Tatler's picks: 6 dining hotspots in Melbourne
Melbourne is often called the dining capital of Australia and rightfully so. With its strong Greek and Italian influence, alongside heaps of multicultural cuisine, this place oozes with deliciousness at every corner. With world famous British chef Heston Blumenthal heading to the Southern Hemisphere in February to launch Fat Duck restaurant at Melbourne’s Crown Towers, and the wildly popular Masterchef series being filmed here, the culinary scene is positively buzzing. And with a dizzying array of new openings in the city’s hidden laneways, along the Yarra River, and the city fringe’s charming neighbourhoods, there’s something for everyone. Here are six hotspots to visit if you make your way to this vibrant destination.
Gazi is Chef George Colambaris’ wildly popular Greek street food concept restaurant. Taking over the former fine dining Press Club restaurant space, Gazi’s interior is now marked by an assemblage of upturned terracotta pots suspended on the ceiling. Exuding a casual and convivial vibe, the venue is crammed with happy customers tucking into food that is hearty, robust, and honest.
To sample a variety of items, share plates of seafood and meats alongside a host of other creations. A must is the souvlaki comprising pillow-soft flatbread festooned with succulent beef, golden chips, parsley, onion and mustard mayo. Or try the soft shell crab souvlaki amped up with mint, coriander, honey and mayo. Straight from the wood fire spit is a large slab of pork belly, partnered with soft white beans, creamy apple skordalia and walnut dressing. You might also get slow braised lamb shoulder with pearl cous cous, feta and kalamata olives, a dish large enough for two. Round off with Gazi’s own version of pavlova which features meringue with lemon sorbet and pomegranate, or the blood orange mousse with chocolate and blood orange gel. Despite the crowd and cacophony, it’s a place you wouldn’t mind going back again and again just to tuck into real, tasty and robust food.
2 Exhibition Street, Melbourne. www.gazirestaurant.com.au
This vibrant new restaurant has emerged in the once seedy Smith Street neighbourhood, which thankfully has undergone some form of gentrification of late. Originally a cobbler’s workshop, Saint Crispin (the patron saint of cobblers) has made use of the existing timber and exposed brick alcove for its setting. The restaurant is framed by a green marble bar and an open-kitchen where you can watch all the culinary theatre happen. Chef-restaurateurs Scott Pickett (ex Estelle) and Joe Grbac (former executive chef of Press Club) were both trained in Michelin-starred restaurants in London. This year, Saint Crispin also made headlines after being honoured Best New Restaurant at the 2014 Age Good Food Guide Awards.
If you don’t mind heading a little further from the city centre, then score a table at this place to savour modern dishes woven with layers of flavours and textures. Try soft, sticky veal cheeks with onion consommé, black garlic and coffee or quail with chorizo, polenta, sherry and olives. Finish with a light poached rhubarb with yuzu custard and green tea, or the luscious peanut butter parfait with spiced pineapple, golden syrup and rum. Service may not be the warmest here, but it’s brisk and efficient.
300 Smith Street, Collingwood. Tel: 03-9419 2202. www.saintcrispin.com.au
The Town Mouse
Australia’s most famous food critic Matt Preston highly recommends The Town Mouse, located in Carlton, a neighbourhood known for its pizza joints, gelaterias and Italian cafes. This Melbourne restaurant-bar which exudes an old world charm with its shiny black tiles and vintage glass lampshades buzzes with the trendy set. Perch on a bar stool if you are dining solo, or request for one of the high tables if you are dining with friends.
You will be surprised with the contemporary creations woven with a touch of quirkiness. Make not mistake though; this is precise technique driven food. Begin with profiteroles stuffed with salty goats’ cheese and drizzled with roof top honey – literally harvested from the beehive on the roof (we are not sure how consistent the supply is but do check with the waitstaff). A sprinkling of salt elevates the flavour of this savoury sweet starter. Another surprisingly element is the twirls of calamari ribbons - the squid is first frozen, shaved then sous vide. It is then given a tinge of acidity with fermented apple juice and further luxed up with oyster cream. Other interesting items include nori potato crisp with confit of rainbow trout, perked up with ginger and shredded pickled radish. Or deep-fried heirloom kale with quinoa, Comte cheese foam and a wobbly slow-cooked egg. Mix it all up and enjoy the strange but wonderful combo. The kale happens to be the star of the dish thanks to its bitter crispy goodness.
This is a good place to go for inventive cuisine, excellent wines from the region and beyond, topped with swift professional service. To score a table at this hip spot, do book ahead of time.
312 Drummond Street, Carlton. Tel: 03-9347 3312. www.thetownmouse.com.au
Fatto Bar & Cantina
Fatto is a casual Italian spot at Melbourne’s Arts Centre, overlooking the Yarra River. It offers a concise one-page menu, ideal for diners who are pressed for time before heading to the theatre. If you’re in the vicinity, go there a quick lunch or late dinner.
Munch on arancini with smoked salt cod, mimolette and herb aioli, then slurp up the tangle of crab spaghettini, perked up with lemon, chilli, parsley and toasty breadcrumbs. Or if the weather is cold, tuck into lamb chops with saffron potatoes, roast shallot and capers. The service is fast and polished, which is especially good for the theatre crowd. Dinner is usually crowded so bookings are necessary. Fatto also welcomes walk-ins from 11am, and coffee and pastries and available for those on the go.
Arts Centre Melbourne, Hamer Hall, River Terrace, 100 St Kilda Road, Southbank. Tel: 03-8698 8800. www.fatto.com.au
The posh South Yarra neighbourhood has seen an explosion of patisseries with their stunning array of sweet treats. One of them is Lux Bites, a boutique café and patisserie opened by Bernard Chu and Yen Yee. Originally from Malaysia, the young talents have worked in some of Australia’s best restaurants including Sydney’s Quay and Summit. Here, their dessert creations, a melding of Asian and Western flavours, are beautifully executed with much finesse. For instance, the cakes and macarons are infused with Asian-inspired ingredients such as green tea, pandan, kaffir lime and Szechuan pepper. Their most famous invention however is the Lolly Bag Cake, originally created for the popular MasterChef Australia reality TV show. The chefs cleverly designed an opera-inspired cake using different layers of famous Australian lollies, resulting in a multi coloured, and multi textured masterpiece.
If you don’t have much of a sweet tooth, this place has a small brunch menu too. Savoury dishes are also injected with an Asian element. Think: pandan chicken burger perked up with apple and kiwi relish, and sriracha mayo; pulled pork and lap cheong with corn fritters and avocado; or steamed sticky rice with ginger marinated chicken, shitake mushroom and Malaysian chilli sauce on flaky pastry.
38 Toorak Road, South Yarra. Tel: 03-9867 5888. luxbite.com.au
Chef Andrew McConnell who owns top restaurants Cutler&Co, and Cumulus Inc launched his latest restaurant, Supernormal, right smack in the city along the narrow Flinders Lane. The non-descript entrance is marked by a pair of big, glowing neon cherries, offering a taste of playfulness before one enters the premises. Inside, you’d be greeted by a canteen-like setting with a super long bar backed by an open kitchen. The small-ish menu showcases the chef’s interesting take on Asian food. Essentially, it’s an interpretation of his favourite Asian dining experiences drawn from his years working in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Brave souls can tuck into the pig’s head croquette bao where the meat along with the crispy and gelatinous parts of the head is stuffed in steamed buns. Or for a safer bet go for the duck bao comprising twice-cooked duck with crisp skin, paired with vinegar and plum sauce. To beat the crowd, go for early or late lunch. There is even a full karaoke system available FOC for diners who wish to belt out familiar tunes after fueling their stomach. And if all that food is not enough for you, there’s the new Cumulus Up further up the street. Opened by the same group, this intimate European-style wine bar offers late night eats (until 1am on Fri and Sat and midnight on other days). Grab a bottle of wine and match it with grilled seafood, dry aged beef and a selection of cheeses.