Food and Drink

The 16 Best Restaurants in Melbourne

The cream of the crop.

Melbourne restaurants bring flavours from all over the world to our plates, as well as celebrating our own Australian culture; and aren’t we lucky? This year, let’s make a pact to celebrate our restaurants and the wonderful people that continue to curate cultural experiences for us through the art of cuisine. We’ve made a list of our top picks to get you started.

Jana Longhurst

Bar Liberty

Fitzroy

The gist: Warm neighbourhood bar, that is both classy and cool. They do the thinking for you. It’s the relax centre of Johnston Street.
The food: Elegant and simple dishes, usually with an Italian influence. The flavour combos are simple and inspired. The wine is anything you want it to be; natural, organic, classic Australian or European, rich, dry, fruity—leave it up to the staff. They know how to pair with style. 
The cost: Bites average around $6ea, starters around $14 and the most expensive main is $34.
How to order: Book via website

France-Soir

Toorak

The gist: Imagine sexy French waiters in white waistcoats, that passionately open Chenin Blanc while rolling their eyes at you as if you ask for anything but medium-rare. Their wine list is a bound folder, and their menu is A3 and laminated, but underneath the novelty of it all is just good old-fashioned French comfort food, cooked to perfection with many dollops of butter. 
The food: French bistro comfort food.
The cost: You can spend as little or as much as you’d like to at France-Soir. With a wine list of more than 4500 bottles, you can get a $50 Chenin or a $500+ Burgundy. The food is the same, with mains ranging from $17 – $45 and sometimes higher.
How to order: Call (03) 9866 8569 for takeaway or bookings

Kristoffer Paulson

Embla

Russell Street, CBD

The gist: A chic narrow wine bar/restaurant in the heart of Melbourne-town, known for their quirky ever-changing wine list, super knowledgeable staff, and uncomplicated approach to food.
The food: Simple, clean, adventurous and inviting. Ranging from carpaccio to mussels, to homemade bread and cured greens, Embla has it all. It’s a great place to try something new; a wine from a region you’ve never heard of, or a vegetable prepared in a way you’ve never seen.
The cost: The cost at Embla can be matched to your budget, as they have a huge variety. You can tell the staff how much you’d like to spend on a bottle of wine and what you think you’re after, and they’ll find you something delish. Food ranges from small plates averaging $18 and larger plates averaging at $30-ish. 
How to order: book here
FYI: The team opening a rooftop cinema on January 30.

Amarillo

Fitzroy

The gist: Light-filled, 70’s style bar/eatery with a seasonal menu, extremely fresh produce and unique flavour combinations, their food is some of the best Brunswick Street has to offer.
The food: A tiny open kitchen run by chef Shaun Clancy creates a take on Mediterranean rustic, with an underlying Iberian bar food vibe. Think octopus with chickpeas and parsley, saffron cuttlefish and a roughly-chopped steak tartare with paprika. 
The cost: Anywhere from $7 – $30. Most of the food is share plate style, so they range in sizes and you can eat as little or as much as you want. 
How to order: book here

Courtesy of Rina’s

Rina’s Armadale

Armadale

The gist: Rina’s feels like home with it’s buzzing European-isms, empty magnum bottles,  and A-grade banter, set in a small shop front on High St, Armadale, it’s a one-stop-shop for all things homemade Italian. Rina’s Cucina has literally been passed down the generations, from Zia Rina to chef Danny Natoli. Carrying on Zia’s legacy, Natoli makes everything by hand; the old fashioned way. 
The food: Whether it’s squid ink linguine, passata, ricotta gnocchi or cannoli, you can be sure it’s handmade and fresh. The wines are almost always Italian, but Natoli likes to push the boundaries, including experimental natural blends among an array of Italian classics. 
The cost: The menu changes daily, to whatever is around and fresh that day. They operate on a $65pp menu at the moment.
How to order: book here

Courtesy of San Telmo

San Telmo

Meyers Place, CBD

The gist: An Argentinian restaurant tucked within the European end of Melbourne’s CBD. Their menu centres around the Spanish ethos that food is an experience shared between friends, family and lovers. The decor is dimly-lit yet somehow still vibrant, with a dark sexy feel, much like the Argentinian Tango tbh.
The food: Think smoked meats, tapas-style plates and fresh, colourful fruit and veg elements. Rich with a cellar of Spanish reds and a 2.5 metre Parrilla charcoal grill, San Telmo delivers true to its roots; named after the oldest neighbourhood of Buenos Aires.  Also, possibly one of the best steaks. Ever. 
The cost: Starters are anywhere from $6 to $18 and mains are mostly in the $30 mark, with the exception of the $88 rib eye. If you’re feeling it though, it’s totally worth the cash.
How to order: book here

Courtesy of Minamishima

Minamishima

Richmond

The gist: Minamishima is all about the details. Everything from the ceramic vessels to the glass sake jugs, to the handmade cutlery and to the salt, all the way from Okinawa. Chef Koichi Minamishima simply wants to fill you with joy in the art form of sushi and divine aesthetics, and who are we to deny him that pleasure? Tucked down a one-way residential laneway in Richmond you’ll find Minamishima, an omakase-style Japanese restaurant.
The food: Omakase-style Japanese goodness. The food is led by the chef, the produce and the seasons
The cost: $225 per head for omakase.
How to order: At home, dine in here

Courtesy of 1800 LASAGNE

 1800 LASAGNE

Thornbury

The gist: Not only is 1800-LASAGNE a super kitsch red-brick restaurant serving up all things lasagne and 70’s Italian realness, but it’s also an actual hotline. In certain Melbourne hotspots, you can call 1800-LASAGNE and get lasagne delivered right to your door in a chocolate-coloured minivan.
The food: LASAGNE. And other scrumptious euro delights on offer such as a grappa espresso martini and a cos lettuce cup with anchovy cream and Parmigiano. 1800-LASAGNE will transport you into the nonna’s kitchen you never had.
The cost: Lasagne is $25 a pop. Other drinks and snacks are very affordable. Everything except bottles of wine is under $30.
How to order: Book here, order here or call 1800 LASAGNE

Courtesy of Gerald’s Bar

Gerald’s Bar

Carlton North

The gist: Gerald’s Bar is about as classic as it gets. With one here in Melbourne and one in San Sebastian, Gerald’s operates with a “We Cook, You Eat” mentality, writing their menu on big scrolls of brown paper throughout the venue and opening whatever wine they feel like serving on the night. Welcome to Melbourne, the city of bars you’ll go for “one drink” and stay for the entire evening. Gerald’s Bar is yet another fantastic place to eat that might be more commonly known as a bar. 
The food: At Gerald’s, you can find European beer you haven’t seen since you were last overseas, an extensive euro wine list, great classic cocktails and the best white anchovies in North Fitzroy. For snacks, think cured meats, braised liver, salmon tartare and Caprese salad. Everything is made to be shared.
The cost: It changes daily. If you’re really hungry it’s about $100 a head. 
How to order: Call (03) 9349 4748

Courtesy of Attica

Old Palm Liquor

Brunswick East

The gist: We love Old Palm Liquor’s Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom feel, with a  mix of high ceiling fans, golden timber beams, the-real-deal brown 70’s tiles and hanging ferns. It’s the sort of lush, wholesome cabin setting that makes you feel at ease right away. It even has that beautiful pine ski-lodge smell. Although a restaurant, you’re always welcome to just go in for a drink. It’s open till midnight, which is at least an hour or two longer than many of its neighbours and makes it the perfect place for a nightcap or one last wine.  
The food: You’re looking at South African and Argentinian influences, with lightly smoked meats, fish and king oyster mushrooms, contrasted by seasonal grilled veg, oysters and ceviche. As for drinks, they have it all. With a visible wine collection of over 300 wines, you’ve got your pick from Japanese wines to Guinness on tap. 
The cost: With such an extensive wine list it’s honestly hard to go wrong; everything has its place no matter the price point. You can go big, or cheap and cheerful. The food is pretty standard prices; anywhere from $14 for a starter and in the $30s for a main. 
How to order: Order takeaway via Deliveroo, book via The Fork

Attica

Ripponlea

The gist: Attica is a creative experience in dining that you can’t afford to miss. Launching into the spotlight after his Chef’s Table episode in 2018, New Zealand native chef Ben Shewry has become renowned for his experimentation with native and foraged ingredients, now a pinnacle in defining Australian cuisine. 
The food: Combining a farm to table attitude with fine dining, Shewry’s Attica offers a degustation that will give you a fresh understanding of your edible surroundings. 
The cost: $320pp
How to order: Book here

Courtesy of Farmer’s Daughters

Farmers Daughters

80 Collins, CBD

The gist: Farmer’s Daughters is Melbourne CBD’s first true farm to table restaurant, bringing a little piece of Gippsland to the city. With a simplistic approach to food, chef Alejandro Saravia is passionate about showcasing the flavours of country-Vic at their absolute best, with zero wastage. Part of the new 80 Collins development, the fit-out is breathtaking, taking inspiration from the colours of Gippsland; gum-green, bark-nude, cold soil-charcoal. Farmer’s Daughters is three levels of magic, with each level a different mood: a deli, provedore and casual eatery on the ground floor, a degustation restaurant with sophisticated views on the first floor and a rooftop cocktail up top, complete with a native herb garden. 
The food: Farm to table goodness, made completely from Gippsland produce and hero-ing Australian cuisine.
The cost: A $75pp or $110pp offering in the dining room, or a la carte downstairs.
How to order: Book here

Courtesy of Vue De Monde

Vue De Monde

Rialto Towers, CBD

The gist: In a word, it is drama. Vue de Monde has been a Melbourne institution of dining luxury for almost 20 years. There’s one set menu which changes daily, with each dish brought out and explained to you by any one of the notoriously charming chefs. Set in one of the most gorgeous locations imaginable; the 55th floor of Melbourne’s iconic Rialto building, if you get there at the right time of day, you can feel the sunset over you and watch the Melbourne city skyline transform.
The food: Native Australian with a side of theatrics.
The cost: $310pp chef’s menu
How to order: Book here

Courtesy of Supernormal

Supernormal

Flinders Lane, CBD

The gist: Supernormal exists among the office bustle of Flinders Lane. It’s an all-day eating house with a menu influenced by the cuisine and restaurants of Tokyo, Shanghai, Seoul and Hong Kong, with classic dishes revisited and some new beauties created. Supernormal is a classic mix of neon cherry fun,  and a light-filled, plant-filled and modern food hall feel. 
The food: Asian-fusion done right. If you take nothing else away from this list, just please, go and eat the Supernormal lobster roll.
The cost: The plates are all made to be shared, ranging from $10 – $80
How to order: Book here

Little Hop

Fitzroy

The gist: It’s loud, it’s sweaty, it’s pumping with Spanish salsa music and trays of mescal shots. Often mistaken for “taco”, as the light-up sign reads out the front of their Brunswick Street eatery, and true to the signage, they deliver simple, affordable and authentic Mexican street-style food, specialising in tacos.
The food: A taco list, enchiladas, quesadillas, corn chips and homemade guac, paired with a range of craft beers, mescals and spicy margarita variations. The pulled pork taco is especially moorish. 
The cost: Tacos are about $6ea. 
How to order: Walk-in or call (03) 9078 2252

Spensley’s

Clifton Hill

The gist: A warm and welcoming neighbourhood wine bar/eatery, serving up spritzes, local wines and real tasty plates. Spensley’s is located in the middle of suburban Clifton Hill, just up the road from the train station. It’s created a buzzy corner, with tables outside in the sun and all the neighbours catching up for a vino, the atmosphere is homey while also fabulous. The food is simple yet still adventurous and also comforting? Literally the perfect neighbourhood spot. Incredible quality everything, with none of the snob. 
The food: Burrata, oysters, squid with confit tomatoes, green beans with lemon milk… you get it.
The cost: $14 – $35 for a la carte share plates. They also offer a $65pp chef’s menu which has pretty much everything on the menu on it. Pretty solid value. 
How to order: Book here

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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