Essential food and wine experiences: Melbourne
This article represents the personal favourites of Foodtourist’s editors Sue Dyson and Roger McShane. These are the places they haunt on their regular visits to Melbourne.
The dining scene in Melbourne is more conservative than that in brash sister city Sydney, however there are some great places to dine here. We particularly notice how conservative the wine lists in Melbourne are with a few notable exceptions.
One of our current favourites is the estimable Attica where chef Ben Shewry is turning out beautifully crafted, modern, produce-driven dishes accompanied by some stunning wines. At a recent meal we were blown away by the cleverness of the seasoning that transported each dish to an entirely different plane.
In the city the Flower Drum is still serving the best Chinese food in town. Just across the laneway, Hutong serves excellent dumplings and in Bourke St you will find the new outlet for Dainty Sichuan which serves excellent spicy food. We are also enjoying Lee Ho Fook in Duckboard Place in the City where the food is beautifully cooked and reasonably priced.
We are also loving the food at Nora in Carlton. The food here is unique. The food is thoughtful, interesting and rule-breaking but is also delicious. The experience here is enhanced through the clever matching of beverages whether it be wine, or fruit juices, or sake or spirits.
Every time we arrive in Melbourne our first port of call seems to be Cumulus Inc where the food is cooked with skill and always seems right for any occasion. It is a great gathering place whether for breakfast, lunch, dinner or in-between. We are also charmed by sister restaurants Supernormal which serves Japanese-accented food in the same street as Cumulus Inc. If we arrive in Melbourne late then our go-to restaurant is Cumulus-Up which is above Cumulus.
For a more boisterous encounter you can’t go past the sprawling Cookie where the Thai food is some of the best in the city. You can also get good Thai food at a reasonable price at the incredibly popular Chin Chin in Flinders Lane.
We have also taken a liking to the dumpling café in Little Bourke Street (just over Elizabeth Street) called Shanghai Street. Here they serve Shanghai-style xiao long bao soup dumplings and "mini-buns" made from pork and crab that are very addictive and very cheap. Another favourite is Shangdong Mama which hides away in an arcade between 200 Bourke St and Little Bourke St just below Russell St (look for the cinema). Make sure you order the boiled mackerel dumplings - they are superb.
We love to wander along Gertrude Street and maybe have a glass of wine or Chinese meal at Ricky and Pinky's in the Builders Arms or some Southern Fried Chicken at Morgan McGlone's Belle's Hot Chicken and maybe pop into Enoteca where Brigitte Hafner cooks lovely comfort food in relaxed surroundings.
In Carlton an absolute must try is the lovely Town Mouse where the food is excellent (try the signature calamari dish) and the service friendly yet very professional. Their other venue called Embla in the city is also a firm favourite.
For good Italian food we like Tipo00 in Little Bourke Street, Da Noi in South Yarra and Grossi Florentino in the CBD. For dependable French fare we always head to France Soir in South Yarra.
Bars to try are the Clever Polly's which has an smart collection of natural wines from France, Australia, Italy and beyond as well as some very good food. A short train ride to the Brunswick area is also well-worth the journey to have a glass of wine and a snack at the amazing Cult of the Vine. Here Brad Lucas has assembled one of the best collections of low-intervention wines from around the world. Bar Lourinha in Little Collins Street, City Wine Shop in Spring St, Movida and Movida Next Door in Hosier Lane in the CBD, Geralds Bar in North Carlton and the Supper Club above the European in Spring Street are also places to have a quiet drink. Another bar worth a visit is the quirky LongPlay with its small bar area and cinema out the back. We recently enjoyed a glass of Jo Landron's Muscadet there.
For a pleasant meal at a friendly 'neighbourhood' restaurant we love to head out to High Street in Northcote to Merricote where Bronwyn Kabboord makes sure everything is running smoothly in the restaurant while her husband Rob attends to the cooking.
There is very good food at Rockpool Bar and Grill and also at the Spice Temple where Neil Perry shows his mastery of Asian flavours.
In between meals we like to roam through the amazing Books for Cooks shop with its extensive and well curated collection of cook books. You will find it in Terry St just near the Victoria Markets.
Outside Melbourne there is a plethora of great eating places if you feel like a drive, Top of your list should be Dan Hunter's Brae in Birregurra or Igni in Geelong - two world class restaurants. We also have had stunning Japanese-inspired meals at the delightful Provenance in Beechworth and are looking forward to a visit to Merrijig Kitchen in Port Fairy.
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