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Chapel Street shops
Photograph: Josie Withers/Visit Victoria

A local's guide to South Yarra

The best restaurants, bars, shops and events to check out across the suburb of South Yarra

By Cassidy Knowlton
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South Yarra is on the land of the Wurundjeri tribe of the Kulin nation. It became a retreat for the wealthy from Melbourne town during the 1840s and is now a densely populated part of Melbourne, filled with shops, restaurants, clubs and bars. 

What's South Yarra known for? 

They say you can see the shiny baubles and shop lights of South Yarra from space. If you're planning a hit-and-run retail day, this is your zone of choice. The extensive retail precinct includes everything from designer shops to quirky, offbeat fashions. Restaurants and bars skew trendy and sometimes pricey, but there are plenty of more affordable options if you know where to look. There are two cinemas, just a few blocks apart, the mainstream Village Cinema at Jam Factory and the more indie Palace Como

Despite its name Prahran Market is actually in South Yarra, supplying residents throughout the southeastern suburbs with fresh food and veg, smallgoods, cheeses, fresh pasta, dairy goods and premade meals. On market days, a food court is set up in the courtyard, including a van selling mussels and seafood chowder. 

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Why do the locals love it?

We talked to Melissa Glentis, who owns Dilly Daly café on Chapel Street, about why she loves the area. 

"I have always loved South Yarra, I grew up on Chapel Street, pretty much," she says. "My family had businesses on Chapel Street back in the early '90s and 2000s. I love the diversity, that it has so much to offer you. Your dining, your bar experiences, your retail experiences – it's not your usual shopping mall that has your big brands.

"South Yarra is such a young, vibrant area. It’s got such a cool vibe about it. Prahran is a massive foodie hub right now, and it’s starting to feed into South Yarra. South Yarra will definitely become this really beautiful hub, and I’m excited to see where it goes in the next two to five years."

How do I get to South Yarra?

South Yarra train station is an easy entry point to the suburb, or the 78, 72 or 58 tram will get you there. 

What's nearby?

Prahran is just to the south, and shopping super street Chapel Street stretches between the two. Richmond a short tram or train ride north, and South Yarra borders the gorgeous Royal Botanic Gardens. It's also a hop, skip and a jump from the city. 

Map of South Yarra

If you only do one thing

Spend an afternoon nosing through the boutiques of Chapel Street if shopping's your thing. If a different kind of shopping is more your jam, get amongst the, well, jams and other delightful treats at Prahran Market

Food at Bar Carolina
Food at Bar Carolina
Photograph: Graham Denholm

Eat

Scott Pickett's southside outpost, Matilda 159 (159 Domain Rd) is as good as you'd expect from the northside restaurateur. The kitchen is driven by fire and charcoal, and the flavours are rich and smoky. 

Melissa Glentis from Dilly Daly says 38 Chairs (4 Bond St) is one of her favourites. The Italian restaurant has a small menu and limited floor space but is big on flavour.

Omnia Bistro and Bar (625 Chapel St) is all about classic dishes, done beautifully. It's on the pricey end, but everything is quality.

Glentis also loves Bar Carolina (44 Toorak Rd) – and so do we, it was one of the nominees for our 2018 Time Out Food Awards. The Italian joint is in the price range of $30-plus for pasta mains, but they sure do know what they're doing in the kitchen.

Seafood fans should make a booking at Bacash (175 Domain Rd). Owner Michael Bacash selects the freshest fish and treats it with the utmost sensitivity. 

Dilly Daly (6c Daly St) offers a modern twist on Australian classics, but Glentis says when the restaurant reopens post-lockdown she's considering offering café favourites with a Greek flavour, a nod to her own heritage. 

Yagiz (22 Toorak Rd) offers classic Turkish food in chic, modern surrounds. We challenge you to find better borek.

There's nothing dainty at all about the big flavours of Dainty Sichuan (176 Toorak Rd). The pork belly is a particular favourite, and chilli heads should get the crisp-fried fingers of fish-fragrant eggplant doused in so much chilli that merely breathing near it is painful. 

Get your yum cha fix at Oriental Teahouse (455 Chapel St), which has 60 different flavours of tea to accompany your dumplings and fried delights. Get the Flame Thrower pulled pork dumplings and pork belly. It's richer than you think, so you've been warned. 

The menu at degustation-only Atlas Dining (133 Chapel St) changes regularly, crisscrossing the globe and offering flavours from Vietnam, Mexico, Israel and Korea, among a host of others.  

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Mixing cocktail at bar at Tetto di Carolina
Mixing cocktail at bar at Tetto di Carolina
Photograph: Melanie Desa

Drink

Melissa Glentis of Dilly Daly nominates the Temperance Hotel (426 Chapel St) as a great place for knockoffs – "The team and I love to go there after work," she says. There are plenty of beers to keep your thirst quenched, as well as spirits and cocktails, and there are pub favourites on the food menu.

Ready to party? Poof Doof (386 Chapel St) bills itself as 'Australia's number one gay rave' and is a brilliant dance party for anyone in the LGBTQIA community, as well as their allies. 

The Emerson (141-145 Commercial Road) also has its party shoes on, offering an often-packed dancefloor as well as comfortable booths and a ritzy rooftop with brilliant views over the city. 

Kitsch cocktail haven Two Wrongs (637 Chapel St) offers plenty of classic drinks, some with their own spin. The team describe the vibe as 'fine diving' – that is, great service, great drinks, and a deliberately slapdash aesthetic. 

Speaking of kitsch, Leonard's House of Love (3 Wilson St) is like finding the coolest house party at the ski resort, circa 1983: a place where staff kick back to rock’n’roll, drink whisky and make fun of the bleach-blond varsity ski team crowd. Cocktails tend towards the sweeter end, but there are also plenty of smashable beers.

The team behind flash Bar Carolina also run gorgeous Tetto di Carolina (48 Toorak Rd), which is suave and comfortably luxurious. The drinks menu riffs on classics, and the food menu runs from snacks to full meals. 

Upstairs from Oriental Teahouse, you'll find Zhou Zhou (455 Chapel St), which is attractive and airy, but slightly formal, featuring large communal tables and wicker lounge chairs in a mix designed to evoke 1930s China. Cocktails have cutesy names and have a good kick, and there's a decent selection of Asian beers on tap.

Glentis recommends whisky bar Katuk (517a Chapel St), which offers numerous cocktails invented in house, as well as a whisky list as long as your arm. There are plenty of gins, liqueurs, tequilas and rums, too. The main rule here is: "Treat everyone else like you would treat your grandmother."

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Reusable coffee cup generic
Reusable coffee cup generic
Photograph: Goran Ivos/Unsplash

Coffee

The coffee is great at Dilly Daly (6c Daly St), with a rotating list of single-origin beans. Grab a takeaway or stay for a hearty café breakfast.

In addition to her own coffee, Melissa Glentis of Dilly Daly also loves the coffee at Two Birds One Stone (12 Claremont St). The blond wood-and-white space also offers an all-day menu until 3pm, with lighter breakfast fare like granola available alongside heartier meals like twice-cooked pork belly with soba noodles.

Glentis also recommends Norman (300 Toorak Rd), which offers Inglewood coffee in all its forms. Stay awhile to make the most of the all-day breakfast menu.  

They live up to their name at Coffee Geek Brewers (81 Davis Ave), specialising in cold batch and custom blends. There's often a queue here for a reason. 

The first step of the morning might be to the Final Step (1C Murphy St), which offers takeaway coffees as well as perfectly roasted beans to take home and brew up yourself. 

Another coffee option could be Café Gaia (4 Avoca St), which offers first-rate coffee as well as curries, sandwiches and other lunchtime staples. 

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People walking along the Royal Botanic Gardens pathway in Melbourne, 2019.
People walking along the Royal Botanic Gardens pathway in Melbourne, 2019.
Photograph: Rob Blackburn

Things to Do

The crown jewel of outdoor space in Melbourne, the Royal Botanic Gardens (South Yarra entrance on Anderson St), backs onto South Yarra, making it the perfect place for residents to exercise, enjoy and relax. Jog around the Tan, stroll among the thousands of flowers and plants, or go on an educational tour, such as the Aboriginal Heritage Walk. In summer, the famous Moonlight Cinema offers classic films and new releases under the stars.

Speaking of cinemas, you're spoilt for choice in South Yarra. Village Cinemas Jam Factory (500 Chapel St) has the latest blockbusters on numerous screens, plus, of course, the requisite choc tops and popcorn (if you're a person who doesn't snack in the movies, well, we don't know what you think you're doing, but you're doing it wrong). 

If you're more into arty or foreign flicks, the Palace Como (Cnr Toorak Rd & Chapel St) is just down the road. The licensed cinema offers smaller-run films, as well as hosting multiple film festivals from around the world. 

Step back in time at Como Historic House and Garden (Cnr Williams Rd & Lechlade Ave). The 1847 mansion offers tours and exhibitions, and you can bring a lunch to enjoy in the regal gardens. 

Ever wanted to learn the secrets of funny folk? The School of Hard Knock Knocks (522 Chapel St) will teach you everything from how to write a good joke to tips and tricks for public speaking of all kinds. 

Or you could just watch the professionals do their thing. Channel Ten's Melbourne headquarters is in South Yarra (620 Chapel St) and you can apply to be in the studio audience for its popular nightly show The Project.

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Chapel Street shopping
Chapel Street shopping
Photograph: Josie Withers/Visit Victoria

Shopping

Goodness gracious, where to begin? South Yarra is one of the best places in all of Melbourne for shopping, and walking from one end of Chapel Street to the other is the best way to hit up everything. 

Apartment need a bit of a spruce? Head to the peachy-hued Lounge Lovers (507 Chapel St), a Sydney-based retailer of designer sofas, sofa beds, and dining and living room furniture. The designs are fresh and the quality is top grade – a step above Ikea, but not as wallet churning as the high-end stuff.

The retailer that needs the least introduction is probably Australian cult favourite Gorman (561 Chapel St), whose bright, print-heavy wares are a signature part of the Australian fashion scene. Whether it’s a pair of groovy socks, slick leather jacket or flamboyant jumpsuit, Gorman brings some much-needed colour to Melbourne’s all-black-everything stereotype. 

Louise Olsen and Stephen Ormandy of Dinosaur Designs (562 Chapel St) make distinctively chunky and colourful resin jewellery. Head along to their bespoke boutique and scoop up one of their signature bangles in a sea-glass shade, a chunky, faceted ring, cobalt-hued dinner plate or a pair of tangerine serving spoons.

Looking for luxe? Modern elegance is at the heart of Scanlan Theodore (566 Chapel St), which has cultivated a reputation for understated European class, with a touch of the unexpected. The store is intimate, quietly luxurious and showcases the brand's unstintingly elegant collections.

After a different kind of shopping experience? Prahran Market (163 Commercial Rd) has all your food shopping needs covered, from smallgoods to fancy cheeses to the freshest fruits, veggies, meat and seafood. 

And if you have a sweet tooth, Burch and Purchese (647 Chapel St) makes absolutely stunning cakes, which look as good as they taste. You can also buy smaller things like cookies, granola, chocolate bars and jams.

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