The more Lonely Planet Local Sofia Levin travels, the more she appreciates how spoiled she is living in multicultural Melbourne. A journalist and food writer, Sofia is the best person to ask where the city’s hottest new restaurant is, but she’s just as interested in finding the best places to take her dog, eating croissants, or soaking up Melbourne’s buzzing atmosphere.
When I have friends in town… I make a beeline for the Abbotsford Convent. Inside the former monastery-turned-community hub are wellness studios, the Convent Bakery, Kappaya Japanese soul food cafe, a pay-what-you-want vegetarian restaurant Lentil as Anything and my favourite, Farm Cafe (farmcafe.com.au) – which is just around the corner overlooking the Collingwood Children’s Farm. On the second and fourth Saturday of the month there are brilliant farmers' markets at the farm and convent respectively.
When I’m looking for a big night out… I’ll start with dinner and drinks at Embla (embla.com.au) before walking up to Spring Street Grocer for pistachio gelato. Next door, City Wine Shop (citywineshop.net.au) is a great place for a digestif, or I’ll skip dessert to soak up the view at QT hotel’s rooftop bar across the road from Embla then head to Heartbreaker bar for bottled cocktails. If I’m hungry again when it closes at 3am, Shujinko (facebook.com/shujinkomelb) serves ramen 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
A typical weekend involves... brunch, of course. My locals are Smith Street Alimentari and Terror Twilight (terrortwilight.com.au). At night I might head to a movie at Cinema Nova, ditching choc tops in favour of gelato from Pidapipo. For a nightcap and snack, Heartattack and Vine is stumbling distance, as is Milk the Cow, which serves fondue and cheese-laced cocktails.
When I want to splash out… it’s hard to beat Minamishima, an omakase-style Japanese restaurant tucked down a one-way street in Richmond. You’re served one piece of sushi at a time and a seat at the bar is a must. For something a little more contemporary Kisumé in Flinders Lane is lots of fun, plus there’s a Chablis bar upstairs.
I have a dog… that goes wherever I go. There’s a hilarious dog cafe called Doghouse (doghouseaustralia.com.au) around the corner from me, but the food and atmosphere is better for humans at Grub Food Van (grubfoodvan.com.au) in Fitzroy, where you can take your pooch inside. On nice days they serve coffee from a streamliner caravan out the front.
For cheap eats… I head to Footscray Market. There’s lots of fresh seafood along with bits of animal you won’t know how to cook and all kinds of other goodies. Within a few blocks you can conceivably do a crawl between the best Italian cannoli at T. Cavallaro & Sons, a huge plate of dumplings at 1+1 Dumpling Noodles (numberonedumpling.com.au), an amazing burger at 8Bit (eat8bit.com.au), and eat Ethiopian (with your hands) at a number of relaxed restaurants in the neighbourhood.
One thing I hate about Melbourne is… The Docklands. There really isn’t much happening down there yet, unless you want to go on the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel.
When I want to get out of the city… I’ll find a cosy place to stay in the Yarra Valley, book a winery for lunch (Levantine Hill and Oakridge are pretty special) or eat at TarraWarra Estate after checking out the TarraWarra Museum of Art next door. A gin tasting at Four Pillars Distillery and supplies from Yarra Valley Dairy and Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery never go astray, either.
When I’m being a coffee geek I go to… Everyday Coffee (everyday-coffee.com) or Aunty Pegs in Collingwood – I especially love the latter’s nitro-charged coffee on tap, a refreshing choice when it’s hot.
For the ultimate Melbourne cafe experience… I take people to Higher Ground (highergroundmelbourne.com.au) in the city. It has all the hallmarks of a Melbourne cafe from the jaw-dropping interiors (it’s in a converted power station) to avocado toast served with native finger lime, season permitting. It’s also open for dinner Thursdays to Saturdays.
I know I’m a Melburnian because… I think the best croissant in the world isn’t made in Paris – it’s made at Lune in a converted warehouse by a woman who studied aerospace engineering.
When the sun is out… I fix a mismatched picnic from along Smith Street in Collingwood consisting of drinks from Blackhearts and Sparrow, Japanese goodies from Hinoki Japanese Pantry and gelato from Messina before making my way to Edinburgh Gardens, where there’s often a burger truck, some seriously cute dogs and locals practicing their tightrope walking skills between the trees.
For a night of entertainment… visit in March. It’s one of the best times to visit thanks to a number of events, from The Melbourne International Comedy and Melbourne Food and Wine festivals through to Moomba and Melbourne Fashion Festival. If I don’t have plans, I’ll jump on halftixmelbourne.com and see if there’s a discounted performance worth checking out. Visiting the NGV after hours on a Friday night is always fun, and it’s an easy stroll to Arbory Bar & Eatery, right on the Yarra River, for a beer and a burger.
I do my shopping at… Queen Victoria Market, every week since I was a little girl. The range of produce is mind-boggling and you can grab coffee from Padre or Pickett's Deli & Rotisserie (get the rotisserie sandwich here, too) depending on which side you end up. There are also lively summer and winter night markets throughout the year with food vendors, entertainment, music, art installations and shopping.
Need more city travel inspiration? Check out The Cities Book, a celebration of 200 of the world’s great cities, beautifully photographed and packed with trip advice and recommendations.