The top antipasto plates in Melbourne
One of the original Melbourne CBD laneway bars, Spanish restaurant Portello Rosso, have one of the best muddled red sangrias in town, which is a perfect accompaniment to their standout shared tapas plate. It’s called the Plato de Charcutería ($48.50) and is the Spanish answer to antipasto: a seasonal assortment of imported and housemade cured and smoked meats, salami, jamón and other charcutería items served with cornichons, Spanish caper berries and fresh bread. Enter through the big red doors downstairs for a Friday lunchtime graze or Saturday night dinner before you hit the town.
A Chapel Street stalwart, Caffe e Cucina, has been open for almost 30 years and thankfully, not much has changed. Old-timey décor and charming service are a time capsule into the very serious business of Italian dining in Melbourne. Antipasto here, therefore, remains staunchly true to its roots, with traditional dishes like Carpaccio di Manzo, a beef carpaccio served with basil foam, rocket and Parmigiano ($24). We say let the experts do the work and go with the Antipasto Caffé e Cucina ($36 for two) which includes the chef’s choice of Italian cured meats. Buon appetito.
This farmyard-themed gem is on St Kilda’s Fitzroy Street, pegging itself as a ‘late night cheese bar’. Niche, but who’s complaining? With light fittings made from milking machines (the udder sort, not the human), a swinging wooden bench, and faux grass wall, Milk the Cow boasts an impressive, 4m-long cheese cabinet that’s home to 180 different varieties. Overwhelmed? Don’t be. Start with the three-cheese selection ($28) and add on a DIY farmer's board: we recommend the La Boqueria Salami ($8), baby cornichons ($6), and the pickled figs ($4). If you try one cheese before walking out, make sure it’s the Bleu de Basque sheep’s cheese – it’s an oozy, creamy dream.
It’s a café by day, but after dark they clear away the pastries to make room for cicchetti, Italy’s version of tapas. They cover all the available bench space here with tiny bites made to accompany drinking, and the variety is so much more than your standard olives and chips you’ll find at some poor attempts of aperitivi. And it’s not all straight Italian fare here, either. Don’t miss the chicken liver parfait with the consistency of clotted cream, or the slice of tuna sashimi on seaweed rice crackers.
Half the fun of an evening at this back alley cocktail den is finding it in the first instance. From there you enter a world of flamboyantly theatrical cocktails served in elaborate glasswear, including a conch shell. In between smoking concoctions you should cast an eye over the snacks and make yourself a little spread from cheese-stuffed mushrooms, croquettes, eggplant fries, cheese and cured meats. Of course, the best value is to be had on a Tuesday when you can get five cheeses matched to five whiskies for $40.
You might initially baulk at going for a drink and a bite to eat in a shopping centre square, but Cellar Door hides its best assets in plain sight, like the accessible rooftop bar, and the all Victorian produce selection. Choose carefully from the cheese fridges, and then turn your attention to the local cured meats and herbs picked from the rooftop garden beds. Turns out this is the flavour of Victoria, and it’s pretty delicious.
A converted theatre, Bar 1806 is Melbourne drinking at its most dramatic. Red velvet curtains frame their bar setup, which is stacked floor to ceiling with boutique liquors. During the week, they offer a smaller bar menu which includes their customised meat and cheese boards. Their hard-to-find ingredients (such as traditional Italian guanciale – that’s pork jowl for those playing at home) come from the fromagerie next door and a local Italian butcher. Don’t miss out on anything by opting for the charcuterie plate ($32) that features a housemade pickled rockmelon, then add on some cheeses, ensuring you try the oozy garlic and rosemary baked Camembert served with toasted bread ($18).
With striped awnings, straw-back seating, and blush-pink walls, Gilson’s European charm turns one lunchtime Negroni into an afternoon of aperitivo. Their Italian-influenced menu has a short but punchy antipasto offering quite unlike the others: think grilled octopus, with eggplant caponata, chilli, and fried bread ($20) or meatsmith mortadella with pickled vegetables ($15). Grab a few plates, a seat outside, and pretend you’re sunning in Sardinia.
Part craft beer house, part whiskey bar, Boilermaker House comes courtesy of the team behind Eau De Vie, and they’re very serious about their drinks offering. The extensive menu is split out by taste, with whiskey flights and dinner-to-drinks matching available. But for those looking to graze, their antipasto and charcuterie offerings have been given the same love as what’s in your glass. Grab a friend and get the Ploughman’s Platter – yes, it’s $75, but it’s jammed with three cheeses, four meats, chicken pâté, sweet quince and picked vegetables. Make sure you include the Truffled Pork Salami and the Berry’s Creek Riverine Blue – it’s the sharpest, most memorable blue you’ll ever try.
St Kilda’s Di Stasio has been a slick mainstay on the Melbourne dining scene thanks to their elegant simplicity. Think marble benches, crisp white uniforms, and a looming Bill Henson on the back wall. Food wise, their antipasto menu is rich but uncomplicated: try the Carpaccio Con Rucola of thinly sliced raw beef with lemon dressing, parmesan and rockette ($27) or the spinaci saltati pan fried spinach, with parmesan slivers and lemon juice ($19). Stay light and fresh by rounding out your meal with a juicy caprese salad ($26) and their signature aperol spritz.