Dining and drinking in Melbourne’s city center is outrageously good fun – a whirlwind of Asian fusion, rooftop hangouts and mood-lit basements. Every little alley has a new discovery, wild ideas are given free rein, the variety is world-class and the standard sky high.
The laneway, covered in top-drawer street art, might lead to the Eau De Vie speakeasy-style bar where cocktail theatrics come with liquid nitrogen. It might lead to Tonka’s modern Indian next to Pastuso’s flamboyant Peruvian. It might bring specialist gins in Madame Brussels’ whimsical Alice In Wonderland-esque setting. Or craft beers in the Whitehart Bar’s converted shipping containers. Or Movida’s template-setting tapas.
Fresh flavours: enjoy the ever-changing Peruvian menu at Pastuso’s
Elsewhere in the city, five-star cocktail bars have upped the stakes with innovative concept drinks. Byrdi puts an emphasis on native ingredients and 12-seat speakeasy Above Board sticks strictly to a short menu that owner Hayden Lambert believes he has perfected.
Even street food in Melbourne comes with grand ambitions. Atiyah, a Lebanese kitchen in Federation Square, is committed to zero carbon and 100% renewable power. Rainwater filtration, solar panels and a generator powered by waste cooking oil are part of the extraordinary efforts to go green – and customers can see a tally of carbon emissions saved with each dish and drink.
Little Collins Street has become Melbourne’s hub of hip dining, however. Dozens of red-hot restaurants congregate on and around Little Collins. Gimlet at Cavendish House brings Chicago-style glamor to a handsome 1920s building, with caviar service, global wine lists and wood-fired meats. Farmer’s Daughters, meanwhile, is a three-level culinary shrine to the Gippsland region in eastern Victoria, made in collaboration with Gippsland farmers and fishermen.
Farm to table: the team at Farmer’s Daughters source seasonal ingredients directly from producers
The plethora of pleasant surprises is not limited to the centre. St Kilda is sensational for cakes and seafood, while Southbank is all about occasion dining swagger. In the inner west neighborhood of Spotswood, Grazeland encourages experimentation. 50 food and drink stalls serve everything from Polish dumplings to Sri Lankan street food, while two stages host live musicians.
Fitzroy, where working class meets boho, offers live music pubs, indigenous ingredients at Charcoal Kitchen and a mushrooming of genuinely innovative vegetarian restaurants. Discerning drinkers’ choice The Everleigh revels in golden era glamour, serving classic cocktails over its marble bar.
Meanwhile, Naked For Satan provides one of the city’s most atmospheric rooftop bars, although Rooftop at QT and Loop Roof in the city center offer up stiff competition.
Art Deco: Gimlet at Cavendish House brings classic European charisma to the heart of Melbourne
Melbourne’s transformation into one of the world’s great eating and drinking cities has been partly driven by the scene in the surrounding areas of Victoria. The state has five main wine regions, and the highest concentration of cellar doors in Australia. These range from big international names such as Brown Brothers, De Bortoli and Domaine Chandon to smaller boutique specialists. These, such as the Red Hill Estate on the Mornington Peninsula or Yering Station in the Yarra Valley, come with superlative panoramic views or great restaurants and produce stores.
What’s more, the winemakers welcome visitors – Victoria has a long-standing wine tourism culture. Tastings are usually free, with cellar door staff happy to explain varietals, techniques and terroir.
In pretty much every region of Victoria, you’ll find food trails linking cheesemakers, farms, olive oil producers, vegetable growers, chocolatiers and ice creameries. These, in turn, drive phenomenally high quality in cafes and restaurants.
Room with a view: head to Domaine Chandon for sparkling wine from experts in fizz
It doesn’t just have to be a meal or a wine-sampling session either – some experiences are designed to be a little bit more than that. In the Yarra Valley, tasting tours can be combined with a hot-air balloon flight over the vineyards. And, in the high country, the Bright Adventure Company serves up impromptu local-produce picnics on a temporary ledge erected on a cliff face, 900ft above the valley floor.
Destination dining experiences
Vue de Monde, Melbourne: On floor 55 of the Rialto Tower, Shannon Bennett’s fine-dining treat is endlessly creative, with each dish presented with performance-art-level relish. Native ingredients are given spectacularly imaginative twists.
Matilda, Melbourne: Across from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Scott Pickett does amazing things with locally-sourced meats, whether kangaroo tartare, Lakes Entrance octopus or Macedon Ranges duck.
Brae, Birregurra: Organic principles are to the fore at this scenic Great Ocean Road joint, rated in 58th place in the World Best Restaurants list last year. On a hillside farm, seasonal vegetables, stone fruits, citrus, olives and nuts are grown on-site.
Cape at Cape Schank Resort, Mornington Peninsula: The leather-clad dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooks Fingal Beach, serving up top Mornington Peninsula wines with an already legendary Sher Wagyu porterhouse steak.
Jack Rabbit Vineyard, Bellarine Peninsula: Acting as a showcase for the Bellarine’s fresh, local produce – but in an approachable manner – dishes come served with rieslings, pinot noirs and sauvignon blancs grown in the surrounding vineyards.
Local produce: sample the catch of the day in delicious style at Jack Rabbit
Moonah, Great Ocean Road: Near Torquay at the start of the Great Ocean Road, Moonah prides itself on intimate exclusivity. It seats just 12, with each table having a panoramic view over the surrounding billabong. It has a strictly local ingredients menu, multiple inventive courses from chef Tobin Kent, and a three-hour dining experience.
Tedesca Osteria, Mornington Peninsula: The wood-fired oven and grill is the showy star attraction at Tedesca Osteria. But it’s the tight connections with nearby farms and market gardeners that provide the heart. The setting, on an agriturismo-style farm retreat filled with contemporary art, helps too.
Kadota, Daylesford: The picturesque spa town of Daylesford has embraced the flavors of Japan. Kadota marries seasonal, specialist local ingredients with Japanese treatments. It’s the ambitious project of Aaron Schembri and Risa Kadota, who worked together in some of Japan’s finest restaurants. At the heart of Kadota is the concept of Omotenashi – honest service and honest food.
Omotenashi: chef Aaron Schembri brings Japanese flavors to Daylesford
Experience Victoria’s diverse adventures
Victoria is a diverse and exciting getaway for adventurers, road trippers and foodies. From its rugged coastlines and hidden beaches to its alpine landscapes and verdant forests, this is a special destination with a huge amount to offer.
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