Fred has over 20 years' experience in the hospitality industry as a bartender, chef, educator, brand manager and drinks expert. He also has over ten years of experience as a freelance writer and photographer covering drinks culture and nightlife for various publications in Australia and the United States. As chief pubs correspondent for Time Out Melbourne since 2015, Fred has written two Time Out Melbourne Pub Guides.
The best parmas in Melbourne
We set out to discover the many variations of Melbourne's most iconic dish and pub staple; the chicken parma. To judge parma perfection, we arrived at a set of criteria that each winning parma would have to meet. We asked ourselves: is the chook fresh, flavoursome, moist and tender? Is the crumb well-seasoned and crisp throughout? Is the cheese rich and bubbly golden brown? Is the ham thick and rich, lending depth and umami to an otherwise simple dish? Is the sauce made from scratch, with the freshest of ingredients? And of course, are the parma's natural allies – the chips, the salad and the beer – all up to scratch? After much deliberation, here, in no particular order, are six of the city's best and the personalities they represent. Find more of Melbourne's best pubs with our guide, or go back to the dish's roots with the best Italian restaurants in town.
The best steak in Melbourne
Australia’s got a hard-earned rep for producing some of the best beef in the world. Unfortunately, our track record at cooking the stuff hasn’t been quite as golden, with “grilled to within an inch of its life” a common approach, historically. Thankfully, Melbourne’s restaurants are catching on to what many have known for years – that when it comes to premium cuts, fresh is not always best. Dry-ageing, the longer the better, has finally taken off, and the result is tender steaks packed with meaty flavour, worthy of the noble beasts from whence they came. If you’re in need of a red meat fix, here’s our list of ten of the best places in Melbourne to get yours. These are by no means the only places in town throwing a rump on the grill, but they’re our go-to for every budget and occasion. Not sure exactly what you want? Here are the 50 best restaurants in Melbourne.And for dessert? The 8 best places for ice cream and gelato. Just want something fun? Try one of Melbourne's best teppanyaki restaurants.
The best pick-up bars in Melbourne
In the age of Tinder and Grinder, the dating game has become a matter of swipes and clicks rather than flowers and flirting. Your emoji game is now more important than your dance moves, your puppy pics getting your more credit than your table manners. But for those who long for the thrill of a totally random shag with no mutual friends or “shared interests”, fear not. Below is our list of the top ten bars in Melbourne where you can still pick up the old-fashioned way; through drinking and conversation. Good luck out there, Melbourne. Please note: We have edited the entries for Loch & Key, Gin Palace and Gasometer in light of valued feedback from our readers. Time Out Melbourne is a strong supporter of the hospitality community and in no way tolerates harassment, assault or exploitation of power dynamics in any way. Time Out aims to foster a culture of respect and consent, and believes everyone has the right to feel safe in their workplace. The aim of this article is to guide our readers towards the best places to meet people in bars, rather than online.
The best live music pubs in Melbourne
While there's suggestion of the live music scene in other cities dying, Melbourne's continues to flourish. And let's face it, who doesn't like a beer with their favourite local band? If you're in the mind to further explore some pubs, maybe have a gander at our guide to Melbourne's best al fresco libation or our guide to our town's best pub grub.
Drinks Service Award: Time Out Food Awards 2017
Winner: The Recreation Bistro A heritage building on a wide corner of Queens Parade in Fitzroy North is home to this bistro of simple charm and utility. Watch your perfect tagliatelle being rolled to order in the open kitchen, its occupants seemingly never stressed. Served with Italian flag colours of bright green onions, red chilli and pale crabmeat, it’s the sort of ideal simplicity that only true love can conjure. And just as flexible as the food is the brilliant wine program, the purview of veterans Joe Durrant and Mark Protheroe (ex-Grossi Florentino) who co-own the Recreation with chef Steven Nelson. The choices are razor sharp, focusing on uncommon local and European producers. A herbaceous gamay has more power than your standard quaffer, with enough weight and crunch to balance the sweetness and funk of a pear and blood pudding tart tartin. It’s a pairing that reminds you how good pairings can be. But not only can you drink great wine here, you can also bring your own, or buy bottles at far cheaper prices to take away thanks to a multi-function liquor licence. Designed to be in and of the community, they’re a representation of what makes this one of the world’s great hospitality cities.
CBD lunch guide: Outdoor eats
Somedays, eating inside just won't cut it. On those sunny Melbourne days, soak in some vitamin D at these outdoor eateries. If you're not in the CBD, check out our guide to Melbourne's best lunches, or make it easy with our round-up of Melbourne's best burgers.
Meet Serena O'Callaghan from Jungle Boy
Age: 27Bar: Boston Sub's Jungle BoyPosition: General managerYears in the game: TenFavourite drink: Jasmine cocktailFavourite bar: Bar AmpereBest late-night feed: Supper InnBest/worst pickup line you’ve heard: “I gave someone a tab card printed on a seven of hearts and he said 'Are you sure this is mine? Because you just stole my heart'.” Serena O’Callaghan is general manager of Jungle Boy, a tiny Tiki bar hidden in a sandwich shop on Chapel Street. The daughter of a real estate agent and a diplomat, Serena’s love of people drew her to hospitality from a young age. “I’ve gotten by talking shit, and people somehow have a good time,” she jokes. Recently nominated for an Australian Liquor Industry Award as Bar Manager of the Year, her experience has paid off with national recognition. O’Callaghan started her career as a hostess at TGI Fridays, and her way with people quickly earned her a coveted spot on the bar. She loved the challenge of memorising recipes, multi-tasking and entertaining guests. Within a few months, she was managing both the bar at Fridays and at the excellent CBD cocktail parlour 1806 under the watchful eye of cocktail guru Sebastian Reaburn, who became her most important mentor. “When he first handed me the keys, I told him I wasn’t ready. I was only 19. But he gave me a piece of advice that’s always stuck with me: ‘To be a good manager, you don’t have to be the best at everything. You just have to know who is and keep them happy'.” O’Callaghan’s Malaysian-Chi
Meet Jack Sotti from Boilermaker House
Age: 26Bar: Boilermaker HousePosition: General managerYears in the game: NineFavourite drink: Boilermaker (whisky and beer)Favourite bar: Le Bon TonBest late-night feed: Le Bon Ton, or the burger at Bar AmpereJack in ten years will be: “Definitely still bartending. I'd love to own a big, multi-purpose venue with a bar, bottle shop, restaurant and boutique hotel.” Jack Sotti is the general manager of Boilermaker House, the jam-packed venue from the owners of top-class CBD cocktail bar Eau De Vie. He has also just come home from taking on the best bartenders in the world at the Diageo World Class cocktail competition in South Africa, arguably the world’s most prestigious cocktail event. He ended up coming third in the world, and with intelligence, charm, creativity and a world-class smile, it’s not hard to see why. A North London boy, Sotti got his start as a club promoter while studying, and ended up making Flaming Lamborghinis for the Leeds doof-doof crowd. The goal was always to travel, so after earning his stripes on the club scene he hopped a flight to Auckland, where the tight-knit and highly competitive bartending community opened his eyes to the possibilities of craft cocktails. The next stop was Melbourne – his eyes set firmly on the prize of a job at Black Pearl or Eau De Vie. Since landing a spot at the latter two and a half years ago, Sotti has secured himself a place as one of the best bartenders in the city, if not the world. The “incredibly social” nature of the
Top ten rules to avoid pissing off a Melbourne bartender
It's not hard to be a good customer, or a good bartender. Follow these ten rules from someone who has spend a lot of time being both and you'll never find yourself getting ignored at the bar again. Fred Siggins is a freelance writer, whisky educator and bartender. His nearly 20 years of hospitality experience includes work as a chef, brand ambassador, bar manager and consultant.
The best gastropubs in Melbourne
Melbourne pubs aren't what they used to be. Sure, we've still got the classics where you'd go to get a pint of Melbourne Bitter or Carlton Draught and a standard parma. But at the other end of the spectrum, gastropubs are shaking things up with gourmet versions of pub grub. You can still get a steak and chips, but the steak will likely be Wagyu and may come with oysters as a starter. If you'd rather Bordeaux than an ale, take a gander at Melbourne's best wine bars. Alternatively, a great swap to the pub hang is a weekend yum cha session, and we've got the low-down on five of the best yum cha spots in town.
Listings and reviews (60)
Have you ever thought, “I’d really like to sing Disney tunes while chomping on duck hearts and swigging craft beer”? Well, you’re in luck. Heroes, the three-level venue from the crew behind Fancy Hanks, has all your sing-along, South East Asian street food and rooftop cocktail needs covered. To get to this promised land, search out the lift tucked at the back of a nitro ice cream shop on Bourke Street. There, a friendly security guard acts as a gatekeeper and offers the low-down on what’s above. Level one holds a private karaoke room, with warehouse windows looking out over the street, curtains of silver tinsel, your lyrics projected on the wall, and, conveniently, the venue’s only toilets. You’ll need a crew of ten to book it, and it’s $40 per head (which includes a $30 bar tab), so plan ahead if you want to sing. On level two, the grills are fired up to char you some skewers that range from duck heart to chicken or eggplant. Order and pay at the kitchen bar, then find a perch on one of the high tables clustered beneath a canopy of Chinese New Year decorations. The disco ball sending slow shimmers across walls plastered with Asian kitsch gives the room a John Hughes prom-scene tinge. The food choices are generally small, meat-focused and simple – ideal for snacking, less so a full meal. A plate of Szechuan brisket cubes has none of the signature heat or aromatic spice that cuisine is known for. Better to go for the seafood sambal. Today it’s stingray, grilled then slathered
Update: We attended this venue in September 2018 and some details may have altered since then. Capitano is the latest venue to join the likes of Heartattack & Vine and the revamped Carlton Wine Room, kicking the Carlton Italian revival into high-gear. All of a sudden the neighbourhood that taught us how to eat Italian has gone from tourist-trap to modern marvel of casual drinking and dining. Capitano, 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 repurposed Beaufort is now sporting cream walls and big windows on two sides that feel clean and classic; deep red trim recalling old-school French bistro flatware; and everyone here seems engrossed in lively conversation. Capitano is a fundamentally social place, the menu’s purpose is to lubricate and satisfy rather than draw focus from your companions. 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, Capitano is all Melbourne. There’s only a few simple choices food wise, but all the bases are covered. The bubbly and chewy pizza dough is as good as any in town, served in small, dense rounds unlike the giant floppy ones you’d find in New York. I
Update: We attended this venue in January 2018 and some details may have altered since then. The tiny bluestone building on the corner of Napier and Kerr Streets in Fitzroy has had a few businesses pass through over the years, mostly average cafés that couldn’t last long enough to warm the hearth. But now that wine and espresso bar Napier Quarter has moved in, we hope this charming spot has found its forever venue. Inside, there’s only room for six tables and a couple of narrow benches. A big chalk board on the high brick wall lists the wines of the day, and pastries beckon from a case on the counter. White tiles, old wood panelling and black bistro furniture lit by large globes hanging low over the bar will make you feel like you're back in Paris. With lofty ceilings and huge windows, the space is bright and cosy; breezy yet comforting. The calm and assured staff are comforting too, talking you through today's open wines and food specials with an easy smile. Start with a house made French lemonade, garnished simply with fresh mint and lemon and laced with vanilla bean and subtle aniseed. Get it spiked with gin if it's been a hard day. The teaspoon in the glass is an unnecessary accoutrement, but the reference to the self-mixed French bistro versions is almost literary in its extraneousness. Who needs France when you can have this in Fitzroy and the waiter is nice to you? Daily sandwiches and roast specials (bird, beast or fish) alongside snacks and salads make meals of any
The Wood Samaritan
The Wood Samaritan is loosely Canadian log-cabin themed, with vintage skis, a full-sized canoe and pictures of Yukon landscapes hanging from the wood-panelled walls. But to say this is a themed bar would be an injustice. Despite the poutine and Bloody Caesar on the menu, this is first and foremost a neighbourhood joint – not a cheesy concept bar – and a good one to boot. The staff are lovely and welcoming; popping out from behind the bar to say hi to a couple of neighbourhood doggos, happy to explain the craft-leaning beers to a befuddled punter, and even chatting politely to a rookie sales rep who interrupts service to ply his wares. This is the kind of bar where you’re a welcome stranger on your first visit, a regular on the second, and a friend by the third. There are cheap tacos on Tuesdays, and the happy hour runs 4-7 on weeknights. As well as a short but solid list of craft beers – almost exclusively local – there are simple but fun twists on classic cocktails like a Smoked Jalapeño Margarita, a Maple and Peach Sour and a PB&J Negroni made with peanut butter-washed bourbon and strawberry jam-infused vermouth. It’s delicious and way more subtle than it sounds, the bitterness of the Campari still working its magic, but it could stand a little less dilution. The Bloody Caesar (the Canadian version of the Bloody Mary made with a combination of tomato and clam juices) is on point too, overflowing with pickles and rimmed in spices. A to-the-point list of bar snacks includes
If you were hanging around Fitzroy in the mid-aughts, you may remember the tropical-themed bar/nightclub that was LuWoW, which closed in 2016. The kitsch venue rose from the dead in much smaller digs in the CBD in 2019. The new LuWoW is small and intimate, but lined with bamboo and still cluttered with Halloween exotica like the set of a 1960s Tarzan movie, it’s very much a version of the original. On arrival, we’re greeted by a friendly host with a beehive hairdo, heavy winged eyeliner and a tropical print dress, who leads us to a booth overshadowed by huge totem poles. A lifelike plastic python stares through less-lifelike plastic foliage, and everything is bathed in soft red light like a James Bond sex scene. The drinks list is 100 per cent tropical fun, with all the classic hits like Mai Tais, Zombies and Painkillers playing lead. That Painkiller is ultra-sweet and creamy with coconut and dark rum, and the Zombie is also sticky sweet with baking spices, tasting a bit like a Christmas-scented candle from Bed Bath N’ Table. Balanced it ain’t, but it lives up to its reputation of packing a boozy punch. Here that booze is high quality, with premium rums like Plantation and five-year-old Demerara the base for most drinks. If you prefer to drink your rum neat, the “Skipper’s Rum Club” every Wednesday means steep discounts on the whole back bar. For something a bit less sugary, grab a Waku Aku. This lighter, gin-based drink is still full of tropical fun, with mint, pineapple,
Moon Dog World
The name makes it sound like a theme park of sorts, and that’s not far off. An indoor lagoon takes up one side of the space, overlooked by striped umbrellas and fed by a stream that flows from a five-metre indoor waterfall made of fake rocks. The space, a huge warehouse in the industrial back streets of Preston, recalls childhood memories of summers spent in cheesy water parks; there’s even a merch stand where you can buy packaged beers, T-shirts and fluoro stubby holders. Potted palms and walls of greenery flank double-stacked shipping containers, which have booths inside and balconies overlooking the room on top. One is filled with pinball machines and lounge furniture; another houses a tropical-themed bar bedazzled with fairy lights. Despite the immensity of the space – and Melbourne’s crappy weather – the place is packed. Disco and ’70s pop rise above the cacophony of big groups of mates and young families occupying every inch of available real estate. The full-sized playground is overflowing with the progeny of Preston, and prams are parked around the rest of the room. Sneakers flash as parents pull toddlers away from the enticing waters of the lagoon. But despite the family vibe, the young and the childless are well represented, and there’s even a buck’s party pre-gaming for a big night on the town. Today, the machine is humming, and you never have to wait long for anything. Behind the huge three-sided bar that juts into the room like a beer-fuelled command centre, mo
It’s Saturday evening, and Boddriggy Brewing Co’s brewery/beer hall in Abbotsford is pumping. Eight bartenders sling all manner of suds at the thirsty crowd from three huge banks of taps, sweating to keep up. This huge warehouse space holds the attractive, 30-something crowd well; it’s easy to move around, and conversation doesn’t mean shouting. Shiny steel brewing tanks watch over the happy throng from behind a glass wall, and a disco ball rotates serenely to bass-y lounge beats. The venue has an adult vibe, and this is an adult crowd. There’s no kids’ menu and no playground here, but rather an advanced offering of fresh beer, great food and serious cocktails for grown-up people with grown-up tastes. From those taps come the freshest of Bodriggy’s beers. Cosmic NEIPA is all mango fruit balanced by the bitterness of hops. It’s not as thick as some other NEIPAs, and the hops comes through strong, ticking boxes for any pale ale aficionado. Along with the core range, limited releases are also on offer, like Moon Beam kettle sour, brewed with ginger for a bright, zippy beer that’s super smashable despite its cloudiness. But then, you’d expect the beer to be good. Most brew halls’ food is crowd-pleasing basics, and cocktails, if offered at all, are an afterthought. Not so here. The kitchen is headed by Johny Dominguez, a Mexican-born chef with serious Melbourne chops (Dinner by Heston, Vue de Monde) whose menu channels the electric and eclectic food culture of South and Central A
Retreat Hotel, Abbotsford
Tucked away in the neighbourhood streets of Abbotsford just off of Johnston Street, the Retreat is a marvel of Victorian pub design. The original chandeliers and dark turned wood survive, and stained glass decorates the windows, doors and the cabinet above the bar that follows its S-curve through the cosy front room. Black-and-white photos of old colonial pubs and mid-century publicans line the walls, and brass elephant heads hold the railing along the bar in place with their shiny little trunks. The old girl’s had her ups and downs recently. With the longstanding owners not able to make a go of it and selling a couple of years ago, there was a valiant but short-lived attempt to turn the Retreat into an upscale bistro. Despite the steady gentrification of the inner north, it was just too soon for this neighbourhood. Enter the crew from the Palace Hotel in South Melbourne (Time Out Melbourne’s Pub of the Year 2016), who took over in 2018, bringing with them their quality-without-pretence brand of kick-ass pubdom. Rather than trying to freeze this place in historical time, publicans Jess McGrath and Mark Pratt have brought their silly sensibilities with them. There’s now a pool table and a pinball machine, and behind the bar an MF Doom poster is stuck alongside random band logos and newspaper cut-outs of Essendon wins, while toys from the ‘80s and ‘90s clutter the shelves. The front bar is packed on a Saturday night in the thick of footy season, the room erupting at a last-m
Lately, new bars in Melbourne have shifted away from cocktails, preferring to focus on wine, spirits, beer, or offer a bit of everything. Bar Clara is comparatively single-minded in its dedication to the modern mixed drink. The beer list is short; the back bar is sparse; and the food consists of a few simple snacks. This is unmistakeably a cocktail bar. It’s the sort of small, lounge-y space you might expect to find in Manhattan, complete with black clad and tie-pinned bartenders shaking and stirring behind a wide copper bar. In this basement below Little Bourke Street, the charcoal painted walls emphasise the light-box feature with backlit foliage casting jungle shadows from behind white Perspex. A young, well-heeled CBD crowd – dressed mostly in black – matches the surroundings, but it feels fun and easy here; neither too cool nor too loose. The drinks are billed as seasonal, with fresh produce acting as the key ingredient for each libaton. Bar Clara isn’t a random name either – many of the cocktails are based around juices that have been clarified to allow for clean presentation and texture while retaining the flavour of fresh fruit. A Strawberry Tuxedo combines clarified strawberry juice with gin and fino sherry for a bright and complex sipper that’s both classy and crowd pleasing. The leftover pulp from the strawberries has been pressed into a tart little strip of fruit leather that comes pegged to the side of the heavy, art-deco glass, making an edible garnish both cle
Burn City Smokers
A tiny strip of shops in the south-western suburbs, the surrounding front yards in various states of dilapidation, is a good setting for a BBQ joint. Most of the best smoked meat in the American South is found in unassuming, out of the way places like this. And while there are elements of elevation here at the Burn City Smokers Test Kitchen, the overall approach is family friendly and unpretentious. During the huge wave of interest in populist American food, and barbecue in particular, that hit Australia a few years back, Burn City started out as a mobile meat-smoking operation doing festivals and events. Now with four smokers to their fleet, events are still the main business (you want brisket at your wedding or work picnic? These are the guys to call). But as the operation grew, the need for a prep space lead them to this little shopfront with a big kitchen out back. Concrete floors, reclaimed wood tables, old scales and a white tiled bar give it the feel of a butcher shop from a bygone era, shelves stacked high with bottles of house-made sauces. Get started with a high-class take on jalapeno poppers that sees the mild, green chilies cut in half, stuffed with brie and pistachios, topped with breadcrumbs and baked rather than fried. Chicken wings are huge, tender and deeply smoky. Their sticky chipotle glaze is very mild, but the wings themselves are so flavoursome that it doesn’t matter, and the accompanying blue cheese sauce is spot on. Slaw is fresh and crunchy with thick
Cumulus Up Wine Bar
The great thing about having a wine bar attached to a casual fine-diner with a cracking cellar is that you get access to all of it, but in a more relaxed and social environment. You’d be forgiven for thinking the big, leather bound list at Cumulus Up is full of untouchable museum bottles that you’d never crack for casual drinks. Not so. Flipping through, you’ll find a long but impressively engaging and easy to use guide to wine varietals (focusing mostly on Europe with a good Aussie selection), as well as cocktails and spirits, plus handy little inserts about featured producers or styles. The best part is that while those museum bottles are there if you want to splurge, most sit nicely in the $50-$100 range, well worth it if you’re after more than a glass or two. For something to drink while perusing the list, opt for a Peach Spritz; a cocktail of rum, fermented peach and Aperol. It’s placed before us deliberately askew of its branded coaster so the Cumulus Up logo just pokes out from beneath the glass. Details are important here, like the fresh, dense bread, the linen napkins and the bright flowers on the tables. The drink tastes like a peach lolly you might find in an old-fashioned candy store. It’s on the sweeter side, without a lot of the funk or complexity you’d expect from fermentation, but if peach lollies are you go-to in the pick'n'mix, this is your drink. A Red Right Hand, by comparison, is a dry, bitter and complex combination of gin, vermouth and amaro that’s st
Johnny’s Green Room
On a sunny Saturday evening, Johnny’s Green room is heaving. The rooftop bar at Carlton’s King & Godfrey adds a new element to this iconic Lygon Street business. After being closed for rennos for over three years, the decades-old gourmet purveyor is finally back, offering café service, deli goods and a great selection of European and local wines to take away on the ground floor. But up the lifts you’ll find a big and bright patio bar serving beer, wine, cocktails and snacks. From this lofty position, Carlton is snapping back at the rooftop bar explosion in the CBD and Fitzroy, proving that Melbourne’s original hospitality precinct can do anything the city can do, too. Spectacular 270-degree views towards the city skyline are only broken by the tops of Carton’s plane trees in full summer flourish, while canvas awnings and umbrellas offer plenty of shade. There are at least two hen’s parties here tonight, and the raucous conversations feel fun rather than overbearing with no walls or ceiling to echo off. The beautiful people of Carlton sip Aperol Spritzes on tap, and DJs let their easy listening beats provide unobtrusive background sounds. It’s seriously busy, the 200-capacity venue full to the brim, so book in early for groups or expect to wait in line downstairs on a weekend. Even if there’s space at your table, they won’t let mates skip the line to join you unless you’ve pre-booked a function. Despite the onslaught, bar service is remarkably quick and efficient. They’ve set
Footscray is getting its own craft beer bar and bottleshop
Mr. West, slated to open mid-August, is bringing the bar/bottleshop concept to Footscray. It's going to feature a rooftop courtyard and bar area serving crafty pints from 24 taps, as well as cocktails and wine. The venue will also offer takeaway from the extensive downstairs bottle shop. Owners Caleb Barker (Custard & Co. Cider, Bluebonnet BBQ) and Josh Hodges (Cookie, Ferral Brewing Co., Little Andora) bring a wealth of beer, wine, cocktail and spirits knowledge west with them, promising to showcase all things “weird, whacky and wonderful” from the world of craft booze. The bottle shop will dominate the ground floor space, featuring hundreds of craft beers, natural wines, Australian and little-known spirits. All beer and wine will be available to drink on premise, either in the upstairs bar or in the small lounge and pool room behind the bottle shop. Upstairs, a cocktail list will showcase the serious but approachable style both Barker and Hodges have developed over years behind some of Melbourne’s best bars. You’ll also be able to line your belly with a small list of simple bar snacks (cheese, meats, olives), or BYO food from any of the many (and delicious) nearby take-away shops. Occupying what was once a $2 shop, the space has been revamped by Twig & Co construction (Parkside, Pokéd) who left the original concrete walls and wooden beams intact and installed skylights upstairs for plenty of natural light. Promising to work with producers, distributors and experts to pu