Contrary to popular Australian clichés, Australian food is more than just ‘shrimp on the barbie’ and Tim Tams. It’s farm to table restaurants, multicultural fusion, pop-up food trucks, gourmet brunches and coffee with a cult following. The beacon of all of this and more is Melbourne, the capital of Victoria and the nominated gourmet capital of Australia.
The city’s dining scene is so exciting at the moment that it recently hosted the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards, with Melbourne restaurant Attica coming in at number 32, beating all other Australia restaurants.
Needless to stay, eating and drinking is very much a part of the Melbourne experience. To get a taste for it (literally), these are the areas to explore around the city and the best places to eat while you’re there:
Thai food at Chin Chin in Flinders Lane
In true Melbourne style, it’s not the main thoroughfare of Flinders Street, with its large railway station, where you’ll find Melbourne city’s best shops, cafés and restaurants. Instead you’ve got to go one block further and turn down the narrow laneway behind it. Flinders Lane is beloved as one of Melbourne’s coolest laneways and where you’ll find the majority of the city’s trendy boutiques, cafés, restaurants and hotels.
One of the most famous names in Flinders Lane and Melbourne’s restaurant scene in general, is the popular Thai restaurant of Chin Chin. As its reputation may suggest though, this is no ordinary Thai restaurant; Chin Chin takes exceptional care in its preparation – for example each week the staff delicately hand pick around 700 bunches of herbs to ensure perfection – but remains fast and efficient in its service. The clincher is this though: Chin Chin doesn’t take bookings, and wait times are typically around two hours or more. Considering Chin Chin’s reputation though, it seems a table there is worth the wait.
Vegan food at Smith & Daughters in Fitzroy
From Melbourne city you can catch the tram a few minutes north to the inner city suburb of Fitzroy. A avant-garde hub with plenty of character, Fitzroy is perfectfor spending a day exploring, strolling down the main drag of Brunswick Street, poking around the vintage stores and stopping at a quirky café for some of that famous Melbourne coffee.
True to its bohemian charm, Fitzroy’s most famed restaurant is a vegan one named Smith & Daughters. The restaurant could easily be mistaken for a live music bar thanks to its framed band posters, moody lighting and punk rock soundtrack, but Smith & Daughters is more than just a hipster hangout. The venue is highly regarded around Melbourne as a restaurant in itself let alone a vegan restaurant. Its menu features Mexican and Spanish-influenced dishes like paella and deep-fried chiles rellenos, and does a surprisingly amazing job at creating meat substitutes, moonlighting in the form of chorizo and seafood.
Pizza at 400 Gradi in Lygon Street, Carlton
One of the things that makes Melbourne’s food scene such a standout is its incredibly multicultural population (there are more Greek people in Melbourne than any other city outside of Athens). As a result, the city offers an impressive range of authentic cuisine, covering everywhere bar Antarctica. One of the most popular areas for travelling through your taste buds is the historically Italian Lygon Street in Carlton, part of Melbourne’s inner north.
Famously the starting point for Melbourne’s now innate café culture, this street is Melbourne’s answer to Little Italy and a perfect place to head for lunch and dinner. While there’s a whole street of fantastic restaurants to choose from, one of the most revered is 400 Gradi, an Italian restaurant founded by Johnny Di Francesco. Technically located further down the strip in East Brunswick, 400 Gradi is well worth the stroll with an incredible menu showcasing the traditional flavours and dishes of Naples, namely wood-fired pizza. Bon appétit!
Brunch at Barry Coffee & Food in Northcote
Northcote is a picturesque tree-lined suburb in Melbourne’s north east, best known for its arts scene, boutiques, cafés and lively bars. From the city you can catch the tram to High Street for a spot of window shopping and a pint at the trendy Northcote Social Club. The street is also just near Ruckers Hill where you can admire a fantastic view of the city.
When you’ve worked up an appetite, Northcote’s High Street has plenty of options, but the all-day brunch at Barry Coffee & Food would have to be the local favourite. Reflecting its yoga-loving, health conscious neighbours, brunch at Barry’s stars a range of healthy and classically Australian options including fruit smoothies, salads, omelettes and plenty of avocados.
Seafood at Donovans in St Kilda
With a cooler climate, Melbourne’s beaches aren’t always swimmable, but the coastal suburbs are still very much worthy of your time, the most famous being St Kilda. The popular seaside suburb is home to a charming boardwalk, outdoor pubs and cafés, as well as the retro Luna Park theme park. On a sunny day St Kilda is the place to be for a fish and chips lunch followed by ice cream by the beach.
If the weather is good, make your way to St Kilda onboard the 96 tram which usually takes around 30 minutes. Once there, go for a stroll along the beach before getting a table on the deck outside at Donovans. The popular restaurant – which has been open for 20 years, apart from a recent temporary closure due to a fire – has an incredible range of fresh seafood and a beach house vibe. Be sure to leave room for dessert too; the spiky ‘Bombe Alaskas’ are a signature.
Coffee from Everyday Midtown in Little Collins Street
So it may not technically be a restaurant but it wouldn’t be a list of Melbourne recommendations without including a standout coffee spot. Melbourne prides itself on having some of the best coffee establishments in the country, and potentially the world. And some of that fantastic coffee can be found at Everyday Midtown in Little Collins Street in Melbourne city. The spot serves a selection of beans and roasts from the local brand Everyday Coffee. For a true Australian brew, order a flat white.
Taste the best of Melbourne for yourself on one of our tailor-made Melbourne holidays. For more travel ideas, be inspired by our Victoria travel guide and start planning your Australia itinerary today.