Melbourne is a food lover’s paradise, and Melbournians rank eating out as their favourite activity (even above going to football games or drinking!). As the wine and restaurant capital of Australia, you will find just about every imaginable cuisine in the world. Melbourne’s melting pot of cultures is reflected in its diverse range of restaurants, cafes and bars.
While many of Melbourne’s most famous and exclusive eateries require bookings months in advance (and this shouldn’t scare you away from booking, just plan ahead), there are even more casual restaurants that don’t take bookings and are happy to accommodate those who walk in off the street. In fact, in a number of cases, some very famous eateries refuse to take bookings, leading to the common Melbourne sight of hungry, devoted patrons lined up out the door, waiting (sometimes an hour or more) for a table to clear at their favourite place.
Australia does not have siesta, so restaurants are open all day but kitchens can close at a variety of hours depending on the venue (some as early as nine, others are open all night). However, it is worth noting that most restaurants taking bookings will do their last seating at 9:30pm.
Tipping is not mandatory, but is welcome, especially if you are eating at a more expensive restaurant (for more information, see our section on Tipping).
Table manners are Continental, with the fork being held in the left hand and the knife in the right.
Find reviews of local restaurants and cafes in your local Leader Newspaper, the Melbourne Weekly Magazine, The City Weekly (all available free, and usually delivered to your door) along with The Age newspaper’s Tuesday lift-out section, “Epicure”.
Two must-have publications for Melbourne diners are The Age Good Food Guide and The Age Cheap Eats. Both of these are published each year (buy a copy from Newsagents, all book stores, and the occasional petrol station for about $25 apiece) and are considered food bibles by those who love to explore new restaurants, but want to know exactly what they are getting in to.
Good Food Guide
The Good Food guide is cross-referenced by food type, suburb and price and the reviews are incredibly reliable. Awards are given each year to outstanding restaurants and the information is very thorough. A handy Quick-Glance guide will summarise a restaurant using icons to show price, quality, accepted payment methods, and how accessible the restaurant is to the disabled.
The Cheap Eats contains an astounding array of Melbourne restaurants where you can eat (and often drink, too) for under $30 per head. In recent years this publication has lost many fans by upping the limit considered “cheap”, and including reviews that many find inconsistent with experience. However, even though many Melbournians will be quick to criticise, almost all of them will have a current copy of this book on a shelf or coffee table in their home. Available at all Melbourne book stores and some news agents.
Very Cheap Eats
Another great resource for finding fantastic food that won’t break the budget is the Very Cheap Eats website. Started in response to the recent change by the Age’s Cheap Eats to increase its standard to $30 per head, the Very Cheap Eats is a group blog detailing restaurants that can provide food and drink, for less than $20 a head. Some great hidden wonders are exposed and rated.
Destinations and Recommendations
Melbourne’s specialist “Eat Streets” are destinations unto themselves, and provide distinct surrounds for distinct tastes. The following is a list of Melbourne’s most well known food-conclaves, arranged by cuisine type.
While Lygon Street in Carlton is home to most of Melbourne’s Italian pasta, pizza and gelato venues, most of them are past their prime. While that’s not to say that some smaller, authentic eateries don’t exist, it pays to be vigilant to find a good one. The sidewalks here have become crowded with touts in recent years, and a good rule of thumb is that if a restaurant needs someone out front shouting to get customers in, the food on offer is probably about as subtle and unappealing as the tout.
Lonsdale Street is home to the Greek Quarter, with a variety of authentic Greek tavernas. Most of these places have reputations and avid fans. Ask a Melbournian which one is their favourite, or put your name on the list at one that looks crowded with people enjoying their food and wine.
Victoria Street in Richmond is great for simple, cheap, no-fuss Vietnamese restaurants. The large number of establishments in this area makes for a very wide-range in quality, so it’s best to stick to the busy looking establishments.
For authentic French, the name that will come up repeatedly in conversations with Melbournians and expats alike is the multi-award winning Vu De Monde. While there may be other French restaurants around, for most in the city there is only one. Bookings essential.
Vue De Monde
430 Little Collins Street, Melbourne
03 9691 3888
Melbourne’s China Town has more Asian restaurants than you can shake a bamboo stick at. Japanese, Chinese, and Korean seem to be the most common, but there are certainly little alleyway niches hiding eateries to cater to any geographically specific Asian taste. Touts are common in some areas, and the restaurants they represent are best avoided. One Chinese restaurant that frequently wins awards and recommendations from the expat community is Sichuan House. Relatively cheap, and the best Kung Pao chicken this side of Guangdong. Bookings aren’t taken, but be prepared to wait if you turn up after 8pm on a weekend.
22-26 Corrs Ln, Melbourne
03 9650 8589
Melbourne wouldn’t be Melbourne without its coffee houses. As the coffee capital of Australia, good coffee can be found just about anywhere, but some iconic coffee destinations include Degraves Lane and Centre Way in the CBD. Degraves is the heart of café culture, with cobbled laneways and a plethora of cafés. You’ll also find plenty of espresso excellence in St Kilda’s youthful Fitzroy Street, or South Yarra’s Toorak Road.