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Table of food at Longsong Melbourne
Photograph: Graham Denholm

Melbourne restaurant and café reviews

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

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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.    
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
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Greasy Zoe's
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Yarra Valley
  • price 2 of 4
Update: We attended this venue in August 2018 and some details may have altered since then.  We’re at the end of the line. Literally – the end of the Hurstbridge Line, a 50-minute train-ride out of the CBD, where Melbourne’s suburban identity gets the wobbles as it dissolves into countryside. Take a left from the station, walk for five minutes, then take a right. One hundred metres onwards you’ll find one of the winningest little restaurants to warm the cockles and the sub-cockle region. Greasy Zoe’s is the name discreetly etched on the door, but this is no American-style diner with bottomless cups of filter coffee. The reality is a cool rustic bolthole big enough for an open kitchen, vinyl spinning turntable and just 15 seats. It feels less like a conventional restaurant, more like you’ve accidentally wandered into the bijou farmhouse of someone with really good taste in music. Zoe Birch (ex-Courthouse Hotel and Healesville Hotel) is working the wood grill in the open kitchen. Lachlan Gardner works the floor. The cunning pair have confected the answer to the rent/staff/squillion dollar fitout crisis with their self-sufficient, two-person operation that rolls in sync with its locality. We’re in the heart of Nillumbik Shire, which stretches out to Kinglake and Whittlesea and buts up against the Yarra Valley. Birch and Gardner stick to the locavore brief by championing small local producers, from artisans to friends with an excess of backyard pumpkins and sticking as much as th
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
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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
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
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Katori Japanese
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Box Hill
What are your thoughts on being left in charge of the cooking at a restaurant? Is it a culinary case of self-actualisation, or the equivalent of setting a sugar-loaded toddler loose in an art gallery with a Sharpie?  Restaurants are becoming bolder about factoring customers’ appetite for challenge into their business plan. And food-obsessed Box Hill, that rapidly densifying alternative to Melbourne 3000, is now a place to try the ultimate challenge involving the keywords “wagyu” and “DIY”.  Housed at the Chen Hotel, Katori is a luxe world of soft jazz and dark hues. A swish fitout by Melissa Collision Design – a finalist in the Eat Drink Design Awards – makes the most of this unlovely part of Box Hill, blocking out Whitehorse Road with opaque blinds and putting the focus squarely on the Tom Dixon pendant lights and the grill plates inlaid into each table.  Do-it-yourself barbecue in Japan is known as yakiniku. And the process goes something like this: you choose your meat (backed by a shorter list of seafood, pork, chicken or veg) from a menu that’s like the Rosetta stone of wagyu, all cuts and marble scores and country of origin. Wait for glowing coals to arrive in a little rolling cart the size and shape of Star Wars’ R2-D2. Watch as the grill is seasoned by the waiter with a puck of wagyu fat. Let the coals glow some more. Then roll up your sleeves and let the real work begin.   Much like the Dainty Sichuan group’s Rising Embers, Katori espouses a new school of DIY grillin
Bia Hoi
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Vietnamese
  • Glen Waverley
  • price 2 of 4
It seems like just yesterday that our options for shopping centre sustenance extended from Maccas to Muffin Break. Thanks to the retail apocalypse, however, we’re now expected to spend via the stomach. Rubrical food courts (fast food, self-serve Chinese, salad and wrap counter, sushi rolls, repeat) have made way for “dining precincts”, with centre operators splashing the cash to lure big-name chefs and overseas chains that become a destination in and of themselves. As it were, the capstone in the final stage of the Glen’s half-billion-dollar redevelopment is a leafy, open-air pavilion of flash casual eateries, with drawcards including Korean imports Massizim and Gami Chicken and Beer, plus Dainty Sichuan spinoff Tina’s Noodle Kitchen. Esteemed Annam chef Jerry Mai has thrown her hat in the ring too with Bia Hoi, a big and bright eatery inspired by the laidback beer halls of Vietnam. While there are quick pho or bùn bowls to power grocery runs, Bia Hoi’s really pitching for diners to stick around for convivial rounds of beer, street snacks and DIY barbecue. There are even cocktails for the most devoted of the ‘treat yourself’ crowd, consisting mainly of peppy twists on the familiar – lychee-sweet caprioskas and Vietnamese coffee martinis swirled with condensed milk. For the rest of us it’s frosty glasses of Bia Hanoi and 333 along with an impressive selection of craft beers (we’re in Glen Waverley, after all), going beyond pale ale with sours, IPAs and flavoured stouts from Vi
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Jinda Thai Restaurant
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Abbotsford
For all the culinary brouhaha that Melbourne generates nationally and abroad, we can’t seem to get a handle on reliable, cheap Thai. At least, so went the adage – our Vietnamese is unbeatable, our Chinese nuanced and regionally precise, but our Thai conspicuously wanting. When Jinda Thai opened its doors in 2013 it did so as the loud exception: a bustling, instant classic trumpeted more loudly still for its faithful menu, earnest hospitality and relative lack of competition – save for a couple of pricier fusion institutions. In the years since, “cheap Thai” has emerged as one of Melbourne’s most-improved culinary sectors, but Jinda remains its leading light. As a result, it can be hard to get a seat. Even at 5.45pm.  “Can you be out in an hour?” We can be out in an hour, yes, but given that Jinda’s capacious 150-pax digs are barely 15 per cent full and the outside UV index is still “Very High”, we’re wondering just how necessary that will be. Alas, “definitely we can!”. We can also kickflip a ten-stair, but that probably won’t be necessary either.  We’re seated at a converted Singer sewing table at the front of the exposed brick mess hall – an old sewing factory – opposite the restaurant’s personal ATM: an obelisk of pure business acumen that complements the restaurant’s $35 EFTPOS minimum and cash-only lunch policy. The air is thick with fish sauce as scattered conversations mesh with the faint din of the kitchen. Our waiter rogers a message through her headset like she’s st
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
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
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
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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
Di Stasio Citta
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Melbourne
  • price 3 of 4
To call Di Stasio Città one of the year’s most anticipated openings is like calling the tram stop at the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth somewhat sketchy. Having finally switched on the red light in its pod-like entrance portal a few weeks ago, it feels like half of Melbourne has been getting misty-eyed over the 30-plus-year legacy of St Kilda’s Cafe Di Stasio and the even longer legacy of Rinaldo Di Stasio, the city’s one-man answer to the Medici family. We’re among them. Melbourne would be the lesser without the occasionally controversial Café Di Stasio in St Kilda, a place of captivating dark mystery where the DNA of excess seems to have seeped into the very floors and walls. Di Stasio Città (literally, “city”) has yet to bed in its tales of ribald mischief. They will come. Città sees Ronnie Di Stasio return to the neighbourhood where he pioneered Rosati in the heady days shortly before the fringe benefits tax and the stock market crash cruelled the excesses of the 1980s. And the augurs are good. It’s a place of arrestingly clean-lined brutalism – concrete walls and pillars, a remarkable terrazzo floor, video installations by artists Reko Rennie and Shaun Gladwell playing on loop with the same mesmeric qualities as the TV in the corner of the RSL. White-jacketed bartenders shake things behind a slab of white marble. Red leather chairs make like a mid-century Thornbury espresso bar, a younger Di Stasio’s stomping ground. It’s a gallery and salon, as well as a bar and resta
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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
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
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Cumulus Inc
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne
  • price 2 of 4
'Eating house' doesn't quite cut it. ‘All-day diner’ falls worryingly short. In fact, when trying to sum up the place Cumulus Inc plays in Melbourne’s hungry heart, ‘favourite clubhouse’ comes as close as any description. And maybe that’s the thing about our winner of the 2018 Legend Award. Cumulus Inc is so many different things to so many different people. For city office workers, it’s the perfect show-off gaff for breakfast meetings with out-of-towners (bonus points for feigned nonchalance in the face of its boast-worthy fabulousness). For solo lunchers, it’s a place where singleton status is never a problem (all the better to study the grooming habits of fellow diners). Come evening, it’s the kind of place you want to think about sensible footwear to endure the inevitable queue. And you can’t really lay claim to being a true Melburnian if you haven’t been in for late-night Negronis and the fuzzy memory to go with them the next day. Legend status is warranted for Andrew McConnell being the first chef in Melbourne to think of serving a tin of Ortiz anchovies. It comes with the tuna tartare with goats’ curd and crushed peas that has spawned a thousand imitators. It trails in the wake of the show-stopper slow-roasted lamb shoulder, the recipe for which A-Mac has shared in print but which somehow never tastes as good not in situ. And as for the rum baba where the whole bottle is handed over to glug onto the sponge cake at will? You guessed it. Legend. Cumulus Inc just notched
Wild Life Bakery
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Brunswick East
Tearing into the crunchy, deep caramel crust of Wild Life Bakery's sourdough feels like holy communion with carbs. The intense, chewy crumb in slices swabbed with miso butter or dipped into harissa-heavy shakshouka is why locals cram this bakery for breakfast. They also leave with grand, hunking baguettes and sandwiches you hope will never end for lunch. Toasties arrive thick as a forehead and big as a face, yet achieve the all-important mission of properly melting the abundance of sweet and nutty Comté inside couched around sticky, worcestershire-rich onion. Meanwhile, old school salad sambos achieve new crush status when folded into chewy sourdough baguettes, lifted with the zip of pickled carrot and tempered with soft avo and roast beetroot.We’re even moved by the fruit bread. Plump gems of raisin, apricot and whole dates glisten in the cross section and quenelles of smooth mascarpone and spoonable lemon curd lift this far above its lowly status on the café menu pecking order. Only the photogenic brown rice congee, topped with a topaz-yolked soy egg, kale furikake and pickled mushrooms falls short of ecstasy. It feels good to eat, but lacks that deep, stock flavour. Perhaps though, its greatest crime may simply lie in being in the company of greater things.It’s best to take your time here – fresh or toasted, these malty crusts are deafeningly crunchy, with a crumb so elastic that any haste will imperil palates and jaws. Alternate bites with sips of ace Market Lane coffee,
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Greasy Zoe's
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Yarra Valley
  • price 2 of 4
Update: We attended this venue in August 2018 and some details may have altered since then.  We’re at the end of the line. Literally – the end of the Hurstbridge Line, a 50-minute train-ride out of the CBD, where Melbourne’s suburban identity gets the wobbles as it dissolves into countryside. Take a left from the station, walk for five minutes, then take a right. One hundred metres onwards you’ll find one of the winningest little restaurants to warm the cockles and the sub-cockle region. Greasy Zoe’s is the name discreetly etched on the door, but this is no American-style diner with bottomless cups of filter coffee. The reality is a cool rustic bolthole big enough for an open kitchen, vinyl spinning turntable and just 15 seats. It feels less like a conventional restaurant, more like you’ve accidentally wandered into the bijou farmhouse of someone with really good taste in music. Zoe Birch (ex-Courthouse Hotel and Healesville Hotel) is working the wood grill in the open kitchen. Lachlan Gardner works the floor. The cunning pair have confected the answer to the rent/staff/squillion dollar fitout crisis with their self-sufficient, two-person operation that rolls in sync with its locality. We’re in the heart of Nillumbik Shire, which stretches out to Kinglake and Whittlesea and buts up against the Yarra Valley. Birch and Gardner stick to the locavore brief by championing small local producers, from artisans to friends with an excess of backyard pumpkins and sticking as much as th
Rosetta
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Southbank
There’s a stoush going on in Melbourne. In one corner you have Chris Lucas, holding up Chin Chin and Baby Pizza as demonstrable evidence that “fine dining is dead”, while over on Southbank you have Neil Perry, making his retort with Rosetta: his schmick new Italian ristorante that looks like it was entirely designed just to prove Lucas wrong. Rosetta is breathtakingly theatrical in a way that we’d forgotten was allowed – all floor-to-ceiling windows rippling down one side, chandeliers sprouting out of the domed ceiling, and an embarrassment of marble (there’s an empty quarry somewhere cursing Perry’s name). It’s a more sophisticated scene, no question – the soundtrack is opera, waiters wear white linen jackets and there’s a whole mess of hairsprayed 'dos, and chinos dining on the lamplit terazza (which is not this restaurants crowning glory for our money. It's more Club Med than Mediterranean chic). But as neon-hipster-and-placemat-menu-free as Rosetta is, you’ll still find incredibly approachable food. It’s not the sometimes-fussy stuff of Grossi Florentino. This is Neil Perry, the chef who serves his burger with a linen napkin but encourages you to eat it with your hands. The man who is known as much for what he leaves off the plate as what he puts on it. He made yum cha in Melbourne a five-star affair and has applied that same steady hand at Rosetta. Look out Di Stasio, look out G.A.S., Perry's in town and this time he's packing Italian. You’ll start with twiggy grissini b
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
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
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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
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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
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
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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
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
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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
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
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
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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
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
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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
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
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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
Holy Crumpets
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Melbourne
  • price 1 of 4
Perhaps, like us, you remember when you were a kid and the only thing that would nudge you out of bed on a Saturday morning would be the smell of crumpets toasting? Spongy, soft rounds smeared with butter and honey dripping down your fingers and face? Pure joy. Crumpets are the stuff of childhood memories for many, but few would decide to turn it into a business. Joshua Clements’ crumpet nostalgia was stirred during a trip to the USA a number of years ago. He spent a year and half perfecting his recipe before he started selling at farmers’ markets in September 2017. His crumpets have been such a hit that in February he took the plunge to open a bricks-and-mortar shop in the CBD. The hole-in-the-wall café is easy to find. Turn left on Little Latrobe Street from Swanston and the sign saying ‘Crumpets and Coffee’ signals you’ve arrived. It’s a tiny place with a few low benches and a L-shaped bar that sits eight to ten people max. If you can’t find a seat, don’t worry: the crumpets travel well. So how do Josh’s holy crumpets fare compared to what we eagerly gobbled up as kids? For starters, these are much more of an adult offering: they’re made from local organic wheat that’s stone milled in Brunswick before getting turned into a mixture that’s between a batter and dough and left to ferment overnight. The crumpets are sourdough and don’t have any baker’s yeast, which they’re traditionally made with, giving them a denser texture and a subtle hint of tanginess. As a bonus, they’re
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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
Saint Dreux
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Melbourne
Whether you like to eat at hip cafes or homey ones, sleek wine bars or spenny fine diners, you’ve probably noticed that the katsu sando – panko-crumbed, deep-fried meat in crustless white bread – is defying the laws of our attention deficit dining scene. You'll see versions of the humble sarnie of convenience stores and train station bentos in Japan everywhere across Melbourne, with Cutler and Co’s abalone katsu sandwich and Congress’s pigs head sanga still two of the most coveted bites in the city.The sandwich's interminable rise finds its latest launch pad at Saint Dreux, a standalone coffee and sandwich bar inside the high end St Collins Lane mall. Its futuristic, Blade Runneresque aesthetic has kindled a torrent of images of the pitch black storefront, punctuated only by perfectly prismatic sandwiches that seem birthed by 3D printer rather the hand of common man.Yes, you could lean into largesse and go for the $28 wagyu number, served medium rare with 7+ marble score beef, but without the offer of a big brassy glass of red and the rest of the afternoon off, a more lunch-appropriate indulgence lies in the $15 kurobuta pork. It’s a well constructed beast, the all-important panko coating is super flaky and audibly crunchy even after minutes steaming under tangy bull dog sauce and mayo. The thumb-thick cutlet inside, while juicy, is a jaw workout in parts to get that intense, unmistakeable ‘pork but more’ flavour of kurobuta. It’s the prawn sando we’ll be returning for. Its m
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: 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 Paris
Entrecôte
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • South Yarra
  • price 2 of 4
Let’s gratefully erase the memory of the Millswyn and Louie, which crashed and burned when Davis Yu became custodian of this prime-time corner spot overlooking the abject hordes puffing around the Tan. Now Jason McLaren Jones (Stables of Como, Moor Please, and many more) has taken over, and it’s a different beast altogether. Entrecôte feels a bit like Lynch’s clubbish charm has taken a holiday to Paris, where it’s swooning like a tourist over how French everything is. You won’t find anything original here but that’s beside the point. When economic flux is wreaking havoc on their stock portfolios, the well-dressed crowd is after certainty. And certainty they will certainly find in the form of a decent steak frites, made with Hopkins River grass-fed porterhouse that arrives dripping in a good herby sauce with mustardy depths and tangy sourness from mystery sources that doesn’t smother the meat’s satisfying grunt. For $39.90 you get the steak, you get the frites (limitless, they say, although we didn’t test the theory) and a green salad. And that’s it, if you believe Entrecôte’s PR hype about serving only steak frites, plus a gougère with a salty spill of sweet caramelised onion, and oysters with mignonette (shallot and red wine vinegar) sauce. But that’s not the full story. The bar menu is a broader beast, although partaking of it means eschewing the charms of the upstairs dining room and balcony (mint-green and lovely) and the downstairs dining room (pink in the way of Dame Ed
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Chin Chin
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Thai
  • Melbourne
  • price 2 of 4
A new Melbourne City Council ordinance has decreed all reviews of Chin Chin must mention the queues, so let’s begin by quantifying a situation that falls slightly short of the Beatles’ 1964 visit to Melbourne and is roughly on par with trying to get on the 5.36pm Werribee train from Flinders Street. Yes, life’s a bitch when you’re dining in the no-bookings zone, but the good news is that the new and improved Chin Chin has ripped the guts out of downstairs bar Go Go, zhouzhed it up and installed booths which you can actually book, assuming you have nine friends. The drinks list has been similarly gussied up by new wine guy Philip Rich with a nimble focus on small producers, although upstairs you can still get Pikes Riesling and Vasse Felix cab merlot by the glass along with frivolous tropical cocktails. The changes are relatively subtle – a rejigged bar, some new artwork, new unisex loos. Above all, it’s heartwarming to see that Melbourne’s hardest-working chef, Benjamin Cooper, and his brigade are no longer crammed into a kitchen repurposed from an intensive chicken farm. And maybe the extra elbowroom has freed up his creativity because the 14-odd new dishes on the menu are mostly zesty, exciting and complex, with the cabal of sour, salty and bitter things keeping that attention-seeking sweetness in check. There’s a dark and funky complexity that brings something new to the chicken and shiitake spring rolls; a good limey whack to the duck larb – Laos’s answer to san choi bao
The Pie Shop
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Patisseries
  • Brunswick East
  • price 1 of 4
Good news for pastry lovers: Matt Wilkinson has opened a pie shop in Brunswick East, right next door to his (now closed) café Pope Joan. Two sweet and five (cheekily-named) savoury pies can be taken away or devoured in the narrow, open-air space that’s carpeted in artificial grass and has bench and stool seating for 12. On a frosty winter’s day, a bunch of mums and rugged-up toddlers chomp merrily beside a pair of bespectacled northsiders, undeterred by the elements.To line your ribs against the cold, order the Allen. It’s a fine rendition of the classic chunky beef with slow-cooked Warialda beef, sweet celery, carrots and onion. There’s no pulverised mystery meat here – this is beef stew at its comforting best, packed into buttery shortcrust pastry that is sturdy enough to eat one-handed.Our surprise favourite is the ingenious spaghetti bolognese pie. The Bruce has pork bolognese sauce and spaghetti strands baked inside a thin, crisp pastry ‘bowl’ and topped with a melted cheddar and mozzarella lid. Novel and nice, this pie packs a rich and saucy tomato punch – sit down to eat this one. Your mini-me can also get the petitely proportioned Bruce party pie. Vegetarian pies are no afterthought here. If you love the cauliflower-cheese liaison, then shortcrust Shazza’s your gal, with hunky cauliflower florets and sweet, caramelised onion all enveloped in a creamy white cheese sauce. The Clancy, a calzone-like number, is stuffed with wilted chard, pumpkin, haloumi and firm chickpea
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Cibi
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Collingwood
  • price 2 of 4
Cibi translates to ‘little one’ from Japanese, but the beloved Collingwood café and concept store of the same name made a big move last October. Originally opened over a decade ago by husband and wife Meg and Zenta Tanaka, Cibi has relocated (albeit next door) to a spacious, light-flooded warehouse – there’s now more room to display its beautiful products and, importantly, ample space for more diners to become devotees of its famed Japanese-style breakfasts. The Tanakas’ philosophy is to look at life through the eyes of our younger selves. Correspondingly, the compact menu champions simplicity. Fusing Japanese ingredients and cooking methods with Western flavours and seasonal produce results in well-balanced dishes and modest serving sizes, staying true to the Japanese proverb and one of Cibi’s mantras – hara-hachi-bun-me (eating until you are 80 percent full is eating in moderation). Despite the larger space there’s a short wait for a table on a sunny Sunday morning. The room hums with chatter as people tackle free-range eggs, roasted eggplant and butternut squash caramelised with sweet house-made miso buried under a thick blanket of oozy provolone cheese – it tastes as cosy as it looks. Salmon cured in-house with sake and kombu is served with a soft-boiled egg and pickled daikon with a yuzu pepper dressing adding zest. But the main drawcard is still the Japanese breakfast plate. Based on Meg’s grandmother’s recipe, it comes in three iterations. In the traditional, the small
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
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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
Lankan Tucker
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Sri Lankan
  • Brunswick West
  • price 2 of 4
It doesn’t surprise us that multicultural Melbourne houses one of the largest Sri Lankan diasporas in the world. What is surprising is that this hasn’t manifested in plenty of places to eat a decent hopper – a bowl-shaped crepe made from fermented rice batter and coconut milk, and the Sri Lankan breakfast of choice. In our opinion, Sri Lankan food deserves to be more mainstream. Couple Nerissa Jayasingha and Hiran Kroon, who opened Lankan Tucker in a quiet pocket of Brunswick West in 2016, agree. Their cosy place has all the trappings of a Melbourne café – St Ali coffee, laidback vibes, lots of greenery, service-with-a-smile – but look closer and you’ll discover a menu jammed with Sri Lankan classics. Even Aussie brunch favourites come with an accent – smashed avo is jazzed up with turmeric hummus and snow pea tendrils, and house-cured salmon is glazed with arrack, a spirit made from the fermented sap of coconut flowers, popular in the Indian subcontinent. But we’re here for the egg hopper. You’ll smell it first – the air gets heady with turmeric. Crisp-edged and with a runny yolk in the middle, you fill the bowl-shaped crepe with lacy string hoppers (clusters of red rice flour vermicelli) doused in an aromatic coconut curry. Add in a trifecta of crunch, zing and herbal freshness from the coconut, red onion and parsley sambols for a full-blown palate party. If you prefer something denser, the urad lentil pancake proves a perfect foil for the warmly spiced spinach dahl and a c
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Di Stasio Citta
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Melbourne
  • price 3 of 4
To call Di Stasio Città one of the year’s most anticipated openings is like calling the tram stop at the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth somewhat sketchy. Having finally switched on the red light in its pod-like entrance portal a few weeks ago, it feels like half of Melbourne has been getting misty-eyed over the 30-plus-year legacy of St Kilda’s Cafe Di Stasio and the even longer legacy of Rinaldo Di Stasio, the city’s one-man answer to the Medici family. We’re among them. Melbourne would be the lesser without the occasionally controversial Café Di Stasio in St Kilda, a place of captivating dark mystery where the DNA of excess seems to have seeped into the very floors and walls. Di Stasio Città (literally, “city”) has yet to bed in its tales of ribald mischief. They will come. Città sees Ronnie Di Stasio return to the neighbourhood where he pioneered Rosati in the heady days shortly before the fringe benefits tax and the stock market crash cruelled the excesses of the 1980s. And the augurs are good. It’s a place of arrestingly clean-lined brutalism – concrete walls and pillars, a remarkable terrazzo floor, video installations by artists Reko Rennie and Shaun Gladwell playing on loop with the same mesmeric qualities as the TV in the corner of the RSL. White-jacketed bartenders shake things behind a slab of white marble. Red leather chairs make like a mid-century Thornbury espresso bar, a younger Di Stasio’s stomping ground. It’s a gallery and salon, as well as a bar and resta
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
+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
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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
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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
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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
Akachochin
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Restaurants
  • South Wharf
Iconic Melbourne restauranteur Paul Mathis has opened so many venues this year soon we’ll have to start counting them on our toes. One of these is Japanese izakaya Akachochin. Not the easiest name to pronounce but that doesn’t seem to have stopped the punters finding it – housed in a renovated cargo shed in blossoming South Warf. You’ll pick it from the red lanterns that hang outside. Inside it’s all long marble sushi bar, cool yellow tiled walls and tiny glazed rectangular plates. The deal is Japanese pub food. At the helm is Kengo Hiromatsu (ex-Nobu) with a menu sectioned for you to divide and conquer - sushi, sashimi, grilled things, fried things, steamed things - all in moderate serving sizes with moderate price tags. The fish is fresh and expertly sliced. Previously passé menu items get the fun treatment - think potato cake stuffed with quail meat and deep fried, or a delicately sweet, sweet potato brulee. Then there’s the 50 strong list of sake, plum wine and shochu (Japanese hard-liquor, usually made with barley, rice or potato) - we bet you’d have liver failure before working the whole way through that one.
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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
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

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