Cheap hacks for fancy places
Hack… the Sample Table
Chef Peter Gunn’s set menu at Ides is priced at $180 a head, but score a booking for the Sample Table on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday evening and you’ll pay a lot less. The concept allows diners to try a four-course menu of new dishes around a theme that are not on the standard menu for just $70.
Hack… the lunch
Dining at a Heston Blumenthal restaurant is never going to be cheap-cheap, but you can try to lessen the sting by booking a five-course lunch (weekends only), which will cost $160, as opposed to the chef’s table set menu, which costs up to $315 per diner. You won’t miss out on too much either – the lunch option features Blumenthal classics like the meat fruit and the bohemian cake.
Hack… the bar
If you don’t have the cash to try Cutler & Co’s main menu, eat at the bar, and that’ll be enough to convince you to save up for the main event. The bar menu is heavy on seafood: splash out on the fruits de mer platter ($38pp) if you can, but if you’re going the grazing route order the smoked sardines on toast and the abalone katsu sandwich. Bartenders also make excellent cocktails at the marble top bar, so splash out on a Martini or a Negroni with your nibbles.
Hack...the Sunday lunch
This Fitzroy fine diner has been around for over two decades and is as glamorous as ever. If chef Buddha Lo’s five-course tasting menu ($135) is a little too dear, the vegan and vegetarian versions will knock up to $20 off your bill. But the true bargain is lunch. You can have two courses and a glass of wine for $49 Monday to Friday, or opt for the Sunday lunch menu, a four-course journey that will take you through Matteo’s Asian-influenced menu for just $79.
Hack… the Proposition menu
If you don’t have the dough for the full 14-course degustation ($210), opt for the seven-course Incitation menu, which will set you back $140 (Tuesday-Thursday for dinner, Saturday for lunch). You’ll still experience the out-of-the-box Lûmé experience, and if you get a seat overlooking the kitchen you watch the magic unfold before it lands on your plate. The non-alcoholic drinks pairing is far from boring (the homemade sodas are brilliant) and is $55 per person.
Hack… the pre-theatre menu
Ezard’s subterranean dining room has been a Melbourne fine dining mainstay for close to 20 years, though flavours now skew slightly more Japanese than the previous Thai influence. The pre-theatre menu is ideal if you want to squeeze in four courses with enough time to get to the nearby Arts Centre precinct. At $90 a head, the menu shaves nearly $100 off the standard degustation price.
Hack… Florentino Upstairs for lunch
The three Grossi Florentino restaurants is on the shinier end of Bourke Street, but it's surprisingly forgiving when it comes to pricing. Florentino Upstairs is the fancier dining room, but opt for the two-course Veloce lunch menu ($65) on weekdays if you’re working to a budget. Alternatively, graze the menu at the Grill for Guy Grossi’s. Lunches there don’t top $50 for three courses. The Cellar Bar, where you can get a killer breakfast for $20 and under, is also a go-to morning spot for the city’s suits.