Melbourne is known as the cultural capital of Australia, with its vibrant street art, galleries, gardens, bohemian neighbourhoods and, in particular, its culinary and coffee scenes. So perhaps the best way to learn more about this cosmopolitan city is by taste. From casual and fine-dining restaurants to themed cocktails, third-wave coffee shops and sundowners with a view, here are our top recommendations for the best bars and restaurants in Melbourne.
WHERE TO EAT: THE BEST RESTAURANTS IN MELBOURNE
Flinders Lane for Fine-Dining Restaurants
Flinders Lane in Melbourne’s CBD is a culinary destination, with many of the city’s top restaurants packed into this narrow lane and its side streets. At Cumulus Inc, celebrated Australian chef Andrew McConnell showcases native produce with artful cooking, with a great wine bar called Cumulus Up just upstairs.
Down the lane is McConnell’s Japanese-style diner Supernormal, which reinterprets pan-Asian favourites like dumplings and ramen. Chin Chin is well-known for its constant queue, but it’s worth the wait to experience the hip vibe and elevated Thai flavours from executive chef Benjamin Cooper. Moody basement eatery Coda offers an eclectic Euro-Asian menu ranging from yellow curry to steak tartare, inspired by chef Adam D’Sylva’s Indian-Italian heritage and his travels.
Fitzroy for Hearty Hipster Food
Head north of the CBD to this cool and quirky suburb that’s home to some of the trendiest bars and restaurants in Melbourne. On Fitzroy’s happening Gertrude Street, Belles Hot Chicken fills up hungry hipsters with chicken-and-waffle lunches and southern-fried chicken dinners. A couple streets over at Bad Frankie, the humble cheese toastie – called a jaffle by the locals – gets upgraded with fillings such as lamb shank.
The Birmingham Hotel has long been called the best place in the city for parma – a classic Aussie pub dish of breaded chicken breast slathered in tomato sauce and melted cheese, with sides of salad and chips. But if you want something healthier, Smith & Daughters dishes out vegan versions of comforting Italian cuisine such as ragu over polenta, matched with an Italian-themed drinks menu.
Queen Victoria Market for Bite-Size Treats
The closest you’ll get to street food in Melbourne is at Queen Victoria Market, the iconic open-air market in the heart of the city. Scattered among the produce stalls, delis and bakery counters are a variety of tasty grab-and-go snacks. The Borek Shop is a favourite for its namesake Turkish pastry sticks stuffed with cheese and spinach, lamb, or vegetables. Bratwurst Shop & Co offers a selection of grilled house-made sausages on a bread roll with your choice of condiments and sauces.
Be sure to queue at the American Doughnut Kitchen van for a warm bag of raspberry jam-filled, sugar-coated treats. There’s also a night market on Wednesdays during the summer and winter months with food stalls featuring cuisines from around the world.
WHERE TO DRINK: THE BEST BARS IN MELBOURNE
Rooftop Bars with a View
Drink in the sunset and Melbourne’s gleaming skyline at one of the city’s scenic bars. Pay a visit to Naked for Satan’s rooftop bar in Fitzroy for craft cocktails and tapas-style sharing plates accompanied by panoramic views of the city, or to Loop Roof in the CBD for urban vistas looming over a lush garden oasis serving craft beers, cocktails and spritzers.
Or stay low – tucked under a pedestrian bridge on the Yarra River is Ponyfish Island (due to relaunch in November 2020), a floating bar where you can enjoy a beer amid picture-perfect scenery. Some of Melbourne’s renowned street art serves as the backdrop for Section 8, a Chinatown beer garden that sees a trendy crowd lounging on wooden pallets in a converted shipping container.
Cocktail Bars with Character
Melbourne’s largely laid-back bar scene shows a flair for the dramatics, with Instagram-worthy venues that blend distinctive settings with innovative craft cocktails. The Croft Institute is a science lab-themed bar where experimental cocktails are mixed according to your tastes, or sip from a syringe before making your way to the gymnasium space upstairs for dancing. StoryVille promises a whimsical night out with its fairy tale-inspired drinks, glowing mushrooms sprouting from the walls and behind the bar, and a wall lined with super-sized books. There are also several speakeasies where discovering hidden doors and secret dials to get in is part of the fun. Seek out Eau de Vie for its jazzy, Prohibition-era vibe and ‘cocktail theatre’ featuring clouds of smoke and liquid nitrogen, or track down Trinket for pizzas and fun, fruity cocktails in a swanky Art Deco atmosphere – with a second bar concealed inside.
Cafes with Trendsetting Coffee
A list of bars and restaurants in Melbourne wouldn’t be complete without cafes – after all, this is one of the world’s great coffee capitals. Melbourne is brimming with cafes specialising in top-notch brews – and often cheaper than you would find at third-wave coffee shops in Hong Kong, London or New York. Grab a cup on the go at Dukes at Ross House, a sophisticated Flinders Lane spot that uses ethically sourced beans, or Brother Baba Budan, a small shop offering seasonal brews made with beans from around the globe.
Brave the lunchtime crowds for a seat at The Kettle Black, notable for both its specialty coffee and its location in a 19th-century house nestled next to a modern building in south Melbourne. Nearby is St Ali, a pioneer of the local coffee scene that offers in-house roasting, expert brewing and a solid selection of breakfast and lunch items in its industrial space.