In the sunny suburb of St Kilda, beach-facing dining institutions stand a stone's throw away from cheap eats institutions popular with the local backpacker community. Whether you're after a quick post-swim meal or an anniversary dinner with sunset views of St Kilda beach, here are some of the best restaurants in Melbourne's beachside suburb.
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St Kilda's best restaurants
Donovans is not the most fashionable place in Melbourne – after 20 years, it would be a worry if owners Gail and Kevin Donovan were chasing fashion – and its sunny, Med-leaning food isn’t threatening to push any envelopes. But sometimes comfort and reliability outpace the shock of the new. Don't leave without ordering Donovans’ legendary Bombe Alaska. This chocolate dessert topped with hazelnut ice cream and lightly torched soft meringue is a St Kilda classic.
Yep, Stokehouse has finally reopened its doors to let that fresh St Kilda air in. 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. There’s a minimalist bent to some dishes: like the jamon-wrapped roast chook breast teamed with peach carpaccio, honey and native pepper, is a great dish that nonetheless demands a sidekick (charred broccolini with nutmeg and lemon ought to do it).
Pontoon is a glamour model masquerading as a breezy beach shack. Thick rope is twined around pillars on the deck, eyeballing the beach just metres away, while inside it’s all textured surfaces, from herringbone concrete tiles on the floor to a honeycomb of rattan suspended above a long central bar. It’s a party place, and the prism is also a good way to understand the menu, which is really more of a loose collaboration of dishes freelancing across the Mediterranean/North African divide.
Claypots is something of an institution down in old St Kilda town. The lantern-strewn courtyard is where it's at on long summer's nights, especially when the staff are spinning records in the front room. We highly recommend group dinners here: nothing bonds like the all-hands-in ripping apart of crustaceans, especially when you've ordered the famed Chilli Crab.
Grab a top-notch burger to go from this St Kilda East drive through burger outlet. Attached to the back of the Grosvenor Hotel pub, St Kilda Burger Bar is a take-away only joint. For those who believe in 'less is more', the Grosvenor burger is a great classic burger with streaky bacon, melty cheese and pickles. Get the whole meal pack if you want the complete treatment, you'll get a burger, chips and a drink and save a few pennies.
Andrew McConnell's Euro-chic bistro Luxembourg is a one-size-fits-all restaurant, in a good way. It's the kind of place where you can savour your low-intervention, biodynamic wine with some potato skins (pictured) and happy hour oysters, or settle in for the $70 chef's selection that will take you through French bistro favourites from start to finish: from top-grade steak (with frites, bien sur), to the cheeseboard.
In Japanese, 'wabi sabi' roughly translates to the 'Japense aesthetic', which is something Wabi Sabi Garden has nailed in their dishes and fitout. Lunches are simple: there are bento boxes and rice bowls for under $20, as well as Japanese curries if you're after something a bit more hearty. You won't be missing the meat in Wabi Sabi Garden's vegan and vegetarian dishes, especially the seasonal vegetable tempura and agedashi tofu, which are battered and fried to perfection.
Babu Ji's mod-Melbourne-Indian mash-ups at the non-dodgy end of Grey Street changes up the usual local Indian offering. It’s got Bollywood films projected across the roof and there's a self-serve fridge of craft beers – simply grab your Feral IPA, bust off the cap and they’ll tally your bottles at the end. Dishes are built for sharing, try lesser known ones like the salmon tikka, the rich bhuna lamb stew and fig, pomegranate and cashew dumpling curry.
At I Carusi II, the St Kilda outpost to the Brunswick original, you can four cheese pizza for brunch. This Italian restaurant caters to all pizza preferences: they do chocolate calzones and Hawaiian pizzas alongside the slightly more elegant Alla Moda di Valerio with fior di latte, salsiccia, soppressa and pancetta. Nab the al fresco spots in the summer months for a lazy lunch with pizza, antipasto board and plenty of prosecco.
Asian fusion is still alive and well at St Kilda's Spring and Summer, a restaurant by ex-Lucas Group chef Golf. The modern Asian menu features dishes like a BBQ corn with gochujang Korean chilli paste and smoked cheddar (it works), tempura soft shell crab with a Malaysian coconut curry sauce, and a matcha panacotta. Pair the share dishes with cocktails that look and taste like tropical island holidays.
Fuel up at POW Kitchen before you hit the dance floor or mosh pit at the Prince Bandroom. The Asian menu unabashedly takes broad strokes of influence from the region and hops on the hawker-style share plates trend to take you from Japan to Thailand. POW Kitchen's menu comes with a tropical cocktail menu that's available in jugs for those island holiday vibes even when you're bracing yourself against the bayside breeze in winter.