Restaurants & Bars 3

My Melbourne (Aus) tips..(LONG)

AnnaMelb | Oct 9, 200408:35 AM

Just getting a bit depressed watching our election results so thought I'd do a quick write up on a few places in Melbourne, Australia, as a distraction. Any prices are in Australian dollars (currently worth about 72 US cents). There is a little bit of a leaning towards cheaper lunches (as I do a lot of my eating during the workday!), but never fear, these are GOOD places to get a reasonably priced feed. There are also some of my other favourites in here which are good for other meals. There is also a slight bent towards the area of the city which I work in - there is certainly plenty available throughout the city.

Cookie - 252 Swanston Street (Melbourne)
This place actually won Best Bar of the year in one of the big newspaper's Cheap Eats guides and while it is a great bar, it is also a good place to eat. Decoration is a mix of classy and kitsch. Enormously long bar with a large range of foreign beers. The restaurant area is screened off from the bar area at the other end of the high ceiling space. There are some tables on individual balconies looking out through the leaves across Swanston Street. But the food.. yum! Very genuine tasting Thai food (although not always as spicy, it has all the right flavours). The menu is broken into small, medium and large dishes, best to order to share. Crispy fish salad, whole fish are marvellous, in fact any of the salads are good. Desserts are Asian inspired flavours - on my last visit, I had coconut and banana fritters, with fanastic lemongrass icecream. One of my favourites these days.

Post Deng Cafe - 214 Little Bourke Street (Melbourne)
Szechuan food done cheap and well. Lunch deals of rice + dish are $6-8, though it won't cost you too much to order off the menu either. Lots of bizarre pics of Deng up on the walls and Chinese pop music in the background. Chili oil dumplings are very good (about $4), the chili eggplant dish is on our regular order (vegetarian one is better than the one with pork in it), the salt and pepper squid is delicious although occasionally a bit floury, garlic broccoli is another good vegie option. Dinner service seemed a little slower than lunch. Lunch and dinner. Definitely BYO (bring your own alcohol). There is a "Vintage Cellars" store almost directly across the street (not sure on closing time).

Camy Shanghai Dumplings - 25 Tattersalls Lane (off Little Bourke Street, Melbourne)
Another back lane place. Fantastic dumplings (fried, with chili oil, etc) is what gets me and most others there. They apparently do noodles as well, but I just eat the dumplings! Very crowded, casual place with communal sort of seating, serve-your-own-tea sort of atmosphere. Takeaways possible!

Syracuse - 23 Bank Place (Melbourne)
This place is best known for its hefty wine list (700+!). Patronised by the younger lawyer type, but not snotty at all, staff are friendly. Tall ceilings, chandeliers and fancy furniture is thrown together in a way which makes it more casual than that sounds. Has a good "tapas style" menu (although there are proper meals available) so good when you want to graze and drink. Things I remember eating (so they must have been good) include the lamb chops, fried sheep cheese, olives and dips. Reservations for dinner probably a good idea, although if you go early, you'll certainly get a table. The Mitre Tavern down the lane is the oldest Melbourne pub and you can join the free sausage sizzle (barbeque) on Friday evenings in the post-work drinks period.

Kokos - Crown Casino
The Japanese food here is not all pure Japanese, but has a slight modern twist. However, never mind that - the food is very good (I particularly remember having some very good duck and a marvellous tempura icecream with raspberry sauce), but even better is the view. Big two storey glass windows looking over the Yarra river, and indoors there is a pond with brass waterlillies and stepping stones through to some tables. Probably cost about $70 for two.

Hakos - Shop 7 Degraves Street (Melbourne)
This laneway has a lot of other little places and is worth a stroll. If you don't discover the laneways in Melbourne, you've missed it (in particular, the best little bars are usually hidden down lanes where visitors are unlikely to stumble across them). Back to Hakos. Very small shop, perhaps four or five little tables. Japanese lunch boxes are about $10, and believe me on this one - order the vegetarian one as the tofu is just delicious! There are other pricier and perhaps fancier options. Just nearby, at the entrance for the train station, there is the Belgium waffle man for dessert!

Korean lunch box place (don't know exact name) - Midtown Plaza 246 Bourke Street (Melbourne)
This arcade place has very tasty Korean lunch boxes for about $7-9, with one main (beef, chicken, squid, etc) rice, kimchi and little side dishes. Whenever I take one of these back to work, I always get people sticking their head into my office to see what the delicious smell is. And the people are always very friendly to me. They have a new vegetarian box that I have yet to try - some noodles and dumplings, plus the standard side dishes. Also Korean canned/boxed drinks, sushi, kimchi to take home. As with Don Don below, the State Library lawn is great on a nice day, it is a few blocks from here. Lunch only.

Also in the same arcade is the chain Donut King which I mention because it has reasonably good coffee (ie properly made with an expresso machine) which comes with two free cinnamon donuts (so good value). Better than nearby Starbucks which is populated by tourists and Asian students (the locals don't bother because the coffee is expensive and Melbourne has always been a coffee city anyway). Don't get the wrong idea - I'm not suggesting that you seek out Donut King for the coffee, but if you are in that area (which isn't so cafe heavy as the rest of the city), it is an okay choice if you are in need of caffeine.

Cheeky Dog Coffee, just a bit further up Swanston St towards Lonsdale, has reasonable hot coffee, but does very good iced coffee - made up fresh from expresso, not out of a whirly tub like most other places (except their frozen coffe drinks are).

Don Don - 321 Swanston Street (Melbourne)
This cheap Japanese place serves up food faster than McDonalds. Have barely tucked the change back into the wallet before the meal is ready. Very small premises and limited outdoor seating, but they do takeaway and the front lawn of the State Library across the street is good on sunny days (in summer, there are often music performances on during weekday lunchtimes). Meals are $5-10 with generous serves. Lunch and dinner.

Rhumbarellas - 23 Bourke Street (Melbourne)
Haven't eaten here, but the breakfasts look delicious. I come past here in the mornings for what must be some of the cheapest decent coffee in Melbourne: $1 regular, $2 large. Worth it for that if you are passing by. Breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Soul Mamas - St Kilda Sea Baths (St Kilda)
This place does all vegetarian food, in a sort of upmarket canteen style. Good value for money, as it has fantastic views out over the bay and you can get a decent feed for about $10. Food varies to use seasonal produce and includes lots of different international influences - dishes might include polenta, a stirfry, pizza, Thai curry. Desserts are delicious (and you can get appropriate soy options like soy cream/ice cream if you like). Self serve water (available at different temperatures!), reading material available, good drinks list including herbal teas, coffees, good beer selection (inc organic), wine, sake. The same people own Chocolate Buddha at Federation Square which does Japanese meals (organic meat) and the same style of drinks and desserts.

Chinta Blues - 6 Acland Street (St Kilda)
Busy and noisy, with a wooden interior made to look a little like an old fashioned Asian grocery store. Malaysian hawker style food. The dish here that we dream about going for is the beef rendang with roti. Beef falling apart, tasty sauce, messy fingers! Indian style mee goreng is another regular order for me, or sometimes a huge bowl of laksa. Prices are in the $10-20 range (per main dish). A good place on a warm evening when you can sit out on the footpath and watch the foot traffic passing by (I've seen fashion designer Alannah Hill going by on more than one occasion).

Flora - 238A Flinders Street (Melbourne)
This was a recommendation from more than one Indian taxi driver. Laminex table, bain marie joint (although they make a number of things up fresh as well). Cheap thali meal deals, but I go for the masala dosa - huge cripy pancake filled with lightly curried potato and served with coconut chutney and sambar for only $6. Lunch and dinner (have never been for dinner, from the website it makes it look like they dress the place up a bit.. but I really don't know!).

Italian Waiters Restaurant - 20 Meyers Place (Melbourne)
Small, downmarket joint hidden up an unmarked staircase which is considered a Melbourne institution. The last time I ate here, a small walking tour came to stick their heads in the door (to look, not eat!). Good basic Italian food.

Laurent - 306 Little Collins Street (Melbourne)
This is the place to go for little pasteries and cakes. Just delicious. Good baguettes for lunch, and another favourite of mine is the pumpkin and rosemary tart (savoury).

Suga - Royal Arcade (runs between Bourke St - off the Bourke St mall - and Little Collins St, Melbourne)
Not a place to eat exactly. They make handcrafted rock candy, including personalised orders with names embedded in the candy. Go around lunch (12-1:30pm) to watch them make it - it is absolutely fascinating to watch as they stretch, scrape and roll 12kgs of sugar into tiny colourful candies (it takes a bit over an hour to watch the whole process). Koko Black is just up the arcade (owned by the same people) and there you can watch the chocolatiers at work. You can actually eat/drink a few things here (it is not apparent, but there are upstairs tables) - but not surprisingly, the hot chocolate is really good and you can order a sampler of chocolates on the side.

For another chocolate place, a Max Brenner shop/cafe has opened in the new-ish QV building (corner of Swanston and Lonsdale Streets).

Ripe - Sassafras (Dandenong Ranges)
This place gets super crowded because a) it is tiny (a converted cottage) and b) it is somewhere that the locals actually want to eat, unlike the heavily touristed Miss Marples which manages a roaring trade in weekend devo teas. First, a warning. Service ranges from indifferent to appalling, though it improves noticeably if one becomes known as a local to the staff. Good baguettes (like roast pumpkin, boccocini and red pesto), excellent vegetarian plate (various seasonal vegetables cooked in different ways, slice of frittata, little spoon of risotto - that sort of thing) and decent other meals/soup of the day. Really good desserts and hot chocolate made with Lindt. Baguettes about $7, meals about $16. If you really want to eat here, make a reservation, be prepared to wait or wear warm clothes (outdoor tables always easier to get). Lunch only.

Tho Tho - 66 Victoria Street (Richmond)
This street is THE street for Vietnamese food on the eastern side of the city (there are some outer suburbs in the south east which are also good, and Footscray - a short trip west of the city). You could really eat at any of these places and get a good meal (other favs inc Vao Doi and Thy Thy - any of them!). Tho Tho was converted from a pub (I think) and is now a huge polished concrete room with brightly coloured chairs and fast service. Rice paper rolls are yum, get a seafood hotpot with chilli and lemongrass sauce! Also a fan of what is described on their menu (and many in the street) as Vietnamese coleslaw with chicken - goi ga - sorry missing accents). While I haven't tried it myself yet, Ying Thai (a tiny place at no 235, on the opposite side of the railway bridge to the main strip here) has been touted to me as a place that seems to keep upping the chilli level.

Right.. by no means a comprehensive wrap up of Melbourne restaurants as it completely ignores some areas and some types of restaurants, but it was a good distraction for me (sigh!). Melbourne is a good food town if you look in the right places (down lanes, in the 'ethnic' food streets). If you arrive and want to pick up a guide, The Age newspaper publishes two books "Good Food Guide" and "Cheap Eats Guide" which are fairly reputable and will take you to good places.

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