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 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.

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.

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 and Longrain (and upstairs at Longsong) in Little Bourke Street.

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.

One of the most popular venues in Melbourne is Embla in Russell Street which caters for a diverse range of customers with ease. The food is very good and the wine program is very strong. The staff are all highly experienced with many having spent time in some of the best bars and restaurants in London and elsewhere. You can sit at the bar and enjoy a drink or have a full scale dinner if you prefer.

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.

Slightly further out, we always enjoy a visit to Very Good Falalfel in Sydney Road, Rumi Restaurant in East Brunswick, the Turkish food at Babajan in North Carlton and the delicious food and interesting wine at the Lincoln Hotel in Carlton.

For coffee we always seem to end up at Patricia in Little Bourke Street which serves absolutely exemplary coffee. We also enjoy Brother Baba Budan (also in Little Bourke) and Proud Mary which is in Collingwood.

And no trip to Melbourne is complete without a visit to the Lune Croissanterie in Rose Street, Fitzroy where croissants are elevated to the highest level. Try either the regular croissant or the amazing almond version. You can also drop into their outlet in Russell Street in the CBD.

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.

Another firm favourite is the quirky Bar Liberty in Johnston St, Fitzroy just down from Smith St. Here the drinks program is very strong and the food is delicious.

Other bars that are worth checking out include Marion in Gertrude St, Milton Wine Shop in Malvern Road, The Alps in Prahran and the City Wine Shop in Spring St.

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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Our book recommendation

We thoroughly recommend the excellent book by Marco Canora, a chef whose food we admire having eaten his food at Hearth and Terroir.