Get us in your inbox

Search
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

Written by
Time Out editors
Advertising
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Prahran
  • price 2 of 4
It’s funny how sometimes the simplest of concepts have the greatest impact. Like Entrecôte, which was hailed in its Domain Road heyday for the audacious vision of serving steak frites and little else. It was a flamboyant beret-tip to Paris’ Le Releaise de Venise, which has single-mindedly celebrated the bistro stalwart since 1959, but food history demands acknowledgment that steak frites were never the sole focus of Entrecôte. It made for a good story but there has always been plenty of additional culinary frou-frou rounding out the menu, just as there is at the reboot of Jason M Jones’ South Yarra partygirl-slash-Francophilic beast on Greville Street. At the rather enormous site of the former Fog nightclub (if you’re like us, you struggle to remember the memories) the good times continue to roll. Jones’ partner in design, Brahman Perera, has conjured a space flirting with the Belle Époque via royal blue velvet banquettes, glittering chandeliers, random arty chotchkes and the eager deployment of white linen. Out front, there’s a phalanx of blue and white wicker chairs on the pavement, the perfect spot for posing with your Bichon Frise; a few steps above it sits the restaurant proper with a covered conservatory jutting off to the side. If you want to keep things casual, the street or conservatory are the scene for drinks and a lengthy bar menu; the bistro and restaurant demand the buy-in of a two or three course menu at $80 and $95 respectively. Ned’s sourdough baguette and s
Meatmaiden
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne
Even if you came to this address when it was the ill-fated Little Hunter, you’ll probably still get lost. It’s OK - even our waitress admits she almost missed her interview. Here’s the drill: take the lift down, turn right, then right again, avoiding the curtain that will take you into the kitchen. Success will land you in the gothic lair that is Meatmaiden, meaty twin to Neil Hamblen’s Richmond smokehouse, Meatmother. Everything is a little more polished at this CBD sister. While Meatmother is bright and white and banging out some East Coast hip hop, Meatmaiden is all black walls, deep booths, copper fixtures and glossy concrete. Glass cabinets are packed with thick, marbled rib eyes, chains of sausages and racks of short ribs, all lit up by spotlights in full gory glory. It looks like Fangtasia - the nightclub from True Blood. Dishes have also been scrubbed up for the big smoke. Your mac and cheese now comes topped with lobster like it’s wearing its nice hat to church. It’s good – a rich, cheesy mess of elbow pasta, though most of the flavour comes from a shellfish oil that soaks the breadcrumb crust than from the lump of grilled tail meat on top. They’re throwing some high quality beef into the Myron Mixon smoker (imported from the States and running on the sweet smoke from red gum and cherry woods). This is meat for those who like it fat-rich, salt-heavy and so soft it’s gummable. The 20-hour brisket, rubbed in native pepperberry, is so marbled it’s like eating meat butte
Advertising
Bibelot
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • South Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
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
Stokehouse
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Modern Australian
  • St Kilda
  • price 3 of 4
Yep, Stokehouse reopened its doors to let that fresh St Kilda air in; restored, rejuvenated and completely remedied after the fire that left a blackened spot on the foreshore for nearly three long years.  The fit-out here runs with the beach shack theme, with wide, rough-sawn boards and tubular glass chandeliers that undulate just slightly in the breeze. The tables are well-spaced and linen-clad, which is like the Stokehouse of yore, as are the waiters, a full battalion of them, who are uniformly good. All is as it should be. The menu is curated by executive chef Jason Staudt and head chef Mark Wong, with offerings like seafood platters, beef tartare, pan-seared Murray cod and Cape Grim sirloin. For dessert, you can expect dishes that utilise fresh and seasonal fruits and locally-sourced dairy products, like summer berry pudding served with clotted cream, passionfruit mille-feuille and house-made gelato or sorbet.   
Advertising
Pontoon
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Mediterranean
  • St Kilda
  • price 2 of 4
Pontoon is a glamour model masquerading as a breezy beach shack. The fit-out by George Livissianis, whose stamp is on the trendy Sydney joints Apollo and the Dolphin Hotel, hits a Scandi nautical-but-nice vibe with consummate ease. Thick rope is twined around pillars on the deck, eyeballing the beach just metres away, while inside it’s all textured surfaces, from herringbone concrete tiles on the floor to a honeycomb of rattan suspended above a long central bar.  Seating options? Tale your pick from skinny clusters of tall tables – perfect for posing around in best Mad Men guise –along with picnic tables and low banquettes. It’s a party place (ably transmitted by its Instagram tagline “40 speakers. DJs. Outdoor deck”), and the prism is also a good way to understand the menu, which is strictly Mediterranean with a focus on share plates. You'll find heaps of cured meats, pickles and seafood as well as wood-fired offerings and hand-made pasta.  With all the salt floating around the place – and we’re not just talking about Port Phillip Bay – you’ll be needing a drink. There are enough taps to satisfy the beer nerds, while the wine list makes a virtue of local heroes without neglecting the Old World (and jugs of Pimms are a note-perfect addition to the cocktails list). You’ll need to remember your table number when you go up to order everything at the bar. It’s a time-consuming process on a quiet Wednesday lunchtime, so clearly it’s something that will need to be ironed out before
Industry Beans Fitzroy
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Fitzroy
 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.
Advertising
Henry and the Fox
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne
  • price 2 of 4
This review was conducted in 2014. Some details may have changed. Henry and the Fox reopens April 20, 2021.  At mod-European bistro Henry and the Fox it’s all about lunch. The CBD space is bright and breezy, with cute foxy stockinged chairs and an Astroturf terrace primed for illicit midday drinking. They do dinner too, but Little Collins only parties from 9-5 and past sundown, it feels like you’re eating in a restaurant post-apocalypse. But back to sunnier times, the ale is Hawthorn, the wine list visits France and Spain and lunch represents a significant upgrade from a 7-11 sanga. Croquettes are deep fried missiles concealing an explosive lava of ham flecked molten cheese, and a pretty plate of raw kingfish ‘ceviche’, (our Mexican pals insist on the air quote distinction) is jazzed up with ruby grapefruit and shaved fennel. It’s a win for spice wusses –no kick to the pants of acid lime and chilli here. The kitchen suffers from a touch of fancy-ingredient-syndrome. Squid ink tagliatelle is the trophy wife of the chilli, clam and garlic vongole – all looks and no character, and an almost marzipan-flavoured shellfish mayo sinks a dish of roasted prawns without a trace. Having said that, the whole flash-fried quail’s eggs are all golden crunch and mellow yolky pop. Bypass anything truffle infused for the traditional gear like a meaty rabbit terrine studded with capers, and you’re sitting pretty.    
Oakridge
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Coldstream
  • price 3 of 4
Update: We attended this venue in January 2019 and some details may have altered since then.  Winery dining is a bit of a ‘thing’ right now. You only have to look at all the young folk colonising tables at Pt Leo Estate and Tuck’s Ridge and Oakridge to realise there’s something in the water.  And the signs are that winery restaurants are following their demographic cues. Stuffy winery fine dining (you know, with the linen and Escoffier-style sauces) is going the way of the dinosaurs, replaced by food that gently interrogates the wine, food and terroir nexus.   Which brings us to Oakridge in the Yarra Valley. A typical architectural monument to mammon surrounded by sloping hills of vines and an impressive kitchen garden, it’s the home of some spectacular wines (hello, 864 Funder chardonnay) and a buzzing cellar door. But make sure you step inside to the broad-boned dining room, where floor-to-ceiling windows afford David Attenborough-worthy views of galahs flitting past a magpie as it scoffs a worm lunch on the lawn. It’s no less locavore inside the kitchen thanks to the combined, non-hierarchical cheffing talents of Matt Stone and Jo Barrett, who have spent the past four years honing their location-sensitive craft into something approaching peak deliciousness.  Take the sourdough, made with biodynamic wheat Barrett mills each day. Her unwavering commitment to superior carbs is repaid in a caramel-crusted loaf served with the gentle tang of buttermilk curds from a small herd o
Advertising
Kazuki's
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Carlton
Update: We attended this venue in January 2019 and some details may have altered since then.  Dateline: Lygon Street. Toto’s Pizza House is just to the south; Universal Café just to the north. We’re in the Italian heartland where spruikers induce passers-by into their red sauce fiefdoms. And into this kingdom of carbs and cheese comes Kazuki’s. Yes, the Japanese-ish, French-ish modern restaurant from Daylesford has swum against the tide of real estate refugees moving to central Victoria and upped stumps to the city. So what would induce two successful restaurateurs such as Kazuki and Saori Tsuya to take  reopen in the big smoke after seven years in the country? (Incidentally, there’s still reason to seek them out at the Daylesford address, now a more casual Japanese diner called Sakana). Luckily our task at hand is not to enter the fevered minds of hospo folk but to judge their actions. And the augurs for Kazuki’s – and indeed for Lygon Street itself - are good. It’s an evolution of the Daylesford mothership in every regard. A startlingly zen-like fit-out courtesy of Design Office has banished every layer of surplus detail. The grey-blue walls are boldly bare. The soft yellow-gold carpet is blissfully sound-quashing. Two supersized paper lanterns, one of the few decorative flourishes allowed, adroitly carry the Japanesque theme, as does the parade of wabi-sabi (perfectly imperfect) ceramics. The aesthetics are just as keenly realised on those plates. Kazuki-san remains execut
Brae
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Birregurra
  • price 3 of 4
Update: We attended this venue in May 2019 and some details may have altered 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 these fertile fields, but gentle reminders arrive in the form of a crisp pastry shell filled with tender rock lobster capped with sea lettuce and sweetened with corn. Or a chargrilled prawn head that you wrap up in a fresh slice of kohlrabi and eat like a taco. It turns out that is just the opener for an even more c
Ima Project Café
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Carlton
On a Carlton corner, Ima Project Café is breathing new life into smashed avo. Furikake (a mixture of sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, salt and sugar) and nori paste (processed seaweed boiled down with soy sauce) are usually sprinkled on rice, but Ima slathers crunchy sourdough with the nori paste and then sprinkles the furikake on top of avocado. The result is a salty and savoury breakfast dish unlike any iteration of the creamy toast topper you’ll find in Melbourne.  Japanese twists on archetypal breakfast dishes can also be found in Ima’s miso-infused tomato baked eggs and the porridge drizzled with Mitarashi syrup, a traditional Japanese sauce made from soy sauce and sugar. Plus, the classic Japanese breakfast set of fish and rice is on the menu. But Ima isn’t just reinventing Melbourne breakfast. Lunchtime options kick-start at 11am, meaning you can get curry rice or a katsu burger before noon. An ebi katsu (crumbed prawn) burger stars on the specials board. Sandwiched between sweet and crumbly brioche buns courtesy of Cobb Lane are large breaded prawns laced with a velvety taru taru sauce, a Japanese-style tartare that has more heft than its western equivalent due to the inclusion of hard boiled eggs. You won’t need serviettes to dry off your oil-slicked fingers with this deceptively light burger – the prawns are light and crisp. Adhering to Ima’s no-waste policy, the burger is served alongside deep-fried prawn heads that you can eat whole – the shell is rendered so crunch
Miznon
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Middle Eastern
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
  Fans of Ottolenghi would do well to take note – in his cookbook Jerusalem, the renowned chef hailed the mastermind behind global Israeli pita empire Miznon, Eyal Shani, as “the voice of modern Israeli cuisine”. And that voice is now getting global reach – Melbourne’s Hardware Lane outpost has become Shani’s sixth Miznon, soon to be joined by a seventh in New York.   Nothing about Miznon is orthodox. It’s a double-storied restaurant, but the action unspools downstairs where diners order at the counter and wait for their names to be called. Nearly ten young, energetic waitstaff – so many for a relatively small eatery – zip in and out of the exposed kitchen, shouting in Hebrew to one another and animatedly dispensing advice on what to order. The backing soundtrack is that of tambourines spontaneously played by waitstaff and the loud pounding of minute steaks being flattened with a meat tenderiser.  One staff member urges us to perch ourselves on high stools overlooking the kitchen, where he then proceeds to offer us shots, and then the whole restaurant – waitstaff and diners alike – erupt in a toast to ‘cauliflower night’. Cauliflower gets a night of its own because it is the star of Shani’s menu. Baby brassicas adorn the walls of the restaurant before they’re brined and whisked into ovens, roasted whole with olive oil and salt until they’re crisp and deep brown. It’s served atop a thin sheet of paper for two or more diners to share. That paper delivery system is another clue
Advertising
Tonka
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne
  • price 2 of 4
By all reports it’s been a tough year in the Melbourne restaurant industry. A slow winter, thinning crowds and increasing competition have taken the wind out of plenty of sails. But then you front up at 6.30pm on a Tuesday to a restaurant that opened in the dark distant past (2013, to be exact), where tables are packed with glossy young things on what feels like the world’s biggest Tinder date, and realise you’ve found an exception to the rule. Welcome to the alternate reality of Tonka, where chef Adam D’Sylva and partners have conclusively proven Indian food was ready for its fine dining close-up. Like thinking back to a pre-marriage equality Australia, it’s almost quaint to remember that when Tonka opened there were mutterings about the upwardly mobile aspirations of a cuisine beset by curry house sameness. But hey, Melbourne’s always quick to catch on to what the rest of the world is rolling its eyes about, and others have arrived in its wake. Babu Ji in St Kilda, Piquancy in Hawthorn, the Rochester Castle Hotel and newcomer ISH in Fitzroy have shown that people are receptive to tarted-up Indian street food delivered with a bit of style, yet Tonka remains in a league of its own in going for the high-end jugular, showing no mercy in its $40-plus curries and winning the love of a city by making it worth the splash-out. In the half-decade since opening D’Sylva and co have added a more casual cocktails-and-fried-cauliflower thali bar – imaginatively called Thali Bar – but othe
Oakridge
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Coldstream
  • price 3 of 4
Update: We attended this venue in January 2019 and some details may have altered since then.  Winery dining is a bit of a ‘thing’ right now. You only have to look at all the young folk colonising tables at Pt Leo Estate and Tuck’s Ridge and Oakridge to realise there’s something in the water.  And the signs are that winery restaurants are following their demographic cues. Stuffy winery fine dining (you know, with the linen and Escoffier-style sauces) is going the way of the dinosaurs, replaced by food that gently interrogates the wine, food and terroir nexus.   Which brings us to Oakridge in the Yarra Valley. A typical architectural monument to mammon surrounded by sloping hills of vines and an impressive kitchen garden, it’s the home of some spectacular wines (hello, 864 Funder chardonnay) and a buzzing cellar door. But make sure you step inside to the broad-boned dining room, where floor-to-ceiling windows afford David Attenborough-worthy views of galahs flitting past a magpie as it scoffs a worm lunch on the lawn. It’s no less locavore inside the kitchen thanks to the combined, non-hierarchical cheffing talents of Matt Stone and Jo Barrett, who have spent the past four years honing their location-sensitive craft into something approaching peak deliciousness.  Take the sourdough, made with biodynamic wheat Barrett mills each day. Her unwavering commitment to superior carbs is repaid in a caramel-crusted loaf served with the gentle tang of buttermilk curds from a small herd o
Advertising
Moroccan Soup Bar
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Fitzroy North
  • price 1 of 4
“I’m feeling lucky.” If you’re looking for a table at the Moroccan Soup Bar on a Saturday night, keep repeating this to yourself. For a tiny venue that has no menu, no booze and no meat, competition for diner real estate is astoundingly fierce. Get there at six or be prepared to wait an hour. So what the devil is all the hoo-ha about? Contrary to what the name suggests, this is not a bar, nor is soup the main event. But it certainly is Moroccan. The menu is verbal and has been the same for many years, earning dishes like the chickpea bake and dips a legendary status. For $23 or $28, you'll get a vegetarian spread that is one hell of a bang for your buck. Charismatic proprietor Hana Assafari has been successfully serving her North African cuisine here for over a decade, with minimal flair and no apologies. Treated more like a guest than a customer, you are greeted, informed of the menu, and fed whatever the kitchen has prepared. Simple. This lack of pandering is an affront to some, but in Assafari’s casual dining room, a napkin-flourishing song and dance would seem entirely out of place. What the kitchen cook up, incidentally, is wonderful. Warm flatbread with a zesty hummus, some olives, and a rough-textured, cumin-rich cauliflower dip start the proceedings, along with a thimble of sweet, fresh mint tea. A succession of plates follows, each a testament to the versatility of vegetables, and the transformative nature of spices. Sticky pots of lentils and saffron rice provide yo
Higher Ground
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Melbourne
  • price 2 of 4
Higher Ground is hot.  This new café-restaurant, from the team behind Top Paddock and Kettle Black, is incredibly ambitious. With 130 seats across three levels, 16 chefs who can put Pope Joan, Supernormal and Jacques Reymond on their CVs, and a squad of smart, unflappable wait staff, Higher Ground is taking breakfast, lunch and dinner to vertiginous new heights. The first thing you notice is the beauty of the interior. Housed in a heritage-listed former powerhouse and inspired by glam hotel lobbies, the café has a 15-metre-high ceiling creating a sense of spaciousness and drama. There's a mezzanine level with dangling greenery and glorious arched windows. Even if you don’t need to go to the loo, go to the loo. They’re positively gorgeous. Staff speed about, deftly delivering platters to punters whose delighted chatter fills the space and heightens the anticipation of the people outside. And once those outside get inside, they’re not disappointed.  Dashes of inventiveness characterise head chef Nate Wilkins’ day menu (ranging from $8.50 for toast to $26 for a Japanese fish broth). Avocado on sourdough is dressed with citrus salt, scrambled eggs come with curry leaf and housemade flat bread and a semolina porridge features dried plum and sesame.   The kale salad is beautiful. Frilly kale – roasted to a gorgeous nuttiness – mingles with broccoli florets, mini brussels sprouts and flawless segments of avocado, the whole green melange sitting atop a creamy almond hummus. The dish
Advertising
Kazuki's
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Carlton
Update: We attended this venue in January 2019 and some details may have altered since then.  Dateline: Lygon Street. Toto’s Pizza House is just to the south; Universal Café just to the north. We’re in the Italian heartland where spruikers induce passers-by into their red sauce fiefdoms. And into this kingdom of carbs and cheese comes Kazuki’s. Yes, the Japanese-ish, French-ish modern restaurant from Daylesford has swum against the tide of real estate refugees moving to central Victoria and upped stumps to the city. So what would induce two successful restaurateurs such as Kazuki and Saori Tsuya to take  reopen in the big smoke after seven years in the country? (Incidentally, there’s still reason to seek them out at the Daylesford address, now a more casual Japanese diner called Sakana). Luckily our task at hand is not to enter the fevered minds of hospo folk but to judge their actions. And the augurs for Kazuki’s – and indeed for Lygon Street itself - are good. It’s an evolution of the Daylesford mothership in every regard. A startlingly zen-like fit-out courtesy of Design Office has banished every layer of surplus detail. The grey-blue walls are boldly bare. The soft yellow-gold carpet is blissfully sound-quashing. Two supersized paper lanterns, one of the few decorative flourishes allowed, adroitly carry the Japanesque theme, as does the parade of wabi-sabi (perfectly imperfect) ceramics. The aesthetics are just as keenly realised on those plates. Kazuki-san remains execut
Babajan
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Carlton North
  • price 1 of 4
We suspect that northside locals would like the quiet strip of shops along Nicholson Street bordering Fitzroy North and Carlton to retain its village feel, but Babajan’s arrival looks set to draw plenty of newcomers to this sleepy high street.  Chef Kirsty Chiaplias, formerly of the Workers’ Food Room, has opened a café serving modern Turkish fare and they’re cooking some seriously delicious eats out of their tiny open kitchen. They make everything from scratch, in-house, and all the action is visible from the 20-odd seats inside. On any given day, the fruits of their labour include piles of hearty salads that wouldn't look amiss in an Ottolenghi cookbook, teacakes, pastries, and Turkish breads like pide and simit.  Menemen is the Turkish take on baked eggs that are traditionally pre-scrambled with tomatoes and spices. At Babajan, they choose to bake the eggs whole so you can dunk you simit – a slightly sweet, bagel-like bread ring encrusted with sesame seeds – into the eggy tomato mess. At the other end of the spectrum the baklava pain perdu is pretty close to having dessert for breakfast – it comes with a dreamy dollop of kaymak (close relative to clotted cream) and jammy poached quince that adds extra sweetness to the walnut-sprinkled brioche. There’s a couple of nods to Chiaplias’s Greek background in the mix too. The trout spanakopita really looks nothing like a spanakopita, but what’s some pastry between friends? Instead of filo, the spinach and cheese filling is wrappe
Advertising
Brae
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Birregurra
  • price 3 of 4
Update: We attended this venue in May 2019 and some details may have altered 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 these fertile fields, but gentle reminders arrive in the form of a crisp pastry shell filled with tender rock lobster capped with sea lettuce and sweetened with corn. Or a chargrilled prawn head that you wrap up in a fresh slice of kohlrabi and eat like a taco. It turns out that is just the opener for an even more c
Hi Chong Qing
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Carlton
  • price 1 of 4
If we were to tell you we know where the best noodles in Melbourne are, you’d most likely be expecting a ramen or laksa place, not an offbeat joint specialising in the food of the southwestern Chinese city Chongqing. Chongqing is famous for two things – hotpot and noodles. The noodles came to attention in Melbourne last year when Chinese dating game show If You Are the One host Meng Fei opened Mr Meng Chongqing Gourmet in Elizabeth Street. Now we have Hi Chong Qing, housed in an unassuming shopfront between RMIT and Lygon Street, obscured by road works on every side and easily missed if you’re not looking for it. Trust us: you should be looking for it and its short-but-sweet menu of five noodle dishes. Hi Chong Qing is the first venture from restaurateur Kevin Houng, who spent some time in Chongqing learning the art of making a good bowl of noodles from a master who has been honing his craft for 26 years. Fresh and springy wheat flour noodles, a mouth-numbing broth due to the inclusion of Sichuan peppercorns, and toppings ranging from intestines to pork feet are features of a traditional bowl of Chongqing noodles, but Houng has swapped out the spiciness for a more subtle level of heat and the offal with more conventional meat cuts. Kevin says they are considered a breakfast staple in Chongqing but Hi Chong Qing instead serves up a standard fare of coffee and pastries such as Danishes and croissants in the mornings. This draws a steady enough crowd, but 11am is when the rea
Bibelot
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • South Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
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
Frankie's Tortas and Tacos
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Collingwood
  • price 1 of 4
We’re eight-deep in the queue here at Frankie’s Tortas and Tacos, a stationary Mexican food truck servicing the outlet adventure stores of Smith Street’s arse end. “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” we exclaim, in unison, in our heads, in two-part harmony. “Why, it’s only a Tuesday! It’s but 12.30pm on a Tuesday, and we’re stood in a great sodding queue! Imagine!”Frankie’s opens at midday, and arriving much after is to risk the ultimate disappointment. “They often run out of food – get there early” goes the cautionary tale of diners and would-bes past. It’s a good selling strategy – just ask Brunswick’s Juaninto’s (née La Paloma): create delicious thing, make little of it daily, generate urgency, convert urgency into buzz, foster addiction, yield profit. Maybe it’s intentional, maybe it’s not. Either way, when the goods are as bulletproof as, say, the Paloma Roll, everyone’s winning.Six-deep in the queue and Frankie’s reveals its form – a caged area extends from the white truck (and one-time kebab joint, complete with functional kebab rig, more on that in a moment) to the street and offers questionable seating (red plastic stools, iron benches and a few bar stools) for roughly 15. Palpably smug typography courtesy of the team that nailed Leonardo’s declares Frankie’s the “Home of the Al Pastor”: a rotisserie-pork taco or torta filling courtesy of Mexico’s first Middle Eastern immigrants, who allegedly introduced their new pals to the spit (praise be). It’s an aesthetic triumph, popping
Advertising
Showtime BBQ & Dumpling Bar
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Clayton
  • price 1 of 4
No offering of food plus entertainment will ever eclipse that of the late spooky-steak sensation Dracula’s. Nobody’s suggesting that. But while Melbourne continues to mourn the ugly, protracted death of a cross-disciplinary icon, the dinner ‘n’ show niche appears to be bouncing back 19km southeast of the CBD in Clayton, assuming form as a raucous 80-seater where live karaoke meets the latest regional Chinese trend to take root in Melbourne: chuan’r.  One of the most cost-efficient and frenzied ways to get fed (and lit!) along China’s eastern seaboard, chuan’r is essentially the skewering, seasoning and coal-fire barbecuing of, well, pretty much anything. Originally from the country’s west, where the skewers are served on little swords, it’s now a wildly popular street food for workers and students alike – particularly in the country’s northeast – and subject to the outdoor cooking laws of the city, available on nearly every street corner. Yangrou chuan’r, lamb skewers loaded alternately with lamb meat and lamb fat, are considered the de facto captain of the lot, but the central canon runs from veggie mainstays like jiucai (Chinese leek) and jinzhengu (enoki mushrooms) through to fish, mantou (sweet Chinese bread) and a definitively ‘head-to-tail’ programme of red-blooded cuts. Everything is doused in cumin and chilli, and every participating throat is doused in beer or baijiu – China’s ruthless sorghum-based white spirit.  Thank you for attending our TED Talk. Showtime BBQ &
Lan Sen Noodle Bar
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Springvale
  • price 1 of 4
There must be something inherently compelling about Thai street food and exhaust fumes. It proved a recipe for sustained acclaim at inner-city wundernook Soi 38, whose unlikely but colourful digs at the bottom of a Wilson’s carpark have been full since launching its popular noodle program in 2015. Some 26km southeast of its progenitor you’ll find Lan Sen Noodle Bar: a lively 25-seater applying that fumey blueprint to a carpark in merry Springvale.  “We used to be a grocer”, explains our waiter, “but there are too many in Springvale now. So my auntie decided to turn it into a restaurant two years ago.” A wise move, it would seem, packed as it is on Tuesday afternoon with comers young and old. We’re told that this joint is locally famous for noodles and a broader roster of pan-Thai street foods, and a quick scan around the naturally lit room confirms the hype – bowls of fragrant, predominantly rice-noodled soups topping one in two tables, their aromas (and the odd car fume) ushered about by a charming pair of tiring ceiling fans.  A mug of sweet ginger tea in a fetching cat print mug gets us underway as we thumb through a menu of Thai street and not street food. We’re caught instantly by the miang pla too – an upright mackerel grilled and served with cabbage and noodles – but are advised against it because we “might not like it”. Bah! We push through, and out it comes grilled to tender perfection, and we get to ripping flesh from spine. The idea is to wrap a pinch of meat and v
Advertising
My Cambodia
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Cambodian
  • Springvale
  • price 1 of 4
“We call that ‘Cambo Strip,” says the owner of Springvale Vietnamese nook Bac 8. He’s referring to the run of half a dozen Cambodian restaurants at the northern border of Springvale’s vast dining precinct, a burgeoning stronghold for an underdog cuisine in a suburb with more pho joints than we’ve had bowls of pho – and not to flex, but we’ve had a few. We’re going with “Khmer Town”, and no trip to Khmer Town is complete without a trip to its de facto capital, buzzy BYO 40-seater My Cambodia. Cambodian flavours can be heavy-handed, to say the least. They’re not for everyone, and our waiter seems committed to steering us away from anything too bold. Maybe he’s had bad experiences with youngish white boys in the past, maybe he just doesn’t believe in his chef, but our waiter would appear to know precisely what we won’t like and why, and he firmly steers us away from anything he deems to be a misstep. Mostly anything fishy, but the spicier items are apparently off-limits, too. Damn. We start with the traditional Cambodian lemongrass soup: a sour, turmeric-hued number loaded with chopped lemongrass stalk, chuck beef and an artfully concertinaed rope of tripe for good measure – odd bedfellows, to be sure, but a pleasant and puckering way to begin.Ostensibly of Vietnamese origin but an adopted classic nonetheless, a Cambodian restaurant’s lok lak is a must, if only to get a read on the chef. Sugar cube-sized chunks of steak are dressed in a complex, kampot pepper-heavy marinade that
Blok M Express
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Indonesian
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
Blok M, a nightlife district in Jakarta, lends its name to this no-frills Indonesian eatery on Little Bourke Street, where nightclub-like queues form anytime after half-past 12 on a Friday afternoon. Students and worker bees alike jostle to find a spot in the split-level restaurant – you’ll most likely find yourself sharing a table with someone else, but what Blok M lacks in space and comfort it makes up for with the unapologetically punchy flavours of Indonesian food. Food can take a while to arrive, particularly during the lunchtime rush hour, but you’re not here for a sanga – complex dishes are prepared fresh, and it shows. And Blok M now accepts credit cards.  The perfumed aroma of condensed milk hits you as soon as you step into Blok M, no doubt due to Southeast Asia’s most popular pulled hot milk tea – teh tarik. Though this lacks the requisite silky richness to which we’re accustomed, the soda gembira – which translates to happy soda – makes us just that, with its pool of sweetened condensed milk sitting at the bottom of pandan syrup soda coating our mouths with every swig.  Blok M draws from every corner of Indonesia – its balado (a chilli-based spice mixture) dishes are from West Sumatra, while its grilled chicken owes its provenance to Java. If you’re unsure where to start, the ‘Blok M special entrée’ contains bite-sized portions of Indonesia’s most ubiquitous appetite-whetting dishes. Lumpia, influenced by the Chinese spring roll, is softer, spongier and lighter th
Advertising
Marios
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Fitzroy
  • price 1 of 4
In Marios, as in Mario times two, not Mario’s – Marios’, if anything – we have a lot to be grateful for. In 1986, when Fitzroy was but a dusty café nullius ruled by barbarous feudal lords and hangry megafauna (presumably), Marios’ opening as the first cafe on Brunswick Street would usher in not only the dawn of the suburb’s vibrant café culture but as goes the fable, the dawn of ‘all-day breakfast’ in a city now defined by it. The humble trat whose legacy alone guarantees a packed house every night is now a bona fide beacon of the inner north. People love Marios.  We know the story: two Marios bet it all on affordable-but-tableclothed Italian fare and won big. The lasagne’s reputation precedes it. The waitstaff wear waistcoats. Our Kylie visited once. Some other guy’s worked the pass since day dot and is getting on a bit.  Bedrock, institution, just like mama used to make, etc. Those who have grown up with Marios generally know what they’re setting out to achieve on any given visit. It’s usually pasta-related, and it’s often as simple as a stonking Bolognese and a post-work chinwag. Perhaps the puttanesca and a little solo social media. A celebratory T-Bone if you’ve been good. Less commonly, a three-course journey through the specials board and beyond, but hey, someone’s gotta do it.   It’s a heaving Wednesday night on our first visit – too packed to sit in the living room-cum-bordello front dining area. We’re ushered past the buzz and the people watching – a long-haired ma
Lokall
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Burnley
  • price 1 of 4
Burnley café Lokall is industrial. We don’t mean industrial chic in its aesthetic, as all Melbourne cafés seem to be required to be, but actually industrial – it’s a stone’s throw away from multimillion-dollar office development Botanicca Corporate Park, perched in a rather sterile corner lot. But don’t let that put you off – ex-Supernormal and Cumulus chefs Steve Lim and Dean Little (also co-owners of Lokall) are pumping out some of the best cheese toasties and chicken katsu sandos we’ve found in Melbourne.  There’s no table service at Lokall. You order at the counter, which gives you ample time to appreciate the daily rotating medley of fresh salads that sit in the display cabinet, ranging from carb-laden pasta and potato salads to puffed grain and broccoli ones. For $4, you can add any of these to your order – less than you’d pay for a side of bacon at most cafés.   Lokall’s triple cheese toastie on inch-thick slabs of fluffy white bread, known in Japan as shokupan, has already made a name for itself. Shokupan grew in popularity in Japan during post-war years of rice scarcity, and its legacy lives on in Melbourne – Burnley has the pick of the lot with Lokall’s housemade version, which is soft, springy and pillowy. Creamy béchamel topped by a trifecta of cheddar, mozzarella and grana padano, grilled until bubbling, blankets the bread alongside the faint zing of dijon mustard. The result is an indulgent breakfast with savoury notes of heat from the mustard and faint welcome
Advertising
Liminal
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
Melbourne hospitality royalty the Mulberry Group knows that a successful café doesn’t just mean good food and coffee – it’s all about location, location, location. The group’s head honcho Nathan Toleman founded the Kettle Black in a Victorian terrace in South Melbourne, with a décor accented by pale timber and lots of plants, and Higher Ground in a heritage-listed former powerhouse with a dramatic 15-metre ceiling in the CBD, selling both in 2018. For his next trick, Toleman has opened a café-cum-wine shop in the foyer of the T&G building at the Paris end of Collins Street.  The insides match the elegant outsides. The theme is Art Deco – think curvy chartreuse banquettes, white marble-top tables, slate-coloured concrete, minimalist Scandi furniture – and the vibe is moneyed powerbrokers. In the AM, legal eagles muffle details about their latest cases over strong lattes made using beans from Square One Coffee Roasters. In the PM, human resource executives pep up thanks to smoothies, gut-friendly pear and fermented strawberry juices, or house-made blood orange, honey and thyme sodas. In the (later) PM, CEOs roar with the sweet sound of success over a bottle of 2017 Vidal Reserve chardonnay or 2018 Bass River 1835 pinot noir. The wine list of mostly Victorian drops, with a few New Zealand and European producers thrown in the mix, hovers under the $60-per-bottle mark despite the cashed-up clientele. Pick up a bottle from the wine shop to take the party home.  When Liminal opened
Slice Shop
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Pizza
  • Footscray
  • price 1 of 4
Slice Shop Pizza’s storefront, with a rudimentary red, white and blue signage recalling its home team, the Footscray Bulldogs, is nothing to look at, but the bold font spelling out ‘Slice Shop’ and ‘Pizza’ make it clear what people flock here for: 18-inch pizzas by the slice, with slices a steal at $5.  Burn City Smokers co-owners Steve Kimonides and Raphael Guthrie have swapped wood-smoked meat for enormous hand-tossed pizzas in their latest venture, inspired by the famous New York slices, which are eaten on the go while folded in half. Kimonides and Guthrie resourcefully assembled the shop using offcut materials – a few terrazzo tiles were obtained from Kimonides’s home bathroom renovations, the three-metre marble top was the byproduct of another house renovation, and the butcher’s block was lying around Burn City Smokers for a few years before finding its rightful home at Slice Shop.  Head chef Tano Pennino developed the pizza bases over a few weeks, careful to ensure the slices don’t lose their structural integrity when folded. Slice Shop is predominantly designed to cater for take away, but there are a few bench seats for those who want to scoff a slice in store.  Slice Shop Pizza’s margherita has a thick, crunchy crust and a base so thin and pliable that we’re forced to bend it in half to prevent it from drooping. The result is a double concentration of fluffy dough, crafted from a sourdough starter and tipo 00 flour that undergoes a three-day fermentation period, with
Bibelot
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • South Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
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
Industry Beans Fitzroy
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Fitzroy
 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.
Advertising
Marios
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Fitzroy
  • price 1 of 4
In Marios, as in Mario times two, not Mario’s – Marios’, if anything – we have a lot to be grateful for. In 1986, when Fitzroy was but a dusty café nullius ruled by barbarous feudal lords and hangry megafauna (presumably), Marios’ opening as the first cafe on Brunswick Street would usher in not only the dawn of the suburb’s vibrant café culture but as goes the fable, the dawn of ‘all-day breakfast’ in a city now defined by it. The humble trat whose legacy alone guarantees a packed house every night is now a bona fide beacon of the inner north. People love Marios.  We know the story: two Marios bet it all on affordable-but-tableclothed Italian fare and won big. The lasagne’s reputation precedes it. The waitstaff wear waistcoats. Our Kylie visited once. Some other guy’s worked the pass since day dot and is getting on a bit.  Bedrock, institution, just like mama used to make, etc. Those who have grown up with Marios generally know what they’re setting out to achieve on any given visit. It’s usually pasta-related, and it’s often as simple as a stonking Bolognese and a post-work chinwag. Perhaps the puttanesca and a little solo social media. A celebratory T-Bone if you’ve been good. Less commonly, a three-course journey through the specials board and beyond, but hey, someone’s gotta do it.   It’s a heaving Wednesday night on our first visit – too packed to sit in the living room-cum-bordello front dining area. We’re ushered past the buzz and the people watching – a long-haired ma
Lokall
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Burnley
  • price 1 of 4
Burnley café Lokall is industrial. We don’t mean industrial chic in its aesthetic, as all Melbourne cafés seem to be required to be, but actually industrial – it’s a stone’s throw away from multimillion-dollar office development Botanicca Corporate Park, perched in a rather sterile corner lot. But don’t let that put you off – ex-Supernormal and Cumulus chefs Steve Lim and Dean Little (also co-owners of Lokall) are pumping out some of the best cheese toasties and chicken katsu sandos we’ve found in Melbourne.  There’s no table service at Lokall. You order at the counter, which gives you ample time to appreciate the daily rotating medley of fresh salads that sit in the display cabinet, ranging from carb-laden pasta and potato salads to puffed grain and broccoli ones. For $4, you can add any of these to your order – less than you’d pay for a side of bacon at most cafés.   Lokall’s triple cheese toastie on inch-thick slabs of fluffy white bread, known in Japan as shokupan, has already made a name for itself. Shokupan grew in popularity in Japan during post-war years of rice scarcity, and its legacy lives on in Melbourne – Burnley has the pick of the lot with Lokall’s housemade version, which is soft, springy and pillowy. Creamy béchamel topped by a trifecta of cheddar, mozzarella and grana padano, grilled until bubbling, blankets the bread alongside the faint zing of dijon mustard. The result is an indulgent breakfast with savoury notes of heat from the mustard and faint welcome
Advertising
Liminal
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
Melbourne hospitality royalty the Mulberry Group knows that a successful café doesn’t just mean good food and coffee – it’s all about location, location, location. The group’s head honcho Nathan Toleman founded the Kettle Black in a Victorian terrace in South Melbourne, with a décor accented by pale timber and lots of plants, and Higher Ground in a heritage-listed former powerhouse with a dramatic 15-metre ceiling in the CBD, selling both in 2018. For his next trick, Toleman has opened a café-cum-wine shop in the foyer of the T&G building at the Paris end of Collins Street.  The insides match the elegant outsides. The theme is Art Deco – think curvy chartreuse banquettes, white marble-top tables, slate-coloured concrete, minimalist Scandi furniture – and the vibe is moneyed powerbrokers. In the AM, legal eagles muffle details about their latest cases over strong lattes made using beans from Square One Coffee Roasters. In the PM, human resource executives pep up thanks to smoothies, gut-friendly pear and fermented strawberry juices, or house-made blood orange, honey and thyme sodas. In the (later) PM, CEOs roar with the sweet sound of success over a bottle of 2017 Vidal Reserve chardonnay or 2018 Bass River 1835 pinot noir. The wine list of mostly Victorian drops, with a few New Zealand and European producers thrown in the mix, hovers under the $60-per-bottle mark despite the cashed-up clientele. Pick up a bottle from the wine shop to take the party home.  When Liminal opened
Rat the Cafe
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Thornbury
  • price 1 of 4
Brunch is the holy grail of Melburnians, but are we suffering from smashed avo and eggs benedict fatigue? Are too many cafés carbon copies of each other both in aesthetics (read: exposed plumbing, low lighting) and food options? Maybe. It’s certainly nice to find a café doing something that seems so simple but stands out in our hyper-brunch times.  Rat the Café isn’t the hangout for your pet rat. Nor is it decorated in pictures of rats, à la Fleabag’s guinea pig café. Instead on a quiet backstreet in Thornbury opposite a primary school is a neighbourhood spot focusing on coffee, thoughtful dishes, and doing its bit for our fragile planet.  ‘Rat’ is an acronym for ‘root and tip’, and owner/chef Callum MacBain adopts a waste-free approach to building his menu by looking to parts of an ingredient that would usually be thrown away for inspiration. Most of the raw materials used are either organic or biodynamic, and suppliers are chosen based on whether they value minimal intervention processes.  The menu changes frequently depending on what’s most abundant and readily available – and is a celebration of doing a few things really, really well. There’s the obligatory toast, a muesli dish, a breakfast sandwich, an egg dish, a bean dish and a sweet dish. And that’s it. You can count the number of options on one hand, but wowee is each a thing of delicious beauty.  When we arrive on a weekend mid-morning, the light, airy space dotted with pot plants made from recycled plastic (the sus
Advertising
Romans Original
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Footscray
  • price 1 of 4
From the Bull and Finch Pub in Cheers to Moe’s in The Simpsons to Paddy’s Pub in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, the local neighbourhood bar is a beloved narrative anchor in popular culture. And in real life too, neighbourhood bars provide that mix of familiarity and nostalgia that’s so comforting in our hectic, digitised lives.  Melbourne is home to some excellent neighbourhood bars, yet the west was strangely lacking one until 2019. Footscray local Leigh McKenny filled the gap in July of that year by transforming the former Michael’s Deli, an Eastern European delicatessen, into an attractive eatery and watering hole that’s retained all of its retro charm.    By day, it’s a café that provides a welcome relief from the usual trifecta of brunch suspects (eggs, avocado, muesli). Here, sandwiches rule supreme. The current menu reads like a New York deli blackboard. A meatball sub is just the right amount of sloppy, with bite courtesy of grated Grana Padano. A poppy seed bagel from 5 and Dime can barely contain a sharp, salty and tangy combo of house-cured salmon, red onion, capers, dill and burnt scallion cream cheese. A focaccia from the legendary bakers at Baker Bleu (with takeaway loaves available on Fridays and Saturdays) provides a pillowy home for Meatsmith smoked brisket, house-made wholegrain beer mustard and house-made mayonnaise – perfect simplicity. A melt-in-the-mouth potato roll encases a thick crumbed chicken breast, lettuce, mayo and neon-yellow American cheese
Coppe Pan Japanese Bakery
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
Coppe pan might be new to Melburnians, but the bread rolls have been a staple for Japanese people since World War II, when they functioned as food rations. At Coppe Pan, archetypal Japanese street food dishes – from gyoza (dumplings) and takoyaki (octopus balls) to chicken karaage (fried chicken) and yaki soba (stir-fried wheat noodles in a sweet and savoury sauce) – are sandwiched in pillowy white bread rolls known as ‘pan’. Don’t expect the crusty sourdough that soaks up eggs Benny in cafes around Melbourne – Coppe Pan’s bread is soft and fluffy as a result of its high percentage of water and sweeter than your average Western loaf of bread.  In the basement of Melbourne Central, Coppe Pan Japanese Bakery is a winding curvature of food as far as the eye can see. An okonomiyaki cooking station and a free filter coffee outpost for those who order more than two items jostle for space with extensively labelled sweet and savoury pan. You can choose to sit in the small confines of the restaurant or the wider food court, or you can take your pan to go – the ease of transporting the pan makes it perfect for takeaway.  It’s no environmentalist’s dream with all its plastic packaging, but it does have a few vegetarian options for those on the climatarian diet, from the agedashi (fried tofu) pan to the tamago (sweet egg omelette) pan.  But it’s chicken, in particular, that hits the ball out of the park no matter which way it’s fried at Coppe Pan. Squares of crustless white bread that co
Advertising
The Hardware Societe
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
Surviving a decade in Melbourne’s hospitality industry is no easy feat. Thriving in it is even harder. Hardware Société has managed to do the latter. Opened by husband and wife Di and Will Keser in 2009, who now reside in Paris, the legendary café bid adieu to its eponymous location on Hardware Lane in February and made the move to a bigger, brighter space on a laneway a stone’s throw away from Southern Cross Station. A smaller second venue on Hardware Lane is still standing and the Kesers even opened an outpost in Montmartre, Paris in 2016. The queues snaking around the cobblestone alleyway of the original location have been transported with the move. We arrive early on a Saturday morning and luckily don’t have to wait for a table. Within half an hour, we see the beginnings of those famous lines outside. Inside, it’s très chic. Pink walls with green detailing match the design of the café’s cookbook, Parisian wicker chairs encircle white round marble tables, vintage posters of French fashion houses intermingle with lots of greenery and exposed piping. There’s a shelf jammed with artisanal produce from Europe and a huge glass cabinet displaying drool-worthy sweets, like a baked vanilla cheesecake and lemon tarts.   Hardware Société’s menu may have had tweaks over the years but its modus operandi remains the same: you won’t find the eggs on toast or smashed avo here. Instead, chefs Carla Eyles and Adam Lai focus on rich, French-inspired dishes that remind you how special brunch
Sonido
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Fitzroy
  • price 1 of 4
India and Malaysia have the dosa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean have the pita, Ethiopia has the injera, Russia has the blini, and Colombia and Venezuela have the arepa. This version of the ubiquitous flatbread – the oldest baked good in the world – is flat, round and made from corn and has been a staple of the Colombian-Venezuelan diets for thousands of years. At Fitzroy’s Sonido, the arepa takes centre stage. Opened in 2010 by Colombians Santiago Villamizar and Carolina Taler, the café has made the humble arepa a household name. It has become so popular that a second outpost of Sonido, called Arepa Days, was opened in Preston last year, where the flatbreads – supplying both cafés – are made the traditional way: whole Australian corn is cooked, mixed, ground and shaped into rounds that are grilled to produce mild-tasting disks blistered with char. They can be eaten on their own but are even better crowned with proteins and vegetables. As a bonus, the white corn arepas are gluten-free.   The succinct menu at Sonido champions arepas (there’s also a small selection of empanadas and sweets), so your only job is deciding which topping to have. In the ropa vieja, shredded beef is slow cooked with tomato, onion and spices, delivering sweetness and the kind of comfort you get from eating mum’s casserole. In the pollo, the whole chargrilled free-range chicken thigh marinated with panela (unrefined cane sugar), hot paprika and lime is peppery and zesty, soaking the white corn a
Japanese Teppanyaki Inn
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Melbourne
  • price 2 of 4
You’ve probably walked past the inn a hundred times and never clocked the signage. Wedged between the Regent Theatre and a retail store on the Paris end of Collins Street is Melbourne’s first teppanyaki-style restaurant. Established in 1975, Japanese Teppanyaki Inn is still going strong even after Facebook, Zomato, Yelp, Instagram, Snapchat FOMO have shifted the limelight. But who exactly is going to Japanese Teppanyaki Inn? The answer is everyone. After finding the entrance, you are greeted at the front desk by a kimono-clad host and led into a lounged waiting area for refreshments while your other guests arrive. Here, you’ll see young couples on first dates, families, corporate-dressers and groups of bros ready to chow down. It’s a dark, soft room – they’re bucking against the bright lights, neon signs, banging tunes and party vibes of today’s restaurants and they’re proud of it. It feels like a restaurant stuck in time, and thankfully, so are their prices.  House cocktails will set you back a mere $18 in a city where the standard cost of a drink now sits in the $20-$25 mark; we’re taking gin Martinis, the ubiquitous flavoured “Martinis” (espresso and lychee), Black Russians, Cosmopolitans and the like. Carafes of sake listed with well considered tasting notes and suggestions on whether to drink them cold, room temperature or warm also clock in at a wallet-friendly $15-$28. The wine list focusses on Australian and New Zealand with bottles ranging from $39 to $250 for big sp
HuTong
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
Three words: People’s Choice Award. That’s right, folks: the citizens of Time Out have spoken in the 2015 Food Awards and decreed this buzzing dumpling house their favourite spot to nosh. It’s a heavy burden, but one we reckon HuTong can handle. For one thing, it’s not like they’re ever really begged for our love. The service covers the gamut from indifferent to icy. The triple-tiered space on Market Lane, where it set up shop in 2010, boldly eyeballing the august Flower Drum, is kind of eclectic. But that’s all irrelevant. All you really need to know about the place is front and center when you walk through the door. It’s the bunch of chefs behind glass, madly engaged in a virtuosic display of dumplings as performance art.
 Start with the xiao long bao – or shao long bao, as the HuTong menu phonetically insists on calling them. The Shanghainese soup dumplings with their pork and soup filling deserve their reputation: saddle up your spoon with threads of ginger and a slosh of black vinegar, nibble a hole and slurp away while trying to keep any spillage from ruining your own threads (here’s a handy hint for eating at HuTong: don’t wear white). The XLB are excellent, although the wontons with chilli sauce are breathing down their neck for line honours. Something to do with the trademark Szechuan sizzle and a nutty scattering of sesame seeds picking up on the rich slick of sesame oil. They’re the bomb, in every sense of the word. There’s more dumpling madness. You can go vego (t
Advertising
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne
For the last 20 years, Ginza in Chinatown has been doing teppanyaki, that theatrical style of dining involving Japanese barbecue, nifty knife skills, utensil juggling, food hurling and pyrotechnics. It was big in the ’90s, and Ginza has maintained the decor from those heady days with its maroon-and-charcoal colour scheme and well-worn carpet. But the restaurant itself is spacious and comfortable, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto Little Bourke Street. On a Sunday it’s quiet – it might just be you and another table here for lunch – but Friday evening would, no doubt, tell a different story. Teppanyaki set menus start at $16 for lunch and $49 for dinner (you get more for dinner) where your choice of protein – beef, fish, chicken or squid – comes with miso soup, fried rice and vegetables. The drinks selection includes sake, Japanese beer, Australian wine, cocktails and some shots with X-rated names that give things a retro nightclub vibe, though with millennium prices. But we have to say, the grub’s pretty good. Ginza’s teppanyaki chef of the day was all business during preparation and saves the pizzazz for serving. He certainly knows his stuff: hunks of beef tenderloin were slapped onto the grill, seared and then cut into cubes that are peppery, juicy and tender. Salmon and rockling fillets come lacquered in a shiny, sweet mirin sauce. Handled with care, their delicate flesh remains soft and flaky. There’s a vegetable side of beanshoots and onions that are satisfy
Moroccan Soup Bar
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Fitzroy North
  • price 1 of 4
“I’m feeling lucky.” If you’re looking for a table at the Moroccan Soup Bar on a Saturday night, keep repeating this to yourself. For a tiny venue that has no menu, no booze and no meat, competition for diner real estate is astoundingly fierce. Get there at six or be prepared to wait an hour. So what the devil is all the hoo-ha about? Contrary to what the name suggests, this is not a bar, nor is soup the main event. But it certainly is Moroccan. The menu is verbal and has been the same for many years, earning dishes like the chickpea bake and dips a legendary status. For $23 or $28, you'll get a vegetarian spread that is one hell of a bang for your buck. Charismatic proprietor Hana Assafari has been successfully serving her North African cuisine here for over a decade, with minimal flair and no apologies. Treated more like a guest than a customer, you are greeted, informed of the menu, and fed whatever the kitchen has prepared. Simple. This lack of pandering is an affront to some, but in Assafari’s casual dining room, a napkin-flourishing song and dance would seem entirely out of place. What the kitchen cook up, incidentally, is wonderful. Warm flatbread with a zesty hummus, some olives, and a rough-textured, cumin-rich cauliflower dip start the proceedings, along with a thimble of sweet, fresh mint tea. A succession of plates follows, each a testament to the versatility of vegetables, and the transformative nature of spices. Sticky pots of lentils and saffron rice provide yo
Advertising
Miznon
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Middle Eastern
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
  Fans of Ottolenghi would do well to take note – in his cookbook Jerusalem, the renowned chef hailed the mastermind behind global Israeli pita empire Miznon, Eyal Shani, as “the voice of modern Israeli cuisine”. And that voice is now getting global reach – Melbourne’s Hardware Lane outpost has become Shani’s sixth Miznon, soon to be joined by a seventh in New York.   Nothing about Miznon is orthodox. It’s a double-storied restaurant, but the action unspools downstairs where diners order at the counter and wait for their names to be called. Nearly ten young, energetic waitstaff – so many for a relatively small eatery – zip in and out of the exposed kitchen, shouting in Hebrew to one another and animatedly dispensing advice on what to order. The backing soundtrack is that of tambourines spontaneously played by waitstaff and the loud pounding of minute steaks being flattened with a meat tenderiser.  One staff member urges us to perch ourselves on high stools overlooking the kitchen, where he then proceeds to offer us shots, and then the whole restaurant – waitstaff and diners alike – erupt in a toast to ‘cauliflower night’. Cauliflower gets a night of its own because it is the star of Shani’s menu. Baby brassicas adorn the walls of the restaurant before they’re brined and whisked into ovens, roasted whole with olive oil and salt until they’re crisp and deep brown. It’s served atop a thin sheet of paper for two or more diners to share. That paper delivery system is another clue
Ima Project Café
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Carlton
On a Carlton corner, Ima Project Café is breathing new life into smashed avo. Furikake (a mixture of sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, salt and sugar) and nori paste (processed seaweed boiled down with soy sauce) are usually sprinkled on rice, but Ima slathers crunchy sourdough with the nori paste and then sprinkles the furikake on top of avocado. The result is a salty and savoury breakfast dish unlike any iteration of the creamy toast topper you’ll find in Melbourne.  Japanese twists on archetypal breakfast dishes can also be found in Ima’s miso-infused tomato baked eggs and the porridge drizzled with Mitarashi syrup, a traditional Japanese sauce made from soy sauce and sugar. Plus, the classic Japanese breakfast set of fish and rice is on the menu. But Ima isn’t just reinventing Melbourne breakfast. Lunchtime options kick-start at 11am, meaning you can get curry rice or a katsu burger before noon. An ebi katsu (crumbed prawn) burger stars on the specials board. Sandwiched between sweet and crumbly brioche buns courtesy of Cobb Lane are large breaded prawns laced with a velvety taru taru sauce, a Japanese-style tartare that has more heft than its western equivalent due to the inclusion of hard boiled eggs. You won’t need serviettes to dry off your oil-slicked fingers with this deceptively light burger – the prawns are light and crisp. Adhering to Ima’s no-waste policy, the burger is served alongside deep-fried prawn heads that you can eat whole – the shell is rendered so crunch
Advertising
Koko
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Southbank
  • price 3 of 4
Although it originated in Tokyo in the 1940s, teppanyaki has proven far more popular with Westerners than with the Japanese – the largest teppanyaki chain in the world, Benihana, was founded in New York and has over 100 franchises in America alone. Americans’ love for teppanyaki is mirrored in Australia, where people continue to book front row seats to their dinner prep. On a balmy Sunday night, Koko is packed to the rafters within an hour of opening. Diners are seated around large steel hotplates, where the teppanyaki chefs showcase their skills, or individual tables if they choose to order off the al a carte menu. To get to their table, certain diners are required to nimbly manoeuvre the stepping stones in a rock pool that sits at the centre of the restaurant – wear stilettos at your peril. Ensconced on the third floor of Crown Towers, Koko is as sleek and sophisticated as the luxury hotel that houses it, and the prices reflect this – set menus start at $100 a head and max out at $198. And ordering individual items will set you back by just as much, if not more. A glass of French pinot noir from Burgundy for $25 continues the luxe theme, and if you’re dining with royalty why not splash a cheeky $4,600 on a bottle of Bordeaux. We’re surprised to be saying this, but the best bet if you’re counting your pennies are the cocktails, which are at standard Melbourne prices, and carafes of sake that cost anywhere from $30 to $70. A well-heeled crowd frequents Koko, but it’s a divers
Tonka
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne
  • price 2 of 4
By all reports it’s been a tough year in the Melbourne restaurant industry. A slow winter, thinning crowds and increasing competition have taken the wind out of plenty of sails. But then you front up at 6.30pm on a Tuesday to a restaurant that opened in the dark distant past (2013, to be exact), where tables are packed with glossy young things on what feels like the world’s biggest Tinder date, and realise you’ve found an exception to the rule. Welcome to the alternate reality of Tonka, where chef Adam D’Sylva and partners have conclusively proven Indian food was ready for its fine dining close-up. Like thinking back to a pre-marriage equality Australia, it’s almost quaint to remember that when Tonka opened there were mutterings about the upwardly mobile aspirations of a cuisine beset by curry house sameness. But hey, Melbourne’s always quick to catch on to what the rest of the world is rolling its eyes about, and others have arrived in its wake. Babu Ji in St Kilda, Piquancy in Hawthorn, the Rochester Castle Hotel and newcomer ISH in Fitzroy have shown that people are receptive to tarted-up Indian street food delivered with a bit of style, yet Tonka remains in a league of its own in going for the high-end jugular, showing no mercy in its $40-plus curries and winning the love of a city by making it worth the splash-out. In the half-decade since opening D’Sylva and co have added a more casual cocktails-and-fried-cauliflower thali bar – imaginatively called Thali Bar – but othe
Advertising
Hansang
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Korean
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
The secret is out. This once low-key Korean restaurant overrun by displaced students wanting a taste of home is now being infiltrated by locals. Blame the internet. Blame Instagram. Blame Facebook. They’ve hit social media pretty aggressively and now everyone is lining up for all the banchan (side dishes) you can handle. Hansang means ‘table full of food’ in Korean, and that’s exactly what you get.  Typically, when you sit down to a Korean meal, you’re met with a handful of side dishes; usually pickles (most likely a kimchi), a salad, an ambient temperature stir-fry and a protein, but at Hansang, they fill your table. There were eleven plates at our count featuring a rice porridge spiced with black pepper, stir fried shredded potato, a rolled vegetable omelette, a cucumber and seaweed salad, japchae, kimchi cabbage, stir fried bean sprouts, spicy fish cakes, braised eggplant, kimchi radish and braised tofu. You might call it a gimmick if each plate wasn’t properly cooked and seasoned, adding to the experience of the ‘main’ dishes rather than distracting from them; all killer and absolutely no filler. You’d be mad if you didn’t order from the set menu, where two people dine for $60, three for $90, four for $120, and so on. Each person chooses a shared main for the table and aside from the abundance of well-considered and interesting sides, you each receive a bowl of rice, a choice between a kimchi or soybean stew, and dessert. If you can’t finish your food, they encourage you
Cat Café
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne
Japan does two things better than anywhere else on the planet: sushi, and crazy. It’s a country full of bars with sexy robots, and icy dens where penguins waddle around while you drink. Japan didn’t invent Cat Cafés – you can thank Taiwan for the pay-to-play-with-cats concept – but Japan did embrace the idea hard, and it was while on a trip there that Melbourne couple Anita and Myles Loughran were inspired to start one of their own. The pair were unsure how it would actually go. But when they launched an Indiegogo campaign, the internet went predictably insane. It turns out Melbourne is very, very OK with the idea of having cats and cafés combined. But now it’s up and running what’s it actually like? During our session we find that it’s less about the caféand more about the cats. Bookings are taken for hour-long visits, at $10 a head, with only 15 people allowed at a time. Strict guidelines are in place for the health and safety of both the cats and the visiting humans. Upon arrival, guests are asked to read and sign a set of fairly straightforward rules: no feeding, mistreating or picking up the cats, and no loud noises or flash photography. You’ll be asked to wash your hands and then you’re ready to head upstairs into the cat domain. Once upstairs, take your pick of rooms – each one is a playground with toys for the cats. Once you’ve found a cat-watching spot, order coffee and snacks from their menu. Unfortunately, Australia is a total killjoy on the health and safety front
+39
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
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.
Aangan
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • West Footscray
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
Advertising
Abla's
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Middle Eastern
  • Carlton
  • price 2 of 4
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
Acland Street Cantina
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • St Kilda
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
Advertising
Addict Food and Coffee
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Fitzroy
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
Afghan Gallery
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Fitzroy
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
Advertising
Agostino
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Carlton
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
Anada
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Fitzroy
  • price 2 of 4
Añada is Spanish for ‘year’s harvest’, an apt choice of name for a restaurant with a commitment to seasonal ingredients and a constantly shifting menu. Established by a pair of Australian Hispanophiles, previously of London’s River Café and Melbourne’s much-loved Movida, this diminutive, warmly lit venue serves Spanish-style tapas and raciones without slavishly imitating ‘traditional’ Spanish cuisine. Añada hold two dinner sittings per evening, at 6 and 8pm, and boasts a row of comfortable leather barstools for those only looking for a quick bite or a drink. Parties of eight or more are confined to a set menu, at $50 for a generous nine courses or $65 for an extravagant 12. The kitchen has no difficulty catering to special diets – ours was a particularly awkward party of two omnivores, two vegetarians, two pescatarians and one vegan, and all of us dined like obnoxious Saudi princelings. Highlights include natural oysters with lemon; fried eggplant with sour cream and slivers of very hot chilli; green tomato gazpacho with cucumber and green onion; whole mackerel wrapped in vine leaves; and sweet, tender mushrooms fried in ghee. The very large sherry list is exclusively Spanish, while almost every wine, beer and liqueur offering is either Spanish or Australian. The service is excellent: waitstaff are both observant and knowledgeable and the restaurant abounds in thoughtful, un-showy little touches, from the tiny pots of black salt on the tables to the fresh flowers in the toile
Advertising
Anatolia Tantuni
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Turkish
  • Fitzroy
  • price 1 of 4
Tantuni involves sautéing finely chopped meat (traditionally beef) in a large shallow metal pan, and then rolling it up tightly in a flatbread with veggies and herbs. At Anatolia Tantuni, owner Burhan Kurucu makes his tantuni with beef or chicken (or a mix) that has been animated with red pepper flakes, smoky paprika and oregano. He wraps it up with diced tomato, sumac-coated red onion and parsley, which cut through the oily redness of the spiced meat, adding acidity, tangy bite and herby freshness. It’s the antidote to every disappointing kebab you’ve ever had, and it also comes as sandwich on Turkish bread, or deconstructed on a plate. Burhan and his wife Birten opened Anatolia Tantuni in April, after arriving in Melbourne from Ankara mid-last year. The Kurucus saw a gap in the market for Turkey’s popular street food and struck while the pan was hot. Burhan is at the helm, singlehandedly frying, stuffing and wrapping kebabs – and welcoming customers with minimal English and maximum hospitality. Birten is behind the scenes, making gözleme filled with spinach and feta, or a vegan version with mushroom, capsicum and onion. Her börek are bursting with juicy minced beef or salty, lemony spinach offset by crumbly, buttery filo pastry. Don’t leave without trying the desserts – the cheesy künefe or sütlaç, a moreish milky rice pudding laced with nutmeg and orange zest. Stretch your stomach capacity so that you don’t miss out on the Instagram-worthy beyti kebab – parcels of pita-wra
Ants Bistro
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
Ants Bistro bears the distinction of having one of the most eccentric menus we’ve seen in Melbourne. The first six pages are taken up by a lengthy explication of the Chinese zodiac. Dishes bear names like the Minister Chicken (“very exciting”) and the Tasty Chicken (cold). Vermicelli and dried scampi is listed under vegetables. Braised eggplant is listed under meat. The cocktail list offers a (sic) Harveywalll Banker. We could go on for a while. But we won’t, because of course what matters here isn’t the abundance of Engrish, or the name – it’s simply great food for a great price. That’s what places Ants among Chinatown’s winners. Located on Corrs Lane, opposite Time Out favourite Berlin, it occupies two levels of a fairly unprepossessing building. The soundtrack is muzak, and all that sets the crimson-heavy décor apart from that of a dozen of its neighbours is the strangely-chosen entomological theme which keeps popping up. The dishes on offer range the breadth of culinary China, from Peking duck to jellyfish, “straightly vegetarian” turnip puff-pasties to Ants Climbing a Tree. Sizzling iron plates of beef emerge from the kitchen on a regular basis but there are several standout vegetable dishes. These include the fisherman’s eggplant and fried string beans with pickles and mushrooms and the deep fried silken tofu with plum sauce (always a treat). All the wines save one are midrange Australians, and most of the beers are local too, though there is Tsing Tao on offer. Takeaw

Looking for the best of the best?

Recommended
    You may also like
      Advertising