St Kilda's best restaurants
You’d call this place more snack-driven that its alma mater, but the jigsaw pieces remain the same. There are the familiar menu headings of dumplings and bao, including the prawn and chicken numbers with a rugged scallion-mined chilli and soy sauce. There are the raw dishes, including the sweet pink swatches of sea bream with wasabi leaf, a flutter of ginger and clean nashi crunch and the same flavour hit of the northern-Chinese style lamb, bristling toastily with cumin, to fold into weightless pancake pockets with cucumber pickles.
If it’s new dish action you’re after, hit the crazily addictive typhoon shelter school prawns, the Hong Kong classic making a virtue of its excess of salt and vinegar batter. From the hibachi wood grill, go the char sui pork neck, a micro-dish of suckably sweet, smoky meat dressed with nothing but garlic shoots. There’s a salad – of sorts – where cos leaves get dressed up to the nines with picked spanner crab and a crunchy sesame dressing, and a fat buttery fillet of John Dory offsets its richness with watercress crunch.
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 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.
It’s all in the pacing. It’s the make or break factor of great dining, and it's something Rinaldo 'Ronnie' Di Stasio’s mainstay Italian has been nailing for 26 years. A three-course lunch can take four hours – maybe three, if you’re just here for a glass of Champagne and a plate of calamari. But there’s never any lag. The waiters are quietly conducting your lunch – interceding when conversation stalls, leaving room for air, but always swooping in a split second before eyes go looking. This is a restaurant that’s well and truly earned its reputation as one of Melbourne’s greats.
We’ve had patchy luck trying to import European dining traditions Down Under, especially when it comes to the art of tapas. But your holiday memories are in safe hands with Javier Pardo-Vinals (ex-front of house at France-Soir), who migrated from Barcelona to Melbourne in 2001 and brought with him the true spirit of a tapas bar. The food is seasonal, with most ingredients from Victorian soil or sea. Historically tapas were thin slices of bread or meat that tavern-goers in Andalusia used to cover (tapa means ‘cover’ or ‘lid’) their glasses of sherry between taking sips to ward off fruit flies. With bread being the cornerstone of this type of eating, you’d want to get it right: and Las Tapas has.
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.
The cuisine here is Vietnamese, and they’re serving it in bar snack and share plate form throughout a triple-threat venue combining a cocktail bar, restaurant and rooftop garden ringed with bamboo. The downstairs bar has a bit of a seedy Miss Saigon thing going on with all the black décor and red lights, but it’s a handy waiting pit for a table, and you can access the whole menu if you dig on the dimly lit. Upstairs they’ve applied the Vietnamese theme with a lighter brush. The beef pho is a glazed bowl of firm flat noodles crowned with a fan of fine raw beef slices served with a plate of crisp bean shoots, lime and a pot of viscous, star anise forward broth. It’s good pho – all the better for coming in large or snack size so you can get it as a side if you’re going hard on the likes of pork ribettes in a finger-painting, pant-staining ginger and chilli sauce refreshed with cucumber and spearmint.
Watch the staff bicker over 52-year-old grievances while you smash a custard tart. The canoe-shaped shortbread has a fine crumbly texture and gets a lick of chocolate before being filled with custard and topped with fruits and a glaze. It ticks all the creamy, sweet and tart boxes.
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.