Since it first opened in a blaze on then-novel Iberian glory, Bar Lourinhã has been best in show, not only on the drinks side but with co-owner Matt McConnell’s brand of Spanish-Portuguese tapas-style food. They've just added an upstairs section to cope with the overflow, a what-took-you-so-long move that is a testament to the bar’s enduring popularity. The exclusive space has a new look and feel courtesy of designer Pascale Gomes McNabb who has created a picture-perfect venue for celebrations and corporate functions. Seating up to 40 guests for a sit-down meal, or up to 65 for a stand-up cocktail event, this private haunt is brimming with Mediterranean style. Five food packages are available, ranging from $45pp for cocktail nibbles like grilled lamb ‘chuletas’ moruño and Kingfish ‘pancetta’, to $85pp for a premium fiesta featuring twice-cooked beef brisket, grilled octopus tentacle and a pomegranate crema dessert.
Offering flexible private dining options at the top end of Bourke Street, Bottega can accommodate groups for as little as 10 or as many as 60 in its brightly lit upstairs room. With views overlooking leafy Bourke Street, it's a place to go if you’re in the mood to impress. Bottega boasts one of Melbourne’s sexiest Italian menus, with top-notch service, beautifully buffed wine glasses and an air that exudes excellence. Menus change seasonally, but you can take your pick of set menus ranging from $65pp for lunch and $110pp for a four-course meal with anything from pan-roasted barramundi to pork porchetta or housemade casarecce pasta. Browse through Bottega's 23-page drinks menu for a tipple that takes your fancy, or if you’re in the mood to be wined and dined, they also offer beverage packages.
Delivering some of the best technique-driven eats on Smith Street, Saint Crispin offers up two swanky private dining rooms for the public: the Bannear Room and the Thomas Olive Room. The rooms can accommodate between six and 80 guests and can be used independently or be joined to create one huge space. Food is, of course, the stand out here: the three-course menu, set at $70pp, and their five- and seven-course chef’s tasting menus ($100pp and $130pp, respectively) are based around seasonal high quality ingredients. Think Western Plains pork with white pudding, zucchini flowers and mustard, or fresh John Dory with aubergine, roasted capsicum, fennel and white anchovy. Everything is taken care of, right down to the delicate wine matching and tailored cocktail menus, so you can be content in the hands of the skilled and sensible hands of Saint Crispin’s chefs and event staff.
Estelle’s premier dining options are the envy of High Street, and you could soon nosh with a gaggle of friends in one of their two upstairs fine dining rooms. The two spaces can be combined to seat up to 52 guests or 70 guests for a stand-up cocktail function. The Matilda Room faces High Street and is the bigger of the two seating up to 28, with the Harrison Room seating 20. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also Estelle’s lush courtyard that can be used for private booking of up to 40 people sit down or 55 people standing up. With washed brick walls and vertical gardens, it’s like a Garden of Eden right in the heart of Northcote. Menu options reflect the restaurant’s modern style, with set menus ($75pp for three-course menu with side dishes; $80pp for three-course shared style menu; $90pp for five-course chef's tasting menu) and canapé menu options from $50pp that feature oysters, polenta fries, foie gras parfaits and lobster rolls. Functions are also available at their upmarket sister restaurant ESP (Estelle by Scott Pickett).
Is there anything better than a wall of wine? No, there is not. Bringing Argentinian flair to the CBD’s top end, San Telmo brandishes hefty slabs of meat, spicy malbec wines and all the barbecue you could possibly ask for. Accommodating groups of 10 to 16, their private dining room is complemented by head chef Stephen Clark’s carefully designed set menus that can centre on an asado animal of your choice, slow cooked on the parrilla. Service is friendly and the kitchen’s notorious no-steak-too-big attitude is in full force.
For some Peruvian flavour, meander down AC/DC Lane to Pastuso, a restaurant/bar/culture-packed party house where the only rule is there are no rules. There’s space for large group functions, sit-down banquets and stand-up cocktail events all over the main floor, with their private dining room seating up to 32. Head chef Alejandro Saravia will take you on a tour of Peruvian cuisine, with banquet options for $70, $95 and $130 a head. Taste-wise think ceviche and street vendor favourites (alpaca, anyone?) that feel like they've come straight from the streets of Lima.
Complete with dark wood panelling and impressive high ceilings, the Tea Room is probably the best spot for a brunch event this side of the CBD. The ambience is unbeatable, with flowers, candles and impeccably white tablecloths. The event staff can easily accommodate specific requirements, from morning tea to degustations matched with wines selected by their sommelier. The room can fit 70 people for a cocktail event or 50 for a seated event with foodie options featuring anything from Wagyu carpaccio to pan friend gnocchi dell’orto. Be sure to save room for dessert, where apple and rhubarb cobbler, port and pear trifle and tiramisú all feature. Prices range from $75pp to $130pp for an on-request degustation.
Not to be outdone, the Grand Hotel Richmond boasts three exquisitely themed private dining rooms, each named after towns on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy. The Bellagio Room seats 12 to 14 and is the smallest of the three, featuring dark tones, ornate black chandeliers and shiny wooden tables. The Nesso Room is filled with natural light and mismatched mirrors, seating 25 to 28 or 40 people standing. The biggest room is the Como, a spacious arena boasting high ceilings, private bar access and city views, all set to seat 55 to 60, or 80 people standing. Suitably, the Grand offer two, three and four-course Italian feasts – it’s your choice whether you want the ‘classic’ (from $62pp) with chargrilled swordfish and porcini mushrooms, or the ‘signature’ (from $70pp) with pastas, twice-cooked duck and roast saltbush lamb. Flights to Italy? Who needs ‘em.
You can’t get any more central than Taxi Kitchen, a restaurant that well and truly earns the coveted ‘best dining room views in Melbourne’ prize. With the Arts Centre spire and the Yarra River in view, it’s what passes for dinner and a show these days. Their designated event space – Taxi Riverside, opposite Flinders Street station – is available for lunch or dinner and suitable for groups of 30 to 450 guests. Under Taxi Kitchen’s executive chef Tony Twitchett, Taxi Riverside creates a highly creative style of Australian cuisine. Menus range from a three-course to sharing plates with hors d’oeuvres and post-dinner sweets. Drinks-wise, Taxi’s vine guy is on hand to take you through options. Bottoms up!
Meander into Supernormal’s concrete bunker of neon cherries, blonde wooden benches and Japanese vending machines for an exclusive event with pizzazz. Catering for both lunch and dinner seven days a week, Andrew McConnell's versatile space can accommodate up to 40 guests for a seated event and up to 60 guests for a cocktail party. Private dining menus highlight a bunch of Supernormal favourites (yes, their heavenly New England lobster rolls are included) alongside sharing dishes and canapés. Now about that pizzazz: if that wasn’t enough, Supernormal also offer their own karaoke system at no extra charge – it boasts a 65-inch screen with endless songs and Bose sound. Day. Made.
For all-out extravagance, it’s hard to go past this CBD stunner. Guy Grossi’s Italian dining institution is high on lavishness and detail, right down to the Renaissance era murals and delicately hand-cut fettuccine. There’s the Wynn room, a bright space overlooking Bourke Street through stained glass windows, ideal for smaller gatherings or cocktail functions (30 people seated or 40 people standing). The impressive Mural room can be hired exclusively for larger events (70 seated, 80 standing) and is accented with Napier Waller murals, forged iron lighting and intricate ceilings. Then there’s Grossi’s signature upstairs private dining room for intimate gatherings of up to eight people. Menus take notes from the restaurant’s signature style, with five- and six-course ‘Gran Tour’ menus ($150pp and $160pp, respectively) and a three-course tailored menu ($150pp). Add on a Gran Tour wine match and you’ll have officially entered into Grossi Florentino’s immaculately decadent world. Enjoy every last bite.
Party of two? Try these instead
Unless you have the metabolism of a nine-year-old, and the finances of a Kardashian, you never stand a chance against Melbourne's ferocious dining machine. The openings just don't stop and ain't nobody got time to keep on top of what's what. Except us, that is. So behold, our eat-and-destroy list – a guide to Melbourne's best restaurants.