THE MELBOURNE restaurant scene is a movable feast, so here to help you navigate a raft of newcomers is local food writer Sarah Gamboni. She tells delicious the venues that are sure to hit the spot, from daring degustation menus to chic bistros and sleek cafes.
1. WINE DINING
Don’t let its wine-bar billing fool you: the food at Embla (122 Russell St) is equally rave-worthy. From Christian McCabe and Dave Verheul, of Town Mouse fame, comes this CBD stunner lined with rich timbers, brass fixtures and black leather.
Settle in for a glass of Grand Cru Chablis or biodynamic Australian pinot, matched with punchy share plates of pippies with Serrano ham and basil, or smoky grilled trout with saltbush.
2. FLYING THE FLAG FOR FRANCE
French is flavour of the month in Melbourne, and one of our favourite examples is the gorgeous French Saloon (First Floor, 380-384 Little Bourke St) from serial restaurateur Con Christopoulos (Siglo, The European, City Wine Shop). Amid a bright bistro space of white walls and lipstick-red ceiling, head chef Todd Moses brings a light touch to dishes such as wagyu tartare or cured salmon with pillowy blinis. For casual bites, the breezy rooftop patio is the perfect place to linger over an aperitif and house-made charcuterie.
3. TURNING UP THE HEAT
Arriving with a roar in January was David Thompson’s Long Chim (8 Whiteman St, Southbank), bringing the fiery delights of Thailand to Crown. Taking its cues from the street food of Bangkok, the Long Chim menu packs a serious flavour punch, studded with bird’s eye chillies, Sriracha sauce, turmeric and holy basil. Nab a table on the riverfront terrace or within the edgy wood-clad interiors, then settle in for smoky woktossed noodles, crunchy school prawns and the signature sour orange curry. Lip-tingling cocktails strike a balance between sour, sweet and spicy, and the durian ice cream will make you change your stance on that malodorous fruit.
4. BIRD IS THE WORD
There was a collective sigh of disappointment when Philippe Mouchel closed PM24 in early 2014 — with it went the city’s best rotisserie chicken. So there was an audible squeal when Philippe came back to the fold with his eponymous Philippe Restaurant (115 Collins St) in June. Yes, the burnished bird is back, and so too the deliciously boozy rum baba, supported by polished service and a stellar selection of French and Australian wines.
5. ALL FIRED UP
With restaurants such as Lee Ho Fook, IDES and Rosa’s Canteen to his credit, Melbourne restaurateur David Mackintosh has a knack for nailing the dining zeitgeist. He’s done it again with SPQR Pizzeria (26 Liverpool St), a pared-back laneway eatery with a focus on Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizzas. Order the textbookperfect margherita on a sourdough base with San Marzano tomatoes, basil and bubbling mozzarella. Oh, and did we mention they have Aperol Spritz on tap?
6. SHARE MARKET
When top chef Scott Pickett is at the helm, you know this isn’t going to be your average deli. Located at the edge of the Queen Victoria Market, Pickett’s Deli & Rotisserie (cnr Elizabeth and Therry sts) is a timber and marble temple to gourmet fare. Scott snapped up an old rotisserie from a cafe in Oakleigh and has fired up the vintage beast to turn out glossy roast chickens, served with hand-cut chips or bundled into a bun. He’s also offering hangover-busting breakfasts of thick-cut bacon and egg rolls, and elegant, wine-friendly fare in the evenings, such as oysters or rabbit rillettes. While you’re there, stock up on the knockout range of pickles, preserves and wines to go.
7. BOUTIQUE BEAUTY
QT Melbourne (133 Russell St) is the boutique retreat the city has been hankering for. Not only does it offer arty rooms and sassy service, it also presents a stack of drinking and dining options. There’s handsome, leather-clad Pascale Bar & Grill offering globetrotting breakfasts (congee, huevos rancheros) and an indulgent bistro menu. Downstairs, slip into hip Korean bar-eatery Hot Sauce for Asian-accented drinks (pictured) and fluffy bao stuffed with fried chicken, kimchi and yellow cheese. The chichi patisserie serves eclairs and cocktails, and the view-blessed Rooftop at QT pours a mean Yarra Valley Sour of Four Pillars gin, lemon, orange blossom and a splash of pinot noir.
8. SHOCK AND AWE
For a dinner you won’t soon forget, buckle in for the boundary-pushing degustation at Nora (156 Elgin St, Carlton) delivered by chef-owner Sarin Rojanametin, which might start with crunchy fried fish bones and finish with toffeed tripe. You won’t see a menu until after you’ve eaten — and that may be just as well if you don’t normally go in for chicken hearts and the like — but it’s worth stepping out of your comfort zone for Nora’s weird but wonderful food and wine pairings, with a high-energy soundtrack to match.