The A-Z of Melbourne food
The world's most liveable city is also one of the best places to eat cuisines from all corners of the globe.
Wander through laneways to quirky spots that serve surprisingly fine food, venture to the inner suburbs to dine at one of the world's best restaurants, or munch on street food with a conscience.
Yes, it can be daunting to know where to start in a city where cafes can house over 170,000 people at any one time, so we've sifted through the sub-par options to put together a greatest foodie hits guide to use on your next trip.
Ready, set, eat . . .
Understated ex-New Plymouth lad Ben Shewry is among the top 10 in his craft in the world. His suburban restaurant is in such high demand that they only take bookings three months in advance (so if you phone today you'll be trying for January 27).
Dining is degustation only, and while it normally costs around $150 a head, Tuesday nights are "experimental", and if you're willing to be a chefs' test dummy you can get a five-course dinner for $107. (74 Glen Eira Rd, Ripponlea; attica.com.au)
B-rother Baba Budan
Named after an Islamic scholar who smuggled seven seeds of fertile coffee out of Yemen to India when returning from his 17th century pilgrimage to Mecca, this tiny cafe has info sheets on their single origin beans so you can "meet" the farmer who grew your brew. (359 Little Bourke St, Melbourne; sevenseeds.com.au)
This accessible yet fine-food eatery won The Age Good Food Guide's New Restaurant of the Year after only a few months of operation, and it deserved it. Book for two courses for only $56 and don't leave without trying the pullet egg, mushrooms, parmesan, goats curd and black rice. (300 Smith St, Collingwood; saintcrispin.com.au)
Melbourne is home to the world's second-oldest Chinatown district, a collection of cacophonous lanes around Little Bourke St, founded in 1851. It can be hard to discern the hidden gems from the MSG-horrors, so a good idea is to book a "dumpling tour". The small group 1 -kilometre walking tour takes you to four of the city's best dumpling houses. (walkmelbourne.com.au).
E-au De Vie
The team at this speakeasy-style bar are true drink nerds: Bon vivants will get serious kicks out of the geographically and periodically-divided cocktail list and the 250-strong whiskey menu. Try the five-course $170 cocktail degustation dinner, served at a long communal table. (1 Malthouse Ln, Melbourne; eaudevie.com.au)
Get your fromage freak on at this part bakery, part cafe, where they also make their own cheese. The cloud-like mozzarella is made in-house by two Italian sisters whose family has been fashioning formaggio for generations. (2c Acland St, St Kilda; ilfornaio.com.au)
This is a self-proclaimed modern-Australian take on Asian street food, though we've never seen a Phillipe Starck ghost chair at an Asian food stall. The duck leg curry ($44.50) is so good we got elbowy to secure the last bite. (27-29 Crossley St; gingerboy.com.au)
H-opetun Tea Rooms
The Block Arcade opened in 1893 and its Italian mosaic floor, wrought iron and glass canopy make it the most visually delightful shopping spot in the city. The tea rooms are its longest-standing business - be prepared to queue for a table, but delight in the fact you're doing so in one of the city's most elegant interiors. Don't go past the triple-tier high tea. (282 Collins St, Melbourne)
The I-talian Waiter's Club
Once the domain of Italian and Spanish hospo-staff unwinding after a busy service, this BYO club is now for anyone. The decor doesn't seem to have changed much since the 50s, but that's all part of the cheap and cheerful eatery's charm. (20 Meyers Place)
It seems Melbourne's foodies now have a craving for eating what is essentially fast food - but in a hip, bar-like environment, which is exactly what you'll get at George Calombaris' industrial-chic souvlaki joint. Chips and chicken with garlicky aioli in a pita is basically a pocket of delicious. All the better when enjoyed in a cool environment with a glass of Australian chardonnay. (113 St David St, Fitzroy; jimmygrants.com.au)
This gem, hidden beneath a Hermes boutique, is lots of fun but also very serious about food. Order the $90 five-course degustation dinner and hope the meli melo - a colourful, made-for-Instagram plate featuring no less than 35 vegetables - is still on the menu. If we do eat with our eyes, this is the tastiest thing we've ever seen. (Basement, 115-117 Collins St; brooksofmelbourne.com)
Established by Mission Australia in 2006, this wonderful restaurant - housed in a beautiful 145-year-old bluestone building - acts as a training programme (and much more) for disadvantaged youth, particularly Aboriginal youth. (136 Gertrude St, Fitzroy; charcoallane.com.au)
This Mexican eatery has achieved cult status and is heaving every night. Be prepared to queue up a flight of stairs and know that service is swift and the Latin tunes are very, very loud. It is worth all that to devour their Elotes callejeros - street-style chargrilled corn with cheese, chipotle mayonnaise and lime. (Level One, 11 Collins St; mamasita.com.au)
An affordable all-day dining spot run by a mother and daughter team from the eastern Chinese coastal province of Shandong, this cult hit serves dumplings with a difference. Must try: Yan Tai dumplings of fresh mackerel whipped into a mousse with coriander, ginger and chives ($16.80 for 10). (Mid City Arcade, 200 Bourke St; facebook.com/shandongmama)
Guy Grossi (fans of My Kitchen Rules will recognise him as the often-kind bespectacled judge) and his family's new salumi bar, Ombra, is pitch-perfect. Pop in for house-made salumi and a glass of making-a-comeback lambrusco. (76 Bourke St, ombrabar.com.au)
You don't go to this espresso bar for the best coffee or the most sumptuous bowl of pasta, you go for the experience. The staff are charismatic and the atmosphere always lively, so perch at the long coffee bar and people watch, or sit in the kitchen and eat pasta next to the mama who made it.
Q-ueen Victoria Market
Head straight for the food section of this 135-year-old market and chat with stall holders and sample what's on offer - we defy you to leave without some bespoke Aussie liquor, fresh fruit or salt cod in tow. There for lunch? People go on about the bratwurst stand, but at the borek stall next door spongy Turkish bread filled with ricotta and fresh spinach wins over a sausage drowning in sauerkraut. (Corner of Elizabeth and Victoria streets; qvm.com.au)
Mexican food has been hot in Australasia for a few years now (Korean is next) and this bayside Baja-chic eatery is worth a visit. They don't take bookings and are always busy, so opt for tacos and tequilas during "hora feliz" from 4pm to 6pm: the $7.40 a pop barbecued Moreton Bay bug and 'slaw option is fusion at its best. (11-13 Carlisle St, St Kilda; radiomexico.com.au)
Xhosa patterns and painted corrugated iron make it clear this bar is modelled on its namesakes - the many once-underground, now-legal bars of South Africa's townships. But the most unique thing about this alleyway "shack" is that you can feel good about drinking here: Every cent of profit from bevies sold goes to a select few charities doing good work in the developing world. (36 Manchester Ln; shebeen.com.au)
Adam D'Sylva is the first celeb chef to attempt high-end, modern Indian in Melbourne - and he does it well. Try a few thali snacks such as soft shell crab pakora in the bar, or head to the restaurant for more filling, and fancy, fare. (20 Duckboard Pl, tonkarestaurant.com.au)
The Town Mo-U-se
It looks like a rather swish bar, but the food competes with the most refined of fine-dining bites. We'd travel far and wide for another serving of fried padron peppers with tarragon cream (they certainly beat wedges as a bar snack). This relatively new spot is run by Kiwi Christian McCabe, who's ex-Matterhorn, as is the chef, Dave Verheul. (312 Drummond St, Carlton; thetownmouse.com.au)
This little laneway eatery is the spatial equivalent of a warm hug. Sit at the long communal table; order the one hot meal of the day, and leave feeling like you've eaten at a friend's house. (1a Crossley St, Melbourne; vonhaus.com.au)
Go to this cheap and cheerful spot for bao: Taiwanese and Chinese soft buns filled with anything from shiitake and tofu to barbecued pork. Delicious.(19-37 A'Beckett St; wonderbaukitchen.com.au)
Bar Americano is so tiny that it only fits about 15 people, but it's a Melbourne experience we'll always remember. Why? Because it's different. Besides the beautifully-decorated tiled space, the lab coat-wearing bartenders mix a mean drink (and give great chat). (20 Presgrave Pl; baramericano.com)
Good Lebanese food is a rarity in New Zealand, so all the more reason to visit this double-level eatery serving some of the best babaganoush this side of Byblos. Be brave and order the raw-lamb kibbeh. (56 Johnston St, Collingwood; bayte.com.au)
Sitting on one of the tiny crate seats outside so-hot-right-now cafe Joost By Silo there's a distinctly non-urban whiff in the air. It's compost. There's not a single rubbish bin in this proudly zero-waste cafe - the chef uses everything delivered to him, from olive brine to broccoli stalks, and suppliers bring everything in reusable jars and crates. The food is healthy and inventive and the effort put into shrinking their footprint is admirable.(123 Hardware St, byjoost.com/silo)
The writer travelled courtesy of Air New Zealand, Melbourne Tourism and Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.
Sunday Star Times