Melbourne foodie guide: where locals eat and drink
Its multicultural make-up and an influx of pioneering chefs has helped Melbourne take the crown as Australia’s culinary capital. Whether you’re after cardamom and roast pistachio ice cream, a rooftop gin cocktail or whipped emu egg, the southeastern city caters for all
Want to know what to do in Melbourne? Read our foodie guide to where to eat, including the best restaurants in Melbourne.
Melbourne food experiences
If you want to find your foodie feet in Melbourne turn to Allan Campion. A chef turned food writer, with a library of cookbooks and food guides under his belt, Campion founded Melbourne Food Experiences in 2002. His food tours include the grazing and give you the lowdown on the secret spots you'd be mad to miss.
Melbourne after Dark, for instance, steers you down tiny alleyways to some of the city's coolest cocktail bars, such as Union Electric's new rooftop gin bar, where the gin list includes Yarra Valley's Four Pillars - or go wild with a signature Lola cocktail, a heady ginger, gin, curacao and coconut cream concoction.
The best coffee shops in Melbourne
Where can you get a decent coffee in Melbourne? Cold-drip, AeroPress, siphon or espresso, flat white or long black? Coffee is king, customers are connoisseurs and baristas and micro-roasters are gods in Melbourne. This is the city that invented the flat white after all – or so they say (that's a latte with less milk and a smoother texture – it's all about the micro-bubbles).
The roll call includes sleek, pared back Sensory Lab (which also holds barista classes), Market Lane (which roasts its own single origin beans and offers public cuppings - tastings) and Industry Beans (also famous for its bagels).
Spring Street Grocer
The Spring Street Grocer might sound like a local corner shop but it's not. Upstairs it's a gourmet food store but most miss the spiral staircase down to the extraordinary cheese cellar – and Australia's first underground cheese maturation rooms, where regular cheese tastings and workshops are held. Try Holy Goat artisan cheeses from Sutton Grange organic farm – Black Silk is a tangy, ash-coated, fresh curd pyramid.
There's also a bakery and espresso bar and, on the way out, hit the gelato counter for what is - possibly - the best ice cream in the world. The seasonal selection changes daily with flavours including cardamom and roasted pistachio, chestnut and rosemary and an eye-poppingly refreshing watermelon and mint sorbet.
The hottest young chef in a city that sizzles with culinary talent is Charlie Carrington, whose innovative concept restaurant, Atlas Dining, combines his two passions: travel and cooking. Every four months he hits a different country, takes notes on native ingredients and key flavours and then distils them into a spectacular tasting menu.
Since 2016 he's taken diners from Vietnam to Israel, Mexico to Korea and (currently) Peru. His Peruvian menu showcases flathead ceviche with avocado purée, sweet potato, onion and a zingy tomato and passion fruit jus while 'potato, ocopa, aji' is his kick-ass take on the tamale. There's also a nod to Peru's Japanese fusion cuisine: a roasted fig with a miso and smoked eel paste has a subtle smokiness, with lime giving a citrus hit.
Lamb, arroz, uchucuta at Atlas Dining
This sleek boutique in the Block Arcade is all clean lines and stylised tree murals hiding shelves – stocked with honey: 37 different types. Beechworth Honey specialises in single-varietal Australian honey categorised by flavour style: Bee Delicate (mild and light), Bee Fruity (lively eucalypt honeys), Bee Warm (caramel and butterscotch notes) and Bee Bold (dark and strong).
A complimentary tasting helps you to choose. Bee Delicate Ironbark is light, buttery and great with pancakes while Bee Fruity Green Mallee is a good marinade. Then there's the Bee Cause Landscape Honeys (river, mountain, coastal, meadow) launched to support the fourth generation family of beekeepers' work to save the Australian honeybees.
No stranger to the world's best restaurant lists, Attica lives up to the hype. Ben Shewry's tasting menu takes you on the culinary ride of your life. Wash your hands first as you'll be using your fingers - and listening to tall tales. There's a narrative element to many of the dishes, such as An Imperfect History of Ripponlea in Three Tarts. Each of the bitesize tarts represents one of the communities that lived in Ripponlea: from the Bunurong people to the English and Jewish settlers. 'Our Vegemite, Our salada' is a nod to Aussie school kids (homemade vegemite, tomatoes and crackers) while 'Green Ant Pav' is a tiny savoury pavlova with a dusting of green ants for a citrus explosion. Dessert is 'whipped emu egg' in a vibrant emerald eggshell served with Daintree chocolate ice cream and quandong.
In the psychedelic elevator of design hotel QT Melbourne the sassy voiceover might send you scurrying to the restroom on your way up to the award-winning rooftop bar: “you’re looking a little peaky go and rub some rouge in your cheeks”. The views are worth the confidence-kicking ride.
Try a Tarty Twist (Tanqueray Gin, grapefruit, lime and rosemary infused syrup) or a Rooftop G&T (West Winds Sabre gin, elderflower quinine, fresh lime, cucumber, rosemary-infused sugar and Capi cucumber soda). Back on the ground floor there's also a Cake Shop and a branch of Japanese knife shop, Tanto, where chefs and foodies can have their knives sharpened or buy specialist sashimi-slicing blades such as the blue steel, ebony and black Australian buffalo husk handled Kiritsuke Hayate knife.
Nudging up against Chinatown, Annam is not your run-of-the-mill Vietnamese. This pan-Asian joint, with its open-kitchen and martial arts movies playing on a loop, is the vision of chef Jerry Mai who founded popular pho and banh mi stalls, Pho Nom. Annam is an area between Cambodia and Vietnam and the flavours are a Vietnamese, Cambodian and Thai fusion with a nod to China – don't miss the signature oxtail dumplings braised in sarsaparilla.
The Instagram-ready dishes are designed to share. Try the blackened, squid ink-coated cuttlefish with prickly ash, fried in a crunchy rice flour and Sichuan pepper batter.
Charcoal Lane has not one but two USPs: this restaurant in funky Fitzroy dishes up an innovative take on 'bush tucker' and runs a training programme for disadvantaged and indigenous young people – a bit like Jamie Oliver's Fifteen.
The menu of modern native Australian cuisine features starters such as roasted emu fillet with a Thai herb crust, sandalwood nut salad, quandong (a desert fruit) and witlof (chicory) while, for mains, you can tuck into chargrilled kangaroo with beetroot reduction and celeriac purée or Parma ham-wrapped wallaby.
Seafood and Oyster Spot
At the Seafood and Oyster Spot, in Queen Victoria Market, they shuck 300 dozen oysters every Saturday (at Christmas that rises to 2,000 dozen a day). This historic landmark opened in 1878 and, spread over seven hectares, is the largest open-air market in the southern hemisphere.
Inside you'll find organic butchers, fishmongers and a dairy hall – check out Curds and Whey, the last remaining butter specialist and cheesemongers. There are almost a thousand traders here. You can mooch around the stalls or take a guided market tour.
For more information see: visitmelbourne.com
Words and photographs by Lucy Gillmore