After the challenges of 2020, the Melbourne's culinary and cultural credentials are shining brighter than ever. These are the hottest restaurants, bars and things to do next time you're in the Victorian capital.
The sun sets late in Melbourne this time of year and the city takes on a magical glow as the rose-gold light pours from the west. At the top of Bourke Street, opposite Parliament House, the CBD makes the transition from the day’s labours to an evening of relaxation and adventure. Trams ding past as waiters whisk Negronis to the happy knots of diners and drinkers at tables under the trees at Grossi Florentino, Ombra and scores of other great bars and restaurants. There’s a buzz as revellers filter in and out of side streets, wander down laneways, seek out basement cocktail bars or take in the art – some commissioned, some, shall we say, spontaneous – that lines the alleyways.
Slip a block north and you’re in one of the oldest Chinatowns in the world. Skip a block south and you’re on Little Collins Street and halfway to Flinders Lane, two of this part of the world’s most exciting places to stroll, shop, eat and drink. Back on Bourke Street, head west down the hill and you might find yourself at Pinchy’s (pictured top). It’s a lobster bar that doesn’t take itself too seriously and doesn’t mess around when it comes to its twin passions – fine wine and seafood. The oysters are opened to order, the spicy tacos come loaded with king crab and the signature lobster rolls are accompanied by waffle-cut potato chips.
One of the most popular newcomers to the laneway scene is a Latin extension from one of Melbourne’s most beloved names. With Tres a Cinco (pictured above), MoVida has expanded beyond its tapas brief to celebrate the food of Mexico. Mexican-born chef Sarai Castillo delights in serving fresh, approachable dishes, whether it’s aguachile – kingfish dressed in chilli, lime juice, avocado and cucumber – or pork shoulder braised tender, folded into a tortilla and accessorised with pickled onions and refried beans.
Where to stay: W Melbourne
Follow the cultural renaissance to Flinders Lane, where the just-opened five-star W Melbourne takes its design cues from the city’s vibrant laneway culture. Each room in this ultra-luxe newcomer has its own cocktail bar, while the indoor pool boasts a DJ booth.
At Chancery Lane (pictured below), celebrated chef Scott Pickett has taken on more of a restaurateur role, enlisting former Quay 2IC Rob Kabboord to work his magic on bistro classics. The dishes Kabboord makes for two are particularly notable: corn-fed duck teamed with blackberry, for instance, or John Dory cooked on the bone and sauced with a tangy Café de Paris butter.
For a diversion before dinner there’s no going past Angel Music Bar – and after dining it’s better still. A small venue with a mighty, mighty sound system, it’s the finest place to listen to music in the heart of the city, playing host to top-drawer DJs and putting on a good show very late into the night.
There is, of course, more to culture in Melbourne than eating and drinking. The big news is the return of ACMI (the Australian Centre for the Moving Image), which reopened in early February. Two years and $40 million went into its renewal, turning it into a space that celebrates film, television and gaming with state-of-the-art interactivity, exhibitions, education and preservation. Put yourself in the picture by animating shadows, playing with time, creating soundscapes and getting comfortable in the director’s chair.
Perhaps the city really does revolve around food, as one of ACMI’s exciting drawcards has an edible bent: an all-day eatery and bar from Karen Martini, a champion of the local culinary scene. Martini says her brief is to cater to everyone from the casual visitor popping in for a coffee (or a Martini) to those feasting on her vibrant Mediterranean- inspired menus. The name of the restaurant? Why, it’s just what 2021 needs: Hero.
Where to stay: Ovolo Laneways
Melbourne’s famed street art provides inspiration to Ovolo Laneways but there’s substance behind the style. Sundowner drinks and a well-stocked minibar are all on the house – and right outside you’ll find some of the city’s best late-night bars and restaurants, including rooftop favourite Siglo and laneway haunt Arlechin.