To Melbourne, A Love Letter

Some of my favourite Melb eats in one handy post

Recently, another adoptee mentioned that they were planning to visit Melbourne and asked for recommendations of things to see, do, and eat.

Well, I can help with the eating part.

For the uninitiated, though Michelin reviewers are yet to visit (for what that’s worth) and we’re kind of in the middle of nowhere, Melbourne is an excellent food city. Multiple waves of immigration, a booming international student population, beautiful produce, and a strong restaurant/dining culture have all contributed to a diverse and dynamic culinary scene. Also, Melbourne is full of hipsters, and annoying though they may be, hipsters know good food and good coffee.

Here are some of my Melbourne food recommendations, but first, a few notes and disclaimers:

  1. This list is biased towards things I’ve particularly been missing since living in Seoul, such as baked goods and chocolate, for example. (Also I just have an incurable sweet tooth.)
  2. Most of the restaurants are from the CBD and inner northern suburbs of Melbourne. Because, admittedly, I am very biased towards the north side; I feel that the food is better in the north, and I avoid crossing the river unless I really must.
  3. Everyone knows that Melbourne is a superior food city to Sydney (like, duh). If you didn’t know that, you’re not eating at the right places. (This point was superfluous to this list but I wanted to mention it anyway.)
  4. I have omitted some big categories here, including fine dining, for example, because it doesn’t really reflect my income nor eating preferences. This isn’t a comprehensive guide to dining in Melbourne (that would be a book, not a blog post); it’s a list of some of my personal favourites.
  5. If in doubt, you can consult the Good Food Guide, Broadsheet, or just Google Maps. Google Maps listings with a considerable number of reviews are reliable in this city, unlike, say, in Venice (but that’s another story).

So without further adieu…

1. Baked Goods & Pastry

Chasing down baked goods par excellence is a major hobby of mine. Unfortunately this can lead to disappointment abroad with many pastry pursuits ending in sadness, because MELBOURNE, you have SPOILT ME. I am SPOILT ROTTEN, to my CORE.

Anyhoo, some of my favourite Melbourne pastry experiences are:

  • Beatrix, one of the best cake shops in the whole world. Not cheap, but everything is made with best quality, seasonal ingredients. Everything is fresh, delicate and well-balanced. You cannot go wrong choosing from this cake cabinet. I repeat, NO SINGLE BAD CHOICE TO BE MADE HERE. The pastry chef/owner, Nat Paull, is coming out with a cookbook this year. I already have a gazillion baking books, no joke, but I will have to make room for one more. Because Beatrix.
  • Donuts:
    • Shortstop. Like a fancy, high-quality version of Krispy Kreme (though I appreciate a Krispy Kreme from time to time too) with seasonal varieties. They also have a house-made dark-roasted natural peanut butter that I love and would buy more often if it wasn’t $12. The staff are always super friendly too and wait patiently as I obnoxiously instagram the donut case and deliberate over which ones to order.
    • Chewy Japanese rice flour donuts from 279. Since I’ve left Melbourne, they have fully expanded their savoury menu too but I’m yet to try it.
    • Chocolate custard-filled bombolone from Dolcetti, a little Sicilian pasticceria.
  • Croissants and viennoiserie from Lune and Agathe Patisserie.
  • Anything from Falco Bakery.
  • Russian honey cake from All Are Welcome Bakery
  • Hot cross buns from Rustica
  • Freshly-filled ricotta cannoli from T. Cavallaro & Sons
  • Challah and chocolate babka from Danish Nosh
  • The (savoury) halloumi pie from A1 Bakery: fresh, pillowy, delicately-flavoured, perfect.
  • My favourite chunky, chewy American-style cookies come from an excellent home baker, Buttermilk Pantry, made-to-order. How I want every cookie I buy to taste.
The fragrant cardamom bun from Falco Bakery: soft and pliable within, crispy cardamom-sugar-buttered edges without.

2. Gelato

Over the past five years or so, Melbourne has become a hotbed of fierce gelato competition, so now it warrants its very own category in this list. My favourite is Piccolina—the flavours are generally more classic/less experimental but slightly more intense than the competition—closely followed by Pidapipo and Bico. (Sadly, a couple of mind-blowingly good places I tried in Bologna trump the lot, but the Melbourne scene is still very strong. I briefly dated an Italian guy who insisted on going to Piccolina once or twice a week. I wasn’t complaining.)

3. Chocolate

I like Haigh’s, Koko Black, and the newly-opened Coal River Farm from Tasmania. I had an unexpected moment of reconciliation with my Tasmanian white-trash-town childhood in their store, bonding over their beautiful products with the staff. (That’s also another story.) For hot chocolate, I like Mork and East Elevation, and, of course, the thick, ultra-rich Italian hot chocolate at Brunetti, the go-to treat of my university days.

4. Coffee & Brunch

To put it simply and fairly, we have the best goddamn brunch scene in the whole world. Non-Australians often ask me, What is “Aussie brunch” and why is it so special? Well, it’s regular brunch fare—eggs and the like—done very, very well, using best-quality produce, bread, and cheffy touches in a highly competitive scene. Oh, and coffee is taken very seriously.

In the inner-north of Melbourne, you can walk into almost any cafe, take your chances, and get excellent food and coffee. My ONLY wee complaint is that the menus can get a bit same-y, with your requisite smashed avo on toast, poached eggs, baked eggs, and sweet pancake/waffle garnished with colourful fruits and edible flowers options. But really, we have it so good.

Some of my favourites in this burgeoning, ever-evolving cafe scene are:

  • Wide Open Road for a reliable, classic Brunswick brunch;
  • Nord, a charming home-style Scandinavian cafe run by a husband and wife team;
  • Kissa Taiyo Sun, a tiny Japanese kissaten with thick-sliced shokupan bread supplied by a local bakery;
  • Ima Project Cafe for full Japanese breakfasts with grilled fish and miso, etc. (the orderliness on the tray is so calming);
  • and the toast laden with sliced boiled egg, mayonnaise, fat anchovies, parsley, and lemon at Napier Quarter.
The anchovy toast from Napier Quarter—simple, elegant, and perfect.

5. New Wave Hipster Italian

I love Italian food so much and Melbourne has so much of it, that when I choose where to eat in Melbourne I sometimes start by asking myself if I want Italian or non-Italian.

More recently, a bunch of new places have opened that seem to be perfectly aimed at my generation, with solid drinks lists, playlists (sometimes DJs), highly aesthetic interiors, and buzzy vibes—in addition to great food. These include Capitano, Pentolina pasta bar, Leonardo’s Pizza Palace (not so Italian, but I love the chips and gravy with stracciatella), and Lazerpig.

For non-hipster Italian (and this is only the tip of the iceberg), I like All’antico Trattoria (a three-generation family business in the suburbs), the Waiters Club for a no-frills bowl of pasta with a glass of house wine and a nostalgic, un-aesthetic aesthetic, Umberto Espresso Bar, and Supermaxi.

6. Non-Italian

I know it sounds like I’m throwing out one hyperbole after another, but Melbourne has one of the best and moderately-priced international food scenes in the whole world. In no particular order, here are some of my favourite (non-Italian) restaurants:

  • Superling: fun, hip, delicious. I love the hand-pulled noodles available at lunch, topped with an optional fried egg, and also the famous mapo tofu jaffle.
  • Dainty Sichuan, a Melbourne institution and now whole empire, for Sichuan hot pot and noodles. I also love the fishy, sticky fried eggplant – my mouth is watering just thinking of it.
  • Nong Tang Noodle House for delicious Shanghai-style pan-fried pork dumplings. FYI, there are two types of dumpling joints in this town: the places where you go for a cheap and cheerful orgy of dumplings at any hour, and the more refined. These are the latter, almost at the former’s prices.
  • Mr Huang Jin, also for more sophisticated dumplings, Taiwanese style.
  • Aunty Franklee and Jade Kingdom (I love the water spinach in the greasy, spicy sauce) for Chinese-Malaysian favourites such as char keoy teow.
  • Mamak for soft, flaky roti canai, iced milo, chicken satay, and other Malaysian street food. A casual, bustling place, always fun.
  • For Thai, soi38 (Thai boat noodles by day and Thai street food by night, right in the middle of a parking lot) and Jinda Thai.
  • Aka Siro: Japanese home-style small, tapas-like dishes in a cute, intimate space. An ideal date spot, unfortunately tainted by memories of my ex-boyfriend. I love the daily lunch menu too.
  • Mr Ramen San: Though we have famous Japanese ramen chains such as Ippudo in Melbourne now, this friendly little spot with their soft charsiu remains one of my favourites.
  • Good Days: I freakin’ love this Vietnamese place and I’d go back any day, any time. It’s fun to sit at the bar and watch the kitchen in action.
  • Very Good Falafel: exactly what the name says, with very good salads, dips, and pickles too. Goddamn, Brunswick, my former hood, has good food.
  • Miznon: vibrant Israeli/Meditteranean, Ottolenghi-esque street food in a casual laneway setting. An experience.
  • MoVida and MoVida Next Door, Melbourne’s iconic tapas destinations.
Nong Tang Noodle House

7. Bars

Of course, Melbourne has great bars too so I’ll just get to it. Here are some of my favourites, but again, this is just the tip of the iceberg:

8. Where to shop for food & wine

We’re almost there, bear with me:

  • Markets: Queen Victoria Market, with a great deli section and a bookstore just for cookbooks; Prahran Market – check out Maker & Monger for indulgent grilled cheese toasties and cacio e pepe, as well as The Essential Ingredient for cookware, knives, and specialty ingredients; and the South Melbourne Market – they also have a couple of seafood stores where you can eat freshly-shucked oysters with self-serve sauces. These markets also put on night markets during the summer with international street food, music, and artisan stalls.
  • Farmers markets for beautiful produce and baked goods. They have coffee and hot food stalls too; take your dog and make a whole morning of it.
  • Toscano’s, probably the most beautiful fruit and vegetable shop in the city.
  • The Mediterranean Wholesalers for all things Italian, imported, at excellent prices, including every shape of dried pasta you could wish for, small goods, and cheese sold by the kilo.
  • Leo’s, a bougie gourmet supermarket with quirky ethnic background music.
  • Blackhearts & Sparrows and The City Wine Shop for wine (the latter also does great food).

9. Places I haven’t visited but want to

Sadly, some of these places were closed for Christmas when I last visited Melbourne and despite my carefully compiled Trello list of new places to try I just had to let go. So much food, so little time. Let me know if you’ve tried any of these!

Well, that’s a wrap (and compiling this list has made me very hungry). I truly believe Melbourne is a wonderful food city. I hope you like it as much as I do.

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