Australia’s culinary capital has long boasted an extraordinary range of tiny hole-in-the-wall cafés, hidden laneway cocktail bars, bustling bistros and extravagant fine-dining restaurants. Now, thanks to a new wave of bars and restaurants, Melbourne is experiencing another gastronomic renaissance. Want to banish the pandemic blues and explore the vibrant heart of the Victorian capital? From the CBD to the suburbs, here’s where to find the best of the new restaurants and bars. 

Chancery Lane    

Chancery Lane, Melbourne

If you’re in the mood for a special night out, complete with “bumps” of caviar and raw seafood nestled on ice-laden silver platters, look no further than the new Melbourne CBD restaurant from Scott Pickett. As well as being drenched in old-world style, the elegant Chancery Lane delivers a menu that wouldn’t be out of place in Paris, including a stunning wood-roasted duck that brings the ooh là là. 

Bar Romanée 

Go west and take a seat at the green Italian marble bar of the latest contribution to Yarraville’s burgeoning food and wine scene. Bar Romanée’s confident European menu – think confit ocean trout with beetroot and horseradish yoghurt or pan-fried potato gnocchi with ’nduja and burrata – is testament to the Michelin-honed talents of chef Anna Quayle, while its easygoing nature makes it equally worthy of a quick pit stop or leisurely evening. 

Hero  

This is what you get when Melbourne’s favourite celebrity chef joins forces with a revitalised Fed Square icon. Hero, Karen Martini’s new restaurant at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, is a powerhouse of Italian-leaning brio in a glorious room bedazzled by the design smarts of Chris Connell. From Martini’s deservedly famous potato focaccia studded with blueberries to a perfect custard tart, it’s quite a show. 

Old Palm Liquor  

Old Palm Liquor, Melbourne

The sibling to Fitzroy North’s much-loved Neighbourhood Wine, Old Palm Liquor has carved out its own following, thanks to a found-object aesthetic, a fantastic collection of retro vinyl spinning on the turntable, and wood-fired proteins and vegetables. It also has a 300-strong wine list with a focus on minimal-intervention drops from around the globe. 

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Ponyfish Island  

A bar on a platform in the middle of the Yarra River? Tucked beneath the Southbank Pedestrian Bridge, Ponyfish Island is peak Melbourne. A recent makeover has seen it smarten up its act with a Palm Springs vibe and you’ll find an equally sunny disposition on display with its short menu of oysters, skewers and sliders, plus fun-loving cocktails. 

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Waxflower

Waxflower, Melbourne

Taking its cues from the “listening bars” of Tokyo (cafés where patrons listen to carefully chosen vinyl records), this cool new Brunswick wine bar is a place to drop in for coffee, a glass of natural wine or local craft beer and Med-leaning snacks, all set to the soundtrack of an epic (and eclectic) vinyl collection – or nightly DJs and live music.

Chibog

Chibog, Melbourne

Named for a slang Filipino term meaning “to eat”, West Footscray newcomer Chibog is all about comfort food, Philippines-style. Sisig, the signature dish, is a symphony in the key of sizzling pork (or tofu), or you can simply opt for sweet-and-spicy fried chicken wingettes.

Firebird

Proving that sometimes you have to be hot to be really cool, Firebird (pictured top) is Windsor’s new home of Vietnamese-style barbecue. The vast revamped warehouse is moody and magnificent, and the flame and smoke of the open kitchen doubles as a stage show, delivering dishes such as wood-roasted vegetable curry and charcoal chicken with burnt chilli fish sauce and a charred lime for squeezing.

Zsa’s

Zsa's Melbourne

Image credit: Image credit: @riah.jaye

A deli and bistro with cross-town appeal, Zsa’s occupies a sweet spot atop Northcote’s Ruckers Hill, where kerbside tables are taken up by diners enjoying aperitivo hour with the help of a sunset-hued Aperol spritz. Nostalgic interiors will transport you to Europe on the wings of bistro deliciousness such as French onion dip with crisp chicken skin, and steak frites. 

Marameo

A stylish first-floor bolthole in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD, Italian restaurant Marameo harbours a gorgeous rooftop terrace perfect for post-work drinks and a dining room as chic as Sophia Loren. The trend-aware menu approaches the canon with confidence, whether that be a spaghetti cacio e pepe luxed up with black truffle or a best-in-show pork chop cotoletta with cabbage slaw and a perky salsa verde. 

Gaea

Gaea, Melbourne

Gertrude Street’s “moment” continues with Gaea, an ambitious, dégustation-only restaurant that seats 16 at a time. Those lucky few are treated to an eight-course menu marrying classical technique with artisan and native ingredients. Chef Mo Zhou is in thrall to the shock of the new but – thankfully – you can always expect some form of his Chinese-style pancake with seasonal toppings.

1800Lasagne

Melbourne’s cultish dial-a-lasagne service has put down permanent roots in Thornbury, where irreverent, carbohydrate-loaded good times are guaranteed among the retro stylings of red brick archways and Mid-century lighting. Lasagne remains the headline act (choose from classic meaty bolognese layered with bechamel and sugo or a vegetarian version), backed by a selection of salumi, pickles, addictively buttery garlic bread and salad.  

The Happy Mexican

Cheap, cheerful and hard to miss even amid the hustle of Hoddle Street (it might have something to do with the bold blue-and-yellow colour scheme, wall sombreros and dangling piñatas), The Happy Mexican is Melbourne’s go-to for Mexican fare. Expect excellent soft tacos filled with slow-cooked pork marinated in orange juice or beer-battered flathead and a party-fuelling list of mescal and tequila. 

Frédéric

A restaurant tailor-made for the creative clique of Cremorne, upmarket bistro Frédéric keeps its Gallic credentials in order while winning the popular vote with bare-brick, stuffed-banquette charm. The sweet-corn madeleines with mayo-bound spanner crab are a worthy signature and the newly added Frédéric in the Sky rooftop boasts fantastic views of the CBD. 

Hotel Esplanade

The Espy, Melbourne

The Espy is a true Melbourne icon, recently given new life via a stunning multimillion-dollar renovation that’s turned it into a wonderland of food, drink and music. A dozen different bars and three stages offer plenty to explore, while food is taken care of with the pub classics of the Espy Main Bar, the rotisserie meats and produce-driven excellence of the Espy Kitchen and the punchy pan-Asian fun of Mya Tiger.

King and Godfree

King and Godfree, Melbourne

Lygon Street’s stocks have risen anew after the long-anticipated reopening of stalwart King and Godfree. The heritage-listed corner building has reaffirmed its Italian heart with an espresso bar, delicatessen and wine bar Agostino, where chilli-dusted tiger prawns and saffron risotto await. Head to the rooftop for its crowning glory, the umbrella-shaded bar Johnny’s Green Room, which has 360-degree views of Melbourne and the inner north. 

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Image credit: Top image credit: Jana Langhorst

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