One stomach. Two days. All the latest and greatest in Melbourne eateries. By Georgia Rickard Ah, Melbourne: our undisputed culinary capital. Food-lovers may espouse the wonders of Australia’s various rural food trails, or wax lyrical about our growing farm-to-fork phenomenon, but when you’re after a weekend with it all – food, festivities and fash-tastic boutiques – Melbourne is your Mecca. And with a(nother!) restaurant revolution well underway, we went on a city-wide mission to find the best flavour experiences. Naturally, we came back with a few new favourites… and a couple of old ones.
This is Melbourne’s answer to Sydney’s North Bondi Italian: personality with a side of food. George Columbaris’ latest undertaking subscribes to the ‘more is more’ school of food, where servings are generous and flavours come in dollops, not sprinkles. It’s a family friendly affair so bring the kids, but be warned: after 9pm and a couple of Camparis, you’ll be more interested in joining the playground yourself. Oh, and don’t try the salted peanut butter ice-cream – not unless you’re willing to order seconds. And thirds…
Best for: A rowdy group dinner with a couple of vinos.
Don’t come if: You’re after an intimate dinner for two.
Details: 21 Daly St, South Yarra. 03 9207 7421.
So Frenchy, so chic: since opening late last year, Bistro Gitan has become the spot for a grown-up evening affair. Start by the fireplace, reclining on a leather couch, order yourself a fishbowl of French red, flick through one of the thick glossy books if your dinner companion runs late (which possibly happened to us)… An aperitif is a smart move for whetting the appetite, too: the menu includes some modern twists (a Spanish influence here, an Asian glaze there), but the major flavours are classically French, so your tastebuds will appreciate the gentle introduction. Complete the symphony with a sweet crescendo: a little chocolate au mousse will leave you a lot of happy.
Best for: Date night by candles.
Don’t come if: Rich food doesn’t agree with you.
Details: 52 Toorak Rd West, South Yarra. 03 9867 5853.
This little eatery has been high on the to-do list of every self-respecting hipster since it opened just 16 months ago, on a Prahran side street near-but-far from the Chapel Street hordes. A converted garage, complete with an artfully graffitied exterior, holds court to a bright, airy space filled with Melbourne fashion-ites decked out in their expensively tailored best. Despite patrons’ complicated outfits though, food is anything but: clean, fresh, generous portions will leave you happily restored sans any sense of guilt.
Best for: A classic Melbourne brekky: dependably excellent with a side of great coffee.
Don’t come if: You hate queues.
Details: 154 Greville St, Prahran. 03 9525 0473.
It was an institution the moment it opened in 2008 – and the queues still stream out the door four years on. Even at 9am, the place is packed with hungry
breakfast-goers clamouring for a freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (with a Belvedere twist if you please) or one of the many breakfast treats. Try the grilled Lyonaisse sausage, smoked hock, braised beans and 65/65 egg (that’s the famous Cumulus egg, cooked at 65 degrees for 65 minutes) or their Shakshouka (gooey baked eggs with roasted peppers and fetta in a rich tomato sauce, served warm in a heavy, cast iron pan). You’ll immediately understand why people keep clamouring for more.
Best for: An impromptu champagne brunch.
Don’t come if: You’re after a basic brekky with all the regular bits.
Details: 45 Flinders Ln, Melbourne. 03 9650 1445.
Exposed red brick, deep brown leather, timber and high ceilings all add to the feeling that you’ve stumbled into a flash country-side pub at the Aylesbury – as do the edible coloured flowers peeping from window boxes that line the huge glass windows. But the menu here is a revelation: organic sourdough made in-house, with four-year-old yeast that changes the flavour from day to day. Zucchini flowers stuffed with South Australian goats’ cheese; drizzled with honey from the chef’s own garden. Edible flowers top carefully presented vegetables; their sparkling mineral water is made in-house. Should we keep going?! Finish with fresh mint tea with agave nectar… or order another bottle of wine.
Best for: A spoil-yourself mid-week dinner.
Don’t come if: You’re in a rush – these are flavours you’ll want to savour.
Details: 103 Lonsdale St, Melbourne. 03 9077 0451.
The Pound Cafe
A temporary refuge is critical when you’re pounding the shopping pavement, which is why chic little pocket The Pound Cafe, snugly hidden in a cul de sac off Chapel Street, is such a gem. Despite the many tourist-riddled traps nearby, you’ll find not an overpriced burger or mediocre pasta in sight: just clean design, sleek service and simple gourmet food to match.
Best for: This is the spot to rest your weary feet, Melbourne-style: order a fresh juice, tuck into an incredible salad or sandwich, and stick around long enough to observe the well-informed lunch in their well-heeled best.
Don’t come if: You’re after a long, lazy lunch.
Details: Shop 5/566 Chapel St. 03 9826 1114.
Chin Chin’s been around for long enough now to have earnt her glittering status as a gem in Melbourne’s culinary crown, but she’s still new enough to top conversational lists of Melbourne’s latest and greatest. Comic-book scrawls, bold black fonts, Asian street-style share-plates and a well-considered Australian wine list imbue the bright, clean space with a busy warmth – as do the buzzing mid-week crowds who come here for lunch, dinner and every hour in between. Chin Chin has a no-booking policy, which somehow adds to the general sense of playfulness in the air, but make no mistake: food here is a serious business.
Best for: Modern lunch with a side of atmosphere – the upbeat vibe is contagious.
Don’t come if: You’re starving. A waitlist is almost guaranteed.
Details: 125 Flinders Ln, Melbourne. 03 8663 2000.
Pillar of Salt
The waiting crowds that spill onto the street were probably once loyal patrons of nearby Pearl Café (little sister of posh dinner favourite, Pearl) – but the combination of food, flair and flavour served up at Pillar has since seen its status cemented as the new favourite on Church Street. Innovative flavour combinations – like their homemade smokey borlotti beans, served with coriander, an incredible avocado and Persian feta puree and a poached egg – will have your mouth singing with gratitude, while the coffee is lush and creamy (as per Melbourne’s unwritten rules).
Best for: A casual catch-up over brekky with a mate. Weekend servers are run off their feet with the crowds, so you’ll have plenty of time to chat.
Don’t come if: You’ve got a big group – you’ll be waiting for hours.
Details: 541 Church St, Richmond. 03 9421 1550.
Melbourne has turned Mexican of late, thanks to a veritable wave of Central American-inspired restaurants – and this quirky little diner makes for a perfect introduction to what’s great about the cuisine. Expect fresh, zingy food (like their ceviche de mango – mango, coriander, lime and chilli with prawns), moreish margaritas and the kind of colourful interior that promises dinner with personality. You’ll need to book ahead to grab yourself a table – Senoritas only opened in March, but it’s consistently full – and we’d suggest booking a cab, too. Mexican goes mighty well with a drink or three…
Best for: Friday night dinner – a couple of tequilas will take the edge off the week.
Don’t come if: You love Mexican for the lashings of sour cream and cheese – this is the fresh-and-flavoursome, produce-driven real deal.
Details: 16 Meyers Pl, Melbourne. 03 9639 7437.