Features Melbourne Austrailia Travel

Melbourne, Australia Travel Guide: Where to Eat and Stay Down Under

June 2010

The culinary scene in Melbourne recalls recent years in Chicago, when a generation of inspired and excited young chefs took a leap of faith, opening small restaurants that gave them the freedom to serve food that reflects their identities. The same culture of infectious excitement and experimentation is alive and well in Melbourne's restaurant kitchens.

And chefs couldn't have a more receptive audience to their daring experimentation. Diners in Melbourne are open to the industry's risk-taking, and the effect is intoxicating. Sure, techniques and toys play a part, but the heart of this new avant garde food scene is the wealth of remarkable Australian products reinterpreted with verve and imagination. Many of the chefs we met took what they learned—whether through working abroad and earning their kitchen stripes with some serious heavy hitters or heavily researching the latest industry developments and trends—and rethought it with freedom and creativity. And the final product is nothing less than a bolder Australian cuisine.

But the city proper isn't the only game in town. A three hour drive—don't worry, there's no Outback-crossing involved—will get you to Royal Mail, the ultra farm-to-table outpost of Chef Dan Hunter, who gathers products and produce from kitchen gardens and local farms for his daily menus. Not all of the area is swept up in such agriculturally driven cuisine, but what we're seeing with Hunter—the conceptual play, the innovative use of ingredients—is something we've seen across the board in Melbourne. And farm-to-table concept restaurants like Hunter's are interpreted through a modern lens, with an eye to challenging customers to see food and the dining experience in a new way, with no reservations.

Water may travel backwards in the Southern Hemisphere, but everything else about food is progressing forwards. And in Melbourne, thinking outside the box is the name of the game. It may be a schlep, but Australia is worth the travel time, if only to see Melbourne in the midst of such a stirring change.

Circa, the Prince
Cutler & Company
MoVida Next Door
Royal Mail
Vue de Monde
Crown Towers
Royal Mail

Attica camera icon
74 Glen Eira Road
Ripponlea VIC 3185
+61 3 9530 0111
Hours: Tues-Sat 6pm-10:30pm

The Ripponlea suburb of Melbourne is where you will find welcoming neighborhood restaurant Attica, with its modern, autumnal-toned dining room. Innovative and cerebral Chef Ben Shewry shows the influence of international chefs, like US Chef Daniel Patterson, with a focus on terroir and a profound sense of cultural identity rooted in each ingredient-centric dish. Shewry draws his inspiration from Melbourne’s natural offerings, such as the heirloom carrots grown locally, and especially, for him. Sommelier Camm Whiteoak seems as at home with the flavors of Melbourne as Shewry, adeptly pairing high-concept farm-to-table cuisine with both New World and Old World wines.

Recommended Dishes:
  • Selection of Heirloom Carrots, Aged Goat Cheese, Walnut powder, Nasturtiums Leaves
  • Snow Crab and Horseradish
  • Terroir: Fromage Blanc Sorbet, Kiwi Fruit, Almond Milk, Beet Cake, Avocado Oil Jelly, Freeze-Dried Cranberry, Raspberry, Sorrel Ice, and Sorrel Shoots
  • Terroir - Fromage Blanc Sorbet, Kiwi fruit, Almond Milk, Beet Cake, Avocado Oil Jelly, Freeze Dried Cranberry, Rasberry, Sorrel Ice, Sorrel Shoots
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    Circa, the Prince camera icon
    2 Acland Street
    St. Kilda VIC 3182
    +61 3 9536 1122

    Hours: Mon-Sat 7am-11am, 12pm-3pm, 6pm-late; Sun 12:30pm-3pm

    Sleek black tile, modern industrial ceilings and beech tables at Circa the Prince mingle with its quiet grey and yellow floral chairs for a clean yet comfortable décor. It's an appropriate setting for Chef Matthew Wilkinson’s technique-driven and presentation-conscious modern Australian cuisine. From meandering succulent morsels of duck kissed with juniper and cinnamon with a rethought bubble and squeak, to a deconstructed gnocchi dish, Wilkinson’s menu is adult yet playful. A seemingly simple vegetable dish artfully arranged on a wooden board and garnished with flowers incorporates dehydrated beet powder—it’s anything but simple. In Wilkinson’s hands the simplest of ideas - a classic tiramisu or vegetable plate - become a new experience for the diner.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Vegetables: Raw, Pickled, Cooked, Smoked Yogurt, Dehydrated Beet Powder and Herb Salt 
  • Tiramisu: Passion Fruit Sorbet, Coffee Macaroon, Coffee Cream, Coffee Gelée and Almond Crumble
  • Vegetables: Raw, Pickled, Cooked, Smoked Yoghurt, Dehydrated Beet Powder and Herb Salt
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    Coda camera icon
    141 Flinders Lane
    Melbourne VIC 3000
    +61 3 9650 3155
    Hours: Mon-Sun 12pm-3pm; 6pm-10:30pm

    Gauzy mesh shades set a blueish tint over the interior of this modern, hip restaurant. And rough touches like bare wires, graffiti-etched glass panes and the metal grill adorning the living room give the impression of a post-industrial space, where you half expect to see Mad Max on his day off. Born and raised in Melbourne in an Indian-Italian household, Chef Adam D’Sylva has culinary experience ranging from Hong Kong to Italy and the US. His menu is an approachable medley of small plates and larger items. Fresh and citrusy oysters in a mirin-citrus dressing smell of the sea, and unpretentious selections like “Fish Cooked in the Bag” take the angst out of ordering. In addition to serving as chef at Coda, D’Sylva is also an active environmental advocate and has served as Ambassador for Earth Hour Melbourne.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Freshly Shucked Pacific Oyster and Mirin-Citrus Dressing
  • Quail Lettuce Delight, Lup Cheong, Shiitake Mushrooms, Coriander, and Water Chestnuts
  • Wok-Fried Black Pepper Crab
  • Roasted Spring Bay Scallop, Pearl Tapioca, and Yarra Valley Salmon Caviar
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    Cutler & Company camera icon
    55-57 Gertrude Street
    Fitzroy VIC 3065
    +61 3 9419 4888
    Hours: Tues-Thus, Sat 6pm-11pm; Fri 12pm-3pm, 6pm-11pm

    Chef-owner Andrew McConnell is well-known in his native town of Melbourne for both Cutler & Co and his other restaurant, Cumulus Inc. Located in a converted metalworks factory, Cutler presents his modern Australian cuisine with Chinese influences in an accessible but chic setting. McConnell’s dishes are carefully orchestrated yet maintain a casual feel. His command of textures and flavor combinations is something he associates with his long stint in China, and it surfaces here, like the crunch of a foie gras cigar served with quail terrine. Pastry Chef Ben Sears competently reinterprets his approach; dishes like custard and fruit are done with creative and technical flair, such as sous-vide dried figs with rose petals, compressed beet root syrup, and carob fluid gel. Sommelier Sally Humble navigates the challenges of pairing such casual avant garde with French, Italian, and Australian wines with ease, such as an off-beat Ronco dei Tassi from Italy paired with wood-grilled marron.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Wood grilled Marron, Purslane, Fennel and Serrano Ham
  • Fillet of Leather Jacket Pan Roasted, Romesco, Orange Powder, BouiIlabaisse Braise, Crayfish Heads, Surf Clams, Wood Grilled Chorizo, Cuttlefish, and Fregola
  • Wood grilled Marron, Purslane, Fennel and Serrano Ham
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    MoVida Next Door
    1 Hosier Lane
    Melbourne VIC 3000
    +61 3 9663 3038
    Hours: Tues-Sat, 5pm-late

    Modern tapas are alive and well in Melbourne at this warm and welcoming corner bar, complete with straight-forward cold cuts, small plates, oysters, and beer. MoVida Next Door recently joined MoVida Aqui, MoVida Terraza, and MoVida in Chef-owner Frank Camorra’s group of restaurants named for Movida, the period of exuberance in the arts in 1970s Spain following Franco’s death. While the menu is not exactly an artistic rebirth, faithfully executed traditional Spanish tapas in an upscale authentic bar setting are a comforting and welcome addition to a town undergoing so many changes. As you stand at the bar to view the specials scrawled in chalk on the blackboard, the smoky aromas of plancha-seared herbed shrimp invite you to order a series of small bites to accompany that glass of Manzanilla sherry, Rioja, or Albarino.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Jamon Serrano: Spanish Serrano Ham
  • Cogollos a la Vinagreta: Baby Lettuce Hearts and White Anchovies
  • Berenjenas: Crispy Eggplant Chips, and Salmorejo Sauce

    Royal Mail camera icon
    98 Parker Street
    Glenelg Hwy
    PO Box 50, Dunkeld, VIC 3294
    +61 3 5577 2241
    Hours: Mon-Sat 7am-10am, 11am-3pm, 6pm-9pm

    Worth the four hour drive from central Melbourne, the Dunkeld hotel restaurant Royal Mail is a spartan white mecca of Australian cuisine. The restaurant sources much of its produce from the farm located on the property, under the direction of Chef Dan Hunter. Hunter’s extensive time at Spanish mover-and-shaker-maker Mugaritz shows. He brings the same aesthetic to the table at Royal Mail but keeps each dish grounded in Australian ingredients and culinary culture; a simple egg yolk, nestled in a bed of toasted rye and legumes not only speaks to the land from which it hails, but mimics its very essence in its naturalistic form. Hunter’s status as a leader in the creative and new avant garde movement in Australia is promising.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Egg Yolk,Toasted Rye, Legumes, Yeast
  • Lamb, Eggplant in White Miso, Pine Nut, Chlorophyll
  • Lamb, Eggplant in White Miso, Pine Nut, Chlorophyll
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    Vue de monde camera icon
    Normanby Chambers
    430 Little Collins Street
    Melbourne VIC 3000
    +6f1 3 9691 3888
    Hours: Tues-Fri 12pm-2pm, 6:30pm-8:30pm; Sat 6:30pm-8:30pm

    Originally located in Carlton, Vue de monde brings modernism to Melbourne’s historic Normanby Chambers building. The white walls and espresso floors hint at the modern reinvention of traditional French cuisine here. The restaurant is known for its attention to detail and flawless service, that much is purely classic. Yet Chef Shannon Bennett’s intepretation extends beyond common conceptions of what constitutes French cuisine. Trout is coconut-husk-smoked at the table under a dome of glass that appears to be filled with clouds, and is then lifted to reveal a glossy ruby cut of fish, next to an ephemeral wisp of wasabi air. Even when Bennett is finding his muse in Europe or the US and away from the kitchen,  Chef de Cuisine Cory Campbell expertly runs this standard-setter of Australian fine dining.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Heide Garden: Purple Carrots, Asparagus, Shaved Radish, Baby Turnip, Avocado Mousse, and Olive Oil Powder
  • Smoked Ocean Trout Petunia, Beet Marinade, Celeriac Rémoulade, and wasabi Air
  • Truffle Risotto and Périgord Truffles
    Heidi Garden: Purple Carrots, Asparagus, Shaved Radish, Baby Turnip, Avocado Mousse, and Olive Oil Powder
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    Crown Towers camera icon
    8 Whiteman Street, Southbank
    Melbourne VIC 3006
    +61 3 9292 8888

    Rooms start at US $238

    With a plethora of dining and entertainment options, Southbank’s Crown Towers is less of a hotel and more of a sprawling entertainment complex. It boasts a spa, a series of upscale boutiques and  over 40 options for dining, including spectacular view over Melbourne. Marble bathrooms, large plasma screen TVs, an iPod docking station and Video on Demand interactive system are luxurious touches.


    Crown Towers
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    Royal Mail camera icon
    98 Parker Street
    Dunkeld, VIC 3294
    Tel: (011 61) 3 5577 2241

    Rooms start at US $160

    Several hours from Melbourne, at the base of Mount Sturgeon in the Southern Grampians Mountain Range lies the Royal Mail hotel. Its sinuous curves and glossy architecture originated in the nineteenth century building from which it was built. The building lies in the midst of the stunning natural setting of lush utopian gardens and fruit orchards. Accommodations are luxurious and welcoming, thanks to in-room fireplaces, spa-like pool settings, and destination-worthy dining courtesy of the hotel restaurant Royal Mail.
    Royal Mail Hotel
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