Eating out is sometimes even better outdoors, so we've rounded up eateries with a great outdoor area so you can make the most of the prime al fresco dining conditions (if Melbourne weather allows). If you're really like eating with the breeze in your face, we've also put together a handy list of the places to buy a pre-packed picnic and a guide to the best beer gardens in Melbourne.
Al fresco dining in Melbourne
If you've tied one on the night before, then seek out the restorative powers of the food, brews and rainbow-hued cocktails of Dr Morse. On weekends, get back on track with a fortifying brunch of bacon, bean and cheddar jaffle, a freshly squeezed Bloody Mary and a heart-starting ristretto. Come dinner time, the kitchen gets a bit fancy with braised rabbit bruschetta and smoked fish croquettes joining smug-inducing salads and share plates of wagyu rump cap or pan-seared scallops with fennel slaw and bacon jam.
We could happily cosy up with a dozen oysters and a glass of absinthe in Le Bon Ton’s seductive salon, but if the weather’s playing ball, you’ll likely find us in the AstroTurfed courtyard. Here, under strings of twinkling lights, you can tuck into faithful Southern barbecue from Texan brothers Jeremy and Christopher Sutphin. Order juicy brisket by the half-pound, saucy pulled pork or spicy fried chicken with pepper-flecked gravy, plus the killer banana cream pie for dessert. Your hair may smell like meat smoke in the morning, but that’s a small price to pay for the pleasure.
For no-frills alfresco boozing in Brunswick, the substantial beer garden at the Retreat Hotel pleases all comers with shaded picnic tables and an expanse of faux lawn for sprawling in the sun. The menu is equally keen to please, with your pub staples of parmas, cheeseburgers and beer-battered fish and chips, plus a swag of options for those who forgo flesh. There’s a vegan burger with eggplant, mushroom and tomato relish, or a rib-sticking, German-inspired assembly of smoked tofu, braised cabbage and kipfler potatoes.
A recent makeover has seen the Railway Hotel in Windsor turn over a new leaf, sporting sparkling interiors and a kitchen that draws upon produce from the owner’s Strathbogie farm. If the sun's shining, hightail it to the chi-chi Deck Bar for Instagram-worthy snacks from young chef Simon Tarlington. You've got your pig nuggets, fish fingers and pork scratchings for starters, followed by platters of burnished roast chook or braised short ribs to share with a crew. The 700-strong wine list is worth a nudge, and the 24-hour bottle shop will get you out of a post-midnight pickle.
Spread over two floors, the lush, jungle-like beer garden of the Terminus Hotel beckons for jugs of cocktails and Melbourne’s freshest Carlton Draught, pumped in direct from the nearby brewery. Pull up a stool at one of the tall tables on the ground floor or slip into the pod-like cane booths upstairs, and then take your pick of old-school counter meals, such as the pie floater or a hefty chicken parma, or the standout Terminus Crab Shack: this DIY meal for two sports golden-fried soft-shell crab, creamy celeriac remoulade and chipotle mayo for piling onto char-marked tortillas. Go team.