A Taste of Home: Michael Wilson’s Favourite Dining Places in Melbourne, Australia
Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, chef Michael Wilson’s childhood—where he was introduced to diverse cuisines such as Greek and Lebanese—cemented his early love for food. This inspired him to embark on his culinary journey, starting as a dishwasher at the age of 14 and working his way up to cooking in the kitchens of Italian restaurant Grossi Florentino and modern Australian restaurant Cutler & Co in Melbourne; and modern European restaurant Pollen in Singapore.
Under his helm, Pollen at the Flower Dome in Gardens by the Bay has been re-branded to Marguerite. At the same time, he introduced two new concepts, Mylo’s and Hortus.
While it seems like Wilson will be extremely busy for the next few months, given that he has just launched three new concepts, he always looks forward to spending holidays Down Under. These are the places on his must-try list.
Read more: A Food Lover's Guide To New South Wales
When was your last trip to Australia? How did you spend your holiday there
Michael Wilson (MW): My last trip was in November 2019 for my brother’s wedding.
When I’m back home, I try to allocate some time to explore and eat in other parts of the country before heading back to my hometown in country Victoria (just outside Melbourne).
What do you miss most on the food/drink front when you are away from home or haven’t been back for a while?
MW: Being a chef in a fine dining restaurant, I really miss the comforts of home cooking; things that I grew up eating. I miss my mum’s legendary pancakes and her pumpkin soup.
My dad also makes a mean Irish stew. It’s usually made with beef or lamb but we cheekily refer to it as 'wombat stew'; the meat is cooked for so long that it’s completely unrecognisable. It may not be the prettiest sight but it’s so delicious. When you’re met with a cold winter’s day, these dishes are stellar—so warm, comforting and reminiscent of home.
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Where do you like to meet up with your old friends for food/drinks
MW: My parents stay in Victoria, Gippsland, so if I’m home, I usually head to the local pub with old family friends. It’s nothing fancy, just solid food, beer and a nice friendly place to catch up with friends I haven’t seen in a while.
Is there anywhere else that you never miss visiting when you are back?
MW: A visit to a local farmer’s market or Queen Victoria Market. I love checking out the produce for inspiration.
If you have visitors/guests with you, where do you ensure you always go to give them a real taste of Australia?
MW: For the true Aussie experience, it's best to head down to the beach and find a local bar (anywhere will do) in the summer, or cook a barbeque outdoors. Throw some meat on the barbecue grill and enjoy a good sausage sizzle (grilled sausages wrapped in bread).
All the local pubs smell the same. Our Australian beer has a distinctive flavour and scent, so heading to a local pub for a taste of Carlton draught or a local tap beer would be the first thing I’d do with a guest.
Australia is a country of immigrants and Melbourne is a cosmopolitan city with a large Italian, Greek, Vietnamese and Chinese population. You generally go to different areas of the city to enjoy specific types of cuisine, so for excellent Vietnamese food, visit the Richmond area or Footscray. For other cuisines, Café di Stasio and Di Stasio Citta serve amazing Italian fare, while Flower Drum is a great choice for Cantonese food. After a late night out, my friends and I enjoy the souvlaki (meat on skewers) at Stalactites.
Melbourne, in particular, is famed for its café culture; to experience the city, you need to go to one of its cafes dotted across town for incredible coffee. There’s always a bunch of new cafes every time I return home, but Brother Baba Budan on Little Bourke Street is great, as is its sister property Seven Seeds Carlton.
What is the first dish you eat when you return and where do you go for it?
MW: The first thing I do is eat a dirty meat pie from a local bakery (no ketchup). Meat, gravy, pastry—what’s not to love?
What do you always take back to Singapore with you when you leave Australia?
MW: Macadamia nuts and a couple of nice bottles of Australian wine for friends. I like to bring back bottles you can’t get here in Singapore, and usually, they’re straight from a winery.
Do you have a favourite restaurant in Melbourne? For fine dining and for more casual experiences?
MW: For the ultimate fine dining experience, you can’t beat Grossi Florentino. It’s the oldest restaurant in Melbourne—everything from the space to the service will transport you back in time. It’s truly an experience.
For something a little more casual, I love Carlton Wine Room. It’s a relaxed, friendly space where you enjoy incredible wine and food.
What are your favourite heritage dishes and where are some of the places you go to find them?
MW: Australian cuisine, as many know it, is defined by large-scale migration and is the result of contributions from the immigrants that make up Australia. It is an amalgamation of different cultures, namely British, Middle Eastern, European and Asian. But when I think about Australian heritage, I think of Indigenous cuisine, which is much harder to find. You’ll find that in a fine dining context, there are many restaurants utilising native Australian ingredients in modern cuisine. But a place that is truly championing Indigenous cuisine and culture in Melbourne is Big Esso by Mabu Mabu at Fed Square.
Where do you go to find authentic flavours of home where you live?
MW: I cook it myself. I throw a barbecue, make sure to have a cooler of ice-cold beers ready to go, bake a pavlova (meringue-based dessert) and invite some friends over.