Melbourne – Prepare Thyself.

Slippery When Wet - by Mugley
Image used courtesy of Mugley

I know what you think… You Melburnians. You think that you live in a city blessed with the finest and best value restaurants in the world. With hidden bars so cool that no one knows about them, with liquor laws so relaxed that most bums on the street are running funky little wine bars out of their shopping trolleys. Your espresso flows with the flavours that only a rich Italian heritage can imbue, and celebrity chefs are lining up to fill your casinos with the fanciest dining experiences available.

But I’m not buying it.

My last trip to Melbourne was a disaster. I was young, naive… immature. I thought I could gayly prance my way about the city and run into good food, wine, and coffee at every turn of the corner. That every tram stop was just a hidden alleyway away from the best dining experience of my life, and that every cafe was just waiting for me to order a coffee that would be the best I’d ever tasted.

Ok, so I was clearly delusional. Still, I had somehow built up that idea in my head. Only to be presented with bland over priced food, terrible coffee, and “institutions” that should have been closed down years ago (Perugrinos, most of Lygon St).

This time around, I’m not leaving anything to chance. I’ll be coming over for the finals of the Australian Barista Competition, so the coffee issue should be well and truly sorted. Restaurants, and bars however, are entirely up for debate.

I’ve been hearing many things about many restaurants of late, and have been checking out plenty of blogs for inspiration, but what I’m hoping fellow food lovers and seekers of truth will be able to share with me are those little pearls of wisdom that never quite make it into the travel guides and search results for “best restaurant melbourne”.

I really want some great, unique dining experiences that showcase the best of what Melbourne has to offer, at all stages of the price spectrum.

So far on my tentative list are:

Bar Lourinha or Movida
St Judes Cellar and/or Panama Room
Bistro Guillaume
Lau’s family kitchen
The Commoner
Rumi
The Press Club
Giuseppe Arnaldo and Sons

This of course may not work out, because I’ll be there for roughly 6 nights, and there are clearly more than 6 restaurants on that list. A little whittling down to the absolute essentials may be in order.

So… those in know… please step up to the plate. Let me know where the real Melbourne is, and also how to tell the difference between the cool alleyways, and the ones I’m going to get mugged in.

58 thoughts on “Melbourne – Prepare Thyself.”

  1. If you get a chance please try Nobu in crown Casino. I am interested in the concept. I love my Japanese food and I plan to visit Melbourne in March. Please let me know where you think the best Japanese eateries in Melbourne are.

    Oh yeah and where to find great coffee to.

  2. Matt,

    I know it’s not much chop recommending places I’ve never been myself, but I’ve heard good things about Flower Drum and also Longrain.

    There’s a good chance I’ll be there on a business trip the week before you get there, and I might try and get into Bistro Guillaume so will tell you how it goes (assuming we make it).

    Failing that, I’ve never been disappointed with Degraves Street, especially for a quick and relatively cheap breakfast.

  3. Bar Lourinha is a good pick; and I’ve been pretty impressed by The Commoner (( (http://www.thecommoner.com.au) but have only hit it twice since being back in town. Cookie is a better pick for a drink rather than a meal. If you’re keen on doing some hardcore suburban Asian dining, I’ve done my first run out for Cambodian and Thai (Isaan) in Springvale; but it is an hour out of the city.

  4. Mike: Heard much about Nobu… jury is still out on whether it’s worth it. I like Japanese too, but I’m not sure how much. Will be sure to let you know if I do get there.

    Kam: I’m sure Bar Lourinha has been recommended before. It’s along the lines of Movida ? Spanish ? tapas style ? Which would represent better value ? Considering my time is going to be short.

    Brad: Cheers for that. Let me know how Bistro Guillaume or Rockpool are. And whether you get any ponytail in your steak.

    Phil: The Commoner looks nice, and definitely along the lines of the way I like to eat, casually cool. Not sure how much time I’ll have for trekking through the suburbs, but if you have any “go to” places for quick / cheap meals in town, anywhere that does decent Ph? etc, I’d be keen to know.

  5. Grendel: I reserve the right to prance gayly in any city (nay every city!) in the world :) Though you have a point. Less prancing this time, and more focus on a strictly regimented quality eating plan.

  6. Hi Matt

    Yes and no. Both fantastic but Bar Lourinha has more of a cool, buzzy, it’s ok to stand at the bar feel. Movida to me is more sit down with friends. I’d gladly go to either. See where you can get in.

  7. For pho in the city: Mekong at 241 Swanston St. For a little trek: Pho Dzung at 208 Victoria St, Richmond or Chu The at 270 Victoria Street, Richmond: Victoria Street is good for soaking up some of Melbourne’s Vietnamese-ness without heading out to Footscray.

  8. Hi Matt,

    Nobu – seriously overrated. Pretty good in parts (the famous black cod is really superb) but a fair few average dishes too, plus SHOCKINGLY unprofessional service.
    Ezard – really good, they also do like a three course lunch thats quite reasonable
    Jacques Reymond – really good if u want to spend a good few hours with degustation etc. Highly recommend it.
    Bar Lourinha – from what ive heard they dont take reservations so i guess a matter of whether u want to risk it or not. Meant to be superb tho.
    The Press Club – i had some friends who went there recently and they really enjoyed it.They do “modern greek food”, so i guess if u liked what eminem did with turkish food this would probably be a winner. Plus the added bonus of definitely not being able to have something like that in perth.

  9. Hi again,

    Forgot to add Rockpool. If u enjoy wagyu u really cant go past the Blackmore’s wagyu…honestly cannot describe just how wonderful it was. make sure u call first to see if they have it cos its not always on the menu.

  10. Hey Matt,

    Bar Lourinha and Movida are both fantastic, but if pushed for time, go Movida.

    For pho, Chu The on Victoria Street rocks and to quote Phil, “Victoria Street is good for soaking up some of Melbourneís Vietnamese-ness without heading out to Footscray.” He just means there’s a slight less chance of getting bashed in Richmond than Footscray, haha.

    The Press Club is fab if you’re into the Hellenic type thing. Three, One, Two and Longrain (Thai) are both excellent.

    If you’re game enough to venture into the inner suburbs, Cafe Bedda has top-notch Italian in Northcote and Rumi has the best ever Middle Eastern I’ve ever had (Brunswick). Both aren’t too far from the CBD, around 10 minutes.

    For bars: Order of Melbourne, Golden Monkey, The Red Hummingbird, Workshop. All in the city. All within walking distance of each other too :)

  11. I’m going to melbourne soon and I also had this idea of a well researched trip. I’d be curious to know people’s coffee picks.

  12. Matt,glad you are coming to town. Nice list, good and tight and covering the essentials. You should add Panama Dining Room to St Jude’s – its very cool on the top floor above a dance studio in Smith Street and from the same people. Personally, I’d drop Cookie. Tempura Hajime if you can get in is a good one to add. And I can’t believe you haven’t mentioned St Ali in South Melbourne with its single origin coffees. We should catch up. Perhaps St Ali or supper at Lau’s – Ican usually muscle a table at short notice.

  13. Hi Matt, must be perfect cosmic timing as we’re hitting Melbourne (also from Perth) later this month and found, as you did, that the first time we went the great food & coffee appeared to have gone missing!
    We’re definitely going to try Movida – a word of warning: we booked about 4 weeks ago for the end of April, so ring now if you haven’t already!!
    The other ‘must-do’ on our itinerary will be a food tour of the city with Allan Campion. They don’t run all the time but there’s a list of dates up on http://www.campionandcurtis.com so if you’ve got time maybe a good way to find the local haunts. I’ll be doing a review of the tour upon my return (on my new blog…the time has finally come to join the world of the food blogger!). Check cookbookfiend.blogspot.com in a few weeks to read it…
    Will certainly report back on any other finds on our return as well.

  14. The bar at Movida which is my view is the superior spot can’t be booked but you may have to queue. It is probably easiest to get in early in the week (it is open Mondays) or at lunchtime.

  15. So many good suggestions… Cheers guys.

    Thanks for the Viet tips Phil and Linda, though I’m always up for some exploration, I’d prefer to be bashed closer to home… so will try and give Victoria St a shot.

    Sanjeev, I did really love Eminem in Perth until it closed down and he went back to Turkey… So modern greek would be nice, other modern middle eastern would be nice too. Nobu looks like it may not be my deal. The problem with Melbourne is there are so many places that I want to go to just to say I’ve been… of course if I lived there it wouldn’t be as hard.

    Linda: Cheers for the bar tips, I hope walking distance is also stumbling distance :)

    David: My motto is always be prepared… just like the boy scouts :)

    Ed: Cheers for the tips. I may be dropping Movida in favour of Lourinha, and Nobu for Tempura Hajime. But really, it’s going to be so short, I’m just hoping to get to a few. Interestingly, I think places who don’t take bookings are probably going to be more favourable than those that do (who are popular), because it means if I’m persistent (or early) I should get a table. St Ali’s will probably be my pseudo home, as the people I’m going with are good mates with Mark, also sure I’ll get to Brother Baba Budan at some point. Talk to me about Giuseppe Arnaldo and Sons… We’ll be staying in South Yarra, and would definitely love to catch up with you and some of the blogging crew, will play it be ear though.

    Emily: Biscuit maker extraordinaire :) I’ve seen your treats in many a gourmet store. Though I must admit not having tried them. I had the food tour idea put to me a few times, but I’m really not a tour kind of guy. Which is the reason I have the blog… So many people in the know giving me the inside story beforehand. I’ll look forward to seeing what you discover.

  16. Definitely Movida, great food and service. Bar Lourinha, I had a bad experience when the owner/chef tried to sue me for posting photos of the food on my blog.
    Rockpool is fantastic but very pricey.
    Horoki is a cheap Japanese fusion restaurant in the city, wonderful.
    Koko is Crown is good for Japanese too, and cheaper than Nobu I gather.

  17. Hey Thanh, Did you ever find out if it was a legitimate email from the Lourinha people ? You seem to get a whole lot of anonymous comments on your blog… so it could have been a prank ?

  18. VdM is probably not mentioned because it is insanely difficult to get a booking, but absolutely brilliant if you can. I think you have a good list of places to try. I would personally drop Bar Lourinha in a heart beat for Movida (which is so good). BTW -I’m fairly sure Thanh confirmed the email did come from BL. And apparently many of those anon comments are his friends playing around.

    Feel free to check out my blog for some more ideas. I also must highly recommend Pearl in Richmond. Their duck curry is unbelievable and the menu in general is exceptional. Its also not as difficult as some of the other big names to get a booking.

    Enjoy your trip.

    Happy eating,
    Jon!

  19. Matt, I did find out that the email was legitimate. I was forwarded an email by Mellie from Tummy Rumbles from Matt McConnell (owner/chef) of Bar Lourinha. She had sent Bar Lourinha an email requesting information about the menu. She got a personl reply from Matt, using the same email address as the email I got, giving her the menu as well as instructions on what to do about bookings and suggestings for booking. So yes, my view of Bar Lourinha is now biased. But originally, before McConnell wanted to sue me, I still thought Movida was WAYYYYY better. But I did recommend going to Bar Lourinha if you want a bar feel where you can have drinks and a quick bite.

    All those silly anonymous comments are from my friends who have too much time at work and like to spam my blog. 99% of the time, those comments make me crack up so much. I’ve only ever had to censor one comment which was really out of place.

    Jon’s right about VdM. It’s so hard to get a booking. But having talked to Jon personally about VdM, it sounds fantastic. I’m going to VdM this weekend myself and I’m definitely excited about that.

  20. Thanks for that Jon. I’ve just put myself into the waiting list system for VdM, so we’ll see what comes of it. Pearl looks really good too… not many places that have pearl meat on the menu. I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t asked for suggestions. But better to be spoilt for choice than begging for scraps :)

    Thanh… that makes a bit more sense. Nice work on replying to your mates jokes in such a civil manner :) That does suck about Lourinha… not that I’m planning on photo blogging every (or any) place I go… but knowing it’s a hostile environment is not a pleasant thought.

    Here’s hoping I don’t end up getting stuck at some dodgy hotel cafeteria after all this.

  21. No worries Matt. Enjoy the culinary offerings of Melbourne. With all the advice out there I am sure you won’t end up eating badly. Good luck with VdM – consider giving them a call if you are on the waiting list – sometimes if they know your circumstances they might just squeeze you in/ bump you up. I’ve got lucky in the past :)

  22. Nobu is good, but it could be because it was early when I went and I had a 1-on-1 with the chef which made the experience enjoyable. It does get pricey though but the otoro and uni made it worthwhile.

    Coffee-wise – I never fail to go to that little place below Hell’s Kitchen on Degraves Street everytime I am in Melbourne. Last trip though was a bit of a question mark.

    The Coffee Palace at GPO has some decent coffees, but may be a bit pricey. Have fun in Melbourne!

  23. Jesus, how much excitement can a trip to Melbourne stimulate? Movida does wine over Bar L but for a casual snack it is good. Pearl is superb and I can confirm the pearl meat is among the best dished in Melbourne. They also do the best red duck curry you’ll find and an amazing full moon crab menu that you need to book for. Pearl is one of my favourite places. And saying that reminds me that you’ve missed out Attica. The chef Ben Shewry is really hot right now – I’d go for Attica where you should get in over VDM and get far better value. Tuesday night is experimental night. Check out my posts and the ones at Eating with Jack – or Gourmet Traveller this month. In fact if you do one thing do Attica.

  24. While not disagreeing with ANY of the foregoing let me add my two bits
    Top range
    Vue de Monde
    Nobu – but only for the food
    Attica
    Tempura Hajimer
    Flower Drum
    Li Li Amazing but need a party of about 8
    Jamon Sushi
    Good
    Jacques Reymond
    Le Gourmet
    C’est Bon
    France Soir – You can go at 10.30 pm or after a show
    The Press Club
    Lau’s Kitchen
    Matteos
    Ripples for Yum Cha every day lunch time
    Disappointing
    312
    Interlude
    If you have time browse thru my blog http://www.1001dinners.blogspot.com
    Good luck

  25. heya matt, mgrs of balthazar and duende popped into Seamstress (113 Lonsdale Street, Melbs) and said it was phenomenal!

  26. Oh and if you cannot get into Movida try Anada (197 Gertrude St, fitzroy). Ed can probably tell you a bit about that spot as he has been there. Chef was a housemate of mine (by default) some 10yrs ago… long story. Anyway, he and his wife worked at Movida before starting Anada up.

  27. Cheers guys, I’ve got Vue du Monde locked in for Thursday night, and I’m now thinking of trying to book Movida. I guess places that are open for lunch would be good so I can fit more in. Need more bars to check out… Tempura Hajime sounds crazy… and hard to get into, but I love the idea.

    Jean: Coffee should be well and truly sorted. Might be judging at the barista competition, so access to great coffee better be a given.

    Zamina: Seamstress does look good… I knew it was you one the phone at Balthazar last month :)

    Elliot: Thanks for the listing… will try to get to as many as I can.

    Ed: I’m always being told that Melbourne is the food Mecca of Australia, so surely such a sacred pilgrimage needs a good deal of carefully considered planning :) I’ve got a booking at VdM now, so I’m hesitant to cancel it for Attica. At this stage I’ll be broke by day 1 anyway…

  28. Well done on getting a VdM booking- I’m going back there next month and cannot wait :)

    And I’m also going to Attica soon so hopefully its also great – interesting Elliot that you have put Attica as top range above yet rate it only modestly in your reviews saying it has a long way to go before it justifies the press its getting – Have you been back recently and had a better experience?

  29. Well I must confess that I am not immune to the influence of my colleagues who have been uniformly extremely positive and I include my wife among them.
    Although I rated it modestly I think I think I was a bit jaundiced at the time so I am going back very soon and meantime accept that I probably underated it with my original mark

  30. With all that high end dining you’re planning it might be nice to head out to Brunswick and have breakfast or lunch at a cafe. On Lygon St East Brunswick there is El Mirage, Gingerlee or Sugardough. Or alternatively you could go up Sydney Rd to Ray (on Victoria St just off Sydney Rd) or Tom Phat. A cheese pie or a herb pizza at A1 Bakery is also a must do in my opinion.
    And I don’t think any trip to Melbourne would be complete without late night congee at Supper Inn.
    Have fun!

  31. Blair makes a good point. There is a lot of high end things we’ve all suggested. If you do go to Sydney Road, La Paella is a good inexpensive restaurant for Moroccan food. And you have to drop by El Fayha bakery. They make the best baklava type desserts I’ve tasted.

  32. Yes, defo The Commoner, that’s a completely unbiased opinion of course ;-P.

    But you’d be most welcome and yes we are casual.

    Went to St Jude’s last night, was just passing and kinda fell in the door, fantastic fit out in a very airy space, bags of well dressed and apparently well drilled staff. Had a chat with Simon, not sure of his role but he’s moved over from the bar at Panama. Had a couple of nice glasses of wine and some small seafood dishes which were pretty good. Not enough to make a sound judgement but we enjoyed it. It was quite quiet when we arrived but was picking up nicely by the time we left. Professionally I can’t imagine their weekly wage bill!

    Interesting that they’re doing whole roast suckling pig, something we started doing recently as well. Competition is healthy as they say. It is such a new direction for eating on Brunswick St, hope all goes well for them.

    Sounds like you’ve got more than enough recommendations to pad out your 6 nights…you’ll be going home in a wheelbarrow by the sounds of it.

    Davy

  33. Must say I’m loving this feedback… even if I am hopeless overwhelmed and paralysed by choice now.

    Blair: I’m sure my days will be spent in cafes and bakeries eating sausage rolls to make sure I can still afford dinner. Thanks for those tips though… I’m sure a walk through China Town will on the list at some stage.

    Davy: Cheers for stopping by, nice to know some restaurateurs are keeping their eyes on the prize of the blogging world. You may have tipped the scales with the suckling pig reference there… but then I’m a sucker for suckling anything.
    Interesting comments about St Judes, it’s been talked up a lot by a few people now, but being so far removed from the “scene” it’s hard to know what’s good and what’s hype.

    Thanks to everyone for keeping it real.

  34. No worries, if you do decide to stop in let me know in advance, we don’t do ‘the suckling’ every day, can recommend Sunday night though, no menu, the kitchen just feeds you and it generally includes something they’ve done in the woodfired oven that day (goat, pig, chicken, lamb etc). Some example pics on our website under the News section.

    Shameless self promotion, I’ll stop now.

    cheers anyway and hopefully your trip will be more rewarding than the last time…

  35. Just thought I’d drop in and say that I went to Attica and had the tasting meny last night and can confirm it was sensational – definitely worth trying if you get the chance :)

  36. Hi Matt,

    Your list should read Bar Lourinha AND MoVida. Two different experiences that you should explore. Add Gills Diner, new and bloody great! Cookie for the roof top cinema, amazing use of space as beer bar, cocktail bar and dining area methinks!
    You must check out Handsome Steve’s House of Refreshment at the Abbotsford Convent(Collingwood). I love that in Melbourne you can do precisely what you like and people there ‘just get it!’ Yu-u for Japanese, hard to find off Flinders Lane. Seamstress in Lonsdale Street. Trunk in cnr Little Lonsdale and Exhibition.
    And the Nolan Exhibition, on till May 18th!
    I am soooooo envious!

  37. Hi Matt, As I said today, add Cavallero in Smith Street, Journal in the bottom of the State Library…not really for coffee but by the Degraves Espresso owners and it’s a great looking place..especially the concrete counter. Above that is Journal Canteen, where they also use the kitchen for classes.Great Italian food.

  38. Thanks Clare, all added to the list… I’m now looking into having lunch at as many places are open during the day, and seeing if I can do two dinners in one night :)

  39. As I said before remarkable the excitement this has caused but I guess you are the man who touched the flesh – albeit briefly – of Clotilde. It is correct that you can’t compare Bar Lourinha and Movida. You’ll probably find it easier to drop in to Lourinha where the food is more rustic although as I said early evening you may get a place at Movida at the bar which is the best place to be. I was at Movida again Saturday – don’t miss the beef cheek slow cooked in PX on a bed of cauliflower puree. It is absolutely sensational and on a much higher level than anything else Spanish in Australia.

  40. it’s a big city with lot’s of options, some superb, some pretentious, some shit; I concur with GAS – Giuseppe Arnaldo and Sons – simplicity, seasonal, superbly cooked and presented and all for reasonable prices, sensational salumi/guanicale/antipasti, all the traditional Italian fodder including offal, ragu, braised meats – ox, boar included, veal, simple steamed fish, it’s all delish. Super wine menu and can also have dleicious, cheapish sangiovese off the wall.

    the best place for coffee in melbourne is St Ali, 12 Yarra Place, South Melbourne. The roast their own, have amazing barrista’s, the food pretty good as well. Perhaps after a big night out it’s worth the tram trip to Sth Melbourne. try a four beaner.

    let’s hope our reputuation can be regained following your disasterous trip last time. I won’t pump up the tyres, I’ll wait for your review.

    cheers

    Shane

  41. Hey Matt,

    I’ve come into this pretty late in the piece but it’s been fun reading everyone’s comments. To say I’m jealous that you are heading over to Melbourne is an understatement. There are so many places that have opened up that I’m dying to try, some of which are on your list. For my two bob worth, I still think you should try Cookie, perhaps not for dinner, head over for lunch. A place I love is Da Noi on Toorak Road, a tiny place that serves Sardinian food, and famous for its chef’s menu. For Japanese, Hako’s a possibility or Yu as someone suggested. Have to book both to be sure you get a table I’d say. For pastry and coffee, bombolone (doughnut) at Baker D. Chirico on Fitzroy Street in St. Kilda. Get there early or miss out on the doughnuts. Have heard pretty good things about all the places on your list but haven’t tried them out except for Movida a long time ago. Wasn’t that impressed myself at the time. Attica has been getting a bit of publicity and I’d give that place a go. Did a stage there and his food’s really interesting.

  42. Hey Matt,

    I ended up going to Trunk on my overnighter last week. The venue and service was above average, but I was left a little disappointed with my main course which was pork belly in a ‘jus’, accompanied by potatoes and red peppers (aka ‘capsicum’). The flavours were good, but the pork itself had no crispiness to speak of and most of the fat was still intact. Maybe that’s what they were aiming for, but not my thing all the same.

    Had a drink at a place called ‘Section 8’ (situated down one of Melbourne’s many alleyways) after Trunk, which was pretty neat, but the best thing was that to get there, we had to pass by another restaurant on the way called ‘Gaylord’. My schoolboy humour gene still has me giggling over that one…

  43. Brilliant that you’re going to Vue de monde. I rate it as melbournes best dining experience.

    312 (degustation is the best way to go)
    Attica (deg)
    Shira Nui (deg)
    Sarti
    Movida (I havent been to Bar Lourinha)
    Flower Drum (I like the food, regardless of the critics. It has been over 18 months though since I was last there)

    The Sofitel is doing Le Notre high teas. I havent been.

    bistros: France Soir, Bistro Thierry & L’Oustal (in Albert Park, near StAli)

    If you are into your food science, Interlude is worth a visit. They have a dessert degustation which is unique (eat dinner at another restaurant & desserts at Interlude). Vue de monde also uses science in their cooking (thermomixes, foam guns and more), but it is usually an element of a dish rather than being the star.

    bakeries: Baker D’Chiricco (St Kilda), Firebrand (Ripponlea), Noisette (Port Melb), Aviv’s (for the bagels), Babkas, Maxim’s Cakes (just for the egg tarts & chicken pies)…

    You should check out Books For Cooks
    http://www.booksforcooks.com.au

    For killer cocktails
    derraum.com.au

    If you do visit BBB, get some snacks from cafe vue (weekdays only). The burger and the prawn baguette are two of my favs. Some good sweets too. A good little bar food crawl would start at cafe vue (burger), rockpool (burger) and finish at guiseppe (crab sandwich). I think

    Hope you enjoy your time in Melb. Might see you at the barista comp.

Leave a Reply