Melbourne might have a chilled mellow exterior, but this city takes its food seriously. Dig a little deeper and you will discover a melting-pot of exciting flavours and a vibrant exciting food scene
Melbourne, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world is also reflected in its wonderful abundant choice of world-class cuisine. Having practically invented the crossover Asian inspired fusion gastronomy, Melbournians are equally at home with a barbie (bbq) washed down with a bottle of local beer Victoria Bitter (Or VB to the locals!).
The only problem you’re likely to experience is where to go and what to eat in this vast vibrant city. Here’s my guide to my personal favourite eateries and eating experiences, but this is only the tip of the iceberg and there are many more fabulous foodie haunts just waiting to be discovered.
Best for breakfast
The Flour Mill (341 Sydney Road, Brunswick; 9078 0497 www.flourmill.net.au) offers satisfying, sensational breakfasts and is great for brunch too. The fragrance of fresh muffins of the day, of which a different variety is baked fresh every morning is the first thing that strikes you about this cosy café. Raspberry and white chocolate, apple and nutmeg, and even double chocolate and berry are tantalising and tempting. Coffees are long, strong and just the way it should be, you can almost taste the freshly ground beans. The Eggs Benedict are rich, oozing with buttery hollandaise and melt-in-your-mouth divine – big enough to share. Gentle music plays in the background, while you chill out with friends, or flick through the papers at your leisure. This is a perfect spot to start your day. Breakfast from AUD 8 – 14. Another good spot is the Velvet Bar in chic Port Melbourne (331 Bay Street; 9645 1080; www.thevelvetbar.com). Cool and contemporary, a popular meeting spot for brunch. Feast on the substantial Aussie Omelette before working it off with a stroll along one of the nearby beaches. About AUD 14.
Heart-warming pub grub
Monday nights at The Albion (146 Evans Street, Port Melbourne; 9646 1991; www.hotelalbion.com.au) almost became an unmissable weekly ritual for us. This famous landmark in upmarket recently revived Port Melbourne is a spot favoured by the locals, and they would like to keep this foodie-hideaway all to themselves. This rather unassuming normal looking pub-restaurant offers delicious pub-style food at reasonable prices. The bill of fare is displayed on a massive blackboard, boasts everything from traditional home-cooked pies and mash, to fillet steak and gorgeous curries. Portions are huge, but the simple food is flavoursome, beautifully presented, and the service is second to none. My favourite was a chicken tikka curry, served with dainty miniature poppodums, a splash of yoghurt and dressed with lime. Dishes vary in price, but don’t miss Monday evenings when all dishes are AUD 14.
Spice it up
If you like spicy food, and enjoy fragrant Asian spices, in vogue Asiana (181 Victoria Avenue, Albert Park; 9696 6688) in South Melbourne offers a truly exquisite dining experience. Offering everything from fragrant Thai to spicy Vietnamese, food is beautifully cooked, delicate and will fire up your taste-buds. Order a selection of entrees (tapas style), as we did, so that you can sample, well almost everything, and do not miss the lightly steamed dim-sums and the succulent Peking duck pancakes with rich plum sauce, which are delightful. All prepared dishes are shown to the table before they whisk them away again for service. Dinner will be about AUD 75 for two without wine, but you can b.y.o (Bring your own – corkage about AUD 5).
The Lemongrass (176 Lygon St., Ph: 9662 244,www.lemongrassrestaurant.com.au) is one of the best Thai restaurants in the city. Traditional Thai curries are made to order. Noodle dishes are light but heavenly. Mains around AUD 20.
Mingle with the Melbournians
Victoria markets (Vic markets to the locals) in Elizabeth Street in the city centre, is the place to chill out on Wednesday evenings in summer as the sun is going down. Let your senses guide your way around the countless steamy stalls selling all kinds of fare from succulent bbq beef to spicy Spanish Paella, gorgeous Greek koftas dripping with cooling yoghurt, crisped handmade pizza to order, and wash it down with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, or a bottle of local beer. Grab a seat, and tune into one of the live bands that entertain the hungry masses that turn out. Great mid-week diversion, and cheap with dishes at no more than AUD 5.
For a bit of Italy in the heart of Melbourne, head to the Southern end of Lygon Street - this is Rome, Naples and Milan all rolled into one vibrant and lively street. Ok the red and white checked table-cloths might look a little touristy, but if you like Italian food, you cannot miss eating here. Lined with Italian eateries and luscious ice-cream parlours all vying for attention, it can be difficult to know where to go. But my favourites that stand out are Villa Romana (252 Lygon St; 9650 7990) for distinctive seafood pasta dishes. Mains around AUD 20 - 25. Equally the Via Veneto (234 Lygon St; 9663 3151) offers tasty delicious pasta dishes and homemade bruschettas and pizzas at reasonable prices. Lunch around AUD 40 for two.
Fabulous fusion fine-dining
Harveys (10 Murphy St., South Yarra; 9867 3605; www.harveysrestaurant.com.au) located in one of the most upmarket and trendy neighbourhoods, offers amazing food with understated elegance. Relaxing tranquil ambience, the staff are friendly and attentive, and if that is not enough, the food is simply a winner. This is a true example of ambitious adventurous Australian fare, where the dishes are inspirational and tantalising. Scallops with chorizo, seared tuna and crab, Portuguese style fish stew, with asian noodles, oysters wrapped in pancetta, or try the duck breast in a berry jus. Dinner for two with a medium priced wine about AUD 200. Oh and you just might spot a celebrity or two.
I could go on and suggest many, many more places, but you really need to sample and experience it for yourself. Melbourne is most definitely all about the food.
Where to stay
We stayed at the luxurious Lyall Hotel (14 Murphy St, South Yarra) in the heart of upmarket leafy South Yarra. Suites are spacious, modern and with nice little touches like TV in the bathroom, fluffy robes, and a well stocked mini-bar including local sparkling wines. Two-bedroom suites about AUD 500 per night.
Crown Towers (8 Whiteman St) might be more Las Vegas than Melbourne, but it is an experience, and the ultimate in luxury. Pure opulence from the massive chandeliers, the custom designed artwork to the expansive marble bathrooms. Deluxe rooms start from about AUD 300.