Nola James is a Tasmania-based writer whose work involves eating, drinking and sleeping at every opportunity. She will happily help you choose the perfect wine (even if you didn’t invite her to dinner) and has been known to cross state lines — and international datelines — just for the food. To see what Nola does next, follow her on Instagram at @nolamjames.
Esca Khoo is 'Foodture' proofing the Melbourne culinary scene
“My cooking is ‘neo Asian,’” says Borneo-born chef Esca Khoo. It’s “a bit like New Nordic” in the way foraged and fermented ingredients are used, he says. But “more a loose interpretation of Asian ingredients that doesn’t follow the rules.” Until May 2022, Khoo was head chef at Miss Mi, the Mövenpick Hotel restaurant in Melbourne. He quickly gained recognition for a dish he calls “Half my life in Malaysia, half my life in Australia” – a barbecued kangaroo skewer in Vegemite glaze topped with avocado and a macadamia nut satay. These days, Khoo’s running pop-ups around Melbourne. “I cook what these restaurants are known for, but I put the Esca in,” he says. Coming up, a Chinese-Italian mashup at Hardware Club and a Muslim/Arabic menu with Tom Sarafian at an undecided venue. Follow him on Instagram at @foodtureproof if you’re keen. They’re “just for fun,” the 30-year-old says. He’s keeping himself busy until he opens a 12-seat degustation-only restaurant “somewhere in Malaysia” that’s backed by an unnamed billionaire. “Everything I learned in Australia will be represented in this restaurant,” he says. “It’s crazy to think, I had never really been a head chef and I was cooking in a hotel restaurant. And yet, somehow magically [cooking] has given me all these opportunities. I can’t believe it.” Esca KhooThe menu at one of Khoo's past pop up degustations. Despite stints at Noma Sydney, Dinner by Heston and George Calombaris’s Press Club (where he was hired as a commis chef and al
Where to drink natural wine in Melbourne
Natural wine is really having a moment in Melbourne, with lots of oenophiles looking for organic, biodynamic and low-intervention drops. Whetner you want funky and weird or just biodynamic and low-intervention, we've rounded up our favourite Melbourne spots to get a glass of the good stuff. Rather stay in? Stock up on a few bottles of natural vino from these Melbourne bottle shops.
The best bottle shops for natural wine
Wondering where you can find the best selection of organic, biodynamic and low-intervention wines in Melbourne? We've rounded up the best bottle shops that are all about those lo-fi drops so that you can stock up and enjoy at home. Keen to have your natural vino out and about? Here are the best bars in Melbourne pouring impressive drops of minimal-intervention wines.
Tasmania's hidden gems
Many of Tasmania’s attractions are already well known throughout Australia. The Port Arthur Historic Site, Cradle Mountain and Wineglass Bay are on everyone’s hit list whatever the weather (and in Tassie the weather can be challenging.) But many of the most interesting things to see and do on the island are kept a little quieter. You won’t find these places on a picture postcard, but every one of them is worth going out of your way to find, and when you get there it will almost certainly be quiet enough to enjoy.
Listings and reviews (11)
Fin x Cré
This March, the trio behind lo-fi labels Fin Wine and Cré Wine opened a cellar door/soon-to-be eatery in Dixons Creek. It’s owned and run by mates JonJo McEvoy, Oliver Johns and Angus Hean, who make wines, ciders and piquettes on Wurundjeri land with “minimal faffery”. Fin is the “fun” project, says Hean — bottle labels are laser-etched without varietal names, and some don’t even contain wine. For example, piquette is a low-alcohol bubbly made from grape pressings, and there’s also a wine/cider hybrid made from apples and pears. Cré, on the other hand, is a “premium” minimal intervention wine made from Yarra Valley fruit. In fitting with their hands-off ethos, grapes are picked early and left on skins for a bit, and the wines are bottled young. The team picked up 10 acres of Dixon’s Creek land (where the cellar door is) in 2021 with a little help from Hean’s parents, who they lease the site from. “Mum and dad wanted a beach house, but we needed a winery,” he jokes. In addition to biodynamically farming 7 acres of vineyard, planted with chardonnay, riesling, merlot and a splash of savagnin and petit verdot, the trio are on a mission plant more indigenous trees and shrubs in the hopes of boosting biodiversity. There was an English-style garden on the property when they moved in, Hean says, but it had to go. It was ugly and using up too much water. The cellar door is not a conventional one, Hean says of the log cabin that’s now an open kitchen/bar type situation. There’s a tasti
Bonnie at All Saints Estate
Rutherglen winery All Saints Estate has a new on-site restaurant called Bonnie, named for the winery's Scottish heritage. The casual eatery, which replaces artisan food store Indigo Food Co., is "country chic aesthetic meets artisanal pizzas and wine," according to the All Saints' owners Eliza, Nick and Angela Brown. The siblings are fourth-generation Browns of THAT famous winemaking family. With Rutherglen venues Terrace Restaurant (now closed), St Leonards Vineyard, Mount Ophir Estate and Thousand Pound Wine Bar also under their belt, this isn't their first rodeo. The venue is set within the old bottling building at All Saints Estate, originally designed by renowned architect Philip Cox in the early 1960s. Large steel double doors open on both sides of the building, and diners can look out across 30-year-old shiraz vines. There's a lakeside terrace too, with plenty of room for social distancing. The estate spans 48 hectares of farm, garden and vineyard backing onto the banks of the Murray River. The menu is built around a traditional wood-fired pizza oven, backed up by salads, charcuterie and cheese. Pizza highlights include the Matilda (that's fancy Spanish ham), tomato, bocconcini and a 20-year-old muscat vinegar. All eight of the pizzas are named after Browns, surely a privilege worth inheriting, although it does make it hard to change the menu. Looking for more things to do while in Rutherglen? Here's our guide to wining and dining in the sunny region, just a stone's
Get ready for a Sunday service with a difference at Trinity St Kilda — the 100-year-old church hall has been transformed into a 300+ capacity bar with food trucks, private mezzanine and vintage Airstream slinging burgers and bar bites. Established in 1925, the red-brick building has long been a gathering place for the local community, but recently, it was a car dealership with a concrete yard and a barbed-wire fence. Now, venue owner Matthew Nikakis has a 50-year lease and determination to return the site to the people, albeit with less preaching and more partying. The interior has undergone a full renovation including the addition of lush green booths, copper beer tanks, and a deep blue bar that spans the length of the main room. Meanwhile, the church hall’s original hardwood trusses and iconic windows have been restored to peak condition. First up, head inside to grab a drink. There are 12 beers on tap, ranging from Melbourne Bitter to Four Pines plus a tank of CUB’s unpasteurised Carlton Draught. In a courtyard out back, you’ll find a kid-friendly play area featuring a refurbished 1960s ski boat and sandpit, and an Airstream caravan that’ll serves the venue’s main kitchen. When we spoke to Nikakis, he was still taste-testing the food offering, however he tells us that burgers are the main game here. Out front there’s more seating and a spot for two rotating food trucks. In April, expect cameos by the Greek Trojan Food Truck and Mr Yes, Mr No (they do “fusion”). The bar its
Baby Snakes Bar
This jumpin’ Footscray venue is owned and run by Mark Nelson of Collingwood bar and bottle shop The Moon and Malvern’s Milton Wine Shop. It is objectively not pretentious – yes, the list is stacked with 120+ natural wines from the likes of Bobar and Dirty Black Denim, but you can also get a frozen Margarita from the slushie machine next to the wine fridge. Did we mention the neon feature staircase or the disco ball yet? Baby Snakes has a live music licence, too. Keep an eye out for special events where a portion of proceeds go to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, in partnership with Stomping Ground Brewery.
If the brief for Kaiju! Cantina, a lively new 16-tap beer hall and pizzeria in Huntingdale, was “make it look and feel exactly like a KAIJU! beer can,” then can we just say, YA NAILED IT. The playful aesthetic from illustrator Mikey Burton’s signature Kaiju! style echoes throughout the space, from the 12-metre-long mural of the Melbourne city skyline to the blue Toyota minibus that’s inside the dining room. The converted warehouse, which opened in February, is close to home for Kaiju! founders Nat and Callum Reeves. “We wanted [Kaiu! Cantina] to be in the southeast,” Callum says, “for proximity to the brewery itself, and to where we grew up.” The brothers both studied at Monash University, too, which is only stone’s throw from the site. Another deciding factor was not being too close to any of their mates’ breweries or bars, “That’s the inner north as far as Rezza [Reservoir]," Callum jokes, and having enough space to cater to folks who have kids. Nat and Callum both have young families, and Huntingdale is a residential area. “We thought surely other people with kids would want to go out, too.” The vast 445 square metre venue houses an on-site six hectolitre brew kit for limited edition and one-off brews. First up is the Pleasure Kruze Hazy IPA, currently only available at the Cantina. Visitors can expect Kaiju! favourites on tap such as Kaiju! Krush Tropical Pale Ale, and the Aftermath Double IPA. Non-beer drinkers have plenty to choose from with a list of Victorian made
Chef Series at Evergreen
After two years of “yes, no, maybe... damn it, we’re in lockdown again,” Crown Melbourne kicks off a new chef showcase this coming weekend, and first on the roster is Noosa’s Peter Kuruvita (by way of London and Colombo) and Melbourne’s Alejandro Saravia, originally from Peru. These internationally renowned chefs will set up residence at Crown’s Evergreen function space, the stunning 100-seat dining room that was Dinner by Heston until February 2020. Kuruvita is up first, with four consecutive dinners from Thursday, 10 to Sunday 13 February. He’s briefly stepping away from his month-old restaurant, Alba, in Noosa Heads, to bring Melburnians seven “very modern” courses inspired by his Sri Lankan childhood. Think wild-caught Mooloolaba prawns in black pepper and curry leaf, butter-poached crab with curried sabayon (inspired by his grandmother’s favourite egg curry). Kuruvita will also host an afternoon high tea on Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 of February. “This is a high tea to show you that you don’t just have to drink tea, the tea can also be infused into food,” he says. The chef is teaming up with his long-time friends at Dilmah for 11 sweet and savoury morsels, including duck and pineapple hand rolls, earl grey-infused chocolate truffles, and wattalapaan, which Kuruvita says is “Sri Lanka’s answer to crème brûlée, but all coconut — no cream or milk.” Saravia will keep things closer to home with a 100 percent Victorian menu, which will runs for three nights from Thursday, 17 t
There’s a lot going on at Her, Lonsdale Street’s new four-concept mega-venue. At street level is Her Bar, a French-inspired all-day cocktail spot, and on level one you’ll find the Music Room, an ode to whisky and vinyl. BKK is on level three, it’s a “turbocharged Thai BBQ canteen” that also caters for Her Rooftop, a relaxed garden terrace for drinks, lunches, dinners and nightcaps. This quadruple threat is the brainchild of HQ Group, the hospitality collective behind Arbory and Arbory Afloat, who picked up the five-storey, heritage-listed Pacific House building back in 2016. All four venues were finally ready to roll at the start of February 2022, just in time to help Melburnians emerge from their self-imposed Covid-19 cocoons in style. But where to begin? If you’re ready to reacquaint yourself with society, then Her Bar is a good place to start. The street-level space sells itself as a “daytime” cocktail bar, although it slings French 75s and Dirty Gin Martinis until 3am. (If you’re an early bird, the doors swing open at 7am for pastries, lobster omelettes and Market Lane coffee.) It’s a snug spot that sits 80 punters indoors (although not too close together) with a seductive salon vibe – think honey-toned walls, a rattan ceiling and a commanding zinc bar with fluted glass and timber liquor cabinets. High and low dining tables of stone and marble accompany tan leather banquettes across a striking red terrazzo floor, flanked by an acid-washed floor-to-ceiling mirror. Wine
Pre-pandemic, Plug Nickel was a specialty coffee shop with limited seating, a takeaway focus and a short menu of sandwiches and snacks from sister venue Dr Morse. Queue 2021 (and 2022... it seems), and an unused liquor licence and a council-funded parklet has given Plug Nickel’s French barista the opportunity to pivot the venue to an after-work offering. Julien — who we’ll just call Julien — came to Melbourne via Michelin-starred restaurants in France and Monaco (including La Rochelle restaurant Christopher Coutanceau and Alain Ducasse’s Le Louis XV). He’s bringing his A-game to the night shift, with a seasonal offering that changes as often as Melbourne’s weather. “The concept is around fresh ingredients,” Julien says. “We’re not running a cocktail list, it’s more like a selection based around three or four drinks changing every week.” The height of summer saw plenty of mango and peach, chilli and melon, he says. Going forward it depends on what he can find at the markets, plus the classics, of course. In keeping with Plug Nickel’s cafe roots, shots are served in espresso cups. The venue doesn’t have a kitchen, but that doesn’t stop the snacks rolling until last drinks are called. There’s the usual cheese and charcuterie, plus bread, terrine, olives and hummus. Plans are afoot for a permanent terrace over the outdoor space, with construction underway as soon as the approval comes in (nudge nudge, Yarra City Council). Looks like Plug Nickel’s after-hours adventures are here
Queensmith, an all-day grazing situation inspired by Euro cafés and wine bars, is a new venue with an old soul. Owner Gerard Kelly took the bones of City Square’s Three Below, Caboose Canteen and La Vida Buona, which were razed to make way for the Metro Tunnel, to his Queen Street site. It’s more than just up-cycling. Kelly’s original venues were designed by Six Degrees, the award-winning architecture firm that cut their teeth on some of Melbourne’s coolest early-noughties restaurants. “I was holding onto certain pieces because I wanted to use them again someday,” Kelly says. “And I didn’t want to create a space that looked brand new, I wanted it to feel lived in.” Achievement unlocked. The 40-seater is all eucalyptus-green panelling accented by leadlight-backed shelves. A cosy back corner has been outfitted with tan-leather banquettes and low Bentwood stools. Out front, taking up a semi-permanent parklet space, are vintage Sebel chairs and marble-topped tables with a Parisian feel. Only the central bar is new, the deco-styled piece comes from Julian Beattie, who built the bars at Joe’s Shoe Store and Little Andorra. “He’s got a real knack for creating a ‘look’,” Kelly says. Given that it’s still early days (and most of the time, it’s just Kelly on staff) the menu is mostly bread-based. From 6am it’s espresso, pastries and toasties, as the day rolls on, out come the pork and pistachio terrine, beetroot cured salmon and fancy tinned anchovies with Savoy crackers. Depending on
Pre-Covid, restaurant reinventions were often a sign that a business was in struggle town. However, in today’s new normal, they speak more to survival and resourcefulness than a last-ditch attempt to remain relevant. Case in point: Collingwood’s Mono-XO. In the beforetimes, it was dark and neon and served food on sticks. Today, it’s much brighter and more restaurant-y – although owner-operator Sam Stafford, who renovated the space himself over successive lockdowns, doesn’t like pigeonholes. “I consider [the venue] to be evolving, it’ll never be ‘finished’,” he says, adamant that Mono-XO isn’t a Japanese restaurant despite the Japanese-leaning menu (“I reckon the actual Japanese restaurant around the corner would have a problem with that,” he says). It’s not a wine bar either, despite the long list of natural-ish wines. Fair enough. What even is a “restaurant” these days? Post-refurb, the walls are “painfully white”, so named because they’re annoying to clean, and the plates and stemware have been upgraded, but the original “do as you please” ethos remains. Stafford, who worked back-of-house in Sydney at Momofuku Seiobo and Nomad, and more recently in West Melbourne at Clever Polly’s, says with 20 seats and two staff members there’s plenty of flexibility. “Be loud, talk to the other tables... we don’t care.” The revised menu is focused on larger share-style plates, although a couple of classics remain, namely the pork jowl skewer and the katsu scallop sando. “I’d say we sell
Pre-COVID, restaurant reinventions were usually a sign that a business was in struggle town. However, in today’s new normal, they speak more to survival and resourcefulness than a last-ditch attempt to remain relevant. Case in point, Collingwood’s Mono-xo. In the before times, it was dark and neon and served food on sticks. Today, it’s much brighter and more restaurant-y – although owner-operator Sam Safford, who renovated the space himself over successive lockdowns, doesn’t like pigeonholes. “I consider [the venue] to be evolving, it’ll never be ‘finished’,” he says, adamant that Mono-xo isn’t a Japanese restaurant (“I reckon the actual Japanese restaurant around the corner would have a problem with that,” he says) despite the Japanese-leaning menu, and it’s not a wine bar either, despite the long list of natural-ish wines. Fair enough. What even is a “restaurant” these days? Post-refurb, the walls are “painfully white”, so named because they’re annoying to clean, and the plates and stemware have been upgraded, but the original “do as you please” ethos remains. Safford, who worked back-of-house in Sydney at Momofuku Siebo and Nomad, and more recently in West Melbourne at Clever Polly’s, says with 20 seats and two staff members there’s plenty of flexibility. “Be loud, talk to the other tables... we don’t care.” The revised menu is focussed on larger share-style plates, although a couple of classics remain, namely the pork jowl skewer and the katsu scallop sando. “I’d say we