Eating through Melbourne's famous laneways
You will probably have an ever-growing list of restaurants to tick off on your next trip to Melbourne, where you're sure to stumble across the work of both local and international artists in the most unexpected places.
Sprayed, painted, pasted or stencilled, Melbourne is recognised for owning some of the best street art in the world.
The following is not just a list of the latest entries to the Melbourne dining scene, it's about immersing yourself in excellent food while losing yourself down myriad laneways to experience the unique combination of food and art that is unmistakably Melbourne.
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* Cuisine editor: Should a NZ eatery be among the World's 50 Best Restaurants?
Frank Camorra's MoVida empire will always be top of my list of must-dos when in Melbourne. Frank has been leading the way since turning his back on the traditional entree, main and dessert in the 70s. The runaway success of MoVida Bar de Tapas y Vinos led to the opening of MoVida in Hosier Lane in 2003, and then to the renovation of a corner milk bar on Flinders St and Hosier Lane, and the birth of MoVida Next Door.
If you are lucky enough to get a seat at the always-pumping bar, ask the team to guide you. Perhaps crunchy croquettes with an unexpected centre of squid ink? A wafer-thin crisp with anchovy, capers, smoked cheese and garlic, chargrilled octopus, smashed potato and paprika sauce, or Frank's famous bomba, a chorizo-filled Catalan potato bomb with a spicy mojo picon. You can be dressy or casual, but be prepared to over-order.
Down the end of ACDC Lane you will find Pastuso and Alejandro Saravia. The marble-topped ceviche bar offers the opportunity to engage with chefs as they marinate raw fish in a profusion of citrus-based concoctions.
Another bar gives you a ringside seat for spectacular smoke and flames as they grill and slow-cook an impressive array of meat, fish and veg. Expect anticuchos (beef and fish skewers), salchicha de huacho (housemade sausage), and a range of premium Argentine beef cuts. Sides showcase Peruvian favourites such as fried cassava chips with spicy rocoto (chilli) mayonnaise and grilled butter beans with sugar snaps, snow peas, turnips and Peruvian olives. The sweet corn cakes with whipped feta are pure Peruvian cool. For a great finish, try the sweet potato and pumpkin doughnuts infused with a cinnamony raw sugar syrup and white chocolate mousse.
Don't be afraid to fly solo at the counter of Andrew McConnell's Supernormal, where a menu influenced by the cuisine and restaurants of Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Seoul sizzles with energy.
On the day I popped in, the raw bar dispensed unanticipated pleasure in the form of custardy sea urchin nestled on a delicate seaweed cracker. The tartare with its smoked beef, mustard leaf and clam mayo was lusciously good.
You don't have to go completely raw – plenty of cooked options include a variety of dumplings, bao and plates, where normal intriguingly meets super. Supernormal. The lobster roll is a rite of passage and the only dish harking back to the days of McConnell's successful St Kilda restaurant Golden Fields. The honey-fried custard, bathed in a peppery ginger syrup, is now on my last supper menu.
Cumulus Inc is a buzzing social hub again offering Andrew McConnell's acclaimed food. Let go of the idea of an entree and main and dive into a well-presented selection of fish, meat, charcuterie and edibles. Stop in for breakfast – housemade crumpets with whipped ricotta drenched in rooftop honey. At lunchtime, go the kitchen charcuterie selection and for dinner, share a whole roast lamb shoulder or a dish of rock flathead, fregola, chermoula and prawn. For dessert, you will need to be prepared to wait 15 minutes for the scrumptious madeleine filled with lemon curd. You won't feel cheated.
Focussing on South-East Asian cuisine, Chin Chin exec chef Benjamin Cooper seriously knows his way around punchy flavours. Be prepared to queue, or head to the GoGo bar downstairs and wait for a text. Yes, I hear you… so just a few reasons why you might want to do that. Clever crab and pork cakes served with salted duck egg and a tamarind chilli jam; alarmingly moreish charred green cabbage with peanut relish, coriander and soy; fiery green papaya salad with prawn floss, peanuts and tamarind dressing; and possibly the best curry I've had, the Scud City jungle curry. A Chin Chin staple, it often features a different hero ingredient. The rich, oily sauce is cut with lemongrass and Thai basil and crunchy peanuts and baby corn add texture – I wanted to drink every last drop. Upbeat playlists boom, a diverse drinks list is expertly matched to your dish selection, and you are ready to party Chin Chin style.
After staying at QT Sydney last year and experiencing their one-of-a-kind approach to the new five-star hotel revolution, I was very curious to see what QT Melbourne had in store. Located in the chic old rag trade district near the Paris end of Collins St, the property is in sync with its surroundings and setting. Bold interiors, eclectic art, furniture and fashion are front of mind and around every corner. The stunning sculpture made from books that lines the staircase from the lobby to the bar had me going back again and again to work out how they had pieced it together so perfectly. An eye-catching red chair with a naked woman curvaceously laid out in print on the fabric is set against a glorious wall of antique silver platters and plates.
Rooms are playful, stylish and sleek, with a room service menu that delivers a thoughtful selection for those who need to eat after a long haul, or a long day, and don't want to be social. There is a quirky central bar where designer plates meet designer fashion and, by the look of it, designer people. The main restaurant offering, Pascale Bar and Grill, has an open kitchen and delivers an all day a la carte menu. In true local tradition, QT Melbourne has its own laneway, complete with Hot Sauce, a late-night Japanese-Korean-inspired eatery, and a specialist Japanese knife shop. Combine this with a semi-private rooftop bar that overlooks the Melbourne skyline, and you are feeling pretty cosmopolitan.
If you don't know Melbourne well, next trip head out a little earlier, give yourself time for a stroll and lose yourself down a laneway. With regards to dining options, you will be spoiled for choice.
By all means, explore and take risks. These suggestions are for those who don't want to gamble.