This teeny tiny sandwich on Cutler & Co’s bar menu punches well above its weight in terms of flavour. A play on a classic pork tonkotsu sandwich, the abalone is crumbed and deep fried, then put on crustless white bread with white cabbage and Japanese barbecue sauce. It is the perfect bar snack, all salt and tang and richness and a huge kick of umami, tempered by that fluffy, soft white bread.
It can be a hard sell to convince someone that it’s worth upgrading the already-delicious dip you can get at any decent neighbourhood Greek joint, but the taramosalata at the Press Club makes a mighty fine case for elevation. Beautifully creamy and subtle, the dip gets a jolt of saline magic from ouzo-infused Yarra Valley caviar. Scoop it up with salt and vinegar loukoumades, and be converted.
Ask any true devotee of souvlaki in Melbourne where the best pork souvlaki in town is. If Kalimera in Oakleigh doesn’t get a mention, do not trust that person. Spit-roasted pork, warm, just-grilled pita from a local bakery, onions, tomato, housemade tzatziki, a few (but not too many) chips… it is the perfect meeting of bread and meat and sauce. Is it worth the drive to Oakleigh? Every single time.
Oh Huxtaburger, how many Melbourne hangovers have you cured? These guys do fast food right, with quick, cheap burgers that hit the spot every time. The meat is full of flavour, charred and seasoned just right, the lettuce is crunchy, the tomatoes fresh, and the bun a simple vehicle to get it all into your face. Bill’s Burger is the most Aussie on this American-inspired menu, with pineapple, egg and beetroot FTW.
While American dude food has swept Australia in recent years, most fails to capture the true spirit of the USA’s regional dishes. But Sparrow’s is run by a Philadelphia native, and that city’s favourite drunk snack, the Philly cheese steak, is part of his DNA. Thinly sliced beef is sautéed with onions, slathered in stringy melted cheese, and served in a warm, rubbery bun, just like they do in the city of brotherly love.
A Melbourne legend, Cookie was one of the city’s first craft beer venues. But it also happens to do some of the best casual Thai food in the city, with a long and flexible menu served till late. Their Pad Thai, sweet with tamarind and sour with lime, its glassy rice noodles infused with the taste of well seasoned pans, is the perfect thing for soaking up all that good beer.
We love Tipo 00 for the stunningly fresh Australian Italian small plates, for the pasta, and some days, most of all for the desserts. There are a million panna cottas in Melbourne, but perhaps none as delicate and creamy as Tipo’s, served with the freshest fruit available, so magically light that no matter how much pasta we’ve stuffed ourselves with, we can always find room. Swoon.
Usually you have to slog through a whole actual piece of chicken to justify eating a couple of mouthfuls of delicious crisped chicken skin. Boring! Not so at Lee Ho Fook, where chef Victor Liong has taken the very best part of the chicken and made a whole dish from it: a shallow bowl of shattery schmaltz, punctuated by fiery chilli, spring onions and ginger. Like everything at this restaurant it is dynamic, addictive, and supercharged with flavour.
Ever heard of chicken and waffles? How about duck and waffles? How about foie gras and waffles? Andrew McConnell and his team at CBD wine loft Cumulus Up have created an ingenious mashup of all of the above: a duck waffle topped with a generous dollop of foie gras mousse, tempered with a little sweet prune. It’s just about the most luxurious bite of food around, infused with cleverness to spare.
The xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung are a bona fide international sensation, and for good reason. The juicy pork soup dumplings have ethereally delicate skins that keep their integrity, retaining all that precious liquid inside right up until the moment you bite down on them. The pork inside is full of ginger and scallion flavour, and the gushing soup is savoury and perfect. At peak hours you’re going to have to wait, but the chance to get one of the world’s great dishes for $13.80 makes just about any wait worthwhile.