After two years of COVID delays, cancellations and change-ups, the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival (MFWF) – in its full, unabridged glory – is finally going ahead in under a month. And for its 30th birthday, it's pulled out all the stops. And although many – okay, most – events sold out within days of ticket releases (a sign of the pent-up demand for one of Melbourne's best-loved festivals), there are still plenty of fantastic ways to get involved in the festivities, which run from March 25 to April 9.
Here are our picks.
The World's Longest Brunch, Treasury Gardens, $89
The World's Longest Lunch, which has been a part of every MFWF since the first edition in 1993, is arguably the festival's signature event. And while it's sold out this year, you can still nab a ticket to its recently launched brunch-focused spinoff. The three-course meal, designed by Maha's Shane Delia, Rumi's Joseph Abboud, and Kirsty Chiaplias, of beloved Carlton North café Babajan, kicks off at a very brunch-appropriate 10.30. And you get a coffee and some goodie samples with your ticket too.
Maximum Chips, Queen Victoria Market, $35
It's a celebration of all things hot chips – how much do we really need to say here? Your ticket gets you a welcome drink and access to all – yes, all – the chips you can eat. Classic, crinkle-cut, shoestring? All present and accounted for, and all fair game. And maybe, just maybe, the humble wedge and the potato gem, the misunderstood cousins of the fry family, will get their due here too. A condiments team will be on hand with more chip sauces than a Belgian town square, and there'll be DJs on deck to stop you from falling into a carby stupor. This will be one of the best nights of the fest.
The Convenient Store, Queen Victoria Market, free
Ever been to a Japanese konbini? What about a Brooklyn bodega? Or one of Berlin's "late shops"? One of the most underrated aspects of overseas travel is getting to see how people in other countries go about their day-to-day lives, and convenience stores are some of the best windows into those worlds.
The Convenient Store takes its cues from those overseas convenience shop formats, with some luxe local tweaks including: tarts and pastries from bakeries Falco and Monforte (and hot cross buns from To Be Frank); Pie Thief dim sim sausage rolls; Chappy's chips with Yarra Valley Caviar; MoVida smoked tomato sorbet and more. A fun, quick one to check out.
High Steaks, various locations
High Steaks is a new Friday event series which, in the words of MFWF creative director Pat Nourse, is "all about Martinis, steaks, and not going back to work." Sounds good to us. Some of Melbourne's best-known restaurants, many of which play host to the city's glitziest dining rooms, are participating. There are classics such as Bar Lourinha, Epocha, Prince Dining Room and Carlton North's La Luna; and they're joined by newer favourites like Bar Margaux, Scott Pickett's Chancery Lane and Chris Lucas' latest: Society.
Snacks & Nats Crawl, The Moon Collingwood, $101
After a few years in the wilderness, Smith Street is well and truly back. And this tight little bar crawl, which takes in three local favourites, is a great way to experience it and its surrounds. Start at the Moon, a Collingwood bar and bottle shop that makes a fan out of anyone lucky enough to walk through its doors. Then, move on to Glou, one of the street's newest vino hotspots; then finish it up at Bad Frankie – a classic. Snacks, wines, and good times all around.
Starward Rising Stars, Queen Victoria Market, free
The brief: snacks by some of Melbourne's most exciting young chefs, spread out over the festival's two weekends. On Saturday March 26, New Quarter head chef Scott Lord is making Vietnamese-inspired hot chicken croquettes, packed with Laughing Cow cheese and nuoc mam. Then on Sunday, Napier Quarter's Lorena Corso is cooking panelle – Sicilian chickpea fritters. The following weekend, Etta head chef Rosheen Kaul is serving up a hot Beijing-style chicken sandwich with pickled green chilli mayonnaise. Finally, Nabil Ansari – of Sunda, Aru and lockdown sensation Ansari's Indian – is making a classic Mumbai vada pav. Try these chefs' dishes while you can.
Pipit at Amaru, Amaru Melbourne, $450
Don't miss this. Pipit – in Pottsville, in New South Wales' Northern Rivers region – is one of Australia's most exciting and acclaimed regional fine diners. Amaru, in Melbourne's Armadale, is a beloved local fine diner – presided over by the expert hands of chef Clinton McIver. McIver is bringing Pipit head chef Ben Devlin over for a series of dinners that will showcase Pipit's dishes within Amaru's beautiful dining room. Your ticket includes canapés, a seven-course tasting menu, and matched wines for the entire evening.
The Big Spaghetti, Queen Victoria Market, Free
This might be the festival's top family-friendly pick. This takeover of the Queen Victoria Market's cavernous E Shed will see some of Melbourne's finest pasta purveyors set up shop. Al Dente Enoteca, Agostino, Lagotto, Marameo, That's Amore, Pastore and Tipo 00 and more will be dishing up 20 different pasta dishes. Just show up with an empty stomach, and see how many you can get through. It runs across an entire weekend too, so head back on the Sunday to tick more off your list.
New Crush, Queen Victoria Market, $40
New Crush is a showcase of all of the good new things happening in the Victorian drinks scene. Your ticket gets you a free tasting experience across the party's five zones, and there'll be plenty of great snacks and drinks around for additional purchase too. Plus, there's an educational sip school, a lucky dip beer can bar, a silent disco, and more.
Welcome to the Jungle, Queen Victoria Market, $80
Shannon Martinez is the country's most prominent vegan chef, and she's headlining this garden party for all things plant-based. Joined by Fancy Hank's, Rumi and Warung Agus, the entire menu for the evening will be vegan – and all the drinks will be too. Live music will come courtesy of the Tarantinos, Melbourne's favourite (only?) band dedicated to the soundtracks of Quentin Tarantino's films. There'll be more plants than a Fitzroy sharehouse and enough leopard print to make Tarzan blush. It'll be a silly night with some serious eating and drinking, don't miss it.