lygon Street, Carlton
Lygon Street is that famous Italian area of Melbourne and home to many popular restaurants and cafes. With so many choices, it can be hard to narrow down a selection. Luckily our local friend with an Italian background knew the place for us – Tiamo.
Synonymous with traditional Italian cuisine, Tiamo has a focus on pizza, but I enjoyed another Italian specialty, spaghetti marinara, and Caz said her risotto was to die for.
Going there with a group, why not order a few pizzas, pasta, and risotto and share everything. He bustling vibe is excellent, feels very homely and genuinely Italian. And for it being a touristy part of the city was impressed with their reasonable prices.
Cutler & Co
Cutler & Co is the perfect example of A Melbourne Restaurant. Simple, bistro-like food (maybe some roasted flounder to start and then a giant rib eye to share), done in a delicate dining setting that somehow also feels casual and relaxed.
The same chef is behind many other fantastic restaurants in town, and you should definitely get to one before you leave: Cumulus Inc. is an all-day, no-reservations, small plates operation with the best tuna tartare in the city.
Supernormal is basically the Asian version of Cumulus (although they’re only open for lunch and dinner), Ricky & Pinky is classic Australian-Chinese food gone kind of fancy inside a pub, and Marion is the ultimate in wine bars that don’t suck. Don’t leave town without eating at one of these places.
Cookie is like that one sweater that’s been shoved in the back of the closet: sometimes people forget it’s there, but then they eat here once and never forget it.
Not that Cookie is ever empty or quiet, but it’s been around for so long and is so consistently good that Melbourne kind of takes it for granted. They serve some of the best Thai in town in a vast space that’s half bar, half restaurant, and fully one of our favourite places to eat in the city.
On a quiet street in Carlton, right near Melbourne University, is a pizza place that feels like it’s actually on a quiet street in Rome. The menus are handwritten photocopies and often covered in red wine stains, wine is poured into tumblers, and the seating is so cramped you’ll definitely be involved in the relationship debrief happening at the table next door.
Yes, the pasta is good, but we’d advise not using too much stomach space for those - it’s all about the thin-crust, simply-topped pizzas. And that includes the dessert pizzas too.
Chef Peter Gunn’s set summer menu at Ides is priced at $160 a head, but saunter on over to the bar counter or dine outdoors and sample the Smith Street menu for a lot less. The concept allows diners to try casual and inspired snacks and drinks. If you're after an extended culinary affair, the venue also offers a four-course Sunday lunch menu for just $70 per person.
You probably need to know that Ides is a minimalist operation. Only 36 diners a night, only a six-course degustation, representing pretty decent value at $110 a head. You don’t get the menu until the end, and Gunn and his team of young chefs deliver food to the tables. They seem like they’re having fun. The diners seem like they’re having fun.
There’s no avoiding it: if you plan on going to Chin Chin, you’re going to have to plan on waiting. This no-reservations modern South-East Asian spot on Flinders Lane in the city’s heart is a very Melbourne take on Asian dining halls and is always a lot of fun.
They’ve been slammed since opening in 2011, and a recent expansion of the space hasn’t slowed things down. So be here well before 7 pm on a weeknight, put your name down, and grab a drink at GoGo Bar down the street behind the restaurant.
Once you finally get to sit down, you might feel a bit weird saying “feed me” to your waiter, but after you do, they’ll start bringing out dish after excellent dish.
Vue De Monde
Vue de Monde has more history to adopt its new Australian vernacular than you can poke a stick at. The turn-of-the-century Carlton restaurant that announced Westmeadows wunderkind, Shannon Bennett, to the world. It’s a grand statement, slightly awkward sophomore period at Normanby Chambers.
And the past eight years perched at the top of the Rialto, where this Melbourne fine dining star has taken the mantra of evolution rather than revolution as it journeys from French-leaning neo-classical purist to a restaurant with its own Aussie-accented voice.
A meal at Vue de Monde is still dressed in the accoutrements of the Euro gastro-palaces Bennett came of age emulating. A Champagne trolley greets you on arrival; a cheese trolley helps bid adieu.
But this classical sandwich contains a modern filling that’s a more subtle taste of Australia than before. The earnest moments have largely been banished; the mood is light-hearted rather than quasi-religious.
Take heed of the bread: a pumpkin scone that shades Flo Bjelke-Petersen. Take heed of the obligatory crudo number: lightly cured kingfish and avocado in a palate-brightening drift of wasabi “snow” conjured from Tassie-grown Japanese horseradish and frozen buttermilk. It’s cool, fresh and modern, with a polite measure of nostril-rattling edge.
Seafood plays a starring role. A bouncy mud crab and prawn snag seared at the table and popped into a brioche bun plays to the international guests but will also give locals BBQ inspo with its tarragon emulsion and tendrils of pickled kohlrabi.
Also rusted onto the menu is the palate cleanser of liquid nitrogen-frozen herbs and flowers you pulverise yourself before a waiter adds sea parsley sorbet. For anyone who’s eaten at Vue during its Rialto incarnation, it’s a bit of a new dog, old tricks scenario (“the pestle has landed”, a fellow food-writer recently texted from his own Vue experience).
But bring on the diner interactivity that now defines this most ambitious clique of restaurants across the globe. Vue has also received the memo that diners are no longer content to simply sit passively and be fed, so you might head out onto the balcony to toast chocolate-centred marshmallows over a mini-campfire.
You might head over to the oyster station, where a chef with wit as dry as a dead dingo’s femur will shuck and top perfect Claire de Lune oysters with native condiments such as finger lime and lemon myrtle (a mark of the new Vue is that you can eat as many as you want. The record is 14. You’re welcome to try and beat it).
Meat courses run to velvety curls of salt-cured kangaroo with a lick of mountain pepper butter, salsify and wild garlic with an acid-bringing scattering of green ants on top.
Next, there’s a saddle of lamb and sweetbreads in intense jus and a cloak of truffle before the one item Allen has been ordered to keep on the menu: the chocolate soufflé, now with a jolt of espresso ice cream.
The barrage of restaurants gurning for their slice of the Melbourne dining pie is a daily reminder that change is the only constant in life. Reboots are de rigueur as familiar names battle it out in the survival of the fittest industry.
After Scott Pickett shuttered his fine diner ESP he combined its real estate with next-door Estelle Bistro to create Estelle - it’s a reboot of the reboot of the original mothership.
The unification hasn’t wholly surrendered Estelle’s multi-faceted personality. The former bistro is now a slick bar where you can go slumming in serious style with things like the wagyu bolognese jaffle hiding under a snowdrift of salty-melty cheese, or puffed veal tendons, the bovine world’s answer to the prawn cracker, dusted with tang-tastic dashi and coffee dust. On the former ESP side, still graced by the swirling Christopher Boots light and boasting one of Melbourne’s most beautiful open kitchens, the dining gets more serious, and the word “degustation” is uttered, yet the snackage remains supreme.
The new Estelle sits somewhere between its two former iterations. It’s a place you can go high or low, where some diners are dressed to the nines while others sport sneakers, and it all seems to make sense.
The menu similarly keeps a steady hand on the tiller with Pickett’s signature moves of tried and true flavour combinations dressed up with modern presentation and just a little bit of considered envelope-pushing.
The whole flounder strays much further into Asian territory than is standard for the Euro-focused Pickett but kicks a goal with its uptown version of a Chinese classic with a complex XO giving shade to the fried bits and bobs of garlic and shallots and pearly fish.
Macaroni takes it back to the Mediterranean, the pliable little hand-rolled lovelies stacked architecturally under an emulsified froth of parmesan sauce mined with pan-fried guanciale and saltbush leaves.
It’s a bit like carbonara, and cacio e pepe fell in love and made a baby. However, the comforting promise of “baby corn, truffle, parmesan” is not entirely compatible with the citrus power of the lime gracing the top of the charry little veg, delivered still nesting in their silken wrappings.
Estelle has loosened the tie of ESP for any normal civilian and codified the relaxed charm of Estelle Bistro. It’s a place where a five-course tasting menu is $90 (as opposed to ESP’s $130 a head compulsory deg) but where “a la carte” is your safe words.
It’s a place where a Coravin system opens up some of the rather august names in the cellar to sampling by the glass, but you can also drop by for a post-work snack in the bar. In short, it’s an eminently reasonable response to dining times with less hip-pocket business. It deserves to do well.
While we can confidently say Melbourne has Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai eating on lock, Japanese food hasn’t ever been a strong point. There are way too many $3 hand rolls filled with canned tuna to claim otherwise.
But Minamishima is a true outlier, offering one of the only omakase menus in town and using both local seafood and fish imported straight from the Tokyo fish market. Unsurprisingly, locals are all about it, so make sure you book a spot at the sushi bar before you arrive.
Maybe it’s the name. Matteo’s, named after owner and floor maestro Matteo Pignatelli, creates expectations of cinemascope Italian food. It’s an impression reinforced by the heavily European trappings of the rather grand, old-school restaurant anointing the strip where Brunswick Street shifts down a gear into St Georges
Road. You know the deal: velvet drapes and double-linen tables, chandeliers and a menu that sticks to those quaint dining relics of entrees and mains.
The only cannelloni you’re going to encounter here, though, is stuffed with a cloud-like seafood farce and arrives with a main of black cod (the rich, oily fish made famous by Nobu-san), which has been marinated in white miso for 72 hours.
The fish is a stunner. The miso lends sweetness and depth, and it’s well partnered with many Eurasian curveballs, including a rich bisque and a thicket of prawn cracker noodles on top, like fried linguini.
Service is perfunctory rather than intuitive and warm – it would be good to get some real enthusiasm going on the floor rather than the forced “and how are we tonight?” brand of formality that went out with the invention of flared pants.
But the restaurant is warm (literally – the heating bill must be eye-watering), the wine list is a deep and lovely thing to wade around in without necessarily getting a second mortgage, and the setting is enough to make you reach for your poshest accent.
The Don at Beer and Burger Bar
One of the first burger challenges in Australia, The Don has been around since 2014. Comprising a 700g brioche bun, 1.2kg worth of beef, a “ridiculous amount” of bacon and cheese, onion rings, lettuce, tomato and beetroot relish, plus 400g of fries and two cans of soft drink on the side, you’ll want to bring a big appetite to tackle it.
The current record is 12 minutes and nine seconds, but if you can eat it within 90 minutes, it’s free. If you’ve managed to conquer The Don, try your hand at The Don 2.0, weighing in at approximately 5.2kg in total. Only one person has managed to chow down The Don 2.0, stomaching the lot in 21 minutes and 57 seconds.
Hot As Hell Challenge at The B.East
Burger and live music hotspot The B.East is bringing the heat with their reaper burger, stacked with two beef patties, double bacon, double cheese and a hefty helping of jalapenos, all slathered in their “hot as fuck” reaper sauce.
If you can demolish it within one minute and 15 seconds, you’ll take home a B.East t-shirt, and if you can beat the record time, you’ll win yourself a $200 prize. Of course, you’ll want to have a pint handy to extinguish the fire in your mouth after trying your hand at this one.
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