The second outfit from the crew behind pasta haven Tipo 00 was named Time Out’s Restaurant of the Year 2017 for good reason – its simple, punchy flavours are unparalleled. A mainstay on its seasonally changing menu is the Instagram-worthy prawn paccheri, but it rustic Italian brief is exemplified by the chargrilled whole octopus brutishly splayed over a sauce made of the fiery Calabrian spreadable salami, `nduja.
Frequented by the well heeled patrons of Chapel Street, contemporary Japanese eatery Mr Miyagi is forbiddingly popular. The salmon nori taco turns traditional conceptions of Mexican food on their heads by subbing the traditional corn flour shell with tempura-battered seaweed and filling it with fatty, slow-grilled salmon belly, sticky sushi rice and chilli bean oil. The juxtaposition between the salty, hard shell and the umami fillings is a taste sensation.
Tucked away in an underground section of Little Collins Street, barbecue specialists Meatmaiden have revolutionised the famous side that diners flock there for – lobster mac and cheese. Lobsters hailing from the other side of the country in Western Australia are roasted into a rich and flavourful bisque that is mixed through with a five-cheese béchamel and doused throughout the macaroni. If that’s not delicious enough for you, a jug of creamy lobster velouté is served alongside the mac and cheese for pouring through it.
Pan-Asian stalwart Supernormal may now have a sister restaurant in St Kilda, but the queues outside the original Flinders Lane location bear testament to the quality of its fare. Brave the hordes for the New England Lobster Roll, Andrew McConnell’s nod to the American fast food sandwich. Toasted brioche buns fresh out of the oven are buttered, slathered with a kewpie mayo dressing and then stuffed with chilled fresh lobster, crisp watercress and shallots. It’ll be over in a few quick bites, so savour each one accordingly.
Perched in a plum cornerside spot overlooking the Yarra River, Fatto Bar & Cantina is a favourite of arts aficionados who frequent the nearby Arts Centre and Hamer Hall, who will attest to the crowning glory of Fatto’s menu – a spanner crab spaghettini. Thin, slippery strands of pasta mixed in among plump, sweet pieces of spanner crab are topped by crisp, garlic-infused pangrattato. This carb coma-worthy dish that everyone visits Fatto for is brought to life by refreshing hits of lemon, chilli and parsley.
Carlton’s backstreet watering hole combines the laidback feel of a dive bar with the trappings of a hipster gastropub. Before you launch into larger menu items like the Cape Grim sirloin and saltgrass lamb shoulder, spare a thought for the light-as-a-feather prawn crackers with spanner crab. A zhoozhed-up version of the classic pre-meal appetiser from your local Chinese takeaway, the Lincoln’s housemade prawn crackers are topped with fresh slivers of spanner crab in a creamy, piquant mayo dressing and pickled shallot. We only wish they came in servings of ten instead of two.
Nestled in a small, unassuming space in the corporate district of Little Collins Street, Massi is where you’d go on a first date or bring your parents visiting from out of town. It’s schmick yet relaxed and you’re allowed to stick around for as long as you like – a novelty in this age of set dining times. Its spaghettini blanketed in squid ink and peppered with generous bite-sized pieces of crab flesh, clams, soft poached fish and crisp oil-soaked breadcrumbs is a little salty, surprisingly sweet and light to boot.
The humble salt-and-vinegar potato crisp has been elevated to new heights in the casual yet classy establishment Bar Liberty, where it is heaped with velvety mussel mousse, pickled red onion and sprinklings of herby lovage. You’d expect nothing less from a wine bar in Fitzroy that has graffitied its name on to the old signage of the shop that used to sit where it is now.
Poke bowl empire Nosh is mushrooming across Melbourne, with existing outlets in the city, Docklands, Chadstone and Glen Waverley soon to be joined by a fifth shop in Melbourne Central. The aptly named Poke Party is a standout item on the menu: a fragrant bed of bright yellow and fluffy coconut turmeric rice topped with generous proportions of fresh salmon sashimi cubes steeped in a nutty, roasted sesame sauce. Health has never tasted so good.
Smith Street newcomer Madras Brothers is already attracting a loyal South Indian customer base for this authentic rendition of classic Tamil dishes. Defying what a cutlet means to most Australians, Madras Brother’s fish cutlet is akin to an Indian croquette: a spicy medley of diced jack mackerel, potato, onion and chilli encased in a crisp batter. It’s the perfect snack while slinging back a chai Martini or two.