The best restaurants in Melbourne
A chef, a sommelier and a maitre d’ walk into a bar. Bada-bing. Time Out’s 2018 Restaurant of the Year is no joke but the brilliant result of three of the industry’s upcoming stars banding together to take the leap into restaurant ownership.
What we have here is not so humble as an osteria. Sure, it has an underlying rustic Italian brief, exemplified by the chargrilled whole octopus brutishly splayed over a sauce made of the fiery Calabrian spreadable salami, `nduja. Bur Ilaria's signature is thick pasta tubes known as paccheri – an Insta-classic.
It’s the roti with Vegemite curry, okay? This Punch Lane spot has made the year’s most spectacular play for the hearts of Melbourne with a crazy-brave combination of buttery deconstructed roti and a curry sauce with a Vegemite-umami backbone.
Ishizuka is a new Japanese restaurant specialising in a kaiseki menu. It’s also a rabbit hole, both quasi-literally and figuratively, thanks to chef Tomotaka Ishizuka performing the food equivalent of needlepoint.
Attica is the little restaurant that could, in the little suburb that you wouldn’t expect headed up by Ben Shewry – the Kiwi chef famed for surfing, foraging and crying, to whom tricks and gimmicks are anathema and sustainability is innate philosophy.
Scott Pickett has built his reputation on a jazz-riff approach to Michelin classicism but here he’s favouring the visceral attractions of smoke, flame and char. The elemental approach to cooking goes hand in hand with the strictly a la carte menu and a pragmatic wine list that will please both the haves and the have-yachts.
'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.
Melbourne’s a town that does pasta either really well or terribly badly. Tipo 00 is a stand-out member of the first category, dishing out happiness in a bowl. Carb-dodgers be damned.
Joe Grabc is flexing his training. At Saxe you've got the sort of cooking that’s time consuming, multi-elemental and meticulous in its attention to detail. Even the bread goes the extra mile: little kombu and nori rolls that arrive with a sluice of tarama and winks of roasted cod oil.
Andrew McConnell has given his major Gertrude Street address a thorough going-over after eight years. There's a seafood-centric bar menu offering breaded abalone with tonkatsu sauce and oysters so screamingly fresh you wonder if the rest of the Melbourne restaurant world is being dudded.
This uniquely shape-shifting, globe-hopping restaurant has made like a drunken backpacker with a round-the-world ticket. It started in Vietnam, moved on to Israel then Korea, Mexico, and now has a menu devoted to Brazil.
It's the perfect neighbourhood spot (meaning: a kids’ menu and no sneering at families) while also appealing to wearers of new-school tattoos and the slow creep of corporate types turning up the gentrification dial. There's no better place to hang than the streetside picnic tables with a bubbling wood-oven pizza and Furphy Ale.
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 you’ll find 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.
The Mayfair’s wonderful, darling. That’s the four-word review of this place dancing on the ascetic memory of Pei Modern with the swellegant vibe of a New York supper club from the days folks dressed for dinner.
After 18 years under the stewardship of the Grossi family, this Bourke Street Italiano staple still shines. The grand Mural Room is one of Melbourne’s last bastions of lavish European dining charm where the lighting is set to dim, and the mood set upon arrival by the proffering of a handbag stool.
Chris Lucas – the svengali behind Melbourne greats Chin Chin, Hawker Hall, Kong and Baby – brings you the three-leve Nipponesque dining powerhouse, complete with an omakase counter where slivers of jewel-coloured ocean flesh are laid out with all the ceremony of tea in Kyoto.
This is a kitchen bringing the kind of modern Turkish food you’d find in Istanbul’s vigorous restaurant scene to Balaclava with a program of pickling, preserving, fermenting and hanging (yoghurt, that is). It’s fresh, pretty, textured and refined.
This den of delicious iniqity marries a perfectly à la mode drinks list with the kinds of things you want to eat (salt and pepper veg; and cabonara, we're looking at you).
Dave Verheul is a chef with a knack for taking the road less travelled and Embla, despite calling itself a wine bar, is no exception. Expect fire-licked fun all the way from the bread to the sublime roast chook.
Melbourne’s best sushi. It’s a big call. But after encountering Minamishima, it’s one we’re prepared to make. And it’s right here, hiding shyly on a quiet, mostly residential street in Richmond.
Mornane Place has finally borne fruit with the arrival of a very late night bar with some seriously good eats. The midnight spaghetti is no booze-sopping gut-buster – it’s a dainty twirl of rigorously al dente spaghetti capturing a flavour burst of sugo, salty giant capers and sweet basil.
Try ordering the chicken larp – the headline hot act at Long Chim – and you’re pretty much guaranteed a look of waiterly concern followed by an interrogation about how much heat you can really handle, quite possibly followed by an intervention.
Fitzroy’s Smith & Daughters looks like an old-school rock’n’roll bar, but the cross-shaped neon sign on the wall tells you why you’re really here: to ‘eat vegan’. Aiming to dispel the myth that vegan cuisine is lacklustre, they started with a Latin-tinged menu, but did a switcheroo to Italian, and the results are bellissima.
Bar snack of the year? A hot contender is right here at Annam, where ink-stained fried cuttlefish is camouflaged on a textured black plate, given away only by whisper-thin slivers of red chilli and a cheek of lemon.
The new addition to Joe Mammone’s boutique Italian stable exudes Latin charm from its terrazzo foyer to its bar clad in charcoal steel. And we haven’t even mentioned the quorum of liltingly accented waiters who marshal the crowds one ‘ciao bella’ at a time.
Plenty of cafes that try their hand at the evening trade but Park St Dining is one of the rare places to manage the metamorphosis with panache. On Friday and Saturday nights it reinvents itself as a quietly revving Italian stallion.
Melbourne’s Hardware Lane outpost has become the sixth Miznon, soon to be joined by a seventh in New York. Nothing about Miznon is orthodox. It’s a double-storied restaurant, but the action unspools downstairs where diners order at the counter and wait for their names to be called. Hot tip: order the cauliflower.
Take heed: Longsong is no holding bar for Longrain. David Moyle's menu is something that is not so much Thai or even Thai-ish but a document that might have once been waved in the direction of the kingdom of Siam.
The man behind Restaurant Shik is Peter Jo, or, ‘Kimchi Pete’, if you ever met him enthusiastically pouring wines at Belles Hot Chicken, Neighbourhood Wine or Etta. He’s a Sydney native, and after moving to Melbourne, he became fed up with the lack of Korean options and opened his own place.
A proud member of the New Dining paradigm, Ramblr is one of those joints that dresses down for dinner. The sum total of this narrow, long shopfront is three chefs sharing a tight open kitchen with a glowing charcoal grill and a handful of service-focused smart young staff on the floor.
While Marion could be used as a pre-dinner pit-stop, it deserves more loving. Revert to the hip term bistronomy, if you must, which is another way of saying it has excellent food and wine values while trying really hard not to show how hard it’s trying.
The definition of the great neighbourhood bistro has gone up a notch or three with Etta. The place is rather wonderful for the lack of pretension; the experimental confidence of the wine list; and the fact that half of Melbourne’s hospo industry are regulars.
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.
An old dog with plenty of new tricks, this Canto institution just keeps getting better and better, one mud crab claw at a time. It's still kicking strong through 38 years, two recessions, the digital age and a plague of screechers decreeing the death of fine dining.
Thi Le's modern Australian-Vietnamese food refuses to be pigeonholed (deep-fried cube of cheese custard infused with Vegemite, anyone?), but it's always toe-curlingly delicious.
Shane Delia's flagship restaurant has had quite the journey, declaring independence from the Made Establishment five years ago and celebrating its tenth birthday earlier this year with the expensive facelift and bells-and-whistles relaunch it deserves.
The style of food they serve is Middle Eastern-ish. Crowds have already started flocking for the sipper-spirit Arak. There are three available, served with a pitcher of water and ice for you to dilute, chill and sip on between and after mezze.
Epic. That’s what you can call a degustation featuring things like cow’s udder and calamari entrails and cured emu and finishes with a painted chocolate cacao pod smashed with a delicate silver hammer in scenes of elegant mayhem.
It’s still one of Melbourne’s premiere fine dining restaurants, a tight ten booths and all the glossy surfaces you could hope for and the city's most luxurious taramosalata, served in soft folds with none of the faux pinkness.
Forget that saying about necessity being the mother of invention. Melbourne’s restless restaurant scene means reinvention is a mother of a necessity. It’s a similar story with one of the best Italian restaurants in Melbourne, which has recently been reimagined into… one of the best Italian restaurants in Melbourne.
This smart pub diner (without the pub) is the baby of three industry lifers finally having a go of their own. They haven’t gone off-piste with the sum total of their experience, either. It’s been distilled into a place that speaks of their talents and experience.
It’s dinner, but not as we know it. For starters, meeting friends for Dinner isn’t the simple proposition it ought to be. In fact, the Fat Duck’s permanent replacement at Crown is damned nigh on impossible to get into so be prepared.
Formerly a derelict rifle club and firing range, the venue has undergone a $2 million makeover turning the kitchen compass firmly north of the equator. What we have now is the very model of the all-day, late-night Thai eating and drinking den.
San Telmo doesn’t muck around. This gaucho steakhouse run by a bunch of Melbourne hospo gringos lays its carnivorous scene at the entrance, where some impressive bits of cow sit dry ageing behind glass.
Yep, Stokehouse has finally reopened its doors to let that fresh St Kilda air in. This time around there are wide rough-sawn boards and tubular glass chandeliers that undulate just slightly in the breeze.
The concrete bunker is atypically artistically sparse and focused on a kitchen bar, behind which the crew are shucking oysters and stuffing steamed buns at warp speed.
The name translates as ‘marketplace’ in Armenian, and the establishment is a lighter, brighter, more playful sibling of Maskal’s CBD restaurant Sezar. But Shukah isn’t wedded to tradition – it’s definitely Middle Eastern food by way of Melbourne.
It’s an unequivocal name for an unequivocal operation. There’s no meat on this menu. It’s seafood all the way aside from three vegetable side dishes, one of which is broccoli with a – brace yourself – sardine dressing.
The energy of Coda. If there were a way of bottling it you could solve the world energy crisis. It billows out the door onto the cobblestone laneway then drifts along the street. It’s the Flinders Lane fairy dust.
Dodee Paidang is a Sydney import from Somporn Phosri – the fourth store of the family. After winning the hearts and tongues of Thai locals in Sydney, he thought it was time to conquer Melbourne.
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