Haven't had time to try the latest additions to Melbourne's restaurant scene? A long weekend is the perfect opportunity to check out somewhere new.
Scott Pickett has added another restaurant, Matilda, to his impressive resumé while at the Rochester Hotel, a new menu sees pub classics transformed with an Indian twist. Italian-leaning breakfast options, Korean by Sydney's Peter Jo (Kimchi Pete), quality wine bars and spag bol pies are also up for grabs. What are you waiting for?
Cafe Romantica, a fixture on Lygon Street for nearly 30 years, changed hands recently and is now Bar Romantica, a late-night local with an above-average food menu, free pool table and a simple booze list that favours local labels. The reno has captured a 1960s espresso-bar spirit and snacks include a tomato and fior di latte pizza, with or without 'nduja, and a very good beef tartare with fermented chilli.
52 Lygon St, Brunswick East, (03) 9191 9410, barromantica.com.au
The Carlton Wine Room
The Carlton Wine Room has experienced peaks in previous incarnations but this version is something special. There's no flash or dazzle, just the right team in the right place at the right time. That team includes chef John Paul Twomey, Andrew McConnell's right-hand man for years, Andrew Joy, another McConnell alumnus who won the GT Maître d' of the Year gong when he ran the floor at Marion and Travis Howe, former Coda and Tonka sommelier, who have given this Carlton favourite a winning revamp.
172-174 Faraday St, Carlton, (03) 9347 2626, thecarltonwineroom.com.au
All the elements of a solid local restaurant – comfort, good service, deftly cooked food, well-priced wine – have been crossed off the list at Congress. A clean-lined, two-level restaurant below a new Collingwood apartment building, it mixes current design tropes with warm hospitality and good booze. Dishes like a crumbed pig's head sandwich, kangaroo pastrami with crisp onions, and Dutch spice cake with malt custard all encourage return visits.
49 Peel St, Collingwood, (03) 9068 7464, congresswine.com.au
Riccardo Momesso (Sarti, Valentino) puts a modern Italian spin on breakfast and lunch at café Ferrovia in Pascoe Vale. Eggs Benedict get a makeover with pancetta, Napoli sauce and salted ricotta, while Calabrian poached eggs come with 'nduja and cannellini beans. At lunchtimes, and on Friday and Saturday nights for dinner, there's gnocchi with a beef ragù or paccheri tossed with oxtail and chestnuts.
8 Railway Pde, Pascoe Vale, (03) 9379 7377
The team behind Fancy Hanks has opened an exuberantly decorated three-level funhouse called Heroes. It features a Singaporean and Malaysian-inspired barbecue restaurant, rooftop bar and bookable karaoke rooms. Chef Alicia Cheong dishes up a menu of sticks (duck heart, tingling lamb, shiitake) cooked over charcoal and larger plates such as chicken wings with chilli vinegar and lime. Cocktails are good too, courtesy of Oscar Eastman, formerly of Loretta's and Eau de Vie.
Level 1-3, 188 Bourke St, Melbourne, (03) 8639 0630, heroesbar.com.au
Scott Pickett's daughter is the namesake of his new restaurant, Matilda, a moodily lit wood- and coal-fired grill designed by Projects of Imagination. Under a scalloped ochre ceiling, Pickett keeps the flavours of his well-sourced produce (Lakes Entrance octopus, Macedon Ranges duck) and an Aussie accent (kangaroo tartare, tiger flathead) front and centre with char and smoke kept to a well-balanced supporting role.
159 Domain Rd, South Yarra, (03) 9089 6668, matilda159.com
The Pie Shop
Matt Wilkinson's diner Pope Joan might have closed, but The Pie Shop, his cheerful shopfront next door, continues to trade in gold-standard pastries – savoury, sweet and breakfast – all made in house. The fillings, including a spag Bol number named The Bruce, are generous, and the shortcrust, rolled out in the front window, is light and buttery but still sturdy enough to be eaten by hand.
75 Nicholson St, Brunswick East, 0455 052 342, thepieshop.com.au
Rochester Hotel has teamed up with chef Mischa Tropp who has turned the menu Keralan. There are rejigged pub classics – chips served with curry sauce and fried chicken fragrant with cumin, fenugreek and cardamom – alongside south-west Indian dishes like a spicy fish nadan. Good local beer on tap and on-trend wine add to the appeal, as does the scent of spice that makes the Rochey the best-smelling pub in Fitzroy.
202 Johnston St, Fitzroy. (03) 9419 0166, rochey.com.au
Restaurant Shik fills a gap in Melbourne for smart, switched-on Korean. There's a kind of free-form observation of tradition at his first permanent solo venture. It reflects a career that includes working in his family's restaurants, a series of pop-ups under the alias Kimchi Pete, and stints at high-calibre Sydney eateries such as Momofuku Seiobo and Berta. Jo is enthusiastic about traditional Korean technique, but he's also a true believer in the cuisine's ethos of focusing on what's available locally. Restaurant Shik delivers smart modern Korean food that balances authenticity with a keen sense of Melbourne here and now.
30 Niagara Ln, Melbourne, (03) 9670 5195 restaurantshik.com
A former carpark next door to fellow newcomer Bar Saracen is now home to Sunda, a South East Asian restaurant where Khanh Nguyen (formerly of Sydney's Mr Wong, Bentley and Noma Australia) pushes the boat out with his take on Indonesian, Malaysian and Vietnamese food. Roti is paired with a curry and Vegemite dipping sauce, raw scallops with andaliman pepper, and egg noodles with XO sauce, chicken crackling and pepperberry. One of the smartest new canteens in town.
18 Punch Ln, Melbourne, (03) 9654 8190, sunda.com.au