Melbourne’s Thai restaurant scene has had a fragrant injection of quality with the addition of Dodee Paidang. This Sydney import is splashing authentic flavours and not pandering to a western palate. The main event is the signature tom yum noodle, coming in a clean, sweetly porky, hot-and-sour broth hit with generous spoonfuls of fried garlic and topped with crisp wonton strips. The rest of the menu follows suit, with classic dishes created and served by native Thai speakers to an adoring and diverse crowd of Melbournians.
Palermo is an Argentinian creation that’s serving the nation’s most beloved dishes. Start with a the fried pocket of fun that is an empanada, before moving onto ceviche and an Italian-influenced char-grilled baby octopus. Steak, of course, is billed by its weight as well as its origins and comes scarcely seasoned, perfectly scorched on the outside and rare in the middle so you can properly assess that high quality protein. When you’re paying with Liven, you’ll be more inclined to order a side of greens since they’re earning you extra (plus they’re a fresh break from all that meath).
This is the takeaway extension of Southbank Argentinian restaurant Asado Bar and Grill, offering breakfast and lunch as well as take-home produce. Before becoming a barbecue master at home with their premium cuts of meat, get inspiration when you order in-house through Liven. At breakfast, you can enjoy an acai bowl with a cranberry and coconut oat bar, then when lunch hits there are toasted sandwiches and a changing selection of ensaladas, plus a line-up of sweet treats staring dulce de leche.
At Jimmy Grants, they’re upping the ante of Melbourne’s kebab game with venues in Fitzroy, Richmond and Emporium Melbourne. Their top-notch souvas taste just as good as lunch or dinner as they do at the end of a big night; the Bonegilla souva – made with charred, pillowy flatbread – is stuffed with hot chips, juicy hunks of lamb, rotisserie chicken and mustard aioli and the herby prawn version is a knock-out. Since you’re getting a Liven reward for your purchase, order a fiery spit-roasted chicken for the table and a baklava creaming soda or beer.
This CBD taverna celebrates Greek food with a flourish of new flavour. It’s one of George Calombaris's famed eateries, so naturally it offers a spectacular souva and serves a transformative bowl of chips. But here, there’s something strange afoot, with exciting fusion dishes and inventive new recipes – you’ll be writing home about their Greek version of gyoza. Since you’re going all out with your Liven rewards, book in for the ten-dish yum cha menu they’re offering on Sundays.
The portions at Hellenic Republic are Olympian, the spit-roasted chicken is as succulent as they come, the baked prawns are swimming in a delightful tomato bath, and the creamy rice pudding is essential. Since Melbourne seems to agree, this popular joint has had enough steam behind it to spread its DNA to restaurants in Kew and Brighton. Each venue is a place for dining with friends so you can clink glasses of ouzo and justify a second helping of peppery fried calamari. And why wouldn’t you treat your gang when every bite adds more to you Liven rewards?
You’ve got two options at this swanky Greek joint in Williamstown. Upstairs, there’s a cool-as-a-cucumber bar section where you can down a pint of Two Birds Golden Ale or a special Hellenic cocktail while you munch on a daily pub dinner special or scrumptious bar snacks. Downstairs, book in for a bang-up meal punctuated with classic Greek flavours and a few fusion affairs – the Caesar salad replaces limp lettuce with Brussels sprouts that act as bittersweet vehicles for marinated anchovies, soft boiled egg and lardons. There’s also takeaway for weary travellers.
The meat patty is thin, so there’s no medium-rare pink centre, but that’s not a bad thing. The thin patty caramelises more evenly on the grill this way, before being capped with a melted slice of yellow American cheese. Adding a touch of freshness are the classic condiments – tomato, red onion, pickles and lettuce – so that every bite is equal parts salty, fatty, crisp and soft. Simply put, the 8bit with cheese is the perfect fast food. Skip the fries and order a side of potato gems, which have more crunch than the beer battered chips. If spice is your thing, the After Burner improves on the signature burger with extra Sriracha, jalapeños and chipotle mayo.
Perhaps we could chalk up Maha's popularity to the rising tribe of vegetarians and vegans who make it their go-to joint when they want a big, splashy night out. Maha brings the goods in that department, delivering a four-, six- or eight-course guilt-free deg that swings from arak-spiked cucumbers in a bed of yoghurt and finished with a judicious dusting of dried olive to agrodolce salt-baked beetroot with a rich walnut and macadamia tarator and the striking meat substitute of lentil dumplings jazzed to the max with truffle and mushrooms.
You probably haven’t noticed them, but Lanzhou Beef Noodle joints been popping up around universities in Melbourne. The CBD location is the newest, and the décor is nothing special. You basically walk through the entrance to the counter, passing an open, refrigerated cabinet of delectable snacks and accompaniments that appeal to your impulse-purchase sensibilities. The cabinet is manned by someone diligently weighing strips of thinly sliced marinated beef, spicy pig’s ears salad, braised chicken feet, garlicky cucumbers, corn cobs and bowls of tea eggs priced per plate, next to bubble cup sealed containers of housemade drinks like sweet teas or juices with goji berries and winter melon floating about in them.
This South East Asian-inspired restaurant might be the little sister of Rice Paper Scissors but it's by no means less impressive. In fact at Rice Paper Sister, you'll find the menu moves away from the street food approach towards a more refined dining experience. Shared plates inspired by dishes from Bali to Bangkok are the highlight here so dining is best done with friends. Round off your meal with cocktails that reflect the South East Asian influences throughout the meal – including a Vietnamese Espresso Martini.
They say you should never grocery shop on an empty stomach. That won’t ever be a problem at Calia Chadstone, where the gourmet provisions store is attached to a 150-seat restaurant. Between the indoor and heated outdoor dining areas, the second Calia outpost has around double the seating capacity of the original Lonsdale Street location. It also has an expanded menu designed by Francisco Araya, who previously worked at Michelin-starred eateries El Bulli in Spain and 81 Restaurant in Japan. The Japanese fare includes noodles and rice bowls, featuring just-flown-in Wagyu and toro (tuna belly), free-range pork and locally caught seafood. But there are also plenty of small plates that are perfect for refuelling between Chadstone boutiques, or to accompany the selection of Japanese sakes, beers and whiskies. Try the more-ish umami fries and the deep-fried chicken tossed in salted egg yolk sauce. Just be sure to save some room for the creative desserts, such as miso crumble cheesecake and chocolate lava cake with matcha green tea ganache.
We dig a bold title, and we do indeed bow down to Laksa King as the ruling monarch of noodle soup. On any given night you’ll find people crammed in the entryway, hoping beyond hope that every other waiting diner is just there to pick up takeaway. Luckily service is whip fast here, with huge bowls of their namesake dish coming out of the open kitchen faster than you can say “should we also get roti?” (The answer is always yes). There are nine kinds of laksa available but if you're not feeling soupy rest easy knowing that the fried kway teow and nasi lemak are also excellent.
While White Mojo might be another Melbourne café with 'Instagram Darling' hashtagged into its DNA, there's no mistaking that the Hardware Street café knows how to make a damn fine cup of coffee. White Mojo creates its own house blend from beans roasted on site and also offers a chai, matcha or black latte (which is made using peanut, almond and black sesame). For a buttery, artery-constricting start to your morning order the signature croissant burger that comes topped with fried eggs, soft shell crab and a liberal amount of chipotle mayo.
To make any headway through the tome-like menu at Yu Kitchen, the upscale Chinese restaurant in the Chadstone Shopping Centre, requires multiple visits. You might visit one day for the impeccable yum cha, returning another day for an à la carte banquet featuring Peking duck and barbecue pork. With so many dishes on offer, it’s a wonder that they can all be executed to as high a standard as Yu Kitchen manages, but such is the prowess of the restaurateurs behind it. The high-profile kitchen team includes two-star Michelin chef Chen Kentaro (son of Iron Chef Chen Kenichi) and the Ruyi Group’s James Ho, of famed Malaysian restaurant Ruyi & Lyn. There’s plenty of classic Chinese fare such as Chef Chen’s signature mapo tofu, an exemplary rendition of the Szechuan staple. But there are also modern fusion dishes, like freshly shucked Tasmanian oysters with passionfruit and a boozy granita made with premium Chinese liquor Moutai. Many dishes feature high-end ingredients such as abalone and truffle, and careful attention has been paid to sourcing free-range meats and local seafood. The food is luxurious, refined and superbly presented – Chinese fine dining at its finest.
This modern Chinese restaurant had a serious glow-up when it moved from Collingwood to the city. Now in its Duckboard Place digs, Lee Ho Fook serves up dishes as hot as its interior and as sharp as its staff. Led by Victor Liong (formerly of Sydney’s Mr Wong and Marque), Lee Ho Fook marries traditional Asian flavours with European techniques. The Chong Qing-style chicken crackling is a constant crowd winner, as is the perfectly balanced sweet and sour pork.
They keep things local at this South Yarra café bar and restaurant, where the farm-to-table experience even goes so far in its effort to bring nature indoors that you can eat under an indoor ficus. On the all day menu you've got thick cut bacon from Ballarat, bread from South Melbourne Bakery, greens from Werribee, Goulburn River trout and octopus from Port Lincoln. After dark there's a Victoria cheese board, Gippsland beef cheeks, Strathdownie kangaroo, and the cocktail menu can take you on a tour of native Australian ingredients with watteseed, peperberry, quandong, rosella, and native spices in their Negroni.
The trusty crew that captains MoVida is just one of the reasons that Frank Camorra and Andy McMahon’s flagship tapas restaurant expanded beyond its original Hosier Lane location. These days you can also dine at MoVida Next Door, MoVida Aqui and even at a location in Lorne. With the menu stacked with dishes like candied quince and goat’s curd cigars, juicy partridge-and-chestnut empanadillas and croquetas filled with blood sausage, it’s easy to empty your wallet here.
This self-serve frozen yogurt joint takes variation to a whole new level. As far as flavours go, they’ve got your basics covered, and then some. There are a few unusual options for the more adventurous yogurteers, like licorice, apple pie, lime and avocado, peanut butter and salted butterscotch. Yes, the yogurt is all natural and 98 per cent fat free, but it does depend on which of the 40 toppings you chose to add. Whatever you can imagine, they’ve probably got it: wafers, fresh fruit, cheesecake, Reece's pieces, and those cute little pearls that burst when you bite them. Westies can now also get their fro-yo hit at Yo Chi Yarraville.