Table of food at Longsong Melbourne
Photograph: Graham Denholm

Melbourne restaurant and café reviews

Looking for somewhere great to eat in Melbourne? Check out the latest reviews from our food critics

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  • Cafés
  • Hawthorn
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Piccolo Panini Bar is a place whose reputation precedes it, its strong social media presence and blocks-long queues garnering a lot of hype. Despite entering the scene at the later end of the sandwich wave, Piccolo developed a chokehold on loyalists from the inner east and those willing to travel for a good panini. Needless to say, the bar was set high when we visited on a Friday at 8am. The venue was nearly empty save for a few takeaway coffee customers, allowing us to fully soak up the ambience (custom-branded soccer jerseys on display, cannoli at the counter, music pumping) before the lunch rush. The board behind the deli case of marinated vegetables, salumi and cheese, listed six filling options, only one of which was vegetarian and most of which fell around $16. Each sandwich could also be customised with additional accoutrements for an extra cost of $1.5 to $6 more. But a shop’s signatures are the best judgment of their quality so we went with the cotoletta and the salami, plus coffee. The latter came first, milk well-frothed and coffee strong but not bitter. The food was served around ten to fifteen minutes later. We denied the offer of a carry bag and regretted it once realising the sandwiches weighed what felt like a kilo each, but quickly found a sunny nearby park to dine at. There are only a few outdoor tables at Piccolo in clear line of sight of the staff and passersby, which is not ideal for those who prefer to dine with some semblance of privacy. Both sandwiches
  • Mexican
  • Fitzroy
  • price 1 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Sparsely decorated with bright pops of colour synonymous with the Mexican flag and jaunty Latin music playing from within its confines, new Johnston Street eatery El Columpio is bringing a slice of homestyle cooking to an oft-underappreciated quarter of Fitzroy.  Tortas and Tacos has livened up a strip traditionally associated with late-night shenanigans – think live music institution Old Bar and afrobeats club Laundry – but things remain tough for restaurants bold enough to set up shop in a stretch that can only be described as having bad ‘feng shui’. Vegan pinchos bar Follies shuttered after only a year and a half, citing the cost-of-living crisis. Doncaster Chinese vegetarian import Vegie Mum survived a far bit longer, but it too is shutting its doors at the end of this month. But not all is lost for those looking for a bite in the vicinity – not if El Columpio has anything to do with it.  Established by chef Ricardo Garcia Flores as part of a dream to introduce Melburnians to the family heirloom Mexican dishes he grew up with, El Columpio has a short but sweet menu. If you arrive before midday, you’ll be treated to a breakfast menu that comprises tamales and chilaquiles. Arrive after midday and the menu is identical, no matter if you arrive at 1pm or 8pm – expect the traditional Mexican soup pozole, a selection of tacos and a few sides. Weekend specials round things off – when we visit, it’s tacos de barbacoa estilo Hidalgo, one of the most famous exports of the state nor
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  • Latin American
  • Collingwood
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
With a portfolio made up mostly of pub-style venues, hospitality collective Kickon Group garnered due attention when they opened pan-Latin restaurant Pincho Disco last year. It’s not just a new concept for them but also for Melbourne, a city with very few Latin restaurants – particularly of this calibre. We have to credit Pincho for that. It's breaking boundaries, setting examples, doing what big hospo groups once did for “Asian fusion” and pushing all that innovation out into the Australian mainstream. Thankfully, Pincho is on track to age better than most of those groups did, even if the Dia de los Muertos-inspired art and cocktails with names like Chilli Cha Cha may feel a bit on the nose. The venue is recently-built and sprawling with beach ball-sized white orbs hanging from the ceiling, a split-level dining room and bar, and an open kitchen where you can watch the head chef Diego Cardenasin in action. He's from Colombia but the menu draws from around Latin America, spanning Mexico all the way down to the tip of Argentina. Naturally, we want to experience the vastness of the region so we sample items from across the menu. To start – one large octopus tentacle, tender and smoky. It's served on a spill of orange oil, plus a dollop of “Mexican mole mayo”. While it lacks the punch of a pure mole negro, it’s a clever trojan horse for what could be considered a confronting condiment for those new to it. The mussel tostada, while very tasty on its own, is generous with the cream
  • Middle Eastern
  • Windsor
  • price 2 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Maha East
Maha East
2024 update: The below review was written in 2019, and some details may have altered since then. Bring us the snacks, all the snacks and nothing but the snacks. Snacks are the stars of our dining age, the George and Amal of gastronomy, the mark of any chef trying to raise their flag over a crowded restaurant landscape.  At Shane Delia’s Maha East, the racier little sibling to his city den, the snacks are so fine the mains might seem like less of a headline event. Or maybe you simply forget to leave stomach space amid the happy hoovering. Ahem. Apologies for this dereliction of duty. We shall forge on regardless.  Sleek, dimly lit and wearing the studied élan that indicates a no-expense-spared policy, this slip of a place looks like a wine bar and acts like a wine bar with its high-low mix of seating. But does it quack like a wine bar? No. There are some serious food moves here at some serious prices. It’s not really a place for a quick bite and a drink before heading home in time for Q&A. You probably won’t get a seat on a whim, anyway – it’s packing a full house across two sittings – but it’s definitely a place for sipping rather than swilling.  The pitch is right for this bit of Chapel Street, better known as the home of conceptual hotdog eateries than serious restaurants. Maybe we can call it a small-R restaurant. You won’t find fries loaded with zaatar and kefalograviera cheese at Maha city. Just sayin’.  All along the bar prettily attired people nurse cocktails and pick
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  • Birregurra
  • price 3 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Brae
Brae
2024 update: A huge congratulations to Brae for being recognised with a three-star rating from the Sustainable Restaurant Association this year – the first restaurant in Australia to achieve the highest rating possible. For more details on this achievement, read here. We last attended this venue in May 2019, so please be aware when reading the below review that some details may have changed since then.  It takes a full day to dine at Brae. A meal at Victoria’s most highly decorated fine dining institution fits a micro holiday into the hours needed to get out to the gently sloping paddocks of Birregurra (an easy two-hour drive from Melbourne), dine in rural splendour at an appropriately relaxed pace at Dan Hunter’s famous farmhouse restaurant, and return home. You could make it a genuine mini-break should your budget stretch to the additional $635 for a night in one of the six guest suites on site (breakfast included), but it’s hard to think of a more pleasant day trip than one centred around the country’s pre-eminent dining experience. You will be enveloped in a style of hospitality so convivial and assured that five hours will fly by while you exist in a state of suspended bliss. Life is complicated, but lunch at Brae is perfect in a way virtual reality can only dream of. Your seats are comfortable, the wood fire is crackling, and your table sits in its own orbit so that conversation is had, not overheard. It’s easy to forget that the sea is only a 45 minute drive away from
  • Filipino
  • Melbourne
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
The co-founding team of John Rivera, Carlos Consunji, Ralph Libo, Michael Mabuti and Dhenvirg Ugot – proud Filipinos themselves – are also some of the names behind Kariton Sorbetes and Serai, ensuring bold and vibrant Filipino flavours are front and centre at Askal.  Think sizzling pork jowl and abalone sisig, ox tail kare kare doughnuts and torched scallop adobo. The showstopper dish making the rounds on socials is the roasted bone marrow, sitting in a claypot of crispy confit garlic rice and caramel-braised wagyu oyster blade for the grand total of $100. But it’s by far the most expensive dish on an otherwise reasonably priced menu of ‘pulutan’ (snacks and bites), ‘meryenda’ (entrees), ‘ulam’ (mains and sides) and ‘matamis’ (dessert). The moody yet otherwise nondescript space is a semi-industrial one with textured charcoal walls and simple shell chandeliers – sit by the bar to enjoy a peek into the bustling kitchen. Curate your own experience by ordering off the ala carte menu, or if you have choice paralysis as we did, opt for the $95 ‘feed me’ menu, that features a representative cross-section of the menu, though you may still want to add one or two must-order items.  Askal’s inventiveness extends to its cocktails – the same Tanduay rum in the leche flan appears in the banana-reminiscent Pahanocoy Dream, the nostalgia of childhood is revisited with the Hard Sarsi, and pineapple rum coupled with blackstrap rum and Campari are natural counterparts in the Ibong Adarna, Askal
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  • Melbourne
  • price 3 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Rocketing up to the highest floor of the Rialto Tower, your ears might pop and your stomach drop, but the destination is well worth the ride. At dusk, the rapidly fading sunlight in Vue de Monde bounces off the CBD’s skyscrapers, and the twinkling lights and far-off ranges are so very, very beautiful. It’s a dramatic entrance, and one that sets the tone for your meal to follow. After all, this experience feels just as much like a work of theatre as it does a restaurant.  But you might be relieved to find the stuffiness of its previous incarnations is long gone. The centrepiece kitchen’s new extensions welcome you into the hustle-bustle: there’s an intimacy with the close-knit team and their busy work that no longer feels like a secret operation. A succession of charming international staff are introduced by name, and with the restaurant’s passionate executive chef Hugh Allen at the helm, it really does feel just like one big happy family. And so, proceedings are eased along by my host and his impressively stocked Champagne trolley. First drink in hand, a palate cleanser chilled by a moat of ice is brought forth: a bowl of earthy radish and raspberry broth, topped artfully with geranium petals, and rendered even earthier by subtle notes of fermented koji. A grounding beginning. Next is a whisper-delicate tart wearing a crown of purple borage flowers, under which mandolin-shaved curls of avocado and samphire are a velvet savoury dream. Allen’s reverence for Indigenous ingredien
  • Melbourne
  • price 2 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Kanh Nguyen’s departure from Sunda last July left many, myself included, wondering what would become of the once-lauded contemporary Southeast Asian-Australian restaurant. But former sous Nabil Ansari’s appointment as the new head chef (after a brief stint at Firebird) has ensured the venue remains in good hands. Sunda is not the same restaurant that opened on Punch Lane in 2018, but its next wave is a promising one. With formal service and a slight industrial edge, the venue embodies a high-low approach to upscale dining that emerged in the late 2010s and has permeated the industry ever since. Think doors held open and menus placed on laps by staff whose welcoming air and sense of character feel more important than their uniform. The food is similarly refined yet relaxed. Attention to detail is evident, though no dish feels too stuffy or serious. The pie tee has initial notes of creamed corn that give way to the sharp zing of salted black bean hiding beneath the surface, all encased in a delicate pastry shell. The tuna tartare donut, which tastes of deep-fried potato, is well-balanced with a generous dressing of sturgeon caviar, but perhaps could be elevated to even greater heights with a hint of acid or cream. In any case, it’s a delight. On that note, it's the smaller dishes that look more appealing on paper, and so we round out the meal with those. Crispy tempeh is an outstanding choice at only $12 with a sweet, smoky glaze and the bright crunch of lightly pickled cucumbe
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  • Persian
  • Sunshine
  • price 1 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Hamed Allahyari was a chef and restaurateur in Tehran, Iran until 2012 when religious conflict forced him to flee to Australia. His love for hospitality never left him. Upon arriving in Australia, he began working with Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Catering and Free to Feed, two social enterprises designed to support new migrants through food and dining. Then, seven years later, he opened Café Sunshine & Salamatea, a social enterprise restaurant designed to employ, train and mentor asylum seekers and refugees facing similar paths to him. It’s been a beloved local gathering place ever since – not just for its friendly, community focus but for its approachable Persian fare, which is hard to come by in Melbourne. Iranian food is not well represented here and when it does appear, skewered meats are often the focus. This is no doubt a core component of the cuisine but overshadows the fact that it's vegetarian-friendly and characterised by its use of floral, sweet and sour flavours, adding complexity and balance to each dish. (For context, Samin Nosrat, author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, is also Persian.)  Salamatea, however, brings this back into focus. It’s like a best-of list of dishes and ingredients from the region, presented in a familiar Melbourne café format. The Campos coffee with Schulz milk (or your choice of non-dairy) is as good as any around, though the sharbat, cordials flavoured with either lemon and saffron or sour cherry, are better indications of what to expect fro
  • Italian
  • Lorne
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
On the occasion a restaurant with national cult status makes its move to Melbourne, our enthusiasm isn’t always instantaneous. Sure, Sydney might rave on about a particular Italian lunch spot or buzzy bar crew, but does that mean it will be a surefire hit here in Victoria? Not necessarily. It’s with open minds my partner and I hit the road to visit the new Totti’s from hospo supergroup Merivale – 12 months young on the ground level of the Lorne Hotel, and the first interstate outpost for the Bondi-based brand.  We know the abridged version of the Totti’s story: this is fun, flavour-packed Italian fare that doesn’t take itself too seriously, with a glam roll call of cocktails and wood-fired flatbread that’s (supposedly) so good it’s gone viral on social media. We’re ready to see – and taste – if it all lives up to the hype.  The host is warm and welcoming and we’re escorted to a table by the open window. There’s a cruisy al fresco feeling to the space, despite the fact we’re technically sitting inside. The eatery itself is airy and modern, though there’s a hint of traditional Italian trattoria about it too, evident in long salami links that hang by the bar and handsome wooden chairs. You probably wouldn’t want to walk in wearing bathers and thongs, but true to Lorne’s vibe, the overall impression is easygoing and relaxed. I can see myself slipping in for a cocktail and a plate of antipasti, post-swim. We settle in and start with cocktails: a signature Totti’s Margarita and Ipe
  • Bars
  • Melbourne
  • price 3 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
 To question Gimlet’s beauty is like pondering out loud whether the sky is blue. One foot through the door into the Trader House team’s almighty fine diner and you’re swept into an era of astonishingly impressive 1920s glamour. The handsome, plush curved booths invite you to settle in and share a bottle of Champers with a friend, uniformed staff skate around the floor with ease, and warm light dances off the grand chandeliers overhead. It’s undeniably fabulous, but also cosy at the same time – less ostentatious ‘razzle-dazzle’ and more hearth-y and heartwarming somehow, even in all its magnificence. Tonight, my friend and I are seated at the perimeter of the amphitheatre-like dining room, affording us generous views of both the sparkling hubbub of Russell Street at dusk and the swish centrepiece bar down the steps. Every dish that hovers by only serves to build that feeling of wistful anticipation, for while Gimlet is precious to look at (and sit in), our senses are set firmly on the food.  Of course, a Gimlet cocktail is the first thing you should start off with at Gimlet. And there is no better take on that juicy gin and lime invention in Melbourne than the classic one you can drink here. Refreshing and expertly balanced with moscato and a touch of Geraldton wax, it’s pure sophistication in a glass. We also knock back a Punch, a playful concoction of Jamaican rum, pomegranate wine falernum, hibiscus tea and pomegranate yoghurt. It’s a sublime start to the evening. One need
  • Melbourne
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Anyone with even the slightest interest in Melbourne’s food and hospitality scene has been talking about Reine and La Rue as of late. The highly ambitious project from Nomad Group has transformed Melbourne’s hallowed old Stock Exchange building into a European-inspired restaurant as ritzy as it is regal, with a speakeasy bar (the Rue part) accessible through an adjoining courtyard. It’s the first time the space has been open to the public in more than 20 years and the obsession is real. But big talk doesn’t always lead to a big walk, and so I was determined to discover if the new dining venture is as good as others say. Spoiler alert: it’s even better. The neo-gothic structure on Collins Street isn’t difficult to imagine gilded in Nomad’s brand of splendour, and even prior to its metamorphosis the late 1800s space was a vision to behold. Picture high vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows and limestone walls. The restoration of the main dining area, known as the 'Cathedral Room', now sees new marble bar tops, brass detailing and caramel leather banquets installed in the space, all thanks to a highly adept team of designers and ateliers. It’s nothing short of majestic. On a Friday afternoon, cruisy tunes that sound like they came straight from a So Frenchy So Chic playlist float up towards the cavernous arches and I take my place by the oyster bar. The service staff, while suitably presented in swish fine dining uniforms, are the definition of organised chaos. One takes my co
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  • Melbourne
  • price 3 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Rocketing up to the highest floor of the Rialto Tower, your ears might pop and your stomach drop, but the destination is well worth the ride. At dusk, the rapidly fading sunlight in Vue de Monde bounces off the CBD’s skyscrapers, and the twinkling lights and far-off ranges are so very, very beautiful. It’s a dramatic entrance, and one that sets the tone for your meal to follow. After all, this experience feels just as much like a work of theatre as it does a restaurant.  But you might be relieved to find the stuffiness of its previous incarnations is long gone. The centrepiece kitchen’s new extensions welcome you into the hustle-bustle: there’s an intimacy with the close-knit team and their busy work that no longer feels like a secret operation. A succession of charming international staff are introduced by name, and with the restaurant’s passionate executive chef Hugh Allen at the helm, it really does feel just like one big happy family. And so, proceedings are eased along by my host and his impressively stocked Champagne trolley. First drink in hand, a palate cleanser chilled by a moat of ice is brought forth: a bowl of earthy radish and raspberry broth, topped artfully with geranium petals, and rendered even earthier by subtle notes of fermented koji. A grounding beginning. Next is a whisper-delicate tart wearing a crown of purple borage flowers, under which mandolin-shaved curls of avocado and samphire are a velvet savoury dream. Allen’s reverence for Indigenous ingredien
  • Mexican
  • Fitzroy
  • price 1 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Sparsely decorated with bright pops of colour synonymous with the Mexican flag and jaunty Latin music playing from within its confines, new Johnston Street eatery El Columpio is bringing a slice of homestyle cooking to an oft-underappreciated quarter of Fitzroy.  Tortas and Tacos has livened up a strip traditionally associated with late-night shenanigans – think live music institution Old Bar and afrobeats club Laundry – but things remain tough for restaurants bold enough to set up shop in a stretch that can only be described as having bad ‘feng shui’. Vegan pinchos bar Follies shuttered after only a year and a half, citing the cost-of-living crisis. Doncaster Chinese vegetarian import Vegie Mum survived a far bit longer, but it too is shutting its doors at the end of this month. But not all is lost for those looking for a bite in the vicinity – not if El Columpio has anything to do with it.  Established by chef Ricardo Garcia Flores as part of a dream to introduce Melburnians to the family heirloom Mexican dishes he grew up with, El Columpio has a short but sweet menu. If you arrive before midday, you’ll be treated to a breakfast menu that comprises tamales and chilaquiles. Arrive after midday and the menu is identical, no matter if you arrive at 1pm or 8pm – expect the traditional Mexican soup pozole, a selection of tacos and a few sides. Weekend specials round things off – when we visit, it’s tacos de barbacoa estilo Hidalgo, one of the most famous exports of the state nor
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  • Modern Australian
  • St Kilda
  • price 3 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
When you first step into the stylish airlock entrance at Stokehouse, the transportation to another world is immediate. Suspended in the liminal space, the door behind you closes and the noisy buzz of St Kilda’s busy streets fades to a calming hum. A journey begins. Up the stairs, we head to the first floor where the magic awaits. The host is attentive and charming from the outset, offering to take our coats and guiding us to our seats before introducing the other service staff who’ll be taking care of us for the night. But while impressed, we’re not really surprised. This is Stokehouse, after all, a bastion of traditional hospitality and serene comfort since the early 1990s. But I want to know – after all this time, does the food and drink still stack up to the restaurant’s lofty reputation?  Let’s find out. During the day, Stokehouse’s broad, floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the glistening beach, flooding the dining space with rays of sun. At night, however, it’s a moodier setting, with warm lamps and designer chandeliers elevating the interior decor – a theatre for food and sea under the moonlight.  On this chilly  evening, the beach is roaring as loudly as the wind is howling, and my partner and I are feeling cosy and romantic by the window. The only word for it is cinematic. After placing our orders, we’re paid a visit by the sommelier. He’s got drink suggestions to pair with our menu choices if we’re interested – of course, we are. A dry Tasmanian brut and a bright Vene
  • Filipino
  • Melbourne
  • price 3 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
 Melbourne loves to talk big about its multicultural credentials but until now, there’s been a Philippines-sized gap in the city’s eating CV. We’re totally down with Thai jungle curries, Shanghainese xiao long bao and Malaysian char kway teow, but the Filipino dinuguan, kinilaw and sinuglaw have flown under the popular radar in defiance of Australia’s fifth-largest migrant community.  It’s double the reason to immediately fall in love with a restaurant delivering such a catchy modern hook on Pinoy cuisine you can almost dance to it.  Tucked down a dead-end laneway off Little Bourke, the good-looking room has a series of heavy rust-coloured doors (pro tip: choose the first one) that perplex newcomers but entertain the smug folk already seated inside the latest addition to the canon of Melbourne’s great semi-industrial restaurant spaces.  The entrance/exit scenario is too clever by half, but the rest of the package is just clever.  Opened by ex-Rice Paper Sister chef Ross Magnaye with a couple of chef compadres, Serai’s fire-based cooking riffs on his Filipino heritage without suggesting anything like authenticity.  In this spirit, Serai is aligned with Khanh Nguyen’s Sunda in its confident pan-Asian update: irreverent and exciting, playful and sharp.  The lechon cleaves closest to the original source material. The roasted free-range pig is all crackle and squish, the addition of pineapple into the gently spicy-sweet palapa sauce making it a thing of tropical beauty. But elsewh
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  • Thai
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Soi 38
Soi 38
Having trouble finding Soi 38? Just follow your nose. While the address is equal parts intriguing and perplexing, the heady scent of Thailand – its star anise, galangal, chilli, lime and herbs – will lure you inside the multi-level poured concrete carpark down a laneway off Bourke Street. Don’t go thinking this cheap-eat champion is big on the novelty and low on the substance. The brightly coloured haunt in the middle of the urban jungle can claim to have introduced Melbourne to authentic Bangkok-style boat noodles. Lurking in a pungent, funky soup brothwith a host of add-ons (braised pork or beef, a pork ball and crackling, bean sprouts andcoriander), the springy noodles ballast the sort of one-dish wonder that encompasses theentire food pyramid, big on flavour and even bigger on comfort. Owners Andy Buchan and Top Kijphavee kicked off in 2015 serving just boat noodles and prawn wontons in tom yum soup. But the people have spoken, and they’ve incrementally added more menu items (all hail the duck larb, a spicy, crackle-textured delight) before throwing caution to the wind with a dinner service as well. Boat noodles aren’t on the menu by night, but the Thai barbecue and hotpot provide ampleconsolation, albeit one cloaked in the agony of indecision. Will it be the pork skewers known as moo ping, the fatty meat first marinated in fish and soy sauce and mollified with a post-grill brush with coconut milk, or the swatches of golden calamari with a pungent lime-forward dipping sau
  • Modern Australian
  • Ripponlea
  • price 4 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Back in 2018, the little Ripponlea restaurant that could rose to a surprise #20 entry on the much-debated (and occasionally controversial) World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. It overtook Brae’s entry the year before at #44 and set Attica firmly in the minds of the international jetset.  Ben Shewry’s experimental and unflinchingly Australian ten-course degustation has since tumbled out of the top 50, this year not even making the cut in the top 100. So what does this all mean for one of the most loved and well-known restaurants in the country? Does it still live up to its original hype years later, in 2022?  I’m happy to say, it certainly has – and that the list’s snub in favour of another, more hyped Melbourne restaurant for me, misses the mark, because Attica is still one of the most innovative, experimental, and more importantly, delicious fine dining experiences to be had in Melbourne. But, my rapturous superlatives aside, it’s almost not enough to explain why Attica is so important to Melbourne’s dining scene – so, let me explain. We start our Attica journey greeted by the friendly, approachable staff, one of whom explains that they’ll offer us a series of dad jokes throughout, to accompany the meal. Although the first never materialises, what does is a simple dish of 'First Nations finger foods'; including a simulated bush tomato – a hard to source native ingredient – recreated here with a cherry tomato, stuffed with raisin and coated in bush tomato powder. It’s sweet, sou
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  • Italian
  • Fitzroy
  • price 2 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
For weeks, it was the name we’d heard most on the lips of our food-obsessed friends: Alta Trattoria. What could be so extraordinary about yet another Italian joint in a city brimming with some of the best of them? We couldn’t yet know, but we weren’t about to wait a minute longer to find out. After all, pasta is good, but good pasta is everything – even when you’re privileged enough to have already tasted some of the silkiest, sauciest and slurp-worthiest in all the land. Do your research though, and you’ll quickly discover that Alta Trattoria is not, in fact, just “another Italian joint”.  The restaurant’s specialty is a little different, zeroing in on the northern Italian region of Piedmont, which is located at the foot of the Alps and home to some of the boot nation’s most prized culinary exports. In addition, the team behind Alta Trattoria includes Luke Drum (Carlton Wine Room), chef McKay Wilday (Victoria by Farmers Daughters), Carlo Grossi (Ombra, Grossi Florentino) and vino expert James Tait (King and Godfree). A formidable crew like this at the helm is nothing to sniff at – so off we trotted on a Friday night. Tucked away off Brunswick Street, a tomato-red-painted restaurant quietly hums with good cheer and Italo-pop music. One dining area looks out onto the graffiti-decorated side street, the other’s nestled against an imposing bar. The friendly, bustling atmosphere belies a hidden thread of formality that ties the whole operation together with the finesse of a more
  • Armadale
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
From the moment you book the full seasonal tasting experience on Amaru’s website, you know you’re in for an odyssey. It’s the restaurant’s most extravagant offering, after all – with five snacks, seven courses and petit fours, plus optional drink pairings. Skipping brekky isn’t a bad idea, but that’s not to say the food at Amaru will be dense or cumbersome – the progression of light to heavier dishes is carefully designed, a thoughtful pacing that allows you to take as long as you please in comfort. Situated on a leafy boutique strip in Armadale amidst bridal shops and delis, the 34-seat venue is surprisingly low-key inside. Behind the sheer curtains concealing it from the outside world, you’re met with a starkly understated dining room accented with natural timber, earthy textiles, brushed grey walls and a statement vase of native flowers. The tables are widely spaced apart, offering a private sanctuary for languid, leisurely dining – which you’ll certainly need to fully immerse yourself in every bite that comes your way. Despite being a fine diner, there’s a mostly relaxed feel to Amaru, only interrupted when you sense a brief rush or moment of tension in the kitchen.  Curious about the housemade and fermented drinks that feature in the non-alcoholic program, I’ve opted to go booze-free today. The waiter encourages a sly glance at the wine list, and I sneak in a glass of sprightly cider from Normandy as an aperitif. It’s with equal parts trepidation and excitement that I’ve
  • Mexican
  • Fitzroy
  • price 1 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Sparsely decorated with bright pops of colour synonymous with the Mexican flag and jaunty Latin music playing from within its confines, new Johnston Street eatery El Columpio is bringing a slice of homestyle cooking to an oft-underappreciated quarter of Fitzroy.  Tortas and Tacos has livened up a strip traditionally associated with late-night shenanigans – think live music institution Old Bar and afrobeats club Laundry – but things remain tough for restaurants bold enough to set up shop in a stretch that can only be described as having bad ‘feng shui’. Vegan pinchos bar Follies shuttered after only a year and a half, citing the cost-of-living crisis. Doncaster Chinese vegetarian import Vegie Mum survived a far bit longer, but it too is shutting its doors at the end of this month. But not all is lost for those looking for a bite in the vicinity – not if El Columpio has anything to do with it.  Established by chef Ricardo Garcia Flores as part of a dream to introduce Melburnians to the family heirloom Mexican dishes he grew up with, El Columpio has a short but sweet menu. If you arrive before midday, you’ll be treated to a breakfast menu that comprises tamales and chilaquiles. Arrive after midday and the menu is identical, no matter if you arrive at 1pm or 8pm – expect the traditional Mexican soup pozole, a selection of tacos and a few sides. Weekend specials round things off – when we visit, it’s tacos de barbacoa estilo Hidalgo, one of the most famous exports of the state nor
  • Persian
  • Sunshine
  • price 1 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Hamed Allahyari was a chef and restaurateur in Tehran, Iran until 2012 when religious conflict forced him to flee to Australia. His love for hospitality never left him. Upon arriving in Australia, he began working with Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Catering and Free to Feed, two social enterprises designed to support new migrants through food and dining. Then, seven years later, he opened Café Sunshine & Salamatea, a social enterprise restaurant designed to employ, train and mentor asylum seekers and refugees facing similar paths to him. It’s been a beloved local gathering place ever since – not just for its friendly, community focus but for its approachable Persian fare, which is hard to come by in Melbourne. Iranian food is not well represented here and when it does appear, skewered meats are often the focus. This is no doubt a core component of the cuisine but overshadows the fact that it's vegetarian-friendly and characterised by its use of floral, sweet and sour flavours, adding complexity and balance to each dish. (For context, Samin Nosrat, author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, is also Persian.)  Salamatea, however, brings this back into focus. It’s like a best-of list of dishes and ingredients from the region, presented in a familiar Melbourne café format. The Campos coffee with Schulz milk (or your choice of non-dairy) is as good as any around, though the sharbat, cordials flavoured with either lemon and saffron or sour cherry, are better indications of what to expect fro
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  • Cafés
  • Richmond
  • price 1 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Hector's Deli
Hector's Deli
Mar 2024 update: The below review was written in 2017. Sandwich options may have changed since we visited so please check the website to see what's currently on offer. When the 18th-century English aristocrat John Montagu, aka the 4th Earl of Sandwich, started the trend of eating meat tucked between bread, he could never have envisioned how far the humble sandwich would come. Now we have Hector’s Deli, a café in Richmond dedicated to sandwiches – classic combinations made with high-quality ingredients and decked out with extra flourishes. The menu offers five options (and if you're lucky, a few specials) and that’s about it. No eggs. No fancy plating. No cutlery. But considering co-owners Jason Barratt and Dom Wilton have worked at Melbourne institutions like Stokehouse and Attica, you should buckle up for a sandwich shop with some serious cachet. The café is housed in a former milk bar on a quiet suburban street, away from the hustle and bustle of Richmond’s main strips but even so the tiny space still hums with throngs of locals. Barratt and Wilton are behind the white-tiled kitchen-cum-register dishing one sarnie after another, while warmly greeting customers, many by name. Couples with dogs wait for barista Zac Kelly’s creamy, strong flat whites made from Axil Roasters coffee beans and hungry kids are placated with flaky croissants from Rustica, also their bread supplier. It’s like the Cheers of sandwich shops. If you’re visiting during the early shift, order the pastrami
  • Mexican
  • Brunswick
  • price 1 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
We’ve all had our fair share of unsatisfying tacos in life. An oily one here, with fish that’s not fresh. A dry one there, with paltry fillings. It’s with this sense of caution that we approach the neon-lit sign of CDMX Taqueria, a brand new taco joint that’s still in the process of cementing its reputation. But so far, word on the street has been promising.  Melbourne’s current offering of Tex-Mex fare, while undeniably a pleasure in its own dirty way, weighs heavily on the palate as rival chains try to outcompete each other on maximum flavour and calorie for dollar. And so in the last decade, the cry for true Mexican fare in Melbourne has echoed far and wide, with CDMX being the newest taqueria to respond. The same husband-and-wife team behind Seddon’s Superchido, Beatrice Nacor and Daniel Pineda have brought their artisanal taco recipes straight from the heart of Mexico City, or as the Mexicans call it: Ciudad de México (CDMX – hence the name). What started as a wildly successful pop-up in Melbourne Central now boasts a spacious sister taqueria in Brunswick East. The latter is where I’m bringing my investigative appetite on a Saturday afternoon. The new shopfront boasts a floor-to-ceiling window affording an open view of Lygon Street’s more happening end. Inside, striking blue and white tiles stretch across the walls to the bar, well-stocked with a bohemian selection of mezcal and tequila. It’s a clean and modern space, with stools by the bar for lounging with a drink, plu
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  • Sri Lankan
  • Fitzroy North
  • price 1 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Anyone who’s ever found themselves ravenous in the heart of Fitzroy North village knows there’s no shortage of tasty options in the area. There are Loafer’s ever-popular buttery breakfast rolls loaded with kale, egg and tempeh (if you can snatch one before they’ve run out), Israeli-style pita wraps from hipster fave Just Falafs, piping-hot pies from Dench, crowd-pleasing brunch dishes from Tin Pot Café and just a five-minute stroll down the street, authentic Japanese curry and brioche toasts from much loved kissaten, Taiyo Sun. Locals are beyond blessed. But if you let your nose do the choosing, it’s nigh impossible to walk past Citrus. On the daily, aromas of curry leaves, onion and rich cinnamon and cloves waft out of the friendly corner eatery – an inviting preview of the homestyle Sri Lankan buffet available within. When it’s cold out, the windows steam up, and in the hotter months, people who’ve spent a day lazing about nearby Eddy Gardens spill in. It’s not the only all-you-can-eat Sri Lankan offering in Melbourne right now (there’s Maalu Maalu in Brunswick, and a more recent opening, Serendib in Northcote), but it’s one of the first, and for that, we pay our respects. The  premise is clear. Cough up $20 and you’ll get to fill your plate as high as you like from the ten-plus dishes on show. An extra $5 gives you bottomless access, meaning you can go back for as much as your belly will allow. Drinks and desserts cost extra, a fair ask. On my visit, I start with an authen
  • West African
  • Brunswick
  • price 1 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
If you love food, there’s a thrill in eating out wherever you go. But it’s always a lot more exciting when you’re not super familiar with the cuisine. It’s hardwired into our brains to seek novelty, and while living in a multicultural city like Melbourne affords many of us the privilege of exploring all corners of the globe through taste, there are inevitably pockets we overlook. Vola Foods specialises in Cameroonian cuisine, a melting pot of flavours from the north, west and centre of Africa, with a dash of Arabic and European influence. How many other Cameroonian joints are there in Melbourne? Not many that I’ve found, if any. So my partner and I are, in a word, pumped. This is going to be a new West African food experience. Vola sprung up in June 2021, smack-bang in the midst of one of our harshest lockdowns. Popular for takeaways, it metamorphosed over time into the buzzy yet secret gem it is today. Google Maps leads the way, but our ears also help us navigate, picking up on boppy Nigerian Afrobeats tunes floating out from the speakers in a nearby parking lot. It’s here that head chef and owner Ashley Vola’s team sling her coveted jollof rice, puff puff (fried African dough balls) and mouth-watering barbecued meats from a bright orange shipping container.  You may remember Vola from the short-lived reality show Plate of Origin, which aired in 2020, when she teamed up with her sister Kelly to showcase African food in an internationally-inspired cooking contest. When she pu
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  • Lebanese
  • Thornbury
  • price 1 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
On a rainy Sunday arvo, it's hard to know what to expect on your way to Taita’s House ('taita' is Arabic for grandmother). Are you actually going to someone’s house? Will there be obvious signage or will you have to knock on some strange door, only to be met by a perplexed old Lebanese woman and her wooden spoon? Our concerns are fast assuaged as we approach the restaurant and see tables and chairs scattered out the front of a clearly marked establishment. At first glance, the dining space seems somewhat reminiscent of a casual kebab shop. A bright orange sign gleefully announces ice cream, while a TV mounted on the wall blares sentimental Lebanese music videos. The young woman behind the counter welcomes us in and shows us to our seats. It’s fresh inside, and if we're being honest – a little chilly. But as we sit down at the table and settle in, our attention rests on warmer details. A small electric heater playfully disguises itself as a mini fireplace. There’s an old farmhouse-blue cabinet filled with colourful teapots and tubs of cutlery. Artworks depicting provincial scenes decorate the space, and partially exposed brick walls are painted with the Lebanese national flag.  We approach the counter to rattle off our wish list, and moments later our waitress arrives at the table to ask if we’d like some dips while we wait. A hot pot of freshly brewed cinnamon tea is the first to arrive with little glass teacups to drink it from, followed by ghannouge and a basket of crisp an
  • Thai
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Soi 38
Soi 38
Having trouble finding Soi 38? Just follow your nose. While the address is equal parts intriguing and perplexing, the heady scent of Thailand – its star anise, galangal, chilli, lime and herbs – will lure you inside the multi-level poured concrete carpark down a laneway off Bourke Street. Don’t go thinking this cheap-eat champion is big on the novelty and low on the substance. The brightly coloured haunt in the middle of the urban jungle can claim to have introduced Melbourne to authentic Bangkok-style boat noodles. Lurking in a pungent, funky soup brothwith a host of add-ons (braised pork or beef, a pork ball and crackling, bean sprouts andcoriander), the springy noodles ballast the sort of one-dish wonder that encompasses theentire food pyramid, big on flavour and even bigger on comfort. Owners Andy Buchan and Top Kijphavee kicked off in 2015 serving just boat noodles and prawn wontons in tom yum soup. But the people have spoken, and they’ve incrementally added more menu items (all hail the duck larb, a spicy, crackle-textured delight) before throwing caution to the wind with a dinner service as well. Boat noodles aren’t on the menu by night, but the Thai barbecue and hotpot provide ampleconsolation, albeit one cloaked in the agony of indecision. Will it be the pork skewers known as moo ping, the fatty meat first marinated in fish and soy sauce and mollified with a post-grill brush with coconut milk, or the swatches of golden calamari with a pungent lime-forward dipping sau
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  • Cafés
  • Carlton North
  • price 1 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Babajan
Babajan
If you’re lucky enough to work at the top end of the city, Babajan’s second outpost can be your go-to lunch destination. It's tucked away in a nondescript row of shops with the faintly perceptible gold letters engraved on the window the only indication that it’s Babajan, but the line out the door will nonetheless alert you to the plethora of pastries, sandwiches and desserts that await within.  Like its original shop in Carlton North – widely regarded as one of the more interesting and inventive brunch places in the inner north – which transitioned permanently into a takeaway-only venue during successive lockdowns, there is no space for dining in at Babajan’s Little Collins branch. There are a select few chairs outside but on a nice day, you’d be better off embarking on the one-minute walk towards the triangle of greenery between Spring Street and Macarthur Street and enjoying your food and Proud Mary coffee while soaking up some rays.  Uniformly organised floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with Babajan’s retail products line the tiny store. Nothing in the glass cabinets except desserts is labelled, but the person behind the counter on our visit is only too happy to reel off the meticulously assembled daily rotating sandwiches, boreks and salads – with spices such as sumac, cardamom and baharat jumping out in his speedy introductions. Freshly baked rings of simit – sesame-crusted Turkish bread – sit on the counter too.  The two sandwiches on the day we visit are Babajan Little
  • Collingwood
  • price 1 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Jim's Greek Tavern
Jim's Greek Tavern
Jim’s Greek Tavern first opened in 1980, and its charm has endured. In a city with countless dainty wine bars and finicky degustation menus (we love them), Jim’s has persisted due to its distinctive style and ambience. Simple, generous, flavourful Greek food is on the bill here - and the no corkage beer, wine and anything-in-between BYO policy don't hurt either. Two large rooms in white brick with soft blue details encapsulate the Greek patriotism that this restaurant is all about. Service is a medley of brusque, smiley or cordial – but it's always professional. Their ability to service over 200 guests on a busy night is just one of the things they’ve perfected in 40-something years. The Panagopoulos family have been at the helm of Jim’s since its establishment and the impudent and jocular way in which the staff converse with each other personifies the family feel. Although there is a menu, you won't be offered one when you arrive. Instead, the waiter will reel off dishes by their principal ingredient, “fish, lamb, salad” – it's best if you just sit back and nod. Although this does mean you play a version of roulette with the bill, the gargantuan portions and aforementioned free corkage mean you usually break even.  Food comes out at a frenetic pace, and the waiters will usually be ferrying several plates of a singular dish to surrounding tables. Saganaki arrives in a heavy-bottomed fry pan with a thick slice of lemon. It's nutty and salty, but its appeal is temperature relia
  • Cafés
  • Hawthorn
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Piccolo Panini Bar is a place whose reputation precedes it, its strong social media presence and blocks-long queues garnering a lot of hype. Despite entering the scene at the later end of the sandwich wave, Piccolo developed a chokehold on loyalists from the inner east and those willing to travel for a good panini. Needless to say, the bar was set high when we visited on a Friday at 8am. The venue was nearly empty save for a few takeaway coffee customers, allowing us to fully soak up the ambience (custom-branded soccer jerseys on display, cannoli at the counter, music pumping) before the lunch rush. The board behind the deli case of marinated vegetables, salumi and cheese, listed six filling options, only one of which was vegetarian and most of which fell around $16. Each sandwich could also be customised with additional accoutrements for an extra cost of $1.5 to $6 more. But a shop’s signatures are the best judgment of their quality so we went with the cotoletta and the salami, plus coffee. The latter came first, milk well-frothed and coffee strong but not bitter. The food was served around ten to fifteen minutes later. We denied the offer of a carry bag and regretted it once realising the sandwiches weighed what felt like a kilo each, but quickly found a sunny nearby park to dine at. There are only a few outdoor tables at Piccolo in clear line of sight of the staff and passersby, which is not ideal for those who prefer to dine with some semblance of privacy. Both sandwiches
  • Cafés
  • Richmond
  • price 1 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Hector's Deli
Hector's Deli
Mar 2024 update: The below review was written in 2017. Sandwich options may have changed since we visited so please check the website to see what's currently on offer. When the 18th-century English aristocrat John Montagu, aka the 4th Earl of Sandwich, started the trend of eating meat tucked between bread, he could never have envisioned how far the humble sandwich would come. Now we have Hector’s Deli, a café in Richmond dedicated to sandwiches – classic combinations made with high-quality ingredients and decked out with extra flourishes. The menu offers five options (and if you're lucky, a few specials) and that’s about it. No eggs. No fancy plating. No cutlery. But considering co-owners Jason Barratt and Dom Wilton have worked at Melbourne institutions like Stokehouse and Attica, you should buckle up for a sandwich shop with some serious cachet. The café is housed in a former milk bar on a quiet suburban street, away from the hustle and bustle of Richmond’s main strips but even so the tiny space still hums with throngs of locals. Barratt and Wilton are behind the white-tiled kitchen-cum-register dishing one sarnie after another, while warmly greeting customers, many by name. Couples with dogs wait for barista Zac Kelly’s creamy, strong flat whites made from Axil Roasters coffee beans and hungry kids are placated with flaky croissants from Rustica, also their bread supplier. It’s like the Cheers of sandwich shops. If you’re visiting during the early shift, order the pastrami
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  • Collingwood
  • price 2 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Cibi
Cibi
Mar 2024 update: The below review was written in 2019, however we've since updated opening hours, imagery and other relevant information. Fun fact: Harry Styles was spotted at this eatery in 2023. Cibi translates to ‘little one’ from Japanese, but the beloved Collingwood café and concept store of the same name made a big move last October. Originally opened over a decade ago by husband and wife Meg and Zenta Tanaka, Cibi has relocated (albeit next door) to a spacious, light-flooded warehouse – there’s now more room to display its beautiful products and, importantly, ample space for more diners to become devotees of its famed Japanese-style breakfasts. The Tanakas’ philosophy is to look at life through the eyes of our younger selves. Correspondingly, the compact menu champions simplicity. Fusing Japanese ingredients and cooking methods with Western flavours and seasonal produce results in well-balanced dishes and modest serving sizes, staying true to the Japanese proverb and one of Cibi’s mantras – hara-hachi-bun-me (eating until you are 80 percent full is eating in moderation). Despite the larger space there’s a short wait for a table on a sunny Sunday morning. The room hums with chatter as people tackle free-range eggs, roasted eggplant and butternut squash caramelised with sweet house-made miso buried under a thick blanket of oozy provolone cheese – it tastes as cosy as it looks. Salmon cured in-house with sake and kombu is served with a soft-boiled egg and pickled daikon w
  • Cafés
  • Melbourne
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Sometimes you just need to start your morning with a stack of fluffy pancakes, a greasy cheeseburger, a side of crispy bacon and a chocolate milkshake. Because you know, balance. And when that’s all served up alongside a retro-chic, old-school diner fitout with a welcoming service you’re not left wanting much more.  Operator Diner, nestled in the dynamic Wesley Place development opposite Caretaker’s Cottage (one of our city's great bars), is bringing something different and exciting to the Melbourne café scene. The team from Operator25 takes us on a journey with this new venue, not only to the US of A, but also back in time, to the good ol’ days of jukebox-playing, pie-slinging, neon-lit diners. A considered design by architects We Are Humble, which brings brown-leather banquettes, cafeteria-style chairs, and orange and yellow '70s sunshine tones to life, manages to achieve a playful and charming atmosphere that doesn’t feel gimmicky or overdone.  On weekday mornings, the café bustles with office workers lining up for a takeaway coffee and breakfast roll or a chocolate hazelnut croissant (from AM Bakehouse in Glen Iris). By the time the weekend rolls around, crowds arrive looking for a hangover cure, and to share stacks of pancakes with Nutella sauce, cookie crumbs and vanilla ice cream.  The breakfast menu runs all day and puts diners in a pickle trying to choose between French toast with cinnamon and maple syrup or a triple-cheese grilled sandwich served alongside a tomato
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  • Cafés
  • Fitzroy
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
 A Fitzroy staple since 2013, the beloved Industry Beans has officially moved into a new building just around the corner from its original location. The new space is a light-filled warehouse that features a larger cafe, a dedicated retail store, a coffee quality and training room and a roaster.After you've ordered your coffee, you can take a peek through the large glass windows from within the cafe to catch a glimpse of the roasting process.  Those familiar with Industry Beans' other stores in Syndey, Brisbane and Melbourne should feel right at home in the new location. The venue is the brand's fourth project with Melbourne architects March Studio, who have also designed spaces like the Jackalope Pavilion. The interior is meant to reflect the journey of the brand over the past ten years and celebrate its triumphant return to Fitzroy. Think industrial features, steel mesh, recycled timber tabletops paired with sleek white booths and a lot of plants.  The menu includes Industry Bean staples like smashed avocado on toast as well as new additions like the very Instagrammable porcini nest. Perhaps most importantly, you can also grab a cup of Industry Beans' signature coffee with options like espresso, filter or even cold-brew.
  • Cafés
  • Melbourne
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
A café housed in a heritage-listed former powerhouse with exposed brick walls and enormous street-art murals around the corner. Queues out the door, an almost-alarming number of plants, riffs on avo toast and other highly ‘grammable dishes. A focus on quality coffee so meticulous that it necessitates a separate coffee menu (including a barista’s breakfast tasting board of Five Senses coffee and several pour-over and batch brew options). Things don’t get much more Melbourne than everything about Higher Ground café. However, by virtue of an experienced team, consistently top-quality food and drink, excellent service, high energy and an unmatched atmosphere, Higher Ground personifies our city in the best way possible.  The darling of the Darling Group (Kettle Black, Top Paddock, the Terrace), Higher Ground sits tall (its six connected levels form a maze of tiered spaces) and pretty on Little Bourke Street. Since opening its doors six years ago, it’s become a steady favourite of the competitive café scene, consistently raising the bar higher: literally and metaphorically.   It’s the first time in quite some time that we are excited about several options on a café menu. We debate over whether we should order the ’nduja on toast with salsa verde, pickled onions and a fried egg or the blue swimmer crab benedict, with native herbs and optional caviar. However, our choice of the stracciatella toast proves to be the best decision of the day. Two large slabs of sourdough are slathered g
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  • Cafés
  • Carlton North
  • price 1 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Babajan
Babajan
If you’re lucky enough to work at the top end of the city, Babajan’s second outpost can be your go-to lunch destination. It's tucked away in a nondescript row of shops with the faintly perceptible gold letters engraved on the window the only indication that it’s Babajan, but the line out the door will nonetheless alert you to the plethora of pastries, sandwiches and desserts that await within.  Like its original shop in Carlton North – widely regarded as one of the more interesting and inventive brunch places in the inner north – which transitioned permanently into a takeaway-only venue during successive lockdowns, there is no space for dining in at Babajan’s Little Collins branch. There are a select few chairs outside but on a nice day, you’d be better off embarking on the one-minute walk towards the triangle of greenery between Spring Street and Macarthur Street and enjoying your food and Proud Mary coffee while soaking up some rays.  Uniformly organised floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with Babajan’s retail products line the tiny store. Nothing in the glass cabinets except desserts is labelled, but the person behind the counter on our visit is only too happy to reel off the meticulously assembled daily rotating sandwiches, boreks and salads – with spices such as sumac, cardamom and baharat jumping out in his speedy introductions. Freshly baked rings of simit – sesame-crusted Turkish bread – sit on the counter too.  The two sandwiches on the day we visit are Babajan Little
  • Cafés
  • Carlton North
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Despite visiting on a wintery day with torrential downpour, Florian is packed to the rafters. Crowds spill out of its tiny entrance on both sides, customers waiting for a table are indistinguishable from locals ordering takeaway coffee, outdoor tables are shunted towards the shelter of the footpath. Making headlines in recent weeks for the consternation it’s attracted from nearby residents doesn’t seem to have affected trade for Florian in the slightest, only made it more popular if anything. Everyone is respectful and careful to steer clear from crowding the adjacent Rathdowne Street Café and nearby houses. One only has to look at Florian’s immediate surroundings to understand its immense appeal. Occupying the space formerly inhabited by similarly popular café Small Victories, Florian’s Allpress beans and expertly curated, European-inspired menu sets it apart from the nearby mom-and-pop cafes with menus scarcely larger than a few select pastries and stock standard favourites. Fenton, Tanaka’s new fresh produce-forward venture, is perhaps the most similar operation in the vicinity but it lies a kilometre away. Which is not to say Florian is a slick, soulless venture. Waitstaff are warm, friendly and accommodating despite having to deal with rain-soaked outdoor tables and customers jostling for space – testament to the community-minded, local favourite childhood friends Dom Gattermayr and Rose Richards have built in the beautiful building they inherited from hospitality ventur
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  • Cafés
  • Melbourne
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
For those who know Manchester Press – a classic Melbourne institution that couldn't get any more 'Melbourne' if it tried (I mean, it's a bagel joint dropped into a warehouse in a gritty laneway for goodness sake) – they know that, despite the generous number of options on the menu, a bagel is where it's at. Here, you can take your choice from plain, poppyseed, rye and sesame (or GF), topped with an array of loosely New Yorker-style options. NY Lox is an obvious choice, and its salty, creamy smoked salmon is thankfully not of the disturbingly bright orange, intensely fishy, store-bought persuasion, as is so often the case.  The Melbourne standard Avo Smash isn't breaking records for the city's most inventive topping (a cherry tomato medley, feta and pumpkin seeds) but it's suitably tasty – especially when topped with a perfectly poached egg. It's not the shining star on the bagel menu, however. That title belongs to the Philly Steak, which combines thinly sliced, briney roast beef with lashings of chipotle, mayo and cheesy goodness that meld together and ooze over the sides – rendering your plate a delicious receptacle for a makeshift dipping sauce. It's not going to win any awards for presentation, but damn, it's delicious. I just wish it came with more pickles. They take their coffee seriously here – and, for a city that thrives on its obsession with finding the best cup in town, this is a pretty solid option. Manchester Press stock local sustainable coffee brand Ona, a spec
  • South Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Bibelot
Bibelot
Think of shiny things. Diamonds. Kim Kardashian’s hair. Bibelot is shinier. This high-tea salon from the Chez Dre crew (housed in what was formerly Chez Dre's overspill space) is so sleek, so modern and glittery, it’s like a spaceship with cake. We wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if it took off for planet Pastry while we were inside it. Bibelot is an ambitious proposition: espresso bar, gelateria, pâtisserie, café, chocolate shop and 'library'. You can spy on the chocolatier tempering away in the chocolate room, sit on the stylish-but-stark seats at the front and spy on Coventry Street, or occupy the emerald-green sofa in the café space at the back. If you’re seeking inspiration, peruse the sugary tomes – Leiths Baking Bible, Larousse on Pastry, La Maison du Chocolat and so on. There’s a glass-and-gold chest of drawers in the centre, stocked with Bibelot’s bags of grown-up lollies at grown-up prices: think cocoa pop and orange-infused white chocolate; caramelised puff corn with milk chocolate and pink salt; chocolate nougat and so on. One wall is lined with more fancy tooth-rotters: jars of honey in which whole macadamias lurk mysteriously; yellow raisins coated with freeze-dried raspberries and white chocolate; glossy passionfruit caramels… Cakes come courtesy of flour-power owner Andrea (‘Dre’) Reiss, a superstar chef pâtissier, whose CV includes Jacques Reymond’s Arintji in Fed Square (R.I.P.) and Michelin-starred swank-fests in both London (the Yauatcha/Hakkasan group) and
  • Bars
  • Melbourne
  • price 3 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
 To question Gimlet’s beauty is like pondering out loud whether the sky is blue. One foot through the door into the Trader House team’s almighty fine diner and you’re swept into an era of astonishingly impressive 1920s glamour. The handsome, plush curved booths invite you to settle in and share a bottle of Champers with a friend, uniformed staff skate around the floor with ease, and warm light dances off the grand chandeliers overhead. It’s undeniably fabulous, but also cosy at the same time – less ostentatious ‘razzle-dazzle’ and more hearth-y and heartwarming somehow, even in all its magnificence. Tonight, my friend and I are seated at the perimeter of the amphitheatre-like dining room, affording us generous views of both the sparkling hubbub of Russell Street at dusk and the swish centrepiece bar down the steps. Every dish that hovers by only serves to build that feeling of wistful anticipation, for while Gimlet is precious to look at (and sit in), our senses are set firmly on the food.  Of course, a Gimlet cocktail is the first thing you should start off with at Gimlet. And there is no better take on that juicy gin and lime invention in Melbourne than the classic one you can drink here. Refreshing and expertly balanced with moscato and a touch of Geraldton wax, it’s pure sophistication in a glass. We also knock back a Punch, a playful concoction of Jamaican rum, pomegranate wine falernum, hibiscus tea and pomegranate yoghurt. It’s a sublime start to the evening. One need
  • Melbourne
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Anyone with even the slightest interest in Melbourne’s food and hospitality scene has been talking about Reine and La Rue as of late. The highly ambitious project from Nomad Group has transformed Melbourne’s hallowed old Stock Exchange building into a European-inspired restaurant as ritzy as it is regal, with a speakeasy bar (the Rue part) accessible through an adjoining courtyard. It’s the first time the space has been open to the public in more than 20 years and the obsession is real. But big talk doesn’t always lead to a big walk, and so I was determined to discover if the new dining venture is as good as others say. Spoiler alert: it’s even better. The neo-gothic structure on Collins Street isn’t difficult to imagine gilded in Nomad’s brand of splendour, and even prior to its metamorphosis the late 1800s space was a vision to behold. Picture high vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows and limestone walls. The restoration of the main dining area, known as the 'Cathedral Room', now sees new marble bar tops, brass detailing and caramel leather banquets installed in the space, all thanks to a highly adept team of designers and ateliers. It’s nothing short of majestic. On a Friday afternoon, cruisy tunes that sound like they came straight from a So Frenchy So Chic playlist float up towards the cavernous arches and I take my place by the oyster bar. The service staff, while suitably presented in swish fine dining uniforms, are the definition of organised chaos. One takes my co
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  • Mexican
  • Fitzroy
  • price 1 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Sparsely decorated with bright pops of colour synonymous with the Mexican flag and jaunty Latin music playing from within its confines, new Johnston Street eatery El Columpio is bringing a slice of homestyle cooking to an oft-underappreciated quarter of Fitzroy.  Tortas and Tacos has livened up a strip traditionally associated with late-night shenanigans – think live music institution Old Bar and afrobeats club Laundry – but things remain tough for restaurants bold enough to set up shop in a stretch that can only be described as having bad ‘feng shui’. Vegan pinchos bar Follies shuttered after only a year and a half, citing the cost-of-living crisis. Doncaster Chinese vegetarian import Vegie Mum survived a far bit longer, but it too is shutting its doors at the end of this month. But not all is lost for those looking for a bite in the vicinity – not if El Columpio has anything to do with it.  Established by chef Ricardo Garcia Flores as part of a dream to introduce Melburnians to the family heirloom Mexican dishes he grew up with, El Columpio has a short but sweet menu. If you arrive before midday, you’ll be treated to a breakfast menu that comprises tamales and chilaquiles. Arrive after midday and the menu is identical, no matter if you arrive at 1pm or 8pm – expect the traditional Mexican soup pozole, a selection of tacos and a few sides. Weekend specials round things off – when we visit, it’s tacos de barbacoa estilo Hidalgo, one of the most famous exports of the state nor
  • Melbourne
  • price 3 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Rocketing up to the highest floor of the Rialto Tower, your ears might pop and your stomach drop, but the destination is well worth the ride. At dusk, the rapidly fading sunlight in Vue de Monde bounces off the CBD’s skyscrapers, and the twinkling lights and far-off ranges are so very, very beautiful. It’s a dramatic entrance, and one that sets the tone for your meal to follow. After all, this experience feels just as much like a work of theatre as it does a restaurant.  But you might be relieved to find the stuffiness of its previous incarnations is long gone. The centrepiece kitchen’s new extensions welcome you into the hustle-bustle: there’s an intimacy with the close-knit team and their busy work that no longer feels like a secret operation. A succession of charming international staff are introduced by name, and with the restaurant’s passionate executive chef Hugh Allen at the helm, it really does feel just like one big happy family. And so, proceedings are eased along by my host and his impressively stocked Champagne trolley. First drink in hand, a palate cleanser chilled by a moat of ice is brought forth: a bowl of earthy radish and raspberry broth, topped artfully with geranium petals, and rendered even earthier by subtle notes of fermented koji. A grounding beginning. Next is a whisper-delicate tart wearing a crown of purple borage flowers, under which mandolin-shaved curls of avocado and samphire are a velvet savoury dream. Allen’s reverence for Indigenous ingredien
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  • Collingwood
  • price 1 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Jim's Greek Tavern
Jim's Greek Tavern
Jim’s Greek Tavern first opened in 1980, and its charm has endured. In a city with countless dainty wine bars and finicky degustation menus (we love them), Jim’s has persisted due to its distinctive style and ambience. Simple, generous, flavourful Greek food is on the bill here - and the no corkage beer, wine and anything-in-between BYO policy don't hurt either. Two large rooms in white brick with soft blue details encapsulate the Greek patriotism that this restaurant is all about. Service is a medley of brusque, smiley or cordial – but it's always professional. Their ability to service over 200 guests on a busy night is just one of the things they’ve perfected in 40-something years. The Panagopoulos family have been at the helm of Jim’s since its establishment and the impudent and jocular way in which the staff converse with each other personifies the family feel. Although there is a menu, you won't be offered one when you arrive. Instead, the waiter will reel off dishes by their principal ingredient, “fish, lamb, salad” – it's best if you just sit back and nod. Although this does mean you play a version of roulette with the bill, the gargantuan portions and aforementioned free corkage mean you usually break even.  Food comes out at a frenetic pace, and the waiters will usually be ferrying several plates of a singular dish to surrounding tables. Saganaki arrives in a heavy-bottomed fry pan with a thick slice of lemon. It's nutty and salty, but its appeal is temperature relia
  • Modern Australian
  • St Kilda
  • price 3 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
When you first step into the stylish airlock entrance at Stokehouse, the transportation to another world is immediate. Suspended in the liminal space, the door behind you closes and the noisy buzz of St Kilda’s busy streets fades to a calming hum. A journey begins. Up the stairs, we head to the first floor where the magic awaits. The host is attentive and charming from the outset, offering to take our coats and guiding us to our seats before introducing the other service staff who’ll be taking care of us for the night. But while impressed, we’re not really surprised. This is Stokehouse, after all, a bastion of traditional hospitality and serene comfort since the early 1990s. But I want to know – after all this time, does the food and drink still stack up to the restaurant’s lofty reputation?  Let’s find out. During the day, Stokehouse’s broad, floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the glistening beach, flooding the dining space with rays of sun. At night, however, it’s a moodier setting, with warm lamps and designer chandeliers elevating the interior decor – a theatre for food and sea under the moonlight.  On this chilly  evening, the beach is roaring as loudly as the wind is howling, and my partner and I are feeling cosy and romantic by the window. The only word for it is cinematic. After placing our orders, we’re paid a visit by the sommelier. He’s got drink suggestions to pair with our menu choices if we’re interested – of course, we are. A dry Tasmanian brut and a bright Vene
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  • Filipino
  • Melbourne
  • price 3 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
 Melbourne loves to talk big about its multicultural credentials but until now, there’s been a Philippines-sized gap in the city’s eating CV. We’re totally down with Thai jungle curries, Shanghainese xiao long bao and Malaysian char kway teow, but the Filipino dinuguan, kinilaw and sinuglaw have flown under the popular radar in defiance of Australia’s fifth-largest migrant community.  It’s double the reason to immediately fall in love with a restaurant delivering such a catchy modern hook on Pinoy cuisine you can almost dance to it.  Tucked down a dead-end laneway off Little Bourke, the good-looking room has a series of heavy rust-coloured doors (pro tip: choose the first one) that perplex newcomers but entertain the smug folk already seated inside the latest addition to the canon of Melbourne’s great semi-industrial restaurant spaces.  The entrance/exit scenario is too clever by half, but the rest of the package is just clever.  Opened by ex-Rice Paper Sister chef Ross Magnaye with a couple of chef compadres, Serai’s fire-based cooking riffs on his Filipino heritage without suggesting anything like authenticity.  In this spirit, Serai is aligned with Khanh Nguyen’s Sunda in its confident pan-Asian update: irreverent and exciting, playful and sharp.  The lechon cleaves closest to the original source material. The roasted free-range pig is all crackle and squish, the addition of pineapple into the gently spicy-sweet palapa sauce making it a thing of tropical beauty. But elsewh
  • Beaconsfield
  • price 3 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
This is very much going to sound like a first-world problem, but sometimes you’re simply not in the mood for the laborious mental demands of high-brow degustation dining. Unlike hoeing into a bowl of spag bol at your mum’s house or sharing a pizza with friends, taking the time to critically ponder the creative life’s work of a chef can feel tense and serious. This is why after a 45-minute drive from Melbourne to Beaconsfield, I’m grateful to discover the famous O.My to be a surprisingly relaxing affair. It’s hushed with natural light, as comfortable as a reading room in a library, and boasts no ostentatious distractions or highfalutin tricks up its sleeve. Serenity, at last. The space is coloured only by splashes of cheeky modern art (there’s a painting of a man inhaling wine so enthusiastically that it’s spilt all over his suit, for example), and the vibrant personality of my sommelier. We chat a little about the local farmers’ market happening nearby, and he playfully takes a look at the blurb of the book I’ve brought with me. The plan is to do the four-course seasonal menu with snacks, sourdough and drink pairings, a shorter experience than the seven-course experience also on offer, but nevertheless not to be rushed. He’s there as a guide to talk me through each dish and make sure I’m taken care of, but promises not to hover too much that I feel encroached. It’s a lovely, breezy way to do service, and I’m started off with a glass of crisp sub-alpine sparkling wine from Hol
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  • Malaysian
  • Melbourne
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Located on the quieter end of the street, Lulu’s Char Koay Teow always manages to pull a crowd that rivals its neighbours – and though it’s inspired by the hawker stalls of Malaysia, there’s no hawking necessary here. Day or night, the small, bustling eatery is almost always packed to the brim, clear evidence that the food speaks for itself. Their signature is – you guessed it – the char koay teow, which has been steadily gaining the restaurant cult status since they opened three years ago. It’s deeply flavoured but not too saucy and chock-full of ingredients. Choose from blood cockles or razor clams or (my personal favourite) duck eggs, which are folded into a base of thick, chewy rice noodles alongside prawns, Chinese sausage, pork lard, chives and chilli. Unless you go for the $9 vegetarian version, which swaps the animal products for tofu and veg but manages to pack the same punch, even when packed up and reheated at home. It’s probably thanks to the special sauce, a secret recipe borrowed from the owner’s mother-in- law who used to run a popular CKT stall in Penang. In other words, this is probably the closest thing you’ll find in Melbourne, and that’s something to get excited about. For the sake of doing one thing very, very well, you’d think Lulu’s might stick to the classics but they’ve been expanding their menu as of late. Thankfully, quantity has not sacrificed quality – options like the jawa mee, a soupy hokkien noodle dish topped with potatoes, tofu, crushed peanu
  • Thai
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Soi 38
Soi 38
Having trouble finding Soi 38? Just follow your nose. While the address is equal parts intriguing and perplexing, the heady scent of Thailand – its star anise, galangal, chilli, lime and herbs – will lure you inside the multi-level poured concrete carpark down a laneway off Bourke Street. Don’t go thinking this cheap-eat champion is big on the novelty and low on the substance. The brightly coloured haunt in the middle of the urban jungle can claim to have introduced Melbourne to authentic Bangkok-style boat noodles. Lurking in a pungent, funky soup brothwith a host of add-ons (braised pork or beef, a pork ball and crackling, bean sprouts andcoriander), the springy noodles ballast the sort of one-dish wonder that encompasses theentire food pyramid, big on flavour and even bigger on comfort. Owners Andy Buchan and Top Kijphavee kicked off in 2015 serving just boat noodles and prawn wontons in tom yum soup. But the people have spoken, and they’ve incrementally added more menu items (all hail the duck larb, a spicy, crackle-textured delight) before throwing caution to the wind with a dinner service as well. Boat noodles aren’t on the menu by night, but the Thai barbecue and hotpot provide ampleconsolation, albeit one cloaked in the agony of indecision. Will it be the pork skewers known as moo ping, the fatty meat first marinated in fish and soy sauce and mollified with a post-grill brush with coconut milk, or the swatches of golden calamari with a pungent lime-forward dipping sau
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
+39
+39
Prepare to be charmed when you call +39 to make a reservation. No doubt you’ll hear a gorgeous Italian accent and shouts of ‘ciao!’ in the background. +39 is a valuable addition to Melbourne’s burgeoning pizza scene. It’s open for lunch and dinner daily and embraced by CBD workers as evidenced by the deafening noise on a Thursday night. The long rectangular shaped restaurant has stark white walls, an exposed ceiling and a glass cabinet full of giant Italian cheeses and cured meats (vegetarians may need to avert their eyes). Although pasta dishes are available – Bolognese or cannelloni are on offer today – pizza is the darling here. The swordfish pizza from the specials board is an odd combination that doesn’t quite hit the mark. Thin slices of milky white swordfish are laid on a base with fior di latte cheese, while a ‘salad’ of raw fennel, orange segments and pistachios is strewn on top. It deserves an A for originality but the ensemble is a little bland (particularly the fish) and could do with a good salting. We go for the tartufata: truffle paste, topped with sliced mushrooms, finished with parmesan cheese and a little bundle of rocket in the centre. The bases at +39 are outstanding. They’re thin, chewy, beautifully puffed up round the edges with a wonderful buttery flavour. A side of radicchio salad is also lovely: it’s fresh, sweet with a truffle honey dressing.
  • Indian
  • West Footscray
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Aangan
Aangan
There are two kinds of people in Melbourne, those who have heard of Aangan, and those who have not. For the uninitiated, Aangan is the 15-year-old, well-oiled machine serving multiregional Indian cuisine to the local community and anyone determined enough to travel for their near-flawless food. Footscray may be known as one of Melbourne’s main Vietnamese hubs, but if you keep heading west, you’ll find yourself in Little India. There’s a little bit of an intelligence test getting into Aangan, the restaurant is glass-fronted with doorways blocked off by inside seating. The trick is to keep walking until you hit a narrow corridor to the side of the building that eventually leads to an entrance, a hectic takeaway area, and if you keep walking, a huge, tented courtyard packed with even more diners. It may be overwhelming on your first visit because Aangan is the kind of venue where they’re full from the minute they open until the minute they close, but the staff are so used to the controlled chaos that they never miss a beat. Needless to say, unless you like waiting for a table, you’d be smart to book ahead otherwise you’ll be left in food-purgatory, staring at large tables of Indian families sharing tandoori platters, curries, naans and biryanis; couples on first dates dipping into butter chicken; or groups of friends tucking into chaat. The menu spans India, and even a little beyond with chaat and biryani from the north, dosa, idli and sambhar from the south, plus a range of fri
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  • Middle Eastern
  • Carlton
  • price 2 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Abla's
Abla's
When young Abla Amad came to Melbourne in 1954 she brought the love of cooking developed while watching her mother in their north Lebanese village. Later, she sharpened her culinary skills with the Lebanese women who would meet in each other’s kitchens to exchange recipes. Abla loved feeding people so much that meal-making for her family turned into hosting Sunday feasts for the community – and then came the restaurant. Abla’s opened in 1979 in the same location it’s in today and upon entry you experience a pleasant time warp. The décor – white tablecloths, simple chairs and extravagantly framed paintings – hasn’t changed much since those early days, and the hospitality is instant: a warm welcome with olives and pita crisps already on your table. This is one of those places where it's worth considering the banquet. In the first event, charry baba ghanoush jostles for attention with creamy yet firm labne and chunky hummus. Next up, ladies’ fingers are so fine and buttery that the filo pastry barely contains the pine nuts and minced lamb spiked with cumin, allspice and sumac – you won’t be able to stop licking your fingers. The baked chicken wings in garlic and lemon are fall-off-the-bone tender, and in these days of 1,001 spices, such a simple dish is refreshing. Abla does two versions of the Middle East’s beloved stuffed vegetables: one with silverbeet, the other with cabbage. Don’t leave without trying the former (it's not part of the banquet but consider tacking it on), whi
  • St Kilda
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Acland Street Cantina
Acland Street Cantina
Acland Street Cantina is the Melbourne Pub Group’s new house of Mexican snacks, and no, it's not 'authentically Mexican'. But that’s OK. Chef Paul Wilson does great Cal-Mex. It’s the European/South American riff on the cuisine that unlike sour-creamy Tex-Mex, sees accents of radishes, figs and parsley join the often meaty taco party. Dinner may start with chilled pumpkin 'guacamole', punching fresh with tomato salsa and festooned with pepitas and crumbled white queso fresco cheese. Scoop it up with plantain crisps, made from that starchy banana relative. It’s tasty, vibrant stuff that steers away from the oversubscribed norms, served up in another of Julian Gerner's great spaces. There’s a front café/late-night diner (3am!) decorated with so many fluoro pink lights and lolly stools it looks like Katy Perry. We actually prefer it out here to the restaurant, which aside from a compulsory Day of the Dead mosaic is just as dark and thumping with bass as when it was Mink nightclub. Which makes it all the more disappointing that the service is letting them down. On our visit, the lack of knowledge of dishes and drinks is endemic, and though most staff are friendly enough, there’s chaos on the floor. But, forewarned is forearmed and if you can get past the glitches, there’s good food to be had here. This is Wilson’s most Mexican offering to date (thanks to him having now actually been to Mexico). Tortillas are great. Thick and a little rough like a corn pancake for loading with gril
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  • Fitzroy
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Addict Food and Coffee
Addict Food and Coffee
You never think of Fitzroy as needing more brunch, but when you consider the quality of hangover the suburb can provide there isn’t nearly enough. Who can walk more than a block or queue for eggs after a night at the Evelyn, the Everleigh or both? Not us. And clearly not the folks who live near Mark Tuckey furniture. They’ve descended on Johnston Street’s latest bruncher like it’s the great white, macramé-filled hope. They do a gold standard classic here. Corn fritters are like deep-fried kernel-studded cornbread, with grilled haloumi and hidden in a mixed lettuce hedge with fresh tomato salsa and poached eggs. The buckwheat pancake stack is as fat as a Victoria sponge and twice as nutritious: two inch-thick disks accessorised with poached quince and massive dollop of vanilla mascarpone. The menu is basically a roll call of café foods we love: spongy crumpets from Dr Marty; pats of cultured Pepe Saya butter and pots of raspberry/rhubarb jam. It’s Little Bertha's chocolate praline cakes in the front counter, while behind them stands barista Cam Greene, who’s migrated just 100-metres down from where he was slinging cups at Doomsday. He’ll extract you a lip numbing shot from the good folks at Padre that’s equally sweet as a neat black shortie or a full fat flattie. It's a double couple team making Addict run like it's on wheels. Greg and Brooke Brassil used to own a coffee roastery back in Shepparton. The floor team, lead by business partners Joe and Brooke Ventura, are alert as
  • Fitzroy
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Afghan Gallery
Afghan Gallery
Food isn't always just sustenance. Whether it's spaghetti on toast or gefilte fish, the taste of a dish can evoke powerful personal and cultural memories. A little of that power seems to be at work at the Afghan Gallery, which for 24 years has been winning over Brunswick Street diners with generous servings of deceptively simple-looking food. The care with which it's prepared creates a strong impression that this food means something to the people behind the scenes. The family-owned restaurant occupies two storeys of an older-style building, the ground floor a conventional à la carte establishment with rugs and posters for colour, and the first floor laid out like a traditional Afghan banqueting room. The 'tent room' is an excellent space for parties: dimly lit and scattered with cushions, it encourages lingering as guests slide ever further under the low tables. The menu contains some amusingly vague descriptions, like spinach with “different spices” and mungbeans served with “vegetable dish”. If you need to know what’s in there, the staff will be happy to help, but if specific ingredients aren’t an issue it’s best to just relax and trust that the food will be good. Highlights include a qorma slow-cooked with chunks of eggplant so tender they collapse at the sight of a fork; lightly spiced meat samosas with homemade yoghurt; and a smooth, delicately flavoured yellow dhal served with perfect long-grained basmati rice with hints of cumin and clove. The bar is basic, but BYO
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  • Italian
  • Carlton
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Agostino
Agostino
Have you ever tried to style your hair into a ‘messy bob’, or attempted to cook paella at home? As it turns out, looking effortless requires a lot of work. With Agostino, about four years’ worth has resulted in a restaurant that’s breezily confident from the outset, ready to elbow its way into Melbourne’s Italian canon. The place has barely opened, but the linen-clad staff are already gliding around buzzing rooms, pouring wines from a towering backlit cellar and swooping down plate after plate of sophisticated regional fare.  Agostino is the final, crowning jewel in the Valmorbida family’s epic complex of Italian drinking and dining, which also includes the revived King & Godfree Deli and rooftop spritz bar Johnny’s Green Room. But where the other two are more casual affairs, this upscale wine bar is here to make an impression. The space is a study in relaxed, discerning luxury, pale woods and dusty greens soothing as shiny terrazzo and marble bars adding a moneyed weight. Meanwhile, that glowing cellar holds a small town’s economy in triple digit European wines, sure to be given high rotation by the long lunchers and Carlton’s comfortable retirees. Smaller budgets are kept intact by the glass, with interest-piquing options like a buttery moschofilero from Greece and a deliciously unfussy red on tap – a tannin-light field blend of Italian varietals including lagrein and nero d’Avola that’s fat with dark fruits and yours for only $10. The menu, meanwhile, is a clear-eyed explo
  • Italian
  • Fitzroy
  • price 2 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
For weeks, it was the name we’d heard most on the lips of our food-obsessed friends: Alta Trattoria. What could be so extraordinary about yet another Italian joint in a city brimming with some of the best of them? We couldn’t yet know, but we weren’t about to wait a minute longer to find out. After all, pasta is good, but good pasta is everything – even when you’re privileged enough to have already tasted some of the silkiest, sauciest and slurp-worthiest in all the land. Do your research though, and you’ll quickly discover that Alta Trattoria is not, in fact, just “another Italian joint”.  The restaurant’s specialty is a little different, zeroing in on the northern Italian region of Piedmont, which is located at the foot of the Alps and home to some of the boot nation’s most prized culinary exports. In addition, the team behind Alta Trattoria includes Luke Drum (Carlton Wine Room), chef McKay Wilday (Victoria by Farmers Daughters), Carlo Grossi (Ombra, Grossi Florentino) and vino expert James Tait (King and Godfree). A formidable crew like this at the helm is nothing to sniff at – so off we trotted on a Friday night. Tucked away off Brunswick Street, a tomato-red-painted restaurant quietly hums with good cheer and Italo-pop music. One dining area looks out onto the graffiti-decorated side street, the other’s nestled against an imposing bar. The friendly, bustling atmosphere belies a hidden thread of formality that ties the whole operation together with the finesse of a more
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  • Italian
  • Melbourne
  • price 2 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Everyone has that one friend whose restaurant recommendations are to be trusted. They’re the type of friend who follows food blogs religiously, who knows their nduja from their natto, always the first on the ground when a new hot sandwich joint opens or, in Alt’s case, a sultry modern pasta restaurant. So when that type of friend in my life gave the Niagara Lane newcomer a big, fat, green tick, it soared to the top of my hit list in an instant.  What I discovered in my research was intriguing. Everything at Alt is made in-house, including the pasta, the bread, vinegars and more. The menu’s also interesting, not your standard showcase of traditional Italian ingredients. Mossy green ribbons of pappardelle come topped with shavings of abalone, and you’ll spot diverse ingredients like kumquat, romesco, dashi jelly and edamame also making unexpected appearances in several dishes. There’s clearly a flirtation with Japan going on here. Perhaps most surprisingly, the Korean-born chef eschews added salt in his cooking, instead building his dishes from a savoury base of house-made chicken stock. Curiosity piqued, off to lunch I go, bringing along a carb-loving colleague. Alt’s slinky dimly lit lair offers a relaxing haven from the noise of the city. We settle in with a vino each, two skin-contact whites that pair politely with a plate of fresh pumpkin bread and mushroom butter brought to our table right away. The flavours are wild and robust, as satisfying as you’d expect. My zippy Il
  • Armadale
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
From the moment you book the full seasonal tasting experience on Amaru’s website, you know you’re in for an odyssey. It’s the restaurant’s most extravagant offering, after all – with five snacks, seven courses and petit fours, plus optional drink pairings. Skipping brekky isn’t a bad idea, but that’s not to say the food at Amaru will be dense or cumbersome – the progression of light to heavier dishes is carefully designed, a thoughtful pacing that allows you to take as long as you please in comfort. Situated on a leafy boutique strip in Armadale amidst bridal shops and delis, the 34-seat venue is surprisingly low-key inside. Behind the sheer curtains concealing it from the outside world, you’re met with a starkly understated dining room accented with natural timber, earthy textiles, brushed grey walls and a statement vase of native flowers. The tables are widely spaced apart, offering a private sanctuary for languid, leisurely dining – which you’ll certainly need to fully immerse yourself in every bite that comes your way. Despite being a fine diner, there’s a mostly relaxed feel to Amaru, only interrupted when you sense a brief rush or moment of tension in the kitchen.  Curious about the housemade and fermented drinks that feature in the non-alcoholic program, I’ve opted to go booze-free today. The waiter encourages a sly glance at the wine list, and I sneak in a glass of sprightly cider from Normandy as an aperitif. It’s with equal parts trepidation and excitement that I’ve

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