We reveal drinking and dining tips from people in the know.
Head chef and part-owner, Coda and Tonka
Are you a racegoer?
I’m an ambassador for Lavazza coffee so I cook in The Birdcage at the races. The atmosphere is amazing. And it’s not just about the horses – it’s about getting dressed up, going out and enjoying yourself, eating great food and drinking lots of bubbles. People from all around Australia and the world come here for the races.
SEE ALSO: Where to Stay During Melbourne Cup
What are the five hottest restaurants in Melbourne right now?
For something high end, I like ESP; they do a fantastic duck. There’s also the French Saloon, which serves old-world French modernised with great Australian produce, and Kirk’s Wine Bar is just below – it’s fantastic. Garden State Hotel recently opened on Flinders Lane. It’s a gastropub and a hotspot at the moment. And obviously there’s Tonka and Coda! Tonka is the only place in Australia that’s doing modern Indian food. We use great produce with new flavours and it’s very luxurious. Coda has European and Asian dishes on the menu, all working together.
Best for a group
Trunk is where I would go with a group. It has Mediterranean-inspired food and you can keep the carnival buzz going there.
Best for a late night
I’ll be cheeky and say Stalactites, which is open 24 hours. I ended up here at two in the morning recently with friends. We had lamb souvlaki and saganaki. After a long, hard day of drinking, it’s great.
An old favourite
Flower Drum. It’s one of my favourite restaurants. They do beautiful old-style Chinese food.
Ricky & Pinky, chef Andrew McConnell’s new restaurant, serves modern Chinese. It opened in August and is the hottest thing around right now.
The morning after
I’m a big bacon guy and the smoked bacon bap at Cumulus Inc. always goes down nicely. The restaurant is open seven days a week for breakfast, which is ideal.
Best for a cocktail
Romeo Lane is a very cute and seductive kind of place – they also write the cocktail list we use at Tonka. I like their Firebird cocktail with rye whiskey, apricot, Champagne and orange bitters.
Director, Tommy Collins Group
What do you love about the social scene in Melbourne?
The greatest part is that there is just so much quality. Nearly every suburb in Melbourne has a first-class eating and drinking precinct, which allows you to start at a wine bar for cocktails or Champagne, progress to dinner then wrap up with late-night digestifs and cheeses. Pick a new location each week while the weather is warm.
How does the mood of the city change during racing season?
As soon as we enter springtime there’s electricity in the air. We are extremely spoiled in Melbourne – we are the food, fashion and sports capital of Australia and what better time than spring to be out and about in the city?For a chic vibe The Den is a cocktail bar beneath The Atlantic restaurant at Crown entertainment complex. It’s a really cool New York-style lounge. I always start with a Dirty Martini.
Just for two
Siglo sits above The Melbourne Supper Club on Spring Street and its rooftop overlooks Government House. It’s like you’re in Paris – a special spot.
STH Central + Dining is my own bar. We do a Champagne breakfast, which you can have before jumping on the train to Flemington. And we’ve also been working on a new cocktail menu. My favourite drink is a rosemary Tom Collins.
An old favourite
San Telmo is an Argentinian restaurant and bar in the city. They have meats, ceviche and an Argentinian wine list – lots of malbecs. It’s dark, has a good feel to it and always delivers.
The Alps is a cosy wine bar in Prahran where you can grab your own wine off the shelf then sit down and savour it with some bar snacks. Over on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy is Naked for Satan. Take the lift up to the roof for an amazing view of the city. I drink a daiquiri, which is made with rum, lime and sugar, shaken and served in a martini glass. Beautiful.
The morning after
You’ll want a bit of sun now so head to Entrecôte. It’s near The Tan running track so you can watch people being active while you sip your Bloody Mary. Classic, cool and sharp.
SEE ALSO: 8 Melbourne Bars for Spring Racing