Of all the restaurants that opened across Melbourne in 2017, there were a few clear frontrunners. Here are the best of the best – time to get booking.
Marrying the distinctive flavours of North Africa with textbook French technique, French-Algerian chef Pierre Khodja (who named the restaurant after philosopher Albert Camus) delivers so much more than a neighbourhood bistro. In fact, it might precipitate an existential crisis to see the stunning pink Turkish delight soufflé ferried to another table without having ordered it yourself.
61 High Street, Northcote; (03) 9486 3063
Wilson & Market
It’s a trip down nostalgia lane at Wilson & Market. The triumphant return of British expat chef Paul Wilson sees the reprise of greatest hits from his last-decade tenure at the Botanical including the oozily luscious truffled polenta with poached egg and a wicked curl of parmesan. His roast chicken is pure comfort, too: a golden-skinned bird that’s first brined then gently smoked. Add an order of the triple-cooked chips and alleviate the guilt with a smartly composed salad – maybe fat lozenges of raw yellowfin tuna tumbled with radicchio, pistachios, radish, herbs and pomegranate seeds.
163 Commercial Road, Prahran; (03) 9804 7530
In the best news since the invention of gelato, Melbourne’s favourite pasta bar Tipo 00 has spawned a sibling restaurant right next door in Osteria Ilaria. Pasta gets a look-in but other pan-Italian beauties give the carbs a run for their money, from small (two-bite mushroom croquettes with a dab of aioli) to large (the pink perfection of roasted duck with hazelnut sauce and the bitter edge of wilted radicchio) – not to mention everything in between, such as the seafood delight of whole whiting and pippies topped with sea herbs.
367 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne; (03) 9642 2287
The Grossi family does high-low with consummate style. The spirit guides of Melbourne fine dining have added to their cracking hospitality portfolio with Arlechin, a laneway bar infused with Italian brio. The Six Degrees fit-out with a curving cork-lined ceiling is a winner – as is the drinks list from Romeo Lane mixmaster Joe Jones – and the food admirably keeps pace. From Midnight Spaghetti – a sexy twirl of pasta with a puttanesca-esque sauce – to the bolognaise jaffle and smoked eel parfait, it’s about snacking through the witching hour all the way to 3am.
Mornane Place, Melbourne
A New York-style supper club evoking the days in which people used to dress for dinner, the Mayfair is the restaurant Melbourne has been waiting for. With live jazz most nights, broad circular booths, candlelight and a one am close, it’s a sophisticated beast. The same could be said of a classic Euro menu that sashays from smoked-oil steak tartare to asparagus in Champagne sabayon and Spanner crab with Yarra caviar and crumpet.
Sofitel forecourt, 45 Collins Street, Melbourne; (03) 9654 8545
The lobster roll arrives in St Kilda with Andrew McConnell’s reprise of his CBD Sino-Japanese party palace, Supernormal Canteen. In its wake trail the dumplings – the prawn and chicken numbers with chilli-soy sauce – and the northern Chinese-style cumin lamb to fold into whisper-light pancake pockets. But they’re joined by exciting newcomers: crab pot noodles; house-cured Waygu brisket; pan-roasted John Dory with kombu and wild watercress. That’s the thing about any Andrew McConnell restaurant: never a dull moment.
2/157 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda; (03) 9525 4488
Image: Nikki To
Serial restaurateur Chris Lucas’ ambition writ large, Kisumé throws his usual backpacker schtick out the window and replaces it with a three-tiered temple of Japanese gastronomy, crowned by a $175-a-head sushi counter and Chablis Bar. Stick to the two lower levels and swoon to the joys of crab dumplings with oozy quail egg, charry mackerel with sesame ponzu and all sorts of raw fish delights including spicy tuna on cucumber with black roe and tangy orange mayo.
175 Flinders Lane, Melbourne; (03) 9671 4888
Finally, some edible joy for the city’s legal district in the form of Saxe. Flying solo for the first time, ex-Saint Crispin co-owner and chef Joe Grbac has conjured a two-speed venue with bar and snacks on the ground level and a slick contemporary restaurant upstairs, where his signature food moves owe plenty to his classical training at London’s The Square.
211 Queen Street, Melbourne; (03) 9089 6699
It’s part bar, part grill and all excitement. Longsong, the much-awaited upstairs sibling to Longrain, has arrived in a blaze of real estate glory (the renovation of a former horse stable is worth the price of entry alone). Expect things on sticks off the wood-fired chargrill (chicken thigh with rendered fat; poached blonde sausage with mustard) and cocktail spritzes.
Upstairs, 44 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne; (03) 9653 1611
Est Est Est. Luxe. Ondine. Donovan Cooke is synonymous with the excitement of Melbourne dining after his trio of 1990s and early naughties hits. After biding his time at Crown Casino’s The Atlantic he’s back with his very own Fitzroy North offering, Ryne. The smart 60-seater is already making memories of its own thanks to Euro-classical dishes like the seared scallop ceviche and pork belly with pineapple and jelly fish.
203 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North; (03) 9482 3002
Top image: Kisumé
SEE ALSO: The Best Restaurants in Melbourne