Restaurant Reviews

Melbourne's best restaurants right now

An ever-changing Vietnamese-Australian diner, a luxe newcomer from an industry veteran, and clever-delicious Turkish good. These are Melbourne's top restaurants, as reviewed for our 2022 Restaurant Guide.

Tulum in Balaclava, Melbourne. Photo: Perry Deqiang Yu
Besides the thrilling, original cooking of Anchovy chef and co-owner Thi Le, the most exciting thing about this modern Vietnamese-Australian restaurant is its constant evolution. When it opened in 2015 – in a sparsely decorated Bridge Road shopfront (the minimalist approach remains but is now more upholstered) – Le's menus immediately showed a promising and unique perspective through mediums as diverse as pickled mussels, Vietnamese blood pudding and salad dressings made with fermented tofu. Once à la carte, Anchovy now serves a set menu of eight to ten dishes that might include a version of bánh bèo served with a cured pork relish, custard apple ice-cream teamed with gingerbread granita, or garfish, expertly boned and topped with jicama and rice paddy. The lockdown experiment of bánh mì through an Anchovy filter (fillings include jungle spice pork sausage and crisp fried egg) is another evolution, which now has a permanent, dedicated space next door.
338 Bridge Rd, Richmond, Vic, anchovy.net.au
With all the activity surrounding Attica and chef-owner Ben Shewry – pivoting to baking and lasagne through lockdown(s), free meals for hospo workers, Yarra Valley pop-up Attica Summer Camp, cooking with Hamish Blake on Instagram, DJing gigs – the moniker "restaurant" can seem reductive. Yet, the restaurant remains the Rosetta Stone for everything that spins off its moodily-lit dining room. It's in the playfulness and dry Kiwi wit Shewry brings. A dish of green ants served with pancakes and sour cream is called "Reko & Ben's Picnic Caviar". It's there also with the tableside barbecue featuring shellfish and Indigenous spices and the "Croc Fat Caramel" that finishes a meal. The jokey, slightly self-deprecating tone is matched by serious rigour, intellect and heart. Shewry recognises the expense of his world-famous 10-ish course meal and so strives to make it mean something, especially in terms of honouring Indigenous culture and ingredients. He succeeds, completely and beautifully.
74 Glen Eira Rd, Ripponlea, Vic, attica.com.au
Bar Lourinhã's emphatic 15-year influence on Melbourne's dining scene DNA has it nudging institution status, even if its fresh, modern energy makes that label seem odd. Matt McConnell's Iberian-influenced menu is a love letter to the bars and tavernas of the Mediterranean, a blend of skilled cooking and great ingredients that might include croquettes made with corn and smoked chilli, grilled chorizo and pork liver pinxos, Goolwa pipis steamed with fino sherry, lemon buñuelos with dulce de leche, or the irresistible menu fave, spiced chickpeas and spinach. A lively playlist, switched-on staff and décor that successfully mashes cool and glamorous (leather banquettes and dark timber tables) with exuberant kitsch (massed religious iconography and op shop art) help make it both timeless and essential. The blackboard wine list, that leans Spanish without being didactic, takes an "all that's good in the world" approach, mirroring perfectly the feeling of sitting at Lourinhã's bar.
37 Little Collins St, Melbourne, Vic, barlourinha.com.au
A triangulation of food, art and X-factor, Di Stasio Città hit Melbourne with the energy of nuclear fission. Cementing Rinaldo Di Stasio's reputation as the Medici of Melbourne's hospitality scene, the top end of town address means the glitterati, politerati and literati accustomed to trekking to the St Kilda mothership can now enjoy an utterly familiar menu of Italian perfection right in their spiritual heartland. The maltagliati with calamari and radicchio has made the trip to Spring Street; so too the saltimbocca alla Romana and the ricotta gnudi. The chase of the new isn't Città's speed – not unless you count the avant-garde video installations playing on loop – but park yourself in the brutalist dining room with the certainty your Negroni will be mixed expertly and the anchovy and sage leaf fritters are the perfect aperitivo to accompany it. The opening of nearby Bar Democratico in 2022 promises to further split the local restaurant scene's atom in the most captivating way.
45 Spring St, Melbourne, Vic, distasio.com.au/citta
Since opening five years ago, Embla has offered one of Melbourne's quintessential dining experiences: eating at its kitchen bar. This is not to say all other seats are duds – they're obviously not given the constant queue for walk-in spots reserved for "the disorganised or those looking for some spontaneity in their lives" – but eating bathed by the warmth of the wood-fired kitchen, watching vegetables and meat char and sparks fly, speaks to the elemental nature that underpins Embla's approach to both food and wine. It's all about not messing with ingredients – letting soured cucumbers do their crisp, tangy thing with dill and feta; perfectly cooked bavette steak getting elevated by fermented porcini; or a passionfruit posset proving how good a friend pineapple ice can be. Same goes for the wine. Embla's is a brilliant list, collated with wit and wisdom and one of the earliest and most influential proponents of natural and minimal intervention wines on Melbourne's dining scene.
122 Russell St, Melbourne, embla.com.au
Embla, Melbourne. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen
That exquisite glossy sheen on pearl meat gently sautéed with garlic chives and asparagus? The brittle-crisp skin on the roasted duck that shatters as you bite into a precision-rolled pancake? The century egg encased in quail meat and breadcrumbs fried a perfect golden tan? These are some of the dreams that will haunt you in the days after a meal at this brilliant pillar of Melbourne's dining scene. Flower Drum's grand carpeted rooms with their glinting screens, sculptural flower arrangements and fleet of skilled floor staff have recently been joined by a new bar, the scene of classic cocktails and bar snacks. But the main beat – chef-owner Anthony Lui's lengthy menu of classic and modern classic takes on Cantonese cooking (do not resist the noodles made from wild barramundi) – goes on with admirable gusto. Whether celebrating life's milestones or simply treating yourself, dining at the Drum is the perfect expression of self-care.
17 Market Lane, Melbourne, Vic, flowerdrum.melbourne
GIMLET
Winner: GT 2022 Best New Restaurant
Gimlet has a timelessness perfect for the times. With escape from reality at a premium, Andrew McConnell's newest diner, a gorgeously renovated, high-ceilinged space in 20s-era Cavendish House – that's all leather booths, rippled glass and chequered tiles – is the perfect bolthole, infinitely more appealing than the world outside. The drinks help, from complex cocktails to a superbly collated wine list that offers many thrills (few of which come cheap). The menu, a superbly balanced mash-up where French bistro meets Mod Oz meets New York grill, means you can eat brilliant oysters and/or caviar, tuck into a whole lobster or an 800gm T-bone from the wood-fired grill, rediscover the tarragon-infused joys of salade Lyonnaise and understand why some chefs go to the trouble of making their own gelato. The two-tiered dining room has exhilarating, genuine bustle, assisted by a highly credentialed service team that's one of Melbourne's best. Leave the real world behind.
33 Russell St, Melbourne, Vic, gimlet.melbourne
The Grossi Florentino triple-threat is one of the foundations of Melbourne's dining scene. Upstairs, it's chandeliers and murals, meticulously ironed linen, precise, charming service and menus that riff on grand Roman ristorante but also include modern touches – like teaming oysters with finger lime or orecchiette with octopus and 'nduja. It's exciting stuff with a wine list to match. Downstairs there's the smell of woodsmoke in the air at Grill, a sleek bustling scene of power lunching and post-theatre sustenance where carefully sourced meat (T-bone for two is bucket list stuff) and beautiful vegetables are flamed, sharing menu space with a bevy of handmade pasta dishes – perhaps pici tossed with wild boar ragù. Next door is Cellar Bar, one of the city's oldest bars, open all day and as deft with a coffee and a bomboloni as with a benchmark minestrone or cotoletta Milanese.
80 Bourke St, Melbourne, Vic, florentino.com.au
Kazuki's is a lesson in subtle disruption. There's the location for starters, a monochrome shopfront on Lygon Street's gaudiest stretch that opens to an oasis of minimalist, mustard-carpeted calm. If the atmosphere wasn't so serene the juxtaposition would be jarring, as would a glance at the nine-part snack course that starts the tasting menu. It's light years away from the food outside and the perfect overture for the brilliant fusion (a rehabilitated word) of Japanese and European flavours and techniques that chef-owner Kazuki Tsuya displays over eight-ish courses. Squid ink gnocco fritto is draped in superb jamón, a cube of ox tongue glistens under a soy and pepperberry glaze, crumbed slivers of abalone are topped with sesame mayonnaise, oysters are teamed with Tasmanian sea urchin. Post-snack, the quality doesn't wane, whether you're talking Moreton Bay bug wontons with soy butter foam, a finely tuned wine list or subtle, engaged service.
121 Lygon St, Carlton, Vic, kazukis.com.au
Kazuki and Saori Tsuya, co-owners of Kazuki's. Photo: Peter Tarasiuk
LEE HO FOOK
The allure of the bijou downstairs bar is great indeed, but resist the pink neon-bathed vision of snacky good times and head upstairs to the big boned warehouse, now transformed into a handsome dining hall. It's a blank canvas for chef Victor Liong, whose new-style Chinese food takes its cues from the lilting elegance of Cantonese but heads off in its own unique direction, evidenced by the two-bite starter of chicken crackling topped with cashew cream and black vinegar sauce and its delicate opposite, spanner crab and silken tofu smoked roe in a vibrant carrot and ginger sauce. Replete with 9-score wagyu, Murray cod and show-off ingredients galore, the tasting menu is now compulsory, although fans of Liong's signatures – the crisp eggplant in spiced red vinegar and crab and scallop fried rice – will be thrilled to see them on the specials list. Heartfelt service extends to a wine list with dangerous undertow and sums up a fine diner in casual clothing.
11-15 Duckboard Pl, Melbourne, Vic, leehofook.com.au
The Japanese notion of "ichigyo zammai" – doing one thing excessively well – is on vivid display at this backstreet Richmond sushi temple. The 12 seats at the softly-lit counter are primed for dinner and a show – watching sushi master Koichi Minamishima's meticulous knifework, his deft palming "of rice in which each grain is distinct, his judgment over briefly torching a piece of tuna belly so its rivers of fat explode on contact. The 15-odd course line-up features only premium seafood, much of it flown in from Tokyo's Toyosu fish market, with the likes of marron and scampi flying the flag for Australia. Order à la carte hot dishes in the Zen-like dining room – the exceptional wine and sake list wielded with calm authority by sommelier Randolph Cheung will make no distinction – but that's really missing the point. The sushi counter is the fabulous, beating heart of this singular restaurant.
4 Lord St, Richmond, Vic, minamishima.com.au
It's the little restaurant that could. The Bertoncello brothers – Blayne in the kitchen, Chayse running the floor and the wine – first grabbed attention in 2013 when their low-waste farm-to-table concept ran head-on into the zeitgeist. Since then, they've gone bigger and better. Their own nearby farm provides all the fruit and vegetables, what's not used fresh is preserved and used in other inventive ways. Expect the dégustation menu to feature a stunning one-veg wonder: an ethereal celebration of Jerusalem artichoke that sees the tuber roasted, puréed, fried and pickled, a rich egg yolk dip the only interloper. In keeping with the ethos, protein plays a lesser role but makes every appearance count, such as a charry skewer of calamari and marinated zucchini basted in onion jus. A fire gutted the restaurant in 2020 but the doughty Bertoncellos have kept on keeping on, and made us love O.My even more.
70 Princes Hwy, Beaconsfield, Vic, omyrestaurant.com.au
O.My in Beaconsfield, a farm-to-table restaurant on Melbourne's fringes.
Khanh Nguyen is Melbourne's latest chef hero, and Sunda is his vehicle to stardom. The industrial-cool dining room is an appropriately futuristic stage set for his virtuosic Mod-Asian display, deftly mixing a grab-bag of Malaysian, Indonesian and Vietnamese traditions with native ingredients to deliver something shockingly new. Witness a two-bite canape of puffed taro, dressed to the nines with fermented coconut, smoked bone marrow and the tart citrus spike of lemon aspen; or the precision-plated veal sweetbreads surrounded by a mandala of caramelised cashews and pickled muntries, finished with a glistening lick of roasted chicken jus and the molasses curveball of dark palm sugar. A dining age given to cloning over creativity makes his feats even more remarkable – and yes, that includes the roti with Vegemite curry that continues to be an off-menu winner. Want more? Nguyen's equally boat-rocking newcomer Aru brings the same unique spin to a share-friendly menu playing with fire, smoke and ferments.
18 Punch Lane, Melbourne, Vic, sunda.com.au
Tulum co-owner Coskun Uysal is one of only a handful of chefs who've managed to coax non-Turkish Melburnians away from the idea of the cuisine beginning and ending with kebabs and gözleme. He's achieved this by acing a particularly difficult culinary manoeuvre: modernising and refreshing traditional dishes. For starters, his food looks gorgeous with finely tuned splashes of colour (a burnt orange cumin and tomato jam accompanying white Tulum cheese; pink petals topping a golden garlic-stuffed whole roasted spatchcock) and careful plating. But the eating is even lovelier than the looks; a scintillating balance of clean and rich where buttery pine mushrooms are teamed with pickled mushrooms, scallops join forces with tarama butter and preserved lemon, and candied pumpkin and mandarin sorbet love each other very much. There's an increasingly good list of Turkish wine and clever, pretty cocktails, served by well-versed staff in a room of moody lighting and exposed brick. Clever delicious.
217 Carlisle St, Balaclava, Vic, tulumrestaurant.com.au