Winner: Greasy Zoe's
The end of the line is a good place for new beginnings. Close to the Hurstbridge terminus, where suburbia trickles away into the countryside, you’ll find the little restaurant that could. Housing only 15 seats, a vinyl-spinning turntable and a surfeit of talent from chef Zoe Birch and her partner, chef-slash-sommelier-slash-floor manager Lachlan Gardner, Greasy Zoe’s sings in the key of “my way”.
What feels like a farmhouse kitchen – all red brick and wood, with food-based artworks adorning the walls and the occasional comically large marrow sitting tableside for decoration – is the hardworking home of a uniquely self-sufficient, two-person operation rolling in harmony with their locality. Mackerel hangs above the grill, slowly curing to be grated over rainbow trout Lake Eildon. The cheese from the Yarra Valley’s Stone and Crow. The dry-aged chicken from Timbarra farm, near Healesville. The charcuterie, including a duck salami with flavour that goes on for weeks, from their own kitchen. The modern smarts of Birch’s menu also includes some ridiculously licentious veg-on-veg snack action, including purple congo potato crisps piped with garlicky skordalia. And any restaurant that sees fit to serve a cheese course of rhubarb-filled housemade croissant covered in a blizzard of aged buffalo cheese is simply OK with us.
A set menu scenario priced at $85 for upwards of eight multi-elemental courses has a Hawke-era concept of value. Just in case you’re wondering, they don’t get all preachy. This is a place to forget your cares rather than suffer through a masterclass in righteousness, and in return if the wine list gets its frequent flyer miles up with nicely judged sorties to France and Germany, then so be it. Greasy Zoe’s is the very model of the velvet-gloved industry disruptor. It’s the bird-flip to multi-million-dollar fitouts and the vapid chase for food fashion. What’s here instead at the end of the train line is something timeless, and enduring, and… well, just bloody delicious.
We also love...
A hybrid wine and pasta bar with mid-century Italian smarts from the legends at King & Godfree? The Carlton revolution continues apace.
The return of prodigal son Jessi Singh to Melbourne has brought fun, frivolity and riotously “unathentic” Indian food in its wake.
The artsy city sibling of the St Kilda institution was years in the making, now ours for the taking – and totally worth the wait.
Rule-breaking, elegant Japanese-French food in a rarified setting. No, you’d never guess you’re on Lygon Street.
And for their next trick, the crew from Embla open a restaurant upstairs and double down on their vision. Think of it as the soigné big sister who drives a better car.
Esteemed ex-Paringa Estate head chef Julian Hills shows Yarraville the fine dining love, and it loves him right back.
It’s peak hummus and pita chasers in a hip backstreet Collingwood diner.
The ma po tofu jaffle that took Melbourne by storm is just the tip of this mostly Hakka iceberg.
All dietary tribes are welcome at this serenely adventurous Japanese fine diner.