Best long lunches in Melbourne
Lee Ho Fook proper is all about southern Chinese cuisines like Cantonese and Fujian, but the bar on the ground floor is now serving food from more central regions like Hunan and Sichuan. Downstairs, Victor Liong is dishing up pickles, chillies, prickly ash and spices, making for a lip-smacking lunch minus the palate fatigue. Our top picks are the ‘husband and wife’ tripe and pig’s ear salad in a hot and numbing dressing, the warming mapo tofu and whole boned fish, slathered in a thick, umami-laden chilli bean sauce with fresh chillies. Rice is not optional.
Having clocked the Vietnamese fast food game with Pho Nom, Jerry Mai opened up a restaurant that is close to her roots and even closer to home. Annam is the culmination of flavours and techniques learned from the family kitchen, as well as years of cooking alongside mentors like David Thompson. Annam’s lunch menu is stuff Mai would eat herself: braised pork belly with bamboo shoots on rice, a spicy Asian spag bol with tofu and thick noodles or lamb ribs coated in a luscious tamarind caramel. Get it in your face hole.
It’s one of the hottest restaurants in Melbourne, but that doesn’t mean Embla is exclusive or unapproachable. Unlike at dinner time, you can reserve a table for lunch, and get in and out without breaking the clock. It may seem like a snooty thing to pay for bread, but when you experience the craft, time and flavour put into Embla’s perfect loaf, you’ll order it every time you dine here. Food is super seasonal, so you’ll rarely eat the same thing twice. The chicken liver parfait is a great way to start any lunch, and a whole fish, which has met the coal oven, always makes it on the menu. The must-do thing here is to end the meal on Embla's selection of always-interesting cheeses.
Who does Thai food better, Melbourne or Sydney? That argument has been put to rest since David Thompson has opened up Long Chim in Melbourne’s Crown, serving up the same uncompromised street food you’d find in Bangkok. The chive cakes are a crisp and chewy crowd favourite, but proceed with caution when ordering the larp – the spice level only comes at blow-your-head-off hot, but it is so balanced you’ll keep coming back for more. Pad Thai might seem like the natural dish to order, but sidestep towards Prin’s noodles and you’ll be rewarded with a slippery bowl of thick rice noodles, tossed together with pork and prawns and licked with just the right amount of sriracha and oyster sauce. If you can’t go past a curry, we’d suggest sharing so you can eat as the Thais do.
Can’t stand waiting in line for a table at the much-loved Tipo 00? Luckily, the crew have opened up Osteria Ilaria a few doors up in a venue much larger than their older sibling. Pasta is not the lead act at Ilaria, but our money’s on the pork liver sausage with rhubarb topped with a crunchy, sourdough crumb, the impossibly crisp zucchini flowers and grilled calamari. The wine list isn’t too shabby, either.
If you fancy your privacy, French Saloon is for you. It’s on the first floor of a busy corner with an entrance you’d only know about if someone has told you. The drinks here are sometimes nerdy, always delicious and not what you’d see on a lot of wine lists, and the food is just as exciting. Todd Moses is doing some wonderful things with seafood by offering affordable caviar selections with warm, cooked-to-order, house-made blinis. If that’s too rich for your taste, the garfish toast and pickled mussels make for amazing starters. If you’re not a fan of food from the sea, the house-made charcuterie plate is ever changing and highlighted with a range of pickles. The roast chicken isn’t something to overlook, either.
Morgan McGlone and Michael Delaney have teamed up to bring Melbourne a New York-style big city bar and grill serving porchetta sandwiches at 7am, and encouraging three martini lunches, five days a week. Bookings are recommended if you want to saddle up in a large leather booth. Start with a serve of oysters, share the beef tartare, which gets an update with a soy cured egg, oyster emulsion and tendon chips and finish on a perfectly cooked hangar steak crowned with a pat of melting café de Paris butter.
You can’t go wrong with Italian food, and certainly not when it is pasta, lovingly made by hand every day. Lello is the reincarnation of Yak after getting a makeover, a new name, but not a new chef. Leo Gelsomino’s pastas are equally artworks as they are meals. If you’re a carb-on-carb fan, the culurgiones are pleated Sardinian ravioli shaped like little footballs filled with potato and mint, served atop a nutty broad bean pesto. For those who prefer their pasta unfilled, the cacio e pepe gets some extra dimension from the toasted flour the pasta is rolled from. Offset that richness with a side of salad. Mangia!