There are good times to be had by all at this pan-Asian eatery at the Windsor end of Chapel Street. Snatch one of the coveted street-facing spots or a table inside the loud, neon-dotted hawker-style space and knock back one of their excellent beers with the sweet and sour squid. With a brittle batter and a liberal seasoning of pepper, it’s sticky and zesty and amplified by pickled onion and a moreish sauce of ketchup, vinegar and soy.
If you can survive the queues at this Melbourne institution, you’ll be rewarded with delicious pan-Asian fare and a raucous time courtesy of tongue-in-cheek paraphernalia and welcoming service. Start off proceedings with their salt and pepper squid where the accompanying Vietnamese mint provides some serious bite. Dip each piece in the classic Vietnamese sauce, nuoc cham, to create a balance of salty, spicy and sweet to the crispy fried morsels.
Come for the dumplings, stay for the squid. Veteran HuTong in Melbourne’s famous Market Lane is known for its juicy xiao long bao, but their squid deserves a mention. Golden-brown curls of generously battered squid are fried in lots of oil and while the pepper flavour is light, what speaks volumes is the chilli and deep-fried shallots, adding heat and crunch. Topped with aromatic coriander, you’d be hard pressed to find better Chinese-style squid in the city.
There are plenty of places to imbibe on Brunswick Street, but none quite as impressive as the multi-spaced Provincial. The menu is classic pub grub with a few twists, but their calamari sticks to tradition. Piping hot strips of tender calamari with no tentacles in sight are given some oomph with a generous drizzle of lemon and vinegar. Bonus: It’s served in a cardboard box for a fun, retro feel.
The guys at Fitzroy Social, a bright and airy watering hole on colourful Brunswick Street, know that drinking food means fried calamari. But instead of the usual salt and pepper version, here the calamari is given a sweet and woody flavour thanks to the cinnamon-rich batter. It comes with a tangy, creamy coleslaw and aioli in a cute jar. Oh and did we mention there’s enough to share with all your pals?
The flavours fly high at Prahran’s popular gastro pub and their squid is no exception. The Korean-inspired dish is some serious Seoul food: rings of fresh, well floured and seasoned squid mingle on a bed of house-made kimchi and miso aioli speckled with black sesame seeds. It’s finished with radish and watercress as the final element in this salty, crunchy, spicy and totally satisfying party in your mouth.
There're dime a dozen Italian restaurants in Melbourne, but none are as happy to host functions and accommodate big groups as Tazio. Before the Margheritas and pappardelle hit the table, get things rolling with the calamari. A deep-fried lover’s dream, not only does the nicely chewy calamari come battered, but so do the accompanying olives and capers. It’s salty and crunchy and so good dipped in the velvety roast garlic aioli.
This charming old-school pub in Port Melbourne is known for its impressive steaks, but for the ultimate surf’n’turf experience begin with the calamari. Thick ribbons of squid come fresh and a touch firm, but the real winner here is the rocket and fennel salad, with the sweet, anise flavour of the fennel perfectly offsetting the salt and pepper batter. If you’re famished it also comes in a main size with fat fingers of floury potato.
Westside’s favourite family-friendly, date-friendly, mates-friendly gastro pub serves pub classics with a Mediterranean spin. And their calamari is a must-order. Delicately battered rings crown a pillowy pita smeared with smoky house-made babaganoush, and it’s padded out with fresh coriander, mint and lashings of pickled onion. It’s finished with a drizzle of dill-specked yoghurt to deliver a dish that’s zesty and comforting in equal measure.
They divide their brews up into three categories: laid back for easy smashable brews; stepping up, for when you want something a little more interesting; and adventurous, for when you want a big flavoured beer. This also helps you decide what you want to pair them with from the food menu. What would go nicely with that pale ale with tropical fruit aromas is a serve of the black pepper spiced calamari, which they serve with a sweet and roasted romesco sauce, preserved lemon for a more profound lemon kick and olives.
Banish your holiday blues at this hidden gem on Bay Street with their calamari, which tastes of summers on the Amalfi Coast. Fresh local calamari is gingerly floured, snap fried and dusted with sea salt and dried oregano. It’s served with peppery wild rocket spruced with an olive oil and orange reduction dressing and a pretty dollop of silky aioli.