May 2021: Our previous list was published in January 2020, and with this, we are excited to welcome you to our brand-new Best Restaurants list for 2021.
It's also worthwhile noting that Time Out has halted putting star ratings on our reviews while the industry finds its feet following the events of 2020. In the meantime, we're continuing to write honest listings for venues without a star rating, so that you can still get the ins and outs of dining there.
Welcome to the Time Out EAT List, our handpicked ‘best of’ Melbourne's food scene. These are the best places to eat in this city right now: whether it's a long-serving stalwart or a new kid on the block, smack bang in the middle of the CBD or out in regional Victoria. These are the most fresh, inventive and memorable venues, all ranked by our expert local editors.
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 nobody has time to keep on top of what's what. Except us, that is.
Time Out’s local experts scour the city every day for great eats, great value and insider info. We value fun, flavour, creativity – and value at every price point. So behold our eat-and-destroy list – a guide to Melbourne's best restaurants.
RECOMMENDED: Start working your way through our guides to Melbourne's best cafés and 50 best bars. Bon appétit!
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 46 years, a pandemic, two recessions, the digital age and a plague of screechers decreeing the death of fine dining.
Welcome to Poodle, yet another art-deco inspired multi-level venue that’s graced our fair city, where head chef Josh Fry (Marion, Cumulus Inc) takes kitschy dishes and gives them a signature Italian-inspired makeover. But this isn’t just another multi-level venue, this is more.
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.
On Lygon Street's kingdom of carbs and cheese comes the Japanese-ish, French-ish Kazuki's from Daylesford. There are two ways to tackle Kazuki’s, starting at the five course option for $130 and heading northwards to the seven course menu for $160. Our advice: go the five course menu, 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.
It’s the roti with Vegemite curry, OK? This Punch Lane spot is renowned for making the 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.
To adopt its new Australian vernacular, Vue de Monde has more history than you can poke a stick at. The turn-of-the-century Carlton restaurant that announced Westmeadows wunderkind Shannon Bennett to the world now has executive chef Hugh Allen at the helm and the result? A creative and cheeky take on all things Australiana.
There was a time when Brunswick East threatened to throw itself into a positive feedback loop of mince and suds. Wouldn’t have sucked. Alas, it’s now more likely to be a loop of polished neighbourhood wine bars—probably the better outcome—skippered by Hannah Green’s pick-of-the-litter Etta.
Fine dining and comfort food aren’t usually synonymous with each other, but here we are at Amaru, a venue that will leave you thinking otherwise. There’s no smoke and mirrors to be seen here at Amaru, just pure ingenuity coupled with good intentions. If this marks the renaissance of comfort food, we’re here to fully embrace it.
Taking the easy road is not part of the Bertoncello family values. Blayne and Chayse, the brothers behind ambitious no-bullshit farm-to-table fine-diner O.My have overcome fire, a pandemic and a relocation in the last 12 months without skipping a beat or compromising any of their exacting standards.
Koreans have a word for food that’s consumed with alcohol – anju – and while a lot of the anju we see here in Melbourne are things like sticky soy garlic-glazed fried chicken wings or thin strips of beef sizzling away on a Korean barbecue, tiny Brunswick eatery Chae is here to highlight a different side to Korean cuisine.
Walking down Hardware Lane means running the gauntlet of cheek-by-jowl waiters trying to entice potential diners into their venues with proffered 15-page illustrated menus. But not all venues rely on their front-of-house to charm the masses on the hoof, and restaurants like Hardware Club prove this with one-page menus full of straight-up Italian-inspired hits.
Winery dining is a bit of a ‘thing’ right now. Matt Stone and Jo Barrett may have left the kitchen at Oakridge, but executive chef Aaron Brodie continues on the venue's ethos of developing seasonal dishes with ingredients sourced directly from Oakridge's kitchen garden.
Provenance has been operating from the gold rush-era Bank of Australasia since 2009 and has inspired many a Melburnian to make the three-and-a-half hour journey to Beechworth, in the High Country. Although you might eat one of the animals from our coat of arms on your visit, the flavours will remind you a little bit of Europe and a lot of Japan – and will be distinctly the signature of chef and co-owner Michael Ryan and the Australia he has built for himself. And trust us, it is bloody brilliant.
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.
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.
The word ‘gama’ holds a lot of meaning when you say it to a Sri Lankan. It translates to ‘village’ and invokes images of hard-working aunties putting together a spread of umpteen curries and sides for a small family lunch. It’s the ultimate form of hospitality that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world. This is what South Indian-Sri Lankan eatery Indu sets out to represent in its new digs in the old bones of Collins Quarter.
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).
Did ‘fusion’ really ever leave? Was it merely masquerading as ‘new-style’ all along? And when it’s this delicious, does it even matter? These are the hard-hitting questions you must ponder at Victor Liong’s time-honoured, pan-Asian institution Lee Ho Fook, as you meander through a set menu (only) of hatted small plates on the CBD’s graf-scrawled, Tourism Victoria-core Duckboard Place.
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.
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.
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.
Daylesford's ultra fine diner, Lake House, promises a multi-hour masterclass in turning the best ingredients into even better meals. And just what is it that takes all that time? Savouring the absolute finest things in life, that's what. The multi-course menu changes all the time, depending on what is in season and what nearby Dairy Flat Farm, owned by the Wolf-Taskers and part of the Lake House mini-empire, is growing at the time. Everything is fresh and treated with the utmost respect, with a vegetable-forward menu that heroes local produce but is the opposite of ascetic.
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?
Can you think of a name less appropriate for a Sichuan restaurant? Punch in the Mouth, or Kick in the Nuts Sichuan might be more apt for this South Yarra treasure, where the chilli is hot and the Sichuan pepper is tinglingly, numbingly fresh. And while none of the food is what you’d call dainty, it’s certainly way up there with the best Sichuan we’ve ever had the pleasure of burning our mouths on.
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.
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.
If we were to tell you we know where the best noodles in Melbourne are, you’d most likely be expecting a ramen or laksa place, not an offbeat joint specialising in the food of the southwestern Chinese city Chongqing. Hi Chong Qing is obscured by road works on every side and easily missed if you’re not looking for it. Trust us: you should be looking for it and its short-but-sweet menu of five noodle dishes.
Southside’s Middle Eastern dining boom keeps on booming. Kudos must be given to Tulum in nearby Balaclava (which Yagiz’s owner Murat Ovaz helped set up) for showing us that Turkish cuisine goes far beyond kebabs and gozleme. And now at Tulum’s sleek, playful cousin, Ovaz is putting his spin on classic Turkish dishes.
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.
Ishizuka's menu specialises in Japanese kaiseki. It’s also a rabbit hole, both quasi-literally (the ordeal of finding it through a nondescript door, along an arcade, down a level via a keypad and elevator and through another nondescript door, can feel a little daunting, which is probably the point) and figuratively, thanks to chef Tomotaka Ishizuka performing the food equivalent of needlepoint.
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.
By all reports it’s been a tough few years 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
It’s easy to confuse yourself when arriving at Many Little. The Southeast Asian bar and bistro by Polperro Winery is neatly nestled in a strip of shops in Red Hill Village, and the only telltale signs of its residence are a string of fairy lights and the arrival of high-heel cladded guests, and in true Sri Lankan fashion, head chef Gayan Pieris, who was born in the country’s hilly city of Kandy, ensures no-one leaves hungry.
ShanDong MaMa is aptly-named. For those not already in the know, this is the place to be for home-style Shandong cuisine courtesy of Meiyan Wang (aka Mama). The little dumpling haven sits hidden away in a tunnel of shops and continues to dish up some of the city's finest doughy snacks.
Matt Denman, Simon Denman and chef Almay Jordaan’s genre-bending wine bar has solidified itself as a local drinking and dining institution. The trio also opened Lygon Street’s slick Old Palm Liquor in 2019, but it’s their original baby that has burrowed deep into the DNA of the inner north. With heavy red curtains at half-wink and disco on the turntable, sessions stretch long in this low-lit cocoon from reality, famously fashioned from the plush remains of an illicit ‘80s gambling den.
Not long ago, Bridge Road was the epicentre of discount fashion, but in recent times, retail’s had it tough and the strip has slowly transformed into a hill of tumbleweeds. Enter Jan Chi, one of the many independent hospitality businesses taking on the tough real estate to give Richmond a second chance at life. Jan Chi means ‘to feast’ in Korean, and there’s truth in advertising when the jewel of the menu is a 530 gram plate of braised Angus short rib.
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. 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
For those not familiar with Afghan cuisine, Afghan Rahimi is a great introduction into a cuisine that’s not quite Indian, not quite Persian, but a hybrid that fuses India’s rich selection of spices with Iran’s chargrilled kebabs and stews. The venue is in the hustle and bustle of Dandenong, and the space is so large that a long table of 30 diners can share iftar and only take up one-sixth of the room.
While Footscray is known for its African food, if you head a little closer towards the city to the Abyssinian for your dose of injera bread, you won't be disappointed. This Racecourse Road eatery serves up a combo of traditional and spiced-up Ethiopian dishes including kifto beef, goat with kemmam sauce and the lamb hot pot shiro bozena. Cutlery is barred here, so get your hands in there and sop up all the flavours.
No matter what time you head to Nana Mookata Thai Barbecue and Hotpot in Melbourne’s CBD, you’re probably going to wait in line – even if the venue hasn't even opened yet. It's worth the wait, because stepping foot inside this Thai eatery is remarkably similar to a streetside restaurant in the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Cosy up to lemongrass-infused hot pots or Thai barbecues greased up with pork fat and wash it all down with Thai beers or ice-cold milk tea.