Welcome to my Melbourne Dining Guide 2012. While I was living overseas, I made an effort to keep up-to-date on what was happening with Melbourne’s food scene and was always interested in reading about what were considered to be the best restaurants in Melbourne.
Unsurprisingly, when I moved to Melbourne at the start of 2012, I had a long list of restaurants, bars and cafes that I wanted to try. I didn’t being to properly food blog until 2013, however I ate at a lot of great places in 2012 so thought I would write up a few posts highlighting some of my favourites.
These are not full reviews like you’ll usually find on The City Lane, but rather quick summaries to point you in the right direction should you find yourself looking for a great feed in Melbourne. There isn’t much in the way of photos as blogging simply wasn’t on my mind when I was eating out in 2012.
Chin Chin opened in August 2011 and very quickly become one of the hardest restaurants to get into in Melbourne. Step inside and it’s not hard to see why. The space is very open, leading to an open kitchen at the back. Service is always fun and excellent and, most importantly, the authentic, Thai street food inspired sharing dishes are full of flavour and taste.
The flavours are very authentic, but the dishes themselves not necessarily so. This is not a bad thing. There is a mixture of mild dishes and non-toned down spicy dishes. The menu is quite extensive and flexible, and if need be Chin Chin isn’t afraid to bend the rules to offer up some unique flavour combinations. The key is that the ingredients are top notch, and the flavours are amazing – all sauces and pastes are made on site. One dish that I always get to start off with is the Kingfish Sashimi, which is very light, tangy and flavoursome.
Chin Chin is still extremely popular today – I’d recommend going during lunch or a weeknight as on weekends at dinner, their no booking policy means you can be waiting several hours for a table.
Chin Chin has a decent all-Australian wine list, and offers an impressive selection of quality cocktails too.
125 Flinders Lane
Mon – Sun: 11:00am to late
Mamasita was one of the hottest restaurants in Melbourne when in opened in 2010, as is generally considered to be the restaurant that kicked off the Mexican food trend in Melbourne.
Set in a former recording studio, the space is narrow and has a great feeling about it – paying homage to the space’s origins (insofar as it retains a certain old fashioned charm with its high ceiling and use of wood).
Food wise, there is a focus on authentic Mexican street style dishes, cooked with fresh ingredients. The food is great – in particular the charred corn, topped with finely grated queso fresco, chipotle mayo, and lime to squeeze on top. The food is designed for sharing, the tacos, quesidillas, toastadas and ceviche are all great. There are also mains available, which are great too, but sharing a range of the smaller dishes is much more fun and lets you try so much more.
Mamasita has a no bookings policy, so get there early if you’re thinking of going for a weekend dinner – you could be waiting up to several hours on a busy night, so try to go for lunch or a weeknight dinner.
Level 1 / 11 Collins Street
Telephone: (03) 9650 3821
Mon – Wed: 12:00pm to 12:00am
Thu: 12:00pm – 12:30am
Fri – Sat: 12:00pm – 2:00am
Sun: 1:00pm – 10:00pm
Cutler & Co
Cutler & Co is located in an old metalwork factory in Fitzroy and as a result, the space is very open, with many hints to its industrial history, most noticeably the high walls and exposed brick walls. This matches the vibe of the venue. Very casual and relaxed for a fine dining restaurant, without any pretension.
I had the tasting menu, and all of the food was excellent. Really creative things done with local, fresh, seasonal ingredients. The bar area is rather decent too, and you can always just drop by for some amazing cocktails.
Cutler & Co was my first fine dining experience since returning to Australia, and overall I was very happy with my night. Andrew O’Connell’s take on fine dining is one the best options for a meal at this level in Melbourne – the food, dining space and service are all top notch.
Cutler & Co
55-57 Gertrude Street
Dinner: Mon – Sun from 6:00pm
Lunch: Fri – Sun from 12:00pm
Rockpool Bar & Grill
Rockpool Bar & Grill is one of the better known restaurants in Australia, with branches in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Its reputation is justified, and it’s one of the best places to get a steak in Melbourne. Beef is sourced directly from the producers and dry aged on premises, and the staff are very knowledgable.
The wine list is excellent, and if you’re not in the mood for a steak, you might want to check out the Rockpool burger, which is not your usual burger, and tastes amazing (it won several awards for Australia’s best burger when it first came onto the menu).
Rockpool Bar & Grill
8 Whiteman Street
Dinner: Mon – Sun 6:00pm to 11:00pm
Lunch: Sun – Fri 12:00pm to 3:00pm
Movida Bar & Tapas
Movida was the first “known” restaurant that I ate at way back when I visited Melbourne as a tourist in 2008. Back then, there was just one Movida, and you had to book a month in advance just to get a table. It was the highlight of my Melbourne dining experience and my first every introduction to proper Spanish food.
By 2012, a lot had changed. I had been to Spain several times and eaten a lot of authentic, amazing food over there. Movida itself had gone from strength to strength, with Frank Camorra having opened several other Movida branded eateries in Melbourne. Understandably, I was keen to see how the original Movida had stood the test of time.
I am happy to say that the food at Movida is just as great as I remembered. The dining scene in Melbourne has gone from strength to strength, and Movida doesn’t feel as fresh as it used to, however this is irrelevant. The atmosphere is great, the staff are very passionate about the restaurant, and the food is seasonal, fresh, authentically Spanish, and very tasty
There are a variety of options designed either to share or to eat as mains. You still need to book, but if you want to visit on a whim, the excellent and somewhat more casual Movida Next Door, which takes walk ins and focuses more on sharing, tapas style dishes.
Movida Bar & Tapas
1 Hosier Lane
Telephone: (03) 9663 3038
Mon – Sun: 12:00pm till late
Izakaya Den was one of the most popular restaurants that opened during Melbourne’s Izakaya fad a few years ago. The fad has died off, but Izakaya Den remains. There is a good reason for this, and that is the brilliant food on offer.
The food is not typical Japanese Izakaya food in that it’s higher end and more expensive than one would expect from an Izakaya. The flavours and textures are amazing, my favourite being the succulent, melt in your mouth pork belly, which is the best I’ve had in Melbourne.
The list of sake and Japanese whiskey is extensive, and the venue itself has a great vibe about it. Very small, narrow and underground, Izakaya Den a raw, futuristic feel about it with images and animations being projected onto the blank wall across from the long bar.
Izakaya Den is hard to find, but well worth looking for.
Basement / 114 Russell Street
Telephone: (03) 9654 2977
Dinner: Mon – Sat 5:30pm till late
Lunch: Mon – Fri 12:00pm to 12:30pm
Naked For Satan
Naked For Satan is a great bar that focuses just as much on food as it does on drinks. The fit-out is brilliant, very industrial with lots of open spaces combining with small side areas and a huge rooftop bar “Naked In The Sky”.
The concept here is that at the bar there are a variety of tapas style dishes, all priced at $2. Additionally there are wait-staff walking around offering hot tapas dishes, also for $2. Each portion had a toothpick in it. You save up your toothpicks, and go up to the bar and pay for your meal before you leave.
The food is Spanish influenced, but not Spanish per se. It’s all very tasty and very affordable. Even if you’re not eating, Naked For Satan is a great spot to go for a drink, with a variety of decent beers, a large selection of infused vodkas, and a very decent spirits list. I celebrated my birthday here last year with a group of friends and we all had a great time. I’ve been back several times since and think it’s one of the best spots in this part of town.
Naked For Satan
285 Brunswick Street
Fri – Sat 12:00pm to 1:00am
Sun – Thu 12:00pm to 12:00am
Hellenic Republic is part of George Calombaris’ Greek restaurant empire, and serves traditional Greek taverna cuisine with modern flourishes. The venue is very casual, the staff are friendly and attentive, and I’ve never had a bad meal here.
Fresh, seasonal ingredients means that the menu is constantly changing, although there are many options that are consistent, including the amazing taramosalata (cod roe) dip with pita. The lamb which is cooked on a rotating spit is also exceptional.
Hellenic Republic also offers a take-away menu, which includes arguably the best souvlaki in Melbourne. The lamb is to die for, and the use of horseradish mustard makes for an interesting change.
434 Lygon Street
Dinner: Mon – Sun 5:30pm till late
Lunch: Fri – Sun 12:00pm to 4:00pm
Proud Mary has a reputation for being one of the best places to get coffee and brunch in Melbourne and I think that this reputation is very much deserved. They roast their own beans, which are carefully sourced from independent growers around the world, and there is always an exceptional choice of beans, brewed by almost any method that you can think of on offer. I’ve often bought beans from here to bring home for my own coffee machine.
Food wise, there are the usual breakfast options on offer, generally simple but with a twist here and there. The ingredients are really left to do the talking and I’m quite fond of the rotating sandwich selection. Proud Mary might be considered too hipster by some, but to be honest I don’t care. The coffee, food and service have never been anything but excellent, and the level of knowledge and passion that the staff have is great. Highly recommended, although on weekends for breakfast be prepared to wait for a table.
172 Oxford Street
Hutong Dumpling Bar
Ask people in Melbourne where the best place in the city to get dumplings is, and a large number of them will tell you to head to Hutong. While perhaps not the best place for dumplings in Melbourne any more, I have a good reason for including Hutong on this list.
First, just because it’s not the best (more on that at a later date), this doesn’t mean that it’s not good. The dumplings at Hutong are still excellent and up there with the best in Melbourne.
Second, it’s open until 3:00am which means that it’s a great option for a feed in the early hours of the morning any day of the week.
Third is because often, you’ll get recommendations from people who are simply recommending a place without knowing that there are better and cheaper options out there. Hutong is one of those places where a lot of people are likely to recommend it, but you’ll actually be getting a great feed for a good price.
If you want a reliable feed for a good price for lunch, dinner or after a night out, Hutong should definitely be on your list.
Hutong Dumpling Bar
14-16 Market Lane
Telephone: (03) 9650 8128
Mon – Sun: 11:30am to 3:00pm; 5:00pm to 10:30pm
D.O.C. Pizza and Mozzarella
In a similar vein to Hutong above, D.O.C. makes this list not because it is necessarily the best Italian restaurant that I have been to in Melbourne over the past year, but rather because it offers very good food in a part of town that’s known for its tourist traps.
Lygon Street, Carlton (don’t get it confused with Lygon Street, Brunswick East) is where all of the tourist guides point visitors to get their taste of “the real Italy, in Melbourne”. It is true that Carlton is an area that was historically home to a very large Italian immigrant population and it is also true that Lygon Street had some great restaurants on it. Times move on, Melbourne’s food scene is now world class, and the vast majority of establishments on Lygon Street are now typical tourist traps. Touts on the sidewalk trying to get you to come inside their restaurant which is decked out in everything you’d expect a stereotypical Italian restaurant to have (Italian flags, Ferarri memorabilia, red and white chequered tablecloths, Italian football posters etc). The food is relatively cheap, but given the poor quality of it, does not represent value for money.
Enter D.O.C. A restaurant that shuns all of this and offers simple Italian food with exceptionally high quality, fresh ingredients in a venue with a modern, clean fit-out. If you’re in the area and want to try some real Italian food, D.O.C. is the place to go.
D.O.C. Pizza and Mozzarella
295 Drummond Street
Telephone: (03) 9347 2998
Mon – Thu: 5:30pm to 11:00pm
Fri – Sun: 12:00pm to 11:30pm