The best restaurants in Melbourne
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 the Japanese-ish, French-ish Kazuki's from Daylesford. There are several ways to tackle Kazuki’s, starting at the a la carte option of two courses for $75 and heading northwards to the chef’s menu of seven courses for $150. Our advice: go one of the tasting menus, if only to commandeer the four snacks as the first course, which could include Goolwa pipis on the shell, a profiterole filled with parfait and Davidson plum jam, grilled duck hearts, or whipped cod roe on a nori crisp.
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. It’s locavore inside the kitchen thanks to the combined, non-hierarchical cheffing talents of Matt Stone and Jo Barrett. 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 of Jersey cows who live nearby.
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.
It’s the roti with Vegemite curry, OK? 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.
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.
Città is a return of Ronnie Di Stasio 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. 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 restaurant where the undiscriminating menu runs through from 11.30am until late o’clock.
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 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.
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.
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.
A chef, a sommelier and a maitre d’ walk into a bar. Bada-bing. Carlton Wine Room is no joke but the brilliant result of three of the industry’s accomplished stars banding together to take the leap into restaurant ownership.
Navi is a fine dining den of distinction, where cork tiles line the ceiling, moody hues rule the walls, and a mere 25 seats dot the narrow shopfront floor and the bar overlooking the cooking action. Navi is a chef’s-own temple, down to the a la mode pottery Hills threw himself, the soundtrack of “I'm playing what I goddamn like” and the snackage sent in to soften diners up as they acclimatise to the evening ahead (line honours go to raw wallaby and pickled flowers in its cured egg wrapping).
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.
Inside the tiny bluestone building on the corner of Napier and Kerr streets, a big chalkboard on the high brick wall lists the wines of the day, and pastries beckon from a case on the counter. Daily sandwiches and roast specials (bird, beast or fish) alongside snacks and salads make meals of any size an easy proposition. Half a roast chook swims in a rich liquor of confit garlic, preserved lemon, fresh rosemary and pan juices, its skin the colour of a holiday spent topless in the Sicilian sun. Pair it with a glass of white from southern Italy, itself all salty and smelling of sunny lemon peel.
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.
Capitiano, brought to you by the Bar Liberty crew, is bigger, brighter and louder than its Johnston Street sibling, offering far more approachable food and booze but keeping the quality, fun and delightful service. The stated inspiration here is Italian-American, and you can see the influence in the 'gabagool' starter (it’s the New Jersey-Italian pronunciation of the cured pork salumi usually called cappiccola), and the vodka sauce on one of two pasta dishes. But apart from these scant nods, Capitiano is all Melbourne.
Since opening sometime back in the Qing dynasty in 2011, Pinotta has calmly plied its trade as the Platonic ideal of the neighbourhood haunt. The troika of good, unfussy Italian food, a punchy and intelligent wine list and service sprinkled with X-factor fairy dust works a convincing game, and the recent arrival of new head chef Cian Fenaughty has been a velvet revolution. That might mean something as simple as a snack-happy dish of fried chickpeas and saltbush leaves dusted in paprika and cayenne and a surfeit of salt, something a potato chip multinational might want to rip off and sell from vending machines. Or a cacio e pepe croquette, a golden-crusted ball of peppered ooze buried under a Parmigiana-Reggiano snowdrift.
Rising Embers if the home of Sichuan barbecue from the ever-expanding Dainty Sichuan empire. It’s all thanks to a ninja-like team of waiters who’ll step in quickly to save the day, or simply act as a personal chef if you feel like relinquishing the tongs to the professionals. You’d be brave or reckless to risk cooking a $128.80 platter of Kobe beef yourself, with more marbling than the Vatican, but the tradesman’s entrance to beefy good times is no slouch at a more wallet-friendly price of $16.80.
Melbourne’s a town that does pasta very, very well. Tipo 00 is a stand-out member of the pasta-making clan, dishing out happiness in a bowl. Carb-dodgers be damned.
'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.
The formula of Super Ling is to take one lesser-known cuisine (here, the branch of Chinese food known as Hakka), add a dash of gastronomic wit and serve it in a room of pared-back simplicity. Don't go past the mapo tofu jaffle. You could consider it Super Ling’s answer to Sunda’s cultish roti with Vegemite curry, although this particular meeting of old and new is dusted in blitzed chilli the colour of Cheezels and has shades of meat pie in the lava-hot spicy minced pork filling with a puck of silken tofu.
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. Despite its aims to be everything but a pasta bar, Ilaria's signature has become a plate of paccheri (thick tubes of pasta) strewn with nubs of Crystal Bay prawn meat, grounded in tomato and sorrel purees and anointed with the heady cologne of prawn oil.
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 iniquity marries a perfectly à la mode drinks list with the kinds of things you want to eat (salt and pepper veg; grilled flatbread; and cacio e pepe, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Daughter In Law is a restaurant by Jessi Singh, who set up the Babu Ji empire in Australia, sold them off, opened to critical acclaim in New York and California, and returned, but not before opening Don’t Tell Aunty in Sydney. The only difference between this and his previous restaurants is that Daughter In Law is not steeped in any sense of authenticity; this restaurant is meant to break the rules, dabble in fusion, and much like the women of arranged marriages after whom this restaurant is named, carve out its own identity in a world of rules and structure. Most importantly, the food here is fun. Lean into the curious naan pizzas, especially after you've had a few drinks.
Arlechin is a late-night boozer down Mornane Place by the Grossi family, who don't slouch on the food offering. The go-to seems to be the midnight spaghetti– a dainty twirl of rigorously al dente spaghetti capturing a flavour burst of sugo, salty giant capers and sweet basil.
When a 20-seater restaurant in the heart of suburbia that only offers three dishes, with no bookings, no website and no advertising is never with an empty seat, you know it has to be good. Mr Lee’s Foods is well worth the trip to Ringwood if you’re a fan of pork; all dishes are derived from this glorious animal, offering a delicious insight into the economical traditions of Korean dining, utilising an unconscious, innately cultural nose-to-tail philosophy. Needless to say, this is a vegetarian no-go zone. A house-made soondae (Korean blood sausage), steamed pork belly and dwaeji guk bap (pork soup with rice) are the only things on offer at Mr Lee’s.
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.
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 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.
Lesa is a place built for people to relax into good times. You have to order rounds of charry, warm, fermented potato flatbread (yes, they’re $8, but you’ll soon forget the outrage) with nutty macadamia cream and shiitake oil the consistency of sump oil that carries an hyper-concentrated, meaty umaminess. Go during the day and cop the extra-good value of two courses for $55, a benchmark for Melbourne luncheon excellence, complete with waiters who will check in about the time you need to check out.
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.
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.
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 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. And don't muck around: order the pasta, and you can thank us later.
Filipino food is having its fine-dining moment under head chef John Rivera. Lock yourself in for a three-course meal or a seven-course, plus snacks journey where you might receive pork glazed in black banana; calamari with coconut and chrysanthemum; or even an avocado and custard apple 'milkshake.'
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.
Chris Lucas – the svengali behind Melbourne greats Chin Chin, Hawker Hall, Kong and Baby – brings you the three-level 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.
Twenty-four hours. Twenty-four freaking hours, seven days a week is how long Butcher's Diner is open for, and the food is excellent, always. It’s a compelling reason to grab dinner late or have a steak for breakfast. While the menu is meat-centric, it is not as carnivorous as it may first appear. There is a definite European lean on the menu, but there are touches of Japan, America and China. Burgers starting from $9.50, made up of cuts of the day, sit alongside lightly battered, sesame-spiked Japanese fried chicken ($12) comprised of marinated dark meat, Kewpie mayo and piquant pickled daikon. There are skewers of offal ($7.50 for two) cooked over Japanese white charcoal and come unapologetically chewy, bouncy or irony (and depending on the cut, served medium); and you can get a soft, spiced house-made blood sausage and curried egg bap ($10).
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.
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. Black pudding and pear tarte Tatin, anyone?
Shane Delia's flagship restaurant can chalk up its popularity to the rising tribe of vegetarians and vegans who make it their go-to joint when they want a big, splashy night out – the kind of night where a pumpkin risotto simply won’t cut it. Maha certainly brings the goods in that department, delivering a four-, six- or eight-course guilt-free deg that swings from arak-spiked cucumbers in a bed of yoghurt and finished with a judicious dusting of dried olive to agrodolce salt-baked beetroot with a rich walnut and macadamia tarator and the striking meat substitute of lentil dumplings jazzed to the max with truffle and mushrooms.
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.
Hummus is the main attraction at New Jaffa, a Middle Eastern diner in the backstreets of Collingwood. Owner and chef Moshe Ittah makes it fresh daily with traditional ingredients (chickpeas, garlic, lemon, oil and tahini sourced from Israel) using a secret technique. The result is a silky texture, a rich, nutty flavour, and the perfect balance of salt and acid. For lunch, get it capped with mushrooms, or minced lamb and beef fried in a heady spice blend, with pine nuts adding sweetness. Scrape the plate clean with pita, its cloud-soft insides soaking up the remnants of oil stained copper from paprika.
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.
Stokehouse mark II is the same mix of don’t-scare-the-horses classics and slightly more outré Med-leaning dishes. Richard Ousby and Ollie Hansford (executive and head chef, respectively) know their crowd and know that it wants steak – they serve a very decent oyster blade with watercress salad and a zippy little jus – and crumbed King George whiting with chips and tartare.
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. Look out for the level ratings next to its tom yum noodles, every level denotes an added spoon of powdered chilli to the already hot and sour stock base.
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.
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