Food and Drink

The Best Bars In Melbourne Right Now

Time to get bar hopping once again.

For a social city that thrives on banter and booze, Melbournians did it tough last year. But now that bars are back, do we even know which ones to go to? Now’s the time to try a place you haven’t been before; we’re spoilt for choice and they all specialise in different things. We’ve put together a list of our favourites, to help you get back into the swing of bar-hopping once again.

Courtesy of Bar Americano

Bar Americano

Presgrave Place, CBD

Bar Americano has an essence of calm about it. Whether it’s the buzzing box tv silently playing European sports, the classy elevator music that transports you to another era, or the perfectly iced-glasses—it’s a prime place to end the work day. Opened by accountant turned visual artist and sometimes bartender Matt Bax in 2011, Bar Americano pays homage to the Golden Age of drinking. They offer pristine classics only, including their infamous negroni, considered by many experts to be the best on the planet. Although previously having a capacity of 10 patrons inside only, Bar Americano graces us with 32 new euro-inspired alfresco seats. 
How to book: Walk-ins are welcome, reservations via website

Gareth Sobey

Bar Margaux

Russell Street, CBD

Bar Margaux is a late-night bar and brasserie, serving cocktails, wine, and French comfort food until the wee hours, 7 days a week. This is the place you go for 2am oysters, fries, and a glass of Chablis. Located in a basement on Lonsdale Street, Bar Margaux is Melbourne city’s newest late-night love affair—she even smells divine! 
How to book: If you’re wanting an intimate table, dinner or a larger group book here, otherwise just mozey on in

Courtesy of MONO-XO

MONOXO

Collingwood

MONO-XO has done a rebrand, from skewers and rock ‘n’ roll cocktails to Modern Japanese snacks paired with charismatic wines… and we’re not mad about it. With sustainability as a priority, co-owners Sam, Andy and Lincoln moved away from spirits and towards natural wine with good farming practises. The wine list is small but diverse, including hard-to-find allocations of Lofi Wines such as Christian Tschida and Guttagau, alongside some juicy sparkling sake. Super cute vibe, very charming staff and great addition of oysters, noodles and raw fish to the ever-changing snack options.

How to book: Bookings can be made via their website but it’s best just to walk in! Unless you want to book the super cute space for a little function.

Courtesy of Hemingway’s Wine Room

Hemingway’s Wine Room

East Melbourne

Wander the quiet, leafy avenues of East Melbourne and you’ll find Hemingway’s Wine Bar. True to its name, Hemingway’s is focused on bringing back the style, sophistication, and romance of New York’s 1920’s Brasseries. Influenced by European and French fundamentals, the wine list and menu showcase simple and classic choices, with something to please everyone. Now, for the best part. Hemingway’s Wine Bar is launching their Oyster & Champagne event, which offers $2 oysters, $9 glasses of prosecco, and $15 glasses of Bille-Carte… every Wednesday, from 5pm – 7pm. A lush mid-week treat. 
How to book: Book here, or call (03) 9416 5064

Gareth Sobey

The Everleigh

Fitzroy

The Everleigh has got to be one of the most beautiful cocktail bars in Melbourne. Inspired by the understated glamour of the 1920s, The Everleigh serves up delicious classics you’ve never heard of, with a side of history and live jazz. Set in a dimly lit loft just off Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, The Everleigh will take you back in time and you won’t want to miss it. They’ve won many awards, including the Australian Cocktail Bar of the Year, Best Victorian Bar of the Year, and Operator of the Year, as a group. The Everleigh should be on everyone’s list, always. 
How to book: You are welcome to walk-in, but if you’d like to stay for a while, are with a bigger group or would like a sexy table in the corner, book here

Jungle Boy

Windsor

Jungle Boy is a flamingo-filled tiki bar, hidden behind the fridge door at sandwich store Boston Sub on Chapel Street. Complete with your tiki must-haves; Painkiller, Jungle Bird, Singapore Sling, and the infamous flaming Zombie—all of your 80s fantasies will come true, complete with cute bartenders wearing tiki holiday shirts. What more could you want?
How to book: No bookings!

Courtesy of Eau De Vie

Eau De Vie

Malthouse Lane, CBD

Eau De Vie brought the speakeasy bar to Melbourne. Inspired by prohibition bars of the 1920s-30s, Eau De Vie is one of Melbourne’s best hidden cocktail bars. Situated on Malthouse Lane (if you can find it) Eau De Vie has a theatre-themed cocktail list, with drinks that catch on fire, sit under smoked-domes, and get turned into ice-cream before your very eyes. It is an entire production, where you, as the audience, get to take part. Housing over 500 whiskeys, a library, and a secret Whisky Room, Eau De Vie is a treasure trove full of delicious surprises.
How to book: Here a degustation dinner with matching cocktails, here for a drinking perch, or just walk-in (but be prepared for a queue!) 

Above Board

Collingwood

Above Board is an intimate award-winning cocktail bar, with 16 seats and no standing room, it exudes minimalism and class. With beautifully curated cocktails and ingredients you won’t have tried together ever, Above Board offers a unique and one-off experience. Found up some secret stairs via Beer Mash on Smith Street, a visit to Above Board will tickle all of the senses. 
How to book: No bookings, just walk in. Order takeaway cocktails here

Romeo Lane

Crossley Street, CBD

Another tiny gem in the heart of Melbourne CBD is Romeo Lane. Focussing sherry, gin, champagne and cognac—although you’ll never know because the bar is a leadlight window of label-less, crystal decanters filled with alcohol in all the colours of the rainbow—Romeo Lane is known for its European-inspired twists on classics. Situated on Crossley Street, the name is a nod to the laneway’s colourful past. The street was named Romeo Lane during its time as the epicentre of Melbourne’s Red Light District, back in the 1800s.  
How to book: No bookings are taken, but you can find all contact details here

Courtesy of Whisky Den

Whisky Den

Exhibition Street, CBD

Whisky Den is for Whisky lovers—especially of the Japanese kind. Whisky Den was designed as a hybrid of the tiny yokocho alley bars of Japan and the Hutong bars of Beijing. Rather than the traditional 3-5 patrons, Whisky Den can hold 40 seated drinkers, complete with exclusive whiskey lockers and a selection of over 370 whiskeys from all over the world. Whether you like them neat or on the rocks, whether you prefer a dram or a cocktail – Whisky Den is at your service. Located in a hole in the wall of Russell Street, it’s the perfect spot for a quick work-break (don’t worry, we won’t tell). 

How to book: They’re totally laid back. No bookings.

Courtesy of Little Andorra

Little Andorra

Carlton North

Little Andorra is back, and boy are we glad! With bookings back on since Feb 3 and welcoming Tom Sarafian (Bar Saracen) to the team, Little Andorra promises to provide you with their usual selection of weird, wonderful, and downright classic wines as well as some amazing new snacks. Sarafian is known for his spanner crab and prawn hummus (uh, YUM) and will be offering some other tasty things like Gilda pintxos with Cantabrian anchovies, labneh-stuffed green olives, roasted bullhorn & guindilla peppers. Little Andorra also has one of the cutest courtyards going around, very citrus tree heavy. We like. A lot. 
How to book: Book via obee or walk in

Courtesy of Bad Frankie’s

Bad Frankie

Collingwood

This Collingwood bar houses over 150 Australian spirits. Yes, all of them are homegrown. They’ve got everything from Australian gin, to tequila, to Australian vodka and whisky. The cocktail list is sprinkled with quintessential Australia flavours, such as pepperberry and quandong, and lest you go hungry, there are a range of Australian-themed jaffles including roast lamb, lamington, and Anzac biscuit—we know, just try one. Bad Frankie’s is a true expression of Australian culture, it celebrates our beautiful country via the universal love of food and drink.
How to book: Call them on (03) 9078 3866

Black Pearl

Fitzroy

Black Pearl is a Melbourne institute of fun. Not only has it seen some of the most talented bartenders that the Melbourne hospo scene has to offer, but the Black Pearl team also serves up great late-night vibes, yummy snacks, excellent service, and a consistently creative cocktail list. They have two main areas, downstairs which is all about bar service and mingling, and The Attic which is their upstairs bar, with a bit more of a fancy sit-down table-service vibe.  Smack bang in the middle of Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, the Black Pearl party never stops. 
How to book: Book via obee or walk in!

Kristoffer Paulsen

Tetto Di Carolina

Toorak

Climb the stairway to heaven until you reach Tetto Di Carolina. With sleek aesthetics that transport you to London or Rome—take your pick—angelic bartenders complete with white jackets and pristinely combed hair will pour you whatever your heart desires. Sunday live see’s Tetto’s idyllic outdoor terrace utilised, with local live music from 4pm – 7:30pm every Sunday. Situated on Toorak Road, directly above Italian restaurant Bar Carolina, Tetto Di Carolina offers a complete snack menu and is available for group bookings and events. 
How to book: Book via their website, or just wander on up

Courtesy of Union Electric

Union Electric

Heffernan Lane, CBD

If you listen closely, you may just hear the pumping Latin-jazz tunes coming from Heffernan Lane. We advise that you do your best to follow them, as they may just lead you to one of Melbourne’s best drinking venues. Union Electric is hidden in one of the many alleyways behind Chinatown, right in the centre of Melbourne CBD. They’re known for making great drinks, wearing bad shirts, and having a bloody good time. And if you’re after an exotic, freshly pressed gin&juice; this is the place for you. 
How to book: Book via obee or go for a hunt post-dumplings!

Courtesy of Longplay

Longplay

Fitzroy North

Longplay is a cinema, cocktail and wine bar, restaurant and live music venue all in one. Having lived on St George’s Road for almost 10 years, Longplay is home to some of Melbourne’s most talented musicians and filmmakers. Pop in for a Pisco Sour, stay for an independent film premiere. Owner Tim Richmond, is also the hands behind the beautifully simple bites menu, seasonally offering things such as kangaroo and cured trout. 
How to book: Book via OpenTable

Mr West

Footscray

Mr West is a bottle shop and bar in the heart of Footscray. With 24 craft beers on tap and many more in their fridges, it’s the perfect place to try out all the new local flavours. They also have an incredible offering of natural wine and seasonal cocktails for any season and every mood. Now with a huge alfresco area seating over 50 patrons, Mr West commands Nicholson Street and is the summer venue of Foot-as-scrayyyy. 
How to book: Walk-ins are welcome, can also book via their website

Courtesy of Shadowboxer

Shadowboxer

South Yarra

Shadowboxer is equal parts Modern Australian restaurant, wine bar & cocktail bar with a strong focus on small, local producers. This encompasses small farm growers for food, exclusively Australian wine list and an extensive drinks list which features over 100 Australian made spirits. The venue is set within an original terrace house built in 1895. It’s relaxed yet refined, with a sunny terrace out front, and two dining spaces inside. Shadowboxer can be anything you want it to be; a wine bar, a date spot, a restaurant or a quiet moment of tranquility, with a side of spritz.
How to book: Book via OpenTable, walk-ins are welcome

Food and Drink

What We Learned About Fish From Spending An Afternoon With Josh Niland

It’s time to stop putting your fish in water, you’re killing the flavour

fish in coolroom
Photo By Natasha Bazika

“How do you want your fish,” says a fishmonger dressed head to toe in black, to a customer ordering a kilo of Greenback Flounder from Coorong, SA. The customer is unsure of how he wants the fish but asks the fishmonger for advice after telling him what he plans to do with the fish. Immediately the fishmonger knows how to cut the flounder, wraps it in paper, and hands it off to the customer—but not before giving a tip or two on how to cook it. 

“This is how we sell trust and instil confidence,” says Josh Niland who appeared from around the counter, donning his chef whites and a crisp white apron. We’re in Fish Butchery, Niland’s fish shop in Paddington, 20-metres down the road from his two-hatted seafood restaurant, Saint Peter. It’s a humble fish shop that feels luxurious when you walk in. Perhaps, it’s the cased sausages hanging in the front window, or the glass cabinet with one of everything they’re selling that day on display. You won’t find piles of fish or large blue trays of ice with fish lying on top. Everything is in controlled cabinets, including the oysters.

The shop is long and narrow with exposed brick walls, which Niland explains had a previous life as a hair salon. “I never wanted the shop to be uptight, but I did want it to be beautiful, a place you could walk in, order fish and chips, or a piece of fish to cook at home,” says Niland. In the middle of the room, there is a slab of white-marble serving as the backbone. This is where the fish is descaled with what Niland likes to call a ‘beartrap on a stick’. Although some fishmongers wield the beartrap, flinging scales up their arms, others use a knife, slicing the scales in one long strip, resembling snakeskin. 

“The fish here will be used for sushi and sashimi,” Niland explains pointing at the fish being scaled by a knife. “What we’re trying to do here is to get between the scale and the fish, so we can control the texture of the fish and remove moisture from the fish.” 

Removing moisture from the fish is something we don’t see often, but as Niland explains, it is the most important step in preparing the fish. “You know that fishy fish smell you get a waft of walking into a fish market or other fish shop,” Niland asks. I briefly pause to remember smelling nothing when I walked into Fish Butchery, except the faint smell of fries sizzling in the fryer. “Well that’s because moisture gets into the skin, and when that happens water rapidly breaks down into ammonia, resulting in a fishy smell.” It’s another reason Niland often gets lost when a customer asks for a fish that’s not too fishy.

As he explains, fishy fish are only “fishy” because of the way it’s stored and handled. Which explains why the fish scaled with the bear claw are immediately hung, away from moisture. 

descaling fish
Photo By Natasha Bazika

“When the scaler rips up the scale, it leaves an open pocket where the scale used to be. This pocket is quite deep and what usually happens is the fish is washed down then dipped in water. The water sits in that pocket, and after some time creates a fishy smell,” explains Niland. 

This is the core of Niland’s philosophy. Removing moisture from the fish opens up a realm of opportunities that exists beyond the conventional method, according to Niland.

Our next step takes us to the cool room, where rows of gutted fish are hung up on silver hooks as butchers do to meat. They’re not swimming in buckets of ice or water, instead, they are dangling a safe distance from each other, careful not to touch one another. The coolroom is set to an optimal temperature, there is no fan blowing in the room, and only when the fish is ready to be served, then it will be unhooked and dealt with accordingly. 

“Every step from the catching, killing, and preparing is important in achieving flavour,” says Niland who points out a row of garfish in a dry tray. “If you kill a fish properly, there shouldn’t be any lactic acid, which you can tell by the flesh—it looks cooked.” 

So what’s the best way to humanely and effectively kill a fish? According to Niland, brain spike or bleeding the fish keeps the fish from flopping around, building up chemicals that can affect the flavour later on. 

Bringing the attention back to the garfish, Niland explains there are moments when fish tastes better. This tray of Garfish is ready to go, but then Niland points to a hanging coral trout which has until Friday before it’s served on someone’s plate. 

chef showing fish in coolroom
Photo By Natasha Bazika

“This fish arrived today, it’s been scaled and gutted, but it won’t be ready until the end of the week. That’s not the case for all fish though, this tuna I would serve on day 8 or 9,” says Niland. “There’s a point where a fish’s fat is more prominent, which again comes back to removing as much moisture as we can and controlling the handling and environment from day one.”

Niland sources produce from fisherman around Australia and he takes only whatever he can get. 

“I go to the airport to pick up fish once or twice a week from my sources, and I’ll visit the Sydney Fish Market daily to see what they have, but at my shop, I serve whatever I can get my hands on,” explains Niland. “Our customers ask for recommendations so we tell them, King George Whiting is excellent today, and we might offer tips on storing it at home, how to cook it, and if I have a recipe card, I’m more than happy to share.”

As Niland explains it, not everyone knows how to cook a certain fish, and he wants more people to choose an unfamiliar fish, something they haven’t had before or cooked before. The best way to do so is by helping his customers understand the product. “The bottom line is we want people to have a better experience with fish,” says Niland. 

This stays true to his sustainable approach to fishing and his pioneering nose-to-tail eating method for fish. “The global standard is that half goes in the bin, which breaks down to about a 45% fillet yield,” says Niland who remains unaffected after 10-minutes of chatting in the cool room. “For every two fish, we only need one. I use about 95% of the fish.”

We finally leave the coolroom, to approach a small fridge, where fish are being dry-aged, but in a different control to the dry ageing fish in the coolroom. “It’s just another way to experiment with the flavour and natural method of prolonging shelf life,” says Niland. 

“I’m always thinking, how can I articulate the flavour of fish differences between coral trout and snapper.”

cuts of fish
Photo By Natasha Bazika

Niland’s experimentation finds him continually exploring low-temperature storage, probing which fish works best for it, and noting when a fish reaches its sweet spot. More like a mad scientist, Niland is far from a conventional fishmonger, as he dives deep to push boundaries on how seafood is caught, shopped, and cooked whether at home or at Saint Peter. 

One look at his book, The Whole Fish Cookbook, is enough to convince you of his outrageous, funny, and loopy suggestions on what to cook, including coaxing delicious dishes from fish eyeballs. liver and even fish blood. 

If there is anything we can take away from spending an afternoon with Josh Niland, it would be his pioneering penchant for demystifying fish, his care and attention to preparing fish, and his sustainable seafood philosophy, that we hope catches on around the world. 

Niland enjoys the complexity of fish, yet breaks it down for us so that we can enjoy and achieve a perfectly cooked piece of fish at home. His humble approach to seafood is nothing short of inspiring. He wants to change the world, but it’s not going to be easy and you get the sense he knows that, but he continues, one fish at a time, to change how we cook, eat, and look at fish.

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