The best restaurants in Fitzroy
Melbourne, meet your new favourite snacking spot, where a seafood-centric bar menu offers breaded abalone with tonkatsu sauce sandwiched in the kind of high-GI white bread your doctor warned you about. There are oysters so screamingly fresh you wonder if the rest of the Melbourne restaurant world is being dudded, and Padron peppers flashed in sherry vinegar play their sinister game of Russian roulette.
Head chef, Kah-wai ‘Buddha’ Lo takes on Asian flavours and European technique – evidenced by his take on the perennially daggy American-Chinese favourite known as General Tso’s chicken, here done with crisp-fried quail and little pouches of braised lettuce stuffed with jasmine rice, red capsicum, diced chicken and water chestnut, like a tribute version of san choy bau. Another mash-up comes by virtue of the suckling pig – two perfect slices of crackle-hatted porky goodness with slippery ho fun noodle and a fine dice of prawn, water chestnut and garlic chives, like a Cantonese-accented surf-and-turf.
After years of false promises, Andrew McConnell has finally gone the full Chinese. Ricky and Pinky is a space that's been bedazzled by the wand of 1970s Chinese restaurant style. It’s a gaudy take on the Box Hill Canto barns of the 1970s – crazy gold piping twining above the doorway (surely there’s some sort of auspicious feng shui thing going on there); green carpet that also acts as a good sound-squelcher; and silver-coated skylights to really nail that more-is-more aesthetic.
Red Sparrow is the brainchild of co-owner and chef Michael Craig, last seen at vego Mex joint Trippy Taco. Together with his partner and Red Sparrow co-owner Shelley Scott, Craig (who is vegan) has spent innumerable hours perfecting his very own mock cheeses and meats, spurred on by the dream of enjoying the simple pleasures of pizza, chips and beer like everyone else.
One of Melbourne’s finest pitmasters has a new home in one of our coziest little back-street pubs. Bluebonnet Barbecue offers various smoked meats that are texturally perfect as well huge servings of the best sides in town. Spice up your meat dish with betroot, barley and dill salad, giant deep fried McClure’s pickles, miso-sweet Brussels sprouts or apple, red cabbage and kohlrabi slaw, a modern take on the Southern classic with mustard and maple for sweetness.
Veganism just got less preachy, more peachy. Owners Mo Wyse and chef Shannon Martinez are pushing Spanish/Latin American vegan eats and horchata highballs at this new punk of a Fitzroy diner – which makes Smith and Daughters one hot meatless tamale.
Don’t expect a bandana toting crew screaming ‘irasshaimase!’ when you walk into Pat Breen and Lydia Wegner’s soup joint. These two are ramen renegades, who roll their buckwheat noodles in a pasta maker and are pushing an eclectic mix of Japan’s favourite soup, Chinese-style pork buns, frosty shakes and caramel pie. Party down.
Jimmy Grants is Masterchef judge George Calombaris’ fancy souvlaki shop. It’s a bar, diner and takeaway in one where you can get ouzo for a fiver, hammer huge fresh salads full of almonds, barley and citrusy handfuls of rough cut parsley, or get a baggie of slow roasted lamb to go.
Melbourne’s having a bit of a Middle Eastern moment. In a bright little shopfront where the memo about hip-hop being the only soundtrack with street cred has definitely landed, we have Just Falafs bringing seriously good falafel and all its zesty bandmates to North Fitzroy. Opened by a mother and son with well-thumbed passports and runs on the board in the local industry, it’s the eatery the suburb needed.
Fancy eating at Vegie Bar? Then get in line. The 20-year-old establishment is so consistently busy that it’s walk-in only for tables of fewer than six, and waits of an hour or more are not unheard of. Fortunately the staff have a well coordinated system for getting diners in, seated and out again. Names are taken upon arrival, numbered cards assigned and the ravening hordes directed to a very pleasant courtyard, with a large sheltered area and (crucially) a cash-only bar.
Southern-style fried chicken has nailed the eating zeitgeist, but the crew at Belle’s Hot Chicken have turned it into an extreme sport. If you want to simulate the experience of having your head blown off while angels sing the tunes of the Wu-Tang Clan, head straight for their "really fuckin’ hot" chicken. It has a body count. It’s a crazy juke joint of a place, taking over the former Belle’s Diner with its fancy-Scandi timber fit-out.
Here, amidst the '70s orange tiles and bamboo benches your corn tortilla tacos come out packing a jammin’ combo of chilli-spiced and grilled tofu or black beans with thick slices of avocado, mozzarella cheese, and a fresh tomato salsa. They need a little salt, but squeeze on some extra lime and as much El Yucateco habanero hot sauce as your face can handle (not much), and hot damn! You have yourself a pretty convincing reason to climb on the meat-free wagon.
Until Tora Dumplings arrived on Brunswick Street, we didn’t realise that Fitzroy had been missing a dumpling house for years. Sure, China Red offers some with their Chinese barbecue, and Ricky and Pinky do Hong Kong-style yum cha classics, but what we missed was a restaurant that revolves around Shanghai-style dumplings. The menu at Tora is short by dumpling house standards but those in the know head straight for the house specialities, signified by the tiger logo next to the menu item. Do yourself a favour and order the pork and prawn wonton dumplings with a peanut and sesame sauce.
For a tiny venue that has no menu, no booze and no meat, competition for diner real estate is astoundingly fierce. 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.
The Town Hall Hotel features steak as its bloody (or medium rare) beating heart, padded out with a bunch of traderne dishes keeping the interest quotient trending upwards. Steak aside, there’s good stuff coming off the redgum fired grill here. Humungous tiger prawns, cooked to that alluring state where the flesh is still gelatinous and the heads totally suckable, buried beneath a sweet vinegar-dressed avalanche of cherry tomatoes, baby capers, lemon zest and herbs. Or whole buttery flounder, the flesh coming away in big pearly flakes, the dark skin its own realm of delight.
You don’t have to be committed to a lifestyle starting with V to enjoy Transformer. Vegetarians in all their stripes, including your hard-core vegans, will embrace it as the restaurant they’ve been waiting for, but this is a place that doesn’t shove its philosophies down your throat. Global food fashions have caught up with the joy of vegetables, anyway.
These days four years makes you a long-serving venue in the hospitality world, but Grub Food Van is going on five years old and it’s only getting better with age. When it first opened as a café, the kitsch backyard look was in full swing: seats were covered in crocheted blankets and the ping pong table took pride of place in the indoor garden seating area. These days, Grub is also open for dinner most nights or nibbles over one of their self-described “Fancy Drinks” (cocktails).
Need a drink?
Fitzroy has come a long way from its bohemian beginnings. While the northside suburb is still in touch with its edgy side, it's now better known as a hub for bars of all stripes. Punters hitting the town will find sleek cocktail bars, intimate whisky bars, and wine bars open any day of the week. We've picked out the best of the bunch, the Fitzroy drinking dens that never fail to bring the goods, from world-class cocktails to pints of craft beer. Up for kicking on until the wee hours? Work your way through the best 50 bars in Melbourne or check out our favourite pubs.