Restaurant Reviews

Melbourne's best restaurants right now

The best restaurants in Melbourne, as reviewed for our 2020 Restaurant Guide, sway from beloved institutions to hives of creativity and experimentation. Here are the kitchens we love.

Cutler & Co.
Like its namesake fish, Anchovy is small – almost miniscule – but packs a mighty punch. Steeped in the joyful self-determination of the chef-owner restaurant, this playful mix of Southeast Asian (mostly Vietnamese) traditions with classical technique equates to the untranslatable brilliance of Thi Le's cooking. Pickled mussels dressed in the funky-fresh crunch of a sambal matah busy with lemongrass and shallot set the scene for a big-flavoured parade, while skewers of beef tongue doused in soy caramel offer shade and light, the meat charry and sweet. Whole flounder lolling in piquant Manchurian butter with only artichokes for company is pearly fleshed perfection (order the "herb garden" side featuring pickles, leaves and cold bánh hỏi noodles for a DIY mash-up) and hold the course all the way through to dessert, when a durian parfait tempered with white chocolate and lemon sorbet becomes a gateway drug for the unfairly maligned fruit. A low-fi operation (co-owner Jia-Yen Lee works the floor with one offsider) with a bottle list equally at home with the quirk, Anchovy is the neighbourhood favourite worth crossing town for.
338 Bridge Rd, Richmond, Melbourne, Vic,
There are two types of late-night snacking. There's the kerbside gobbling you'll regret the next day, and there's the Arlechin model, where classy ballast is served till 3am. Owned by the Grossi family, Arlechin inhabits the walk-in cellar for Florentino, which backs onto the other side of the lane. It's been decked out like a wine cave with an arched cork ceiling and drop-down lights. The mood is cheeky, the cocktails are frisky and the food is snacky and light- hearted. You might chomp on a Sloppy Joe stuffed with baccalà and fried leek or a Bolognese jaffle, both Italian in inspiration but rethought for Melbourne's laneways. Cured kingfish might be jazzed up with grapes and cucumber; quail is salty, fried and drizzled with a secret barbecue sauce. The key dish is the midnight spaghetti, an instant classic, furled on the plate with spiced tomatoes and capers: simple and perfect, especially in the wee hours. Service is as nimble as the food with banter doled out like snacks. Just like an all-night train, Arlechin is a community service for a 24-hour city.
Mornane Pl, Melbourne, Vic,
When a baby-faced Charlie Carrington first opened Atlas Dining two years ago, his idea of a wood-fired restaurant that changed cuisine every four months seemed destined for the "folly of youth" file. Instead Atlas has become a unique and successful addition to Melbourne's dining scene, attracting an impressive – and deserved – interest in what comes next. The simply, smartly kitted-out restaurant complete with leather cutlery rolls and a whiff of smoke in the air from the open kitchen has covered a lot of ground, from Asia to South America, Europe and the Middle East. Some forays are more successful than others but Carrington's preference for choosing context over gimmicks makes them all worth experiencing. His Israeli menu, on which toasted challah and smoky hummus starred, nailed the brief, as did the clean, exact flavours on his Thai and Vietnamese menus. And on an exploration of China focused on Beijing and Chengdu, dishes such as yellowfin tuna with biang biang noodles or scallops with pitch-perfect XO sauce reveal a deft, knowledgeable palate. An added bonus? It's great value for money with a cuisine-sensitive wine list. All aboard.
133 Commercial Rd, South Yarra, Vic,
Attica has been an interesting, compelling restaurant for more than a decade, but in the past two years New Zealand-born chef and owner Ben Shewry has deepened his engagement with first Australians. Indigenous food and culture is now at the centre of the Attica experience, and it's even more thrilling to see this meaningful project rendered with such joy, integrity and – thank goodness – serious commitment to everything being delicious. A meal may begin with a smorgasbord of local fruits and herbs, a seated foraging that sets the tone for the 13 courses to come. Onward, perhaps, to emu liver parfait brushed with tart Davidson's plum jam, crocodile ribs to be picked up and gnawed with finger-licking informality, and a trio of tarts that acknowledges – in blood pudding, chicken soup jelly and native citrus – the various waves of people who have lived in this neighbourhood. Intuitive, intelligent service and inspired alcoholic and teetotalling drink matches are delivered with a delighted glee that is so much part of this singular restaurant's appeal.
WINNER OF: Restaurant of the Year for 2020 in the GT Restaurant Awards
74 Glen Eira Rd, Ripponlea, Melbourne, Vic,
Attica. Photo: Jess and Martin Reftel Evans
Three-and-a-half years after opening, Melbourne's favourite low-fi hangout has reached the age of reason. Sure, it has the same gravitational pull it's always had thanks to the ineluctable charms of a wine list packed with natural curios along with a menu with the dial set to global grazing, but the anarchistic approach of its early days has been replaced by a solid dependability. A full-throttle mussel dip on a potato crisp with a sprinkle of lovage, or fried salt-and- pepper vegetables lifting capsicum and brassicas up where they belong, are rusted-on features of a menu dedicated to the snacking dark arts. A raft of wholemeal sourdough, grilled to order and served with the gently acidic curve ball of cultured cream, remains a meal in itself, but go bigger to the lamb with eggplant lifted by a lick of anchovy sauce. The kitchen's love of salt might mar an otherwise sound bucatini cacio e pepe – a similar salty scenario is playing out at the group's American-Italian Carlton newcomer, Capitano – but it's a small mid-life crisis for a bar-slash-restaurant thoroughly deserving its place in the city's heart.
234 Johnson St, Fitzroy, Melbourne, Vic,
The key to Bar Lourinhã's 13-year CBD reign is simple. Consistency. Diners are welcomed like friends when they step into this bay-windowed shopfront and its eclectic world of flamenco dancer dolls and religious paraphernalia. There's consistency, too, in the food, the drinks and the guaranteed "buena onda" – good times. Worldly sorts will immediately clock the hallmarks of a great European bar: the stacked bottles offering elixirs from sherries to tempranillos; a wine list of site-specific grapes such as Spanish mencía and Venetian ribolla gialla; and a menu of tapas and larger raciones plates designed to seduce. Best to order with abandon: plunge into crunchy golden croquetas (perhaps stuffed with rich morcilla blood pudding) and scallops on the shell lent earthy character by peppercorns and a parsley-rich mojo verde. Lourinhã is an always dependable trip to the Iberian peninsula for heady, house-made chorizo – the lead act in a white bean and nettle stew – and wagyu cheeks melting in a golden syrup of Pedro Ximénez. A Cherry Ripe shooter of Ginjinha liqueur, served in an edible chocolate cup, is typical of the Iberian diplomacy Lourinhã brings to Melbourne.
37 Little Collins St, Melbourne, Vic,
The apparently limitless appeal of the mid-priced Melbourne Italian bistro has captured the team from Bar Liberty who have put a red-sauce American filter on pasta, pizza and parmigiana at Carlton's Capitano. Occupying a former dive bar, Capitano has given the space a retro spin (terrazzo, wood, vintage shades) that's both visually appealing and aurally challenging when the place is full. The old-school style is in keeping with the menu, a short and sharp placemat list that includes an excellent (expensive) parmigiana and some of the finest pizze in town, complete with a cold-fermented, liberally blistered crust, an attractively sour backbeat and New York-style malleability. Basic cheese and tomato bases can be customised with the likes of pepperoni, pickled chilli and anchovies, and with smart vegetarian options that include cavolo nero and rainbow chard. House pasta is a highlight, especially when tossed with butt-kicking vodka sauce and classic American clam sauce. The wine list, all Italian varieties from here and there, mostly keeps things natural and/or artisan, helping Capitano add something fresh and interesting to a crowded field.
421 Rathdowne St, Carlton, Vic,
Want to test if a chef's paying attention? Order something unforgiving like tripe or chicken. At Carlton Wine Room, chef and co-owner John Paul Twomey comes through with flying colours on both counts with a gorgeously textured tripe and cuttlefish gratin, and half a roasted chicken that's a juicy, flavour-filled standard bearer for the genre. The menu also harbours one of Melbourne's great desserts, a gloriously sodden rum baba topped with pretty piped crème diplomat, while a stracciatella and potato focaccia combo makes this a local worth crossing town for. Twomey's style – comfort food with a modern edge – is mirrored in the dining spaces, well-drilled service and the cleverly annotated wine list from sommelier Travis Howe that leans minimal intervention without being dogmatic about it. There's an easy flexibility to the whole operation and whether you're sitting downstairs at the bar chasing oysters with a glass of biodynamic sparkling or upstairs in a striped horseshoe booth for the full dinner shebang, the sense of a place that truly gets hospitality is always present and accounted for.
172-174 Faraday St, Carlton, Vic,
Carlton Wine Room Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen
With expansive windows framing the bustle of Flinders Lane, there are few experiences more quintessentially Melbourne than a meal at Cumulus Inc. Now in its second decade, Andrew McConnell's all-day diner makes the case that the simplest dishes are often the best. Tuna tartare, jewel-bright cubes adorned with nothing more than a whisper of fresh dill, is served on a vibrant crush of new season peas and a pillowy cloud of goat curd. Buffalo ricotta gnocchi, pan-fried and impressively airy, is plated with a smear of silky butternut pumpkin purée, a scattering of macadamia nuts and a handful of zippy herbs. Thumbs of tender Jerusalem artichoke filled with Parmesan custard, a hint of burnt honey and a dusting of rosemary salt become much more than the sum of their parts. The wine list is impressive and exhaustive, the service charming, and dessert recommended. A little dish of superbly sticky roasted quince paired with spice-laden, if unseasonal, hot cross bun ice-cream might raise the ire of purists but when it tastes this good, who's complaining?
45 Flinders La, Melbourne, Vic,
Cutler & Co is wearing its ten years well. The renovation two years ago didn't hurt. Romantic booths for two, windows punched into the back wall and sleek metal and glass partitions breathed new life into the moodily lit dining room and transformed the bar into a sleek and sophisticated destination in itself. But the real reason Andrew McConnell's fine-diner still feels fresh is that the menu brings a rare flexibility to this end of the dining spectrum. The choose-your-own adventure approach offers everything from a finely crafted five-course dégustation to excellent comfort food in the form of dry aged steak built for two (from McConnell's own butcher Meatsmith) with house mustard and a shaved cabbage and fennel salad and paired with a glass from an exemplary wine list that favours small producers focused on varietal expression. The food is clever and pretty but never forgets flavour, as with albacore crudo sharply matched with wasabi and finger lime, aged Muscovy duck – served as two dishes: expertly roasted in one instance; baked in a pie in another – or exquisite persimmon vacherin with a bay leaf ice-cream. Service, from a team of well-drilled professionals, is among the city's best, something that's also been said about the whole Cutler experience for the last decade.
55-57 Gertrude St, Fitzroy, Melbourne, Vic,
Ostensibly an homage to historical British cuisine, Heston Blumenthal and his long-time collaborator Ashley Palmer-Watts have crafted a luxurious restaurant for high rollers, special-occasion diners and
those who simply must tick "meat fruit" off their bucket list. Dinner is grand and glorious with windows framing the city, a glassed-in kitchen that's like a choreographed theatre with actors in crisp white costumes and pineapples twirling on a rôtisserie (they're for the famous Tipsy Cake, a syrup-sodden brioche). The heritage of the dishes is referenced, but a history degree is not necessary to appreciate the meticulous cooking and plating. The 10-course parade is bookended by the meat fruit – the rich, smooth chicken liver pâté crafted to look like a mandarin – and the ice-cream trolley, a tableside factory that employs liquid nitrogen. Along the way, perhaps roasted fish with a sauce of parsley, pepper and eucalyptus, duck with its heart (coyly called "umbles" on the menu) or a monolithic steak with shatter-crisp triple-cooked chips. Service is polished and droll. Dinner is fun as well as formal, not least because the wine list – ably food-matched by sommelier Loic Avril – is among the city's best.
Level 3 Crown Towers, Crown Melbourne, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank, Melbourne, Vic,
The meat fruit at Dinner by Heston. Photo: Ashley Palmer-Watts
Rinaldo Di Stasio's city restaurant stakes an immediate claim as one of the country's most beautiful. A minimalist temple of contemporary art (video work by Reko Rennie and Shaun Gladwell on loop) and traditional craftsmanship (handcrafted terrazzo floors, Murano chandeliers), Città also offers visceral bustle and a lengthy menu centred on old-school deliciousness. Fans of the St Kilda original will be thrilled at the presence of favourites such as the foil-wrapped crumbed veal and white bread "after-school sandwich", the maltagliati with calamari and radicchio, pieces of thrice-cooked duck, and the addictive white chocolate and mascarpone tart.T here are also new thrills: salty anchovy and sage snacks, bagna càuda with a colourful platter of vegetables, pasta cooked al chiodo tossed with a rich ragù of beef and pork, and perfectly chilled Martinis served on a silver tray to knock back while contemplating the Italian-heavy winelist. Città's theatricality– including meticulously kitted-out floor and barstaff– doesn't come cheap, but neither does a restaurant experience that effortlessly channels Milan, Venice and Melbourne. Di Stasio has always had a gift for transporting you away from the everyday, and Città continues the theme unashamedly and wholeheartedly.
WINNER OF: New Restaurant of the Year & Best Design in the 2020 GT Restaurant Awards.
45 Spring St, Melbourne, Vic,
"How about Embla?" If a dining companion asks you this question, you know how it's going to roll. You'll say yes, then find yourself hopeful and hungry and inside the door. An appetising waft of wood fire is part of the warm welcome. Next, most likely, a wait (drinks at the bar are a small hardship) before you're seated, on stools at shared benches, tables hugging the wall, or– best of all at the counter overlooking the kitchen, all fire-lit glow and crisp choreography. A focus on low-intervention wine carries into the food: ingredients are treated with reverence, cleverly caressed into dishes that let them shine. Whipped feta is dusted with dill powder and studded with juicy soured cucumber. Excellent sourdough is partnered with white-soy cream. A charcuterie board includes neat spins like whipped 'nduja, turning the Calabrian spreadable salami into a spicy dip. Buttery creamed corn is scattered with burnt onion crumb and citrus powder. Flavours are big but shrewdly judged, and service is poised and genial. A slightly more formal experience with elegant and composed dishes can be found upstairs at sister restaurant Lesa, but the same generous, jaunty spirit runs through both.
122 Russell St, Melbourne, Vic,
There's no dining room in Australia like Florentino's Mural Room. Almost nine decades' worth of patina helps, as do the chandeliers and the murals painted in 1935, but it's the resistance to coasting that's most impressive. From the scrupulously ironed linen and the quality of the Champagne in the trolley that's wheeled to each new table, to the charming and seamless service led by chef Guy Grossi's son Carlo, the level of care, generosity and, yes, love for this dining institution by the Grossi family equate to the sense of occasion. The menu lists big-ticket ingredients - duck, venison, prawns, chestnuts – in combinations that blend classic Italian and modern Australian cooking. A buttermilk panna cotta lands as a frozen white sphere. Textbook risotto combines razor prawns and sarawak pepper, while scallops and sweetbreads are flavoured with almonds and lemon. It's pricey, high-end dining with a hefty wine list to match, so perhaps a visit to Florentino isn't an everyday affair, but with the Tuscan-style Grill and the much-loved Cellar Bar just downstairs, there are other ways to soak up all this history and hospitality know-how.
80 Bourke St, Melbourne, Vic,
So the old dog does have new tricks. Look no further than the fried barramundi skin tossed in spicy salt, an addictively crunchy addition to the fin-to-tail movement. Or the single supersized xiao long bao, filled with premium seafood such as mud crab and scallop and swimming in a delicate chicken broth. Flower Drum may have reached its fifth decade but Anthony Lui isn't letting the grand old Canto dame fade into obscurity, with original dishes and gentle tweaks of favourites helping make renewal part of the mantra. For those venturing into Flower Drum's equally august lift for the first time, the manifold pleasures of this most old-school of restaurants remain firmly intact. Peking duck – plated tableside by a crack team of waiters who have trod the plush red carpet for decades – remains a shining example of the art, while wok-fried abalone with velvety swatches of crystal mung bean noodles or the textural zing of a jellyfish salad slicked with sesame oil are a masterclass in Cantonese supremacy. Flower Drum remains at the peak of Australian fine dining. Long may it reign.
17 Market La, Melbourne, Vic,
The best restaurants create their own reality and France-Soir does it better than almost any other dining room in the country. It's classically, proudly, archly, cheekily French yet so very embedded in Melbourne that it's hard to imagine the city without it. Any day, any time, three decades past and surely three decades hence, career waiters dispense charm, along with flutes of Champagne and just-opened oysters, aged Burgundy and long-braised beef, peppered steaks and crisp, golden frites, inky espresso and fluffy îles flottantes. Classic dishes – buttery snails, mussels in white wine, a salade Niçoise, roasted duck with orange – are ever-present on the large laminated carte, with seasonal specials written in curly cursive (and in French, bien sûr) on wall mirrors. Everything is just so: the flavours true, the cooking capable, the service efficient and the dining room lovingly weathered. But the real France-Soir magic is the energy, panache and burble of the dining room and the feeling that being here is to be at the heart of a certain ruddy, rollicking slice of Melbourne life.
11 Toorak Rd, South Yarra, Melbourne, Vic,
Those who suffer food envy may need to steel themselves at Igni because no two tables at this brilliant little woodfired gem in a Geelong CBD back street are served alike. Sure, you might be enjoying a dish of crisp Jerusalem artichoke topped with slivers of scallops hiny under a full-bodied chicken glaze, or ribbons of fire-dried beetroot coiled into a disc and topped with rhubarb, macadamia and salty orange trout roe, but is that quail, glistening and striped by the kitchen's central grill that they're eating at the next table? Happily there are no second prizes. Chef Aaron Turner's skill for blending off-the wall combinations with wholly satisfying flavour is close to impeccable, and the fanfare of snacks starting every meal – tiny segments of fig wrapped in lardo; wattleseed tarts with parmesan and brown cheese; crisped wombok smeared with cod roe – is worth the price of admission alone. Service – as smooth, low-key and hospitable as the spare interior – is a highlight, as is the finely honed wine list championing small producers from near and far. Thoroughly deserving of a place on any dining hit list and made for return visits.
Ryan Pl, Geelong, Vic,
Lygon Street might not be the first place you'd look for a precise fine-diner marrying French technique with Japanese flavour and ingredients, but Kazuki's is unafraid of unlikely locations, having called Daylesford home until the move to Little Italy in late 2018. The city digs are glamorous in a suitably minimalist way, while the service from meticulously dressed professionals also signals that chef Kazuki Tsuya has ramped it up with the relocation. His food – balanced, handsome and served on beautiful handmade ceramics – also nails the brief. Dishes like a Moreton Bay bug dumpling topped with foamed sake butter, dry-aged Macedon Ranges duck accompanied by radicchio, blackberries and shiitake mushrooms, or raspberries and white chocolate teamed with an exquisite ice-cream flavoured with sour sake lees, can border on the ethereal. The wine offer leans towards finely crafted artisan labels and is accompanied by a page of similarly inclined sake. Consider ordering the extras beyond the set-price menus – neglect the snacks at your own peril (think fresh uni on a kipfler potato chip with cultured cream) – while the nine-score wagyu, at once sweet and rich, grilled on the hibachi over red gum and ironbark, showcases the clever, precise cooking at play here.
121 Lygon St, Carlton, Vic,
You're faced with a choice: ascend the stairs to Lee Ho Fook or settle into the neon-lit surrounds of Good Luck Bar. Upstairs, amid raw brick walls and exposed wooden beams, the atmosphere is refined but the food is electrically flavoured: an entrée of chicken crackling, done Chongqing style, is chewy, crisp, salty and pleasingly heavy on mouth-numbing Sichuan pepper; a larger dish comprising slippery potato threads, tender enoki mushrooms and slivers of fennel is strewn with dried Sichuan chilli and doused in pungent garlic oil; and a heady mix of fried garlic, coriander, and sil-gochu chilli threads does extraordinary things to tofu. For all the excitement on the plate, both kitchen and waitstaff can be slow-moving – the better bet might be the downstairs bar where the menu is smaller but the service is astute, and a bowl of lo-mein noodles served with pitch-perfect vegan XO sauce is as good as anything on offer on the upper level. And if you're missing Lee Ho Fook's signature crisp eggplant, just ask nicely – they're happy to send a plate down.
11-15 Duckboard Pl, Melbourne, Vic,
Lee Ho Fook.
Is there a finer sushi-ya in Australia? This refined raw fish temple tucked into back-street Richmond takes the title of Australia's best thanks to the skills of owner-chef Koichi Minamishima, a man seemingly wedded to the mood-lit glossed wooden counter. The restaurant tables offer a wider array of hot dishes, but the 12 ringside seats are where you want to be, enjoying dinner and a show as Minamishima and his two offsiders deftly conjure a sushi parade that changes with impressive frequency. Each visit offers new revelations such as Hokkaido king crab enlivened with a squeeze of lime, miso-cured King George whiting on a raft of sushi rice or the textural wonder of mochi and seaweed anointed with bottarga. Opt for the specials – and we highly recommend you do – and the parade might be interrupted by just-seared Japanese wagyu sushi, or a fan of puffer fish sashimi to dip in ponzu sauce. Minamishima is an experience to commit to thoroughly, which also means putting yourself in the capable hands of sommelier Randolph Cheung, who has a captivating array of sake and an international cast of wines at his disposal.
4 Lord St, Richmond, Melbourne, Vic,
It's a global cult as much as it is a restaurant. Proselytising the power of pita, Israeli chef Eyal Shani has installed his pulpit in Hardware Lane, where a two-tiered dining room with stadium-style bleacher seating is serving up an addictive recipe for good times and great food. Take heed: Miznon means "kiosk" in Hebrew. Fine dining this is not, but the casual approach to service (it's an order-at-the-counter situation, and nearly everything is served in a pita or paper bag) doesn't undermine some serious kitchen moves. A best-in-show falafel game is being played in the form of a fluffy-light burger wrapped and tucked inside a pita pocket with meaty tomato and the bite of red onion and pickles, while Sac de Coque sums up the freewheeling ethos with a jumbled bag of golden-skinned chicken with a bitter-edged salad, fried potatoes and thick aïoli. Assertively peppered swordfish swimming in a bread-sopping moat of lemon vinaigrette makes the case for simplicity, but there's no harm in chasing it with the house gag of a Run Over: a buttery, garlicky roasted potato smooshed with sour cream between two pieces of baking paper.
59 Hardware La, Melbourne, Vic,
There are plenty of MoVidas – Aqui in Melbourne's law district, a café at Sydney Airport and three in graffiti-slathered, tourist-packed Hosier Lane, including the newest offspring, Bar Tini. They all have their charms, but it's the original establishment that's hard to beat. The space is ageing well, all timber and terracotta with a blackboard dessert menu above the kitchen pass. The playlist makes easy listening. And the staff, a humorous troupe of professionals, is efficient even when the room is pumping, which it often is. The crowd is here for the meat-heavy menu, the source of old favourites – the anchovy and tomato sorbet tapa is one for the ages, as is the swimmer crab tortilla – and daily specials, perhaps a powerful combo of calamari, chickpeas, spicy sausage and squid ink or Goolwa pipis tossed with seaweed and fennel. They're here for the wine, too. MoVida's list is, not surprisingly, Spanish- leaning and waves the flag for much of the good, small-producer stuff from that part of the world and includes a short, strong list of sherry. Finish with churros or flan. Perfecto.
1 Hosier La, Melbourne, Vic,
Every neighbourhood might deserve a place like Napier Quarter, but few are lucky enough to boast the likes of this back-street bluestone that makes Fitzroy feel like Melbourne's sixth arrondissement. The recent arrival of chef Eileen Horsnell has pushed this stayer to new heights of cult favouritism among the crowds grabbing a kerbside table on pretty Napier Street or a bentwood chair in the salon-like dining room, all thanks to a menu drenched in comfort and oozing style. Stracciatella, poached persimmon and bottarga make a compellingly sophisticated triptych, while an egg yolk cracked into a supple nest of house-made pappardelle dressed only in olive oil, Parmigiano- Reggiano, thyme and a decent hand on the salt and pepper evokes a luxe cacio e pepe. Nettle soup the colour of envy – served with rugged rye toast and butter, both made in-house – will cure whatever ails you, while an apple and frangipane tart extends the brief to the sweet end of the meal. Equally a breakfast hangout par excellence as a wine bar with plenty of low-intervention moves, Napier Quarter covers all the bases with rare aplomb.
359 Napier St, Fitzroy, Vic,
Napier Quarter. Photo: Mark Roper
If you can't find the roti with Vegemite curry on the menu, don't panic — you have to know about it to order it. And do order it: the combination of buttery roti and creamy Vegemite-spiked curry is pure comfort food. Sunda's space may speak cool industrial minimalism, but the feel is warm and bustling with everything from unfussy service to a food-friendly, trend-conscious wine list and communal tables near the open kitchen encouraging a convivial mood. A more intimate experience can be had upstairs, where regular tables and wood panelling offer serenity and privacy. There are plenty of dishes deserving cult status beyond the Vegemite curry. The glossy wagyu rendang pie (more of a bun) swiped with feisty sambal is an exceptional take on Malaysian flavours, while a flank of smoked eggplant topped with bright jewels of Davidson's plum and fermented coconut is a deeply satisfying main course. A Vietnamese coffee-inspired pavlova, rich with chocolate ganache and condensed milk and finished with a scattering of earthy wattleseed, sums up chef Khanh Nguyen's brilliantly polymathic approach to flavour sweetly and succinctly.
18 Punch La, Melbourne, Vic,
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but Andrew McConnell is too creative to slavishly follow the rule book. On face value, Japan is the touchstone for Supernormal, both in the aesthetic – vending machines; individual light boxes for every place at the bar – as well as the influence present in many dishes. But this approach is mixed with the chef's devotion to flavour, no matter its origins. Spot the signature pot-stickers making their way to every table, then order your own. Follow them up with lamb shoulder, braised for eight hours and presented with sesame-crusted flatbread to dip into a Sichuan pepper broth. From the raw bar, ubiquitous kingfish sashimi becomes something to write home about, with mandarin dashi and a ruffle of hijiki seaweed providing punch. The floor team ably balance duty and fun, showing just enough care without smothering you, while consideration abounds on the menu, with a page of staff recommendations from the hefty wine list and helpful explainers of the different sake styles. Welcome to the world of Andrew McConnell: free-wheeling, fun, flavour-forward and far better than any carbon copy.
180 Flinders La, Melbourne, Vic,
How do we love Tipo 00? Let us count the ways. We love the crisp, light focaccia that arrives with a dollop of fresh ricotta as a precursor to the carby good times. We love sitting at the bar observing peak-hour mayhem with a glass of Sicilian carricante from a punchy Italian-leaning list close to hand. And we love the attention-to-detail service that elevates this simple pasta bar into something special – the automatic splitting of the signature squid-ink tagliolini with calamari and bottarga for two diners, for instance, or the way the waiters keep a close eye on the wine glass levels with handy matching suggestions for what's to come. Easing into its fifth year, the Tipo juggernaut shows no signs of slowing down – just try getting a table at noon any day of the week. If the menu has become more reliable than exciting, it's just as well that the public's taste for grilled ox tongue with balsamic and minty outbreaks of pink peppercorns, bucatini with rich wagyu ragù, and the classic Tipomasu (with a 0.05 booze factor) is impossible to satiate.
361 Little Bourke St, Melbourne, Vic,
Tipo 00. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen
The perfect drum roll to Tonka's modern-Indian moves is a pre-dinner rum- spiked lassi or chai-flavoured punch at the Thali Bar paired with snacks – perhaps signature feather-light pani puri, or a feisty bundle of tandoor rockling, wombok and pickled onions wrapped in a lettuce leaf – and the scent of garam masala in the air. It sets the agenda as accurately as the clean lines of the spacious dining room and the noteworthy Italian-accented wine list. Framing Indian food in a contemporary Euro-style setting like this is an anomaly in Melbourne but Tonka serves up substance to support the style. Some of the best eating moments come courtesy of the tandoor oven – a whole juicy spatchcock with pickles is a masterclass in how good this cooking technique can be – but there are highlights from the less traditional reaches of the menu, too. Vindaloo steak tartare with fenugreek raita is a brilliant example of well-balanced spicing, as is the yellow dal tadka subtly heated with Kashmiri chilli and a knee-weakeningly good dessert of carrot halwa with cream cheese ice-cream. Great service completes the good times.
20 Duckboard Pl, Melbourne, Vic,
A recent renovation has given this modern Turkish diner a textured, moodily lit new look, and further reason to secure a seat. There's appeal in the drinks list, too – a short, sharp collection stacked with Turkish wine, raki and theme-appropriate cocktails (try the Raki Sour garnished with Persian fairy floss) – and in the knowledgeable service from an enthusiastic team. But Coskun Uysal's inventive cooking is the main draw. It's precise, original stuff that puts a clever twist on traditional Turkish cuisine. Sesame seed-topped pide arrives with spicy muhammara (red pepper dip), Tulum cheese, olives anointed with oil and flavoured with coffee, and butter capped with a smear of smoked prune purée. Sardines, grilled to perfection, are topped with slivers of cucumber and a bay-flavoured tartare sauce. Lamb, served raw, is given texture with burghul and subtle heat with Turkish chilli pepper, while desserts include sweet-savoury combinations like tahini ice-cream, cumin caramel and smoked eggplant mousse. Tulum is excellent value, too, making the seven-course dégustation option a good one for those who arrive famished – always a good plan when eating at this small, ground-breaking gem.
217 Carlisle St, Balaclava, Vic,