Travel

Destination Melbourne, Your Day on a Plate

So you have 24 hours to eat and drink in Australia’s culinary capital. Where do you start? Strolling through Melbourne’s city centre can uncover world-class food and drink venues down almost every laneway, so there’s no wrong direction. But some places deserve a special visit. Wendy Hargreaves tells us why.

February 21, 2019
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Rebecca Murphy

Rebecca Murphy

February 21, 2019

FIRST – COFFEE

Melbourne’s coffee scene is justifiably world-famous, so it’s easy to find a good caffeine jolt in any part of the city.

But for pure gawk value, head to Higher Ground, a buzzing space that’s part café, part restaurant, spread over three levels in a cavernous ex-power station at the Spencer Street end of Little Bourke Street. Expect excellent coffee, a surprising wine list and food that’s always a joy to eat. If it’s the weekend, also expect to wait for a table – but it’s worth it highergroundmelbourne.com.au.

Coffee snobs should also check out Brother Baba Budan on 359 Little Bourke St, Dukes Coffee Roasters at 247 Flinders Ln, Patricia Coffee Brewerson 493-495 Little Bourke St and the League of Honest Coffee at 8 Exploration Ln, off Little Lonsdale St.

LANEWAY GRAZING

Melbourne’s CBD is overflowing with cobblestoned thoroughfares, each with its own charm and endless food options.

Spend a lazy afternoon wandering from lane to lane, starting with the beautiful Block and Royal arcades, home to chocolatiers, quirky shops and an almost constant queue for high tea at the Hopetoun Tearooms.

Also make time to visit Hosier Lane, Melbourne’s most famous bluestone thoroughfare as the epicentre of the city’s street art scene. Take care to not bump into one of the many tourists taking photos of the colourful walls, then head straight to MoVida at the Flinders Street end for some excellent Barcelona style tapas by chef Frank Camorra movida.com.au. You can also recaffeinate with a conscience on Hosier at Good 2 Go (facebook.com/Good2GoCoffee), which employs and raises money for the city’s homeless.

LUNCH

Pure South, Riverside Delights

On a mild autumn day, Melbourne’s Yarra River draws hungry diners like fish to a shiny lure.

And one of the riverside meals can be found at Pure South puresouth.com.au, Melbourne’s love letter to Tasmanian produce. Grab a more casual lunch in the all-day diner downstairs, or explore the Apple Isle’s finest in the restaurant upstairs. Both levels have beautiful views from Southbank across the river to the city, and some of the finest fresh-caught seafood and farm-to-table beef in Melbourne.

Directly across the Yarra is the Arbory, arbory.com.au offers 150 metres of relaxed eating and drinking right on the water’s edge, tucked behind Flinders Street Station. It’s a perfect spot for people watching, with a crowd-pleasing food and drink menu running from 7.30am until late.

For a splurge, head further up the Yarra to the Crown complex and secure a window seat at Atlantic, one of Melbourne’s finest seafood restaurants. Executive chef Nick Mahlook hand picks an unrivalled selection of wild and sustainable fish and pristine oysters and shellfish.

A short stroll west along the Yarra brings you to the home of Australia’s most acclaimed pizza maker Johnny Di Francesco, who won the 2014 world championship in Italy with his classic Margherita. His menu celebrates all things Neapolitan, and attracts huge crowds daily.

PRE-DINNER DRINKS

Melbourne bars are famously hard to find, hidden down back alleys, up stairwells and behind unmarked doorways.

Take Goldilocks for example, tucked above a Chinese restaurant on Swanston Street. Just go up a lift and walk past an asylum-themed bar (or pop in … it’s called the House of Correction and they serve excellent cocktails). Then go up a few stairs and revel in one of the CBD’s great rooftop bars goldilocksbar.com.au.

Hihou is another gem, behind an easy-to-miss doorway on Flinders Lane, near the corner of Spring Street. Up the stairs, clever bar staff are peppering cocktails with yuzu, umeshu (plum wine) and shochu (grain spirit), with excellent Japanese bar snacks.

And don’t leave Melbourne without visiting eaudevie.com.au, tucked down Malthouse Lane behind a signage-free door easily mistaken for a service entrance. Visitors are greeted by waistcoated staff and pumped-up jazz tunes, along with one of Australia’s best cocktail and whisky lists.

For a taste of Melbourne’s original laneway bar, head to Meyers Place and look for the bar of the same name meyersplace.com.au. Of course there’s no sign. Just look for the crowd of cool young things parked on recycled furniture, enjoying good music and well-priced drinks.

Meyers place is also home to lilyblacks.com.au, home of art deco style and some seriously luxe cocktails.

DINNER

In a town where some of the hottest restaurants refuse to take reservations, you have to get creative to secure a table.

The lavish and luscious Chin Chin banquet.

Diners queue for a table at Chin Chin chinchinrestaurant.com.au, where executive chef Benjamin Cooper serves his own funky take on Asian cuisine every day from 11am until late. Here’s the tip … avoid the line-up by steering clear of peak dining times. Cooper reckons diners have no trouble getting table from mid afternoon until 6pm.

Canny diners also know to arrive early and put their names on the waiting list, waiting around the corner at Cherry Bar, one of the city’s most legendary rock venues, until the Chin Chin staff call to let them know the table’s ready. On arrival, order Chin Chin’s ‘feed me’ option ($69.50 per person). Waitstaff will keep bringing out food until you tell them to stop.

Andrew McConnell’s classic bistro Cumulus in Flinders Lane

Across Flinders Lane, Andrew McConnell’s extremely cool pan-Asian restaurant Supernormal supernormal.net.au also opens daily from 11am until late, so if you haven’t booked a table, use the same non-peak hour tactic and order the dumplings, bao and slow-cooked Xinjiang lamb, a generous shared dish served with sesame seed flatbread.

Supernormal has the understated X-factor found at all of McConnell’s restaurants, including his classic bistro, Cumulus Inc, further up Flinders Lane cumulusinc.com.au.

Lucy Liu’s Red Neon Lit Entrance

Another fabulous place to dine in the Flinders Lane zone is Lucy Liu, a pumping kitchen and bar heralded by a red neon sign down a side alley. Chef Zac Cribbes takes classic Asian dishes and gives them a fresh tweak with delicious results.

And for a taste of Greek street food with a twist, head to George Calombaris’s Gazi around the corner on Exhibition Street gazirestaurant.com.au. Pop in for one of Gazi’s famous soft shell crab souvlakis, or tackle the always delicious Greek lamb shoulder.

MORNING RECOVERY

What do you get when you cross a meat pie with a burger? You get the Tradie Slammer, a new cult hit at chef Raymond Capaldi’s Wonderpop and Deli pie shop on Little Lonsdale Street wonderpopanddeli.com.au.

Capaldi’s next level pies have caused a stir in Melbourne for a while. When he wedged one into a brioche bun with caramelised onion jam, the carb overload when viral.

If the slammer’s too big, go for Capaldi’s ‘Nice & Cheesy Does It’, a macaroni and cheese pie topped with bechamel sauce and crushed Cheezels.

Capaldi’s next move will be afternoon high tea, featuring dainty little pies and house-made cakes.

Wendy Hargreaves is a Melbourne food writer. She publishes food/fun guide fiveofthebest.com and has weekly food segment on 3AW, Melbourne’s top rating radio station.

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