Melbourne is a significant player on the global restaurant scene. By hosting the location for the San Pellegrino World's Best 50 Restaurant Awards in April 2017, this catapulted our city on the Yarra River on to the world’s culinary stage. But, for the folks of Melbourne, we’ve known for years our food and wine offerings are pretty special: there’s our coffee culture, the wine bars, laneways hiding all kinds of basement and rooftop gems and the restaurants. Oh the restaurants. Melbourne diners are a discerning bunch and here are some of the places to visit through the day that they’ve come to love.
Melbourne is a market town! The history of our fair city is built on markets so when you’re looking to do some produce, food and wine shopping get to the Queen Victoria Market on the fringe of the CBD and soak in the buzz! Officially opened in March 1872, the Queen Vic (as it’s affectionately called) is rich with history and fine produce, meats, seafood and delis. If you get hungry, seek out a bratwurst hot dog with kraut and mustard (follow the queue) and jump on another line for some of the best hot jam doughnuts in town. Explore our other markets in South Melbourne, Dandenong and Prahran too.
Take a 1965 Airstream camper van originally from Iowa in the US, put it in a courtyard garden in Melbourne’s inner-north, turn it into a cafe in the summer months and you have the beginnings of the idea behind Grub Food Van. The boys behind Grub operate the cafe all-year-round, keeping their customers warm in the building (complete with built-in garden) behind the van during the cooler months. But Grub is classic Melbourne. By that we mean, quirky, individual, off-the-beaten track and with a seasonal menu of quality dishes, good coffee and an intelligent wine list. Grub also offer nice little environmental initiatives such as their ‘help yourself concept" to packed used ground coffee for customers to take home and use in compost.
It was known as Green Park but had a facelift and refit and is now Park Street. A cafe by day, pasta bar by night, set right by a bike path, there’s even a coffee window for cyclists looking for a takeaway without jumping off their seat.
Young families love this location, too. A park right next door means there are a lot of little people here through the day tucking into boiled eggs and toast soldiers while parents can sip well-made coffee and enjoy breakfast and lunch menus of dishes like waffles filled with PX-braised beef cheek and cavalo nero and pork roll with kale slaw alongside house-cured bacon, eggs, granolas and sides.
It’s a bit of a walk from one end of The Arbory to the other and that’s because it’s built on an old railway station - but once you’ve found your perch it’s hard to leave this bar and restaurant literally sitting along the Yarra River.
Chef Nick Bennett keeps all appetites sated with burgers and hot dogs and other casual bites alongside squid ink tagliolini with calamari and nduja XO sauce. There are perfect snacks for sharing, too - charcuterie boards and Mahon cheese croquettes, included - to while away the afternoon and watch the world and Melbourne go by.
Philippa Sibley, one of Melbourne’s - actually Australia’s - best chefs, heads up the kitchen in this Victorian dining room in Melbourne’s corporate district. The chef, who was initially renowned for her pastry work and now gets equal accolades for her savoury creations, has designed a short, sharp menu. Think, pork and pistachio terrine or seared salmon with puy lentils, that’s backed up by one of the smarter wine lists in the city brimming with drops from France, Spain, Italy and Australia. They aim for all their produce to be locally grown, sustainable and organic where possible and menu items change regularly to reflect seasonality. Be sure to leave room for dessert, her lemon tart (when it’s on the menu) is a conversation stopper.
A cutting edge design by architect Robert Simeone is the first thing you notice about this structure on St Kilda Beach. Housing Pontoon downstairs bar and Stokehouse upstairs, these two venues satisfy most desires on a sunny (or cloudy) Melbourne day. Take in the beach views with a more refined dining experience in Stokehouse with a menu that focuses on seafood, and a philosophy of fresh, clean, zesty and light. Or get a little loose at Pontoon with DJs, a bar that’s 18 metres long and a charcoal grill offering a more casual menu of chicken, fish of the day, pulled pork as well as classic pizzas and salads.
Jump on a tram, travel down the bazaar that is Sydney Road in Melbourne’s north and get yourself to A1. This Lebanese bakery has been pumping out cheese and spinach pies, flatbreads, pizzas, dips - get your hands on a large tub of hummus to-go - and breads, aka khobz, from their kitchen since 1992. It’s still packed most days. If you’re looking for awarding winning interior design, forget it, the venue is old-school, brown brick and dressed with late 80’s wooden furniture, but if you’re after some of the best spices, Middle Eastern groceries and comfort food, you’ve found your Mecca.
An uber-cool space including a ceiling dressed with splayed LED lights, inspired by the Millennium Falcon’s take off in Star Wars, is the home to arguably Melbourne’s best croissanterie. Baker Kate Reid opened the warehouse with her brother Cam and cafe guru, Nathan Toleman in 2015 when demand for her magically crispy, whispy and dense croissants outgrew her first venue. Now, she has daily queues who patiently wait for her croissants, plain or filled with the simplest of fillings - yep, ham and cheese - or a little fancier, such as a bear claw oozy with ‘nduja and smoked mozzarella.
Melbourne’s cafe culture has matured with Higher Ground. The interior is an expanse of wood, plants and leather, designed with nooks, easy chairs and dining spaces so you never feel swallowed up by its size. The venue blurs the line between cafe and restaurant. From salads of kale and cauliflower with miso and almond hummus, to a Berkshire bacon sandwich, the food is approachable and thoughtful. The coffee by their own roastery, Square One Coffee Roasters, is a standout. The award-winning team behind other popular cafes Top Paddock and Kettle Black, have upped the ante with Higher Ground and Melbourne is joining them there.
When vegan restaurant Smith & Daughters opened in of Fitzroy in 2014, Fitzroy embraced the team with their open arms and consciences so quickly that there was palpable excitement when they announced they were opening Smith & Deli, their deli for takeaway meals and quality vegan groceries such as lentils, tempeh, lasagne, pies, pizzas, sausages and tofu. The sandwiches are bulky and tasty. Try The Eggsorcist (I Can’t Believe It’s Not Egg Salad with shredded iceberg) and The Rubenstein, piled with vegan ‘pastrami’, sauerkraut and pickles between slices of rye, dripping with Russian dressing. The selection changes daily, the coffee is good. What more does one need?