Tag Archives: Melbourne

Melbourne’s Best Bars

Melbournians are justifiably proud of their bar culture and thirsty citizens are never short of a place to drink. We noticed the city is becoming grungier in its dining habits, but drinking seems to have gone upmarket. Here are our top 10 picks for Melbourne bars, be they the high-glam, low brow or secret laneway variety.

The Everleigh

The Everleigh

EDV. 1 Malthouse Lane, Melbourne.

This cocktail bar with a whisky focus is hidden, fittingly, in a lane called Malthouse. EDV’s penchant for cocktails is balanced by its masculine decor; think jazz tunes, leather and polished mahogany. Bring your friends for a cocktail degustation dinner, a brave new territory where a five course food extravaganza meets and greets the very best of booze.

Izakaya Den. Basement  114 Russel Street, Melbourne
Notoriously difficult to find, descending into Izakaya Den can fill the uninitiated with nervous excitement , but never fear, what you’ll find here are friendly faces and a space devoted in equal parts to the art of Japanese eating and drinking. Note the performance art that goes on behind the open kitchen and bar, with the chefs and mixologists dancing around each other. Obviously, all drinks have a Japanese bent, from sake to imported beers, but the range is wide and there is something for all tastes.

The Everleigh. 1/150-156 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy

The Everleigh’s location, hidden so that only those looking for it will notice it, says a lot about its character. It’s a proper American-style cocktail bar of old, when drinks were bespoke and each glass was treated with courtesy. Candlelight glints off vintage chandeliers, well heeled patrons slide into mahogany booths and the air is filled with smooth jazz tunes that make you feel like you’re drinking in a golden age.

The Black Pearl. 304 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.

Cocktail powerhouse The Black Pearl is the place to visit if you’re looking for a classy bar where you can drink posh without having to maintain a ramrod-straight spine. Downstairs, drink beer or whisky from vintage ‘70s tankards. Upstairs, in The Attic, maroon-shirted waiters serve exciting cocktails in crystal cut Royal Doulton glassware. Table service makes The Black Pearl personalised and civilised, but on the weekends, the bar is swamped three-persons deep with patrons determined to have a knees-up good time, whatever their poison.

Kodiak Club. 272 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.

If you’re going to name a bar after a 500kg native American bear, you might as well have one represent. And the Kodiak Club does. Melbourne’s only bourbon bar is dominated by a wall-mounted Kodiak that watches over its patrons as they dig into all-American bar food. The space is warm and welcoming, much like a mountain lodge in a blizzard, and the bar is dominated by bourbon and rye whiskies, with a smattering of quality wines, beers and cocktails, plus some trashy Mexican beers for good measure.

The Kodiak Club

The Kodiak Club

Cookie. First Floor, 252 Swanston Street, Melbourne.

Any bar that describes itself as a “disco eating house and beer hall” is bound to make its patrons happy. Cookie somehow manages to fuse beer hall, cocktail bar and modern Thai restaurant with flair. The bar stocks a plethora of micro-brews and 350 different wines, plus, a hidden corner bar pours an endless stream of innovative cocktails. Cookie is smack-bang in the middle of the city, but transports you to a cooler plane, with its pastiche of French doors, Juliet balconies and manga inspired murals.

Red Spice Road QV. QV Melbourne, 31-37 Artemis Lane, Melbourne CBD.

Overlooking the hustle and bustle of Lonsdale Street, Red Spice Road QV may be more of a restaurant, but it does a cracking martini.  Sweet, sour or short, the cocktail menu is well-researched and the perfect side to the spicy cuisine of South East Asia. Take up a seat at one of their communal tables and enjoy a Red Spice mojito jugtail, the perfect complement to one of the restaurant’s banquet menus (either $60 or $75; with vegetarian options available).

Red Spice Road QV

Red Spice Road QV

Lily Blacks. 12 Meyers Place, Melbourne.

Lily Blacks is a high end gin joint and cocktail connoisseur’s dream that’s open till 3.00am, every night of the week.  The decor gives a little nod to the 1920s speakeasy, with its potted palms, a wooden bar and doilies under the ashtrays. Lily Blacks takes a sophisticated approach to booze – the classics are served with a twist and assembled using the freshest ingredients and a flair for drama. There is a generous list of wines by the glass and for drinkers who prefer a simpler brew, there are numerous beers and ciders on tap. We recommend lining your stomach with Lily’s bar snacks, like charcuteries and cheese platters, olives and brandy-soaked prunes.

Rooftop Bar. Level 7, Curtin House, 252 Swanston Street, Melbourne.

Curtin House. Seven floors up. There’s a bar on the rooftop. What more is there to say? This venue is unquestionably one of the best for an open-air drink that’s as good as the view. In summer, opening hours are extended, burgers, wraps and ice cream sandwiches are on the menu and you can pull up a deck chair and catch a movie. Don’t despair the winter months, that’s when the Rooftop Bar’s relationship with MissChu bears fruit – in the form of rice paper rolls and other Vietnamese goodies, that is.

The Waiting Room. Lobby, Crown Entertainment Complex, 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank.

The Crown Towers lobby plays host to The Waiting Room, with its glamorous low lighting and mirrored jewel box interior. The bar has revived the sophisticated art of mixology, with cool cocktails, classic martinis and premium champagne the order of the day. Of course, the drinks have to share the limelight with Neil Perry’s impressive array of bar snacks and light meals.

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David’s has undergone a facelift and isn’t it fabulous

Tucked inside a converted warehouse on the cool-side of Melbourne’s tracks, David’s has undergone a facelift – shaking off its fine-dining façade, and embracing a fresh and youthful new look. The linen covered tables have been stripped and replaced with exposed wooden tables, while place mats now serve as menus. On first glance, David’s appears to be capitalising on what every other modern Asian restaurant in Melbourne is offering, until, of course, we remember that David’s has been winning Chef Hats long before most restaurateurs’ even left school.

David’s is set inside a converted warehouse on Chapel Street

Owner and former Chinese herbalist David Zhou has adopted a “back-to-basics” philosophy that is a far cry from your typical pan-Asian restaurant. David has created a unique menu of regional Shanghai home-style dishes. We start with David’s signature one bite soft shell prawns. Light, meaty and slightly sweet, these soft shell prawns are a vast juxtaposition to the often heavily fried and dry versions that we have all experienced before. For those who like it hot, the 50/50 fried chicken with stir-fried chillies and Szechuan peppercorns will satisfy but just make sure you’re within reach of the water station. The highlight of the meal, however, is the whole braised barramundi, wrapped in a blanket of spring onion and filleted tableside. The crispy outer skin, combined with the fish’s soft flesh is perfect with a side of Buddha’s fried rice that soaks up all the sticky juices from the plate. End on a sweet note with soft centred white chocolate dumplings sprinkled with coconut, a signature dish, available from all of David Zhou’s restaurants.

David’s signature dish of one bite soft shell river prawns

In keeping with David’s humble philosophy, a grab-it-yourself communal cutlery station features in the centre of the restaurant and each dish is large enough to share with a group. Diners eat off the same plates that David has at home, and although there is table service, guests happily help themselves to whatever they need, just like they would at home.

Whole braised barramundi with spring onion blanket

To be voted as one of the top 50 best Chinese restaurants outside of China is no easy feat but David’s has hit the mark – offering Melburnians an authentic Shanghai dining experience.

Aphrodite Vlahos

Read more about David’s here

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Upholding the Reymond reputation: Bistro Gitan

Siblings Antoine, Edouard and Nathalie Reymond – and yes, their father is none other than renowned French Chef Jacques Reymond – have joined arms to create Bistro Gitan – a charming restaurant that proves that French fare doesn’t need to be all high-class.

Antoine Reymond with our Melbourne food writer, Aphrodite

In a town where most high-end restaurants require a compass to locate, it is refreshing when one is actually visible from the street. Set at the top end of Toorak Road, Bistro Gitan’s converted Victorian house is as pretty as a picture, both inside and out. Reminiscent of a Parisian apartment, Bistro Gitan features worn wooden floors, vintage posters, familial portraits and tall arched windows that offer diners the perfect chance to people watch.

The restaurant’s aesthetic is quaint and charming but the focus is all on the food, sans pretentiousness. Under Head Chef Steven Nelson, who has worked for the past three years at fine-dining establishment Jacques Reymond, Gitan’s menu is broken into small, average and main sizes, with a large chalk specials board displayed next to the open kitchen. Here, classic French bistro dishes are served alongside Spanish and Italian influences, which have also found their way into the wine list. And, we must remember, “Gitan” is French for gypsy, so the menu’s curious combinations are not only executed perfectly but also make perfect sense.

Salad of roasted duck breast, sausage morteau and fresh borlotti beans with persillade and tomato

Formule Lunch Gitan – a simple course of soup and salad provides a perfectly balanced meal which, upon tasting, is anything but “simple”. When we visited, the soup was a rustic fish broth accompanied by a salad of roasted duck breast, sausage morteau and fresh borlotti beans with persillade and tomato. While the Formule Lunch Gitan comes highly recommended, the standout dish was six buttery escargots from the petite menu. Arriving in a dimpled ceramic dish, served simply with toasted baguette slices, Gitan’s escargots are just like those you would be served at a side street bistro in Paris. The baked hapuka fillet, a specialty from the Reymond family’s village and a Bistro Gitan signature dish, also comes highly recommended.

There is more to Bistro Gitan than fine family pedigree, with its comfortable, warm atmosphere and articulate menu, this restaurant is indeed an asset to Melbourne’s dining scene.

Aphrodite Vlahos

Read more about Bistro Gitan here

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The perfect neighbourhood restaurant, The Mess Hall

The Mess Hall is an unpretentious diner, in the heart of Melbourne’s theatre district.

Under the helm of Frank Stella (who also owns Stellini Bar on Little Collins Street), The Mess Hall is the ideal neighbourhood restaurant. Residing in what seems to be a former split-level terrace, the restaurant space is flooded with natural light and detailed with Victorian architecture. Bright and airy, guests are welcomed by efficient, friendly staff and a wave of appetising aromas from the kitchen. Scents of butter, bread and olive oil provide the perfect appetite stimulator and create a homely atmosphere in the restaurant.

Split over two levels, the atmosphere at The Mess Hall is homely and relaxed

Despite its no bookings policy, the turnover of tables is quick and we are quickly ushered to an intimate table near the kitchen. A far cry from an army mess hall, this restaurant has established a reputation as a reliable provider of terrific pizza and pasta dishes of a northern Italian bent. In true Italian spirit, the starters are designed for sharing with dishes such as calamari fritti and harissa croquettes. The pizza, pasta and main plate menus are generously-sized – with the standout choice being the sausage, provolone and chilli pizza. The beetroot salad with Bulgarian fetta, Japanese mushrooms, yoghurt and herbs works well as a side dish, offering a fresh reprieve from some of the heavier Italian dishes.

The Mess Hall embodies all the makings of the perfect neighbourhood restaurant – it is consistent, casual and full of charm.

Anna Lisle

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Read more about The Mess Hall here

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South Yarra’s effortlessly chic Speakeasy Kitchen & Bar

Blink and you’ll miss the entrance to this new concept restaurant and bar on South Yarra’s Chapel StreetOwned and run by brothers Petros and Alexis Lambis, Speakeasy Kitchen & Bar is a one stop shop for all your wining and dining desires.

Perfect on a sunny Melbourne day, the outdoor area is ideal for a drink and casual meal

Slip through the Speakeasy shopfront and a deceptively large space is revealed. Modern and sophisticated, the design by Eon Architects features smart wood paneling, clean-cut Nordic furniture, an open kitchen and cascading wire chandeliers that soften the edge. Upstairs, the elegant private dining area provides seating for up to 40 and is the ideal space for a special gathering. However, for those not interested in formalities, a large courtyard outback offers alfresco nibbling on large communal tables and an area to enjoy a boutique beer or two. This rear patio (and obviously the restaurant’s name) takes inspiration from the 1920’s prohibition era speakeasy bars – featuring ‘secret’ laneways covered in graffiti art by local artists. The New-York inspired images that bedeck the buildings perimeter are by Paul Round of Urban Enhancement, whose character filled designs boast as much flair as the bartenders themselves. In the speakeasy theme, weekend barbeques draw quite the crowd, and with plans to feature live music throughout the summer, Petros and Alexis are sure to have their hands busy.

It’s rare to find a place that you can enjoy a drink and meal the night before, and happily head back the next morning for breakfast and this is what Speakeasy is all about. Whether you’re looking for a coffee and croissant, a beer and burger on a Sunday arvo, or a three-course meal of French Bistro classics, Speakeasy has it all.

The brother duo have done something rather novel and wonderful at this little gem of a restaurant on Chapel Street.

Anna Lisle

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Read more about Speakeasy Kitchen & Bar here

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One of Melbourne’s most iconic restaurants: Cookie

You can’t call yourself a foodie in Melbourne if you haven’t been to Cookie. Lauded as one of Melbourne’s most iconic dining experiences, Cookie is a quirky little place, in the heart of the city.

It may not have received a Hat from The Age Good Food Guide but booking a table at Cookie is harder than getting into Harvard. It was so difficult, in fact, that I booked a table for 5.30pm. On a Sunday. Feeling like I had gone into early retirement, I arrived at the Swanston Street destination as the sun was just beginning to set. Cookie is located on the first floor of a renovated 1920s building known as Curtin House, with sister venues’ The Toff and Choo Choos’ just upstairs.

Cookie’s eating house

Rather than walking into an empty restaurant, I was surprised to see large groups of tables excitedly flicking through menus, tossing around options and giggling to one another. Clearly, there are a few small prices you pay to experience one of Melbourne’s most sought-after locations. Partitioned off into sections, Cookie somehow manages to combine a disco, eating house and beer hall in the one space. Unlike the beer hall, the eating house is open and spacious. The walls are lined with old photographs of Swanston Street and inner city Melbourne and the tables are set with white lace doilies and floral crockery. Large Victorian windows open out onto Swanston Street, while an open bar runs along the opposite wall, stocking over 350 wines, many of which can be ordered by the glass.

Chef Karen Batson (who also heads the kitchen at Choo Choo’s and Prahran’s Colonel Tan’s) has created a modern Thai menu that matches well to a long dinner with family or friends. While it is nice for two, a night at Cookie is far more fun with a big group –when you can share a range of dishes.  Standout dishes include rice noodle rolls with bamboo shoots, prawns and pickled chilli soy, drunken noodles with minced pork and green chillies and and deep fried snapper with bok choi tamarind and crispy shallots. In keeping with the kitsch theme, at the end of our meal the bill is delivered in a vintage children’s book, a great touch.

Childhood nostalgia, machismo, plus a dash of Melbourne eccentricism: this sums up the atmosphere at Melbourne sweetheart, Cookie.

Anna Lisle

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Read more about Cookie here

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The Best comes to Melbourne in the form of Pei Modern

When it comes to dining in Australia, it is the North versus the South, Sydney versus Melbourne. It is a rivalry that has existed for decades and one which has only but intensified in the past few Masterchef-obsessed years.

So when Sydney’s Best comes to Melbourne, it is hard to avoid the commotion. The “Best” comes in the form of Pei Modern, a new fine-diner in Melbourne’s inner city. A double entendre, Pei Modern is the creation of Mark Best, of Sydney’s Marque Restaurant. As one of only five restaurants in New South Wales to be awarded the highly coveted title of 3 Chef Hats, Marque is the epitome of fine dining in Australia.

While Marque devotees may be disappointed to hear that Pei Modern is quite different from its Sydney sibling, Pei Modern does draw some similarities. The restaurant space, like Marque, is simple and elegant with upholstered seats and ambient lighting.

Caramelised tomato stuffed with twelve flavours and star anise ice cream

The similarities tend to stop about here. Rather than being located in the epicentre of Melbourne dining, as Marque is on Crown Street in Surry Hills, the location of Pei Modern is slightly unusual. Tucked away at the back of Collins Place, diners walk through an empty retail centre, where only a handful of couples, box of popcorn in hand, can be glimpsed heading downstairs to a movie at Kino Cinemas.

Rather than a multi-course degustation, diners to Pei Modern can enjoy simple a la carte fare, at more than reasonable prices. A selection of eight elegant dishes comprise the main menu, with matching sides, while the bar menu offers more casual drinking fare such as chicken liver parfait and croquettes. Not interested in the dinner menu? Unlike Marque, it doesn’t cost $160 to experience the Best, at Pei Modern, you can put the Best to test with breakfast for just $8.

Anna Lisle

DETAILS
The name Pei Modern is Mark’s tribute to the architect I.M. Pei, responsible for the famous inverted glass pyramids at the Louvre. The team behind Pei Modern include Mark Best of Sydney, together with Peter Bartholomew and David Mackintosh, both from MoVida. The Head Chef is Matt Germanchis (formerly of Pandora’s Box, MoVida, Fat Duck) and the restaurant manager is somellier Ainslie Lubbock (formerly of Royal Mail Hotel and Attica).

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