It is no surprise that Carlton is home to some of Melbourne’s best Italian restaurants; however, this suburb is more culturally cultural than you think. From hearty Italian to top-notch Japanese food, there’s always something new to try out in Carlton.
Carlton's top dining spots are mostly clustered along Lygon Street, near the corner of Elgin. This stretch – which extends down to Victoria Parade in the south – isn't the force it was in the '80s and '90s, but it remains one of the better places in Melbourne for Italian food.
Nearly all our favourite restaurants here are Italian, with a few notable exceptions such as Epocha and Abla's, the Lebanese institution cooking since 1979.
So whether you live around this slice of foodie heaven or find yourself wandering through on your way to or from the city, we’ve found and tried all of Carlton’s best restaurants—now it’s your turn.
Top Restaurants In Carlton, Melbourne
Also known as Little Italy, the district of Carlton is home to some of the best restaurants in Melbourne. Be it for a date night; a special occasion; a family dinner; a long, leisurely lunch; or a casual, no-fuss meal, Carlton has it all.
Carlton Wine Room
Carlton Wine Room reopened in February 2018 after two months of renovation. This striking 19th-century building on the corner of leafy Drummond and Faraday Streets is now occupied by a team that involves co-owner Andrew Joy, once the manager at Marion, and chef John Paul Twomey, formerly founding head chef at Cutler & Co., development chef for the McConnell group and head chef at Gilson in South Yarra.
There's a marble bar – the back bar is laden with rows of backlit glassware instead of spirits – and an oval communal table in the middle of the high-ceilinged space.
The venue is deceptively large; there are five levels. Upstairs there's a spacious second dining room. Keep going up, and you'll find two private event spaces, each taking up an entire floor. A bluestone cellar has also been converted into a private dining den for 20.
The menu is an elegant take on modern Australian food with a European influence that works well with wine and is seasonal. There is a kingfish Crudo – a monochrome dish of thick slices of raw fish on a streak of creme fraiche and topped with rough slices of translucent napa cabbage and shaved horseradish.
Shaved things reappear in a dish of grilled broccolini with shavings of cured egg yolk, fat lardons of bacon, and a parmesan, cream and egg yolk sauce. And there's a half roast chicken; it is tender and crisp-skinned and sits on a light, mousse-y aioli, with big raw sorrel leaves laid flat, confited rounds of potato, and just on the side.
The 100-bottle wine list by co-owner and ex-Coda and Tonka sommelier Travis Howe is not bound by one style or region.
On the fizz menu, there's a lot from France. Germany, Austria and Slovenia pop up frequently in the whites section, and Italy gets a full page of reds. The team also opens a different "staff bottle" each day. It's off the menu – ask if you'd like to try it.
Kazuki’s is owned by husband and wife team Saori and Kazuki Tsuya, who transported the Euro-Japanese fine diner to Lygon Street from Daylesford in 2018. Choose from two, three, five or seven courses of thoughtfully crafted but punchy Euro-Japanese plates (only five or seven courses on weekends), most of which focus on a single ingredient gently lifted by a few small accompaniments.
There’s a Moreton Bay bug dumpling doused in a buttery sake and ponzu sauce. And lightly cured kingfish with white soy and buttermilk dressing, crisp fish skin and pomelo. And a just-cooked slab of aged duck with radicchio, blackberry and shiitake. House-made sourdough comes with pitch-black seaweed butter.
Add snacks at $5 apiece. A raw pipi arrives in the shell, salty with soy and bright with ginger. Chicken liver is piped into a savoury choux, its richness staved off with a plum and umeshu gel. Everything arrives on beautiful charcoal crockery imported from Italy.
The wine, sake and spirits list is 22 pages. A few wines by the glass are $15, but a good list selection runs well beyond $200.
The list covers mainstream producers and some more adventurous and unexpected drops. There’s also sake served in hand-blown glasses and a good Japanese whisky section that ranges from Nikka from the Barrel to an 18-year Yamazaki single malt from Suntory.
The design of the space is a big change for the Tsuyas. The interior of the moody 30-seat room has high ceilings, soft grey-blue tones and gentle lighting; it feels like stepping into a – very zen – a friend’s living room.
Respected equally for her impressive knowledge of Greek and old world wines as for her legendary hospitality – Angie Giannakodakis (co-owner of Hellenic Republic) is one of a now-rare breed of old school professionals whose warmth and authenticity is undeniable and instantly felt.
Expat Brit Guy Holder has a similarly impressive background in high-end dining, coming to Epocha after stints at The Press Club, Rockpool, Greg Malouf’s MoMo. The pair invokes the spirit of real-deal service – that elusive combination of charming informality, razor-sharp attention to detail and impeccable timing.
Under the direction of executive chef, Brooke Payne and head chef Alex Drobysz the broadly European menu focuses on shared dishes with humble origins, with Greek and English influences, as well as a fair representation of classic French fare (think charcuterie and serious cheeses). Wines, too, are a focus, and the list is kept brief and Euro-centric with an eye on biodynamic and lesser-known boutique producers.
The double-storied terrace - originally built in 1884 – has been beautifully restored and retains the typically high ceilings, tall windows and large proportions of the Victorian era. Downstairs, the dining room manages to feel at once grand, moody and comfortingly rustic. Upstairs, Hannah’s Bar welcomes casual drinks and idle conversation over backgammon games.
Anthony Scutella and Alison Foley’s love of Italian food and wine radiates through this wonderful restaurant on Nicholson Street in Carlton.
While travelling, the two stumbled upon the Piemonte region of Italy and were instantly and irreversibly charmed by the area’s food and wine. They have since transposed the region's secrets to the Melbourne food scene with the help of chef Salvatore Caccioppoli.
Fusions of deep Italian flavours permeate a menu that features dishes such as slow-cooked pork belly with cannellini bean ragu, kid goat baked with freshly grated pecorino, and Caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella. The spatchcock with sourdough, herb and taleggio stuffing on braised green lentils is a highlight, and, of course, the house-made pasta dishes are always great.
An impressive drinks list complements the menu – the Barbaresco and Barolo bottles from Piemonte take pride of place. Other Piemontese wines are available, as well as wines from other Italian wine regions and favourites from a little closer to home. If you tire of wine, there's a decent selection of local and international beers, and we recommend trying the Bellini (made with in-house peach puree and prosecco).
Don’t let the chic white tablecloths and modern interior fool you. Scopri radiates a friendly, welcoming vibe ideal for a dinner date or celebration.
Al Dente Enoteca
International visa-holder and Italian-born chef Andrea Vignali was stood down from his job at Melbourne institution Florentino due to Australia’s first Covid-19 lockdowns. Not long after, Vignali launched pasta-delivery service, Al Dente, from his small apartment kitchen – and it quickly became one of Melbourne’s takeaway darlings.
Al Dente’s success was cemented in early 2021 when Vignali and his housemate Davide Bonadiman (a former Florentino chef) opened Al Dente Enoteca: a sleek restaurant, wine bar and shop. At Al Dente, the menu changes weekly (except for the spanner crab ravioli- a lockdown favourite – which remains a mainstay).
Another highlight is the roast duck and artichoke-filled tortellini, topped with artichoke cubes pan-fried in duck fat. It comes served with a rich duck jus (made from duck bones), which is poured over your dish tableside. Cacio e Pepe tortellini – another lockdown classic – makes regular appearances.
Aside from pasta, pasta dishes have included a marbled Wagyu flank with charred friggitelli (sweet Italian chilli peppers) and fermented black garlic and a fine-dining take on the polarising pub classic surf’n’turf: grilled scallops topped with burnt onion and crisp pancetta.
Iain Ling, the former manager at MoVida Aqui, didn't change much aesthetically when he took over this historic Carlton pub with his wife Stella in late 2014.
But the important stuff – the food and drink – is new, and Lincoln doesn’t do things the same way as everyone else. Chef Lachlan Cameron (MoVida Aqui, Supernormal) practices this through neat flavour combinations.
Once you’ve moved past snacks such as edamame and kelp salt or pork crackling, it’s on to more substantial dishes. Pork schnitzel with tonkatsu sauce perhaps, or whole spatchcock with apple. This isn’t your average pub food, especially in light of the ever-changing seasonal menu.
Drinks stick to the not-quite-ordinary angle, too. The wine list is divided into useful headings that tell you something about the drops below them – that they’re lean, deep or aromatic, for example.
And there are some good ones, including German riesling, lesser-known Spanish varieties such as trenzado and Mencia, and plenty of local bottles. Likewise, though everyone is serving craft beer these days, The Lincoln’s selection is that bit more exciting.
Leonardo’s Pizza Palace
Nick Stanton, Guy Bentley, Mark Catsburg and Jonathan Harper are behind casual fine diner Ramblr and party bar Leonard’s House of Love – both in the south. In December 2018, they transplanted the vibe of the latter across the river to Carlton.
The building was once home to Da Salvatore Pizza by the Metre, which opened in 1959. Some of that history has been maintained. Seventies-style timber panelling on the walls, stacked terracotta wine racks behind the bar and terrazzo floors all combine to make Leonardo’s feel like it’s been here forever.
In the front bar, under one of many brick archways, a DJ plays tunes from Journey, Johnny Cash and No Zu under the glow of neon Coors Light signage. Beanie-clad bartenders are quick to sort you out with a longneck of Melbourne or a minimal intervention wine and a crostini.
The den-like dining room serves old-school Italian. The shutters on the windows are closed, so even if it’s light outside, it’s always night-time here. Shouts and laughter rumble in from the front bar. It’s the kind of place you could accidentally spend hours in and wake up dustier than you’d planned.
It's almost always busy here. Luckily you can book ahead over the phone. Waiters zip across red carpeted floors between compact leather booths. Faded photos of the original owner Salvatore Mercogliano making pizza back in the ’70s are on the walls, among other black-and-white pictures of the Beatles, Marylin Monroe and a plethora of vintage bombshells eating pasta.
At the back of the dining room, another arched opening frames Leonardo’s chef's plating standout eight-slice pepperoni pizzas, among others, served with little cups of ranch dressing “for dipping”. More current is the anchovy, roast pepper, olive and caper pizza, or a pork and fennel sausage option with garlic oil and sage.
Apart from pizza and house-made pasta, the kitchen also churns out smashable, approachable start-of-the-night dishes that lend themselves to a raucous evening. (There’s a reason the coasters say “drink and dine”, not the other way around.) Start with fried sardines and whipped bottarga on super-thin crostini, or a hunk of creamy, soft stracciatella with salt and vinegar marinated blisteringly hot jalapenos.
A salad of sugar-snap peas, charred broccolini and almonds coated in macadamia cream and shaved pecorino is pretty outstanding. Unrivalled, though, is the chicken schnitzel – the warped, deep-gold disc arrives with a tonne of garlic butter and capers piled on top.
Wine – as at Bar Liberty – is a big deal. Liberty’s list is 500-strong, but Capitano’s is tighter, including a few producers who “don't muck around too much” with their wines. Around 95 per cent of the wines are made in Italy or from Italian grapes. Whites have texture, weight and savouriness; reds are light with loads of acidity and bright fruit flavours with tomato-based sauces.
Onto cocktails. Bar Liberty is all about ease of service (most are pre-batched but more technical). The list here revives the theatre of shaking and stirring. It reads classically (limoncello spritz, grapefruit Americano). Bitter and sour reigns, with regular chamomile hits, saffron, orange and amaro. The grapefruit granita with Campari float doubles as a dessert.
The maroon and ivory interior is intimate. Art Deco light fixtures effuse a moody glow over wooden tables (some white-clothed, some not), bentwood chairs and banquette seating. The ’70s and ’80s Italian discos come courtesy of Sam Rogers, who spent time in Berlin as a music producer and heads up the front of the house.
Taquito is co-owned by Alec Villarreal, who grew up in Mexico City before moving to Melbourne. It's on a quiet strip of Drummond Street in Carlton. There are three distinct options for eating and drinking here. In the warmer months, you might not make it farther than the tables outside the building. After all, tacos and outdoor dining are a great fit.
Inside, you have two options. For something more casual, the front room is a bar area with mainly stool seating. Big windows facing out give the space a light and breezy feel. One corner of this room is a bottle shop: one of the best (and only) places in Melbourne to buy rare mezcals and tequilas to take home.
Or you can head downstairs to the main dining room. It’s filled with cacti, monstera and subtle Mexican accents, such as in the fabric of the booth seating. There’s a great atmosphere here thanks to the high ceilings, well-spaced tables and the open kitchen.
To eat, head chef and other co-owner Paul Clarke (former head chef at Mesa Verde) serve a concise menu of plates designed to share. For smaller appetites, a flight of tacos and a side salad might do you well. For something larger to share, a beef short rib birria (spicy stew) comes beside a stack of tortillas for a DIY-style taco dinner.
The six-course “feed-me” option is also good value. Taquito makes all of its tortillas in-house and grows its hard-to-find Mexican ingredients such as epazote (an aromatic herb).
Taquito also makes its horchata (a sweet rice milk and cinnamon drink). For something stronger, a seasonally rotating drinks list places equal importance on Mexican spirit producers such as Tequila Tromba as it does Australian winemakers.
FAQs About Melbourne Restaurants
Some of the more popular European Restaurants in Carlton, according to TheFork users, include Paris Go, Aperitivo Bar Ristorante, and Little Lygon. Discover all restaurants: European restaurants near Carlton.
Carlton is probably one of the Best Inner-City Suburbs in Melbourne! Lots of Designer Brand Shops, Cafes, Restaurants & Cinemas! & is also walking distance from the Victoria Markets, Melbourne University IMAX, & the Shopping Malls at the Melbourne CBD (e.g. Melbourne Central, QV etc.).
Carlton is known nationwide for its Little Italy precinct centred on Lygon Street, for its preponderance of 19th-century Victorian architecture and its garden squares, including the Carlton Gardens, the latter being the location of the Royal Exhibition Building, one of Australia's few artificial sites with World Heritage.
Carlton is a suburb in southern Sydney, in New South Wales, Australia. Carlton is located 15 kilometres south of the Sydney central business district and is part of the St George area. Carlton lies across two local government areas, the Georges River Council and the Bayside Council.