Melbourne is arguably Australia’s food capital and its most recent batch of openings has everyone intrigued.
The newest Melbourne restaurants include a Sydney import and a returning star, plus an American-style diner with a Blade Runner-esque fit-out and a menu that includes a toasted Wagon Wheel pie. Have we whetted your appetite yet?
A decade after opening its first all-conquering casual Italian restaurant-slash-provedore in Sydney, Fratelli Fresh has finally planted its flag on Melbourne turf. The ground floor of The Alfred building, a city-laneway site with architectural and restaurant history – it once housed Mietta’s then Comme and Stokehouse City – now sings in the key of Italian. Staples at Fratelli Fresh include wood-fired pizza, pasta, risotto, wood-grilled meats and a sharp list of crowd-pleasing cicchetti (small snacks) such as calamari fritti, split prawns from the grill with black garlic butter, and mini fried calzone containing leek and soft cheese.
7 Alfred Place, Melbourne; 1300 253 733
The Cut Steakhouse
On the first floor of the historic Alfred building, directly above its Urban Purveyor Group stablemate Fratelli Fresh, The Cut brings a dark and moody New York steakhouse sensibility to its host of prime cuts. Head chef Timothy Martin (who also oversees the Fratelli menu) is in charge of this carnivorous celebration: think dry-aged Wagyu rump from Tasmania’s Robbins Island with a wealth of sides (buttermilk onion rings; roasted bone marrow with watercress and shallot; and hand-cut chips, naturally) or parmesan and brioche-crusted wet-roasted Dorper lamb. Off to the side is The Library, a bar specializing in whisky – the perfect place for finalising that corporate takeover.
7 Alfred Place, Melbourne; 1300 253 733
SEE ALSO: The 10 Best Rooftop Bars in Melbourne
Ismail Tosun suddenly (and maddeningly) disappeared without notice several years ago after making waves with his Smith Street meze restaurant Gigibaba – but now the mercurial Turkish-Australian chef is back. At this simple former kebab shop in Carlton, he and chef partner Kirsty Chiaplias are making the breakfast and brunch gods smile with a clever, fresh take on the genre. Look out for gutsy yet refined Turkish fare such as baklava pain perdu (ground walnut brioche soaked in spiced crème anglaise) and menemem (the hard-to-say, easy-to-eat combo of baked eggs, spiced tomato, spinach and pistachio dukkah). Currently open only during the day – and with a liquor licence in the pipeline – Babajan is one to watch.
713 Nicholson Street, Carlton North; (03) 9388 9814
Turkish cuisine is fast becoming the flavour of the month and Coskun Uysal is one of the chefs helping to drag it out of the kebabs-and-dips doldrums. Deep in the heart of Balaclava, his smart bistro shows his experience in top kitchens in Melbourne (Vue de Monde, Pei Modern) and London (The River Café). Expect modern fare such as ordek (duck breast) with duck pastrami, crisp vine leaves, black tahini and dried apricot purée; and prawns, roasted whole, sloshed with a liberal dose of garlic butter and served in a puddle of tarhana, a nicely sour-leaning yoghurt sauce.
217 Carlisle Street, Balaclava; (03) 9525 9127
Philippe Mouchel returns with a triumphant take on the classic French bistro that has just enough culinary twists and turns to keep things interesting. Housed in the handsome basement space recently vacated by Brooks restaurant, Philippe boasts a rotisserie (for the chicken beloved of greater Melbourne), an oyster bar and a menu of French-isms, including beautifully cured king salmon with walnut mayonnaise and lemon gel anchoring a salad of leaves and nuts. Consider also the beer-braised beef cheek, a simple dish given wings by the delectable presence of lardo, glazed carrots and cumin. And don’t bypass the Floating Island – a feather-light meringue in a delicate vanilla custard – that sums up everything great about classic French cooking.
115 Collins Street, Melbourne; (03) 8394 6625
Joe Vargetto takes the confident pan-Italian of his popular Kew bistro, Mister Bianco, and transplants it in the city, where it plays into the happy hands of the business-lunch crowd. Smart Italian Mid-century styling is answered by a menu with a keen focus on salumi (Parma prosciutto, rustic salami or soft slices of pistachio-studded mortadella, all with a host of excellent pickle-driven add-ons) as well as pasta (a gutsy, garlicky oil-based sauce does good things with squid ink spaghettini tossed with vongole and blue swimmer crab) and roast chook with soft, cheesy polenta and a farce of mild cotechino under the crisp golden skin.
445 Little Collins Street, Melbourne; (03) 9670 5347
There are meaty good times at this Collingwood newcomer aimed straight at the hipster crowd with an arresting fit-out described as “Blade Runner-esque” by the owners, who are also behind Brunswick café Wide Open Road and Carlton bar Heartattack and Vine. The whole-beast menu driven by head chef Daniel Dobra runs the gamut from gut-busting breakfasts to late-night snacks. And you’ll find playful trailer-park Americanisms: fried hot chicken with white bread and pickles; grilled cheese and truffle; and toasted Wagon Wheel pie. Chase it with Bacon and Eggs, a cocktail made with bacon-washed bourbon, thyme syrup and fresh egg. Go to bedfordstcollingwood.com
11-13 Johnston Street, Collingwood; (03) 9417 0129
Part café, part restaurant, part millennial hangout, Higher Ground is true to its name. Brought to a heritage-listed former electricity station by the crew behind a “greatest hits” of Melbourne cafés (Two Birds One Stone, The Kettle Black and Top Paddock), it boasts three levels of design smarts, including vertigo-inducing ceilings, high arched windows and a mezzanine owing a debt of gratitude to New York’s super-cool Ace Hotel. Add a punchy all-day menu that plays on the health-conscious Zeitgeist with dishes such as kale salad with cauliflower, miso and almond hummus and steamed fish with Japanese-style broth, wakame and radish – along with coffee from the group’s Square One roastery – and all we can say is get in line behind the rest of Melbourne.
650 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne; (03) 8899 6219
Proving that ethical eating doesn't mean numbingly boring, the menu at this thumping, no-bookings Vietnamese eatery divides its love between free range/organic meat and vegan fare. While meat-free pho might sound like a travesty, the reality is a winner consisting of an aromatic kombu and shiitake stock, pickled onion and a forest’s worth of mushrooms bobbing in the depths. Vegans should also make a beeline for the tofu rice-paper rolls, while charred Milawa free-range chicken on rice with an Asian herby green sauce, pickled daikon and nuoc cham (ginger sauce) might make a play for conversion. Grab a stool at the wooden bar wrapped around the small open kitchen – and a beer from Kensington’s Henry St Brewhouse – and go the pho.
165 Sydney Road, Brunswick; (03) 9041 2000