There’s never a shortage of restaurants to visit in Melbourne, but recently it’s been difficult to pinpoint specific trends. From Mexican and Algerian through to contemporary Indian and Middle-Eastern, Melbourne’s dining diversity is part of what makes it so special. In the last six to eight months, there has been a collection of new restaurants in the Prahran-South Yarra precinct, which is hot on the tails of the trendy, inner-northern suburbs. Here are the best restaurants to open in Melbourne so far this year.
The rumours are true: not only does a 23-year old chef own and cook in one of the best new restaurants in Melbourne, the menu also changes cuisines three times a year based on his travels. April saw Atlas’ Israeli menu come to a close – now it’s Korea’s turn from May until August. The considered, well-executed six-course menu only costs $65 per person, with an extra $55 for matched wines. Look out for longitudinal lines along the distressed walls and menus disguised as passports.
The more people you dine with at Henry Sugar, the more of the share-style menu you can sample. It’s not big, so you could conceivably visit with a party of eight and try one of everything. Start small with dishes such as tofu tartare and squid stuffed with house chorizo and dipped in glossy ink sauce. Choose from a vegetable, fish or meat main (or order all three), ensuring you save room for delicate desserts, like Spanish chocolate flan with quenelles of black sesame ice cream, sesame praline and soy seeds. If you’re not that hungry, the wide bar and raised tables are just the spot to stop in for a drink.
Remember Mamasita, the Mexican restaurant in Melbourne that made no-bookings policies cool and can still generate a queue in its stairwell? Hotel Jesus, pronounced ‘hey-Zeus’, is its trendier, snackier little cousin. Set in the old Collingwood Post Office, cerveza light boxes and religious symbols add a splash of neon to white walls. People watching and margarita-sipping is best executed from the plastic-covered tables outside. To order, tick the boxes on the paper menu – perhaps corn concealed beneath a blanket of thick black mayonnaise, or raw tuna tostadas with wasabi peas and grilled cheese ‘volcanes’ with traditional toppings.
They say some like it hot, but David Thompson likes it molten hot. The Australian-born chef is known for his multi-award winning fine-dining restaurant Nahm in Bangkok, but on home shores, Long Chim – also in Singapore, Perth and Sydney – is bringing heat to the banks of the Yarra River. Situated overlooking the water at Crown Casino’s promenade, you might even be tempted to jump in when you’re burning up from larp, a minced chicken salad packed with Asian herbs and deadly scud chillies. It’s not all spicy though; see sweet and smoky pork skewers, charred rice noodles and creamy laksa. Failing that, you can always cool off with some Thai tea ice cream.
Almost three years after Melbourne’s most iconic beach restaurant burnt to the ground, Stokehouse has risen from the ashes with a pastel dining room, tubular chandelier and that same conversation-stopping sunset view. In the dining room you might find poached marron salad with finger lime cream, young vegetables and rhubarb vinaigrette, or perhaps a contemporary take on fish and chips with seaweed salt. The bombe alaska remains, but for something more casual, try Pontoon downstairs or the fish and chips kiosk, Paper Fish, beside that.
Directly across the road from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Gilson is the place to eat, drink and be seen. Start with breakfast beside active-wear clad mums, continue through lunch alongside socialites and business people, and then dine with a mix of South Yarra’s finest come dinner. There are affordable and delicious wood-fired pizzas, house-made pastas with seasonal trimmings and smaller plates like oysters, duck liver terrine and beef tartare to enjoy with your champagne.
Smack-bang on Chapel Street in South Yarra, Ramblr is a smart-casual restaurant with a raw wooden bar on one side and tables on the other. At said bar, you can sit on blue suede stools sipping Pét-Nat and munching on fancy toasties, like smoked beef tongue with Monterey Jack cheddar and XO sauce, perhaps. For more than snacks, ricotta dumplings and the calamari ‘noodles’ are on the menu. This is a top spot for pre- or post-movie drinks at nearby Jam Factory, or stay a while and work your way through the menu.
Shadowboxer Bar & Kitchen
There is often an expectation in Melbourne that produce is sourced locally and ethically, but what about alcohol? That’s where Shawdowboxer comes in. In this cosy converted terrace, classic cocktails come with local spirits (West Winds Gin and Four Pillars Gin abound) and frequently changing wines by the glass, don't leave the nation. If snacking is your style, you won't be disappointed. Duck ribs with house barbecue sauce and a charcuterie board with blue cream cheese and pickle will kick things off, followed by larger dishes of roasted cauliflower with spiced hummus and Cape Grim beef short rib with parsnip puree, smoked eggplant and pickled kohlrabi.
As soon as chef Pierre Khodja opened his Algerian restaurant, Camus, named after existentialist philosopher Albert Camus, people were talking about it. Maybe it’s the Turkish delight soufflé with pistachio baklava and halva ice cream that already has somewhat of a cult following, or perhaps it’s Pierre’s command of Algerian food, which uses French techniques and fragrant spices you simply won’t find in supermarkets. It could be the warm space, with brick walls, glass pendant lights and Berber symbols on the walls. Whatever it is, High Street Northcote is lucky to have Camus.
Forget everything you know about Indian food. Piquancy takes traditional dishes and curries, freshens them up and adds lesser-known Indian street food dishes into the mix. The menu is similar to the owners’ St. Kilda restaurant, Babu Ji. You might start with pani puri, thin pastry spheres with mashed potato, chickpeas and sweet chutney, or perhaps paneer cheese marinated in beetroot and charred in the tandoor. Help yourself to one of the beers in the communal fridge and move onto curries, from slow-braised goat and classic butter chicken to anjeer ke kofte (fig, pomegranate and cashew dumpling curry). It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but if you're in town on Sunday, join the locals for all-you-can eat rice and curry, $28 per person. Look for the sign out the front of a man in a turban twirling his white moustache.
Tucked down a laneway in true Melbourne style is Souk, a two-storey, Middle-Eastern restaurant that feels a lot like a nightclub. There’s pink neon signs and taxi lights on the walls at the downstairs bar, cushions on the thick stairs up to the dining room on which to enjoy Aladdin’s Mistress and The Omar Sharif cocktails, and Arabic idioms and murals upstairs. It’s all about share plates or ‘mezze’ here, if that's what you can call prawn falafels on smoked black tahini, 'Kuwaiti fried chicken' and za'atar soft shell crab in pita pockets.
Etta is the kind of neighbourhood wine bar-cum-restaurant that everyone wishes they had around the corner. The intimate front area features a communal bench seat and marble figure-eight bar, while forest green banquettes in the dining room match the coasters and a tropical mural. Etta's drinks list is small but painstakingly considered, whether whetting the palate with Australian vermouth or sipping New Zealand Pinot Noir with pork, green apple and buttermilk. The seasonal menu is mostly vegetarian and packed with flavours – tagliatelle made from mozzarella is paired with zucchini and black olive, while buttercup pumpkin is roasted in tamari and served with horseradish.
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