Experience No.036 in Australian Traveller Magazine’s 100 Greatest Australian Gourmet Experiences.

Few places in Melbourne have more of right to call themselves an institution than this sublime restaurant opposite the grand parliamentary buildings on Spring Street: The European. You could scour Spain, France, Italy, the Balkans and Greece and scarcely find somewhere that feels more European than this continental gem.

The European will be crowded at dusk for the pre-show throng, at 8pm for the dinner crowd, then again at 10:30pm for the supper set.

Co-owned by Melbourne cafe tsar Con Christopoulos, who did much to bring about Melbourne’s cafe and laneway culture, The European’s narrow street frontage opens to an equally narrow dining hall with cosy wood panelling and black and white floor tiles, where the clamouring espresso machine serves as constant background to the lively atmosphere.

Serving only foreign beer and wine irks some, but it’s a fine way to stamp your intent on the experience and leaves guests in no doubt that this is not home to any sort of food fusion.

The menu’s heritage is equally Iberian to Peloponnese and everywhere in between. It’s mindboggling and leaves you somewhat breathless in that “I just don’t know what to have” kind of way. Just for lunch the options start with paella to kefalograviera saganaki via steak tartare and linguine. It’s totally and quintessentially European. And the wine list is a lesson in the diversity of European plonk, with a great deal of effort made to accommodate the “just a glass” patron.

Just as its menu spans vast territories, so its service spans the entire day, opening at 7:30am each day and remaining that way until the following 3am. A great way to start the day with a breakfast or a city lunch, The European will be crowded at dusk for the pre-show throng, at 8pm for the dinner crowd, then again at 10:30pm for the supper set.

Did you know? Paella was originally a peasant food, in which the typical meat was snail. For special occasions some duck or rabbit would be added.

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