Hubert Burda Media

The High/Low Mix of Melbourne’s Eateries

A foodie capital more than ever since it hosted the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards and its associated coterie of top chefs earlier this year, Melbourne is also a city of culinary contrasts.

High Buzz

Pretty much all of Andrew McConnell’s restaurants are happening like nobody’s business, thanks to solid menu items and smart locations. The menu at Supernormal is Asian-influenced and driven by Australian ingredients, and while the lobster roll may be a McConnell signature, we’re more obsessed with a pretty hunk of cauliflower that’s grilled till crisp and dusted liberally with furikake, the highly flavourful Japanese rice seasoning that’s available in most supermarkets. That’s some home-cooking inspiration right there – and speaking of which, a couple of years ago McConnell released a Supernormal cookbook, so you can easily replicate chez toi a more-ish lamb shoulder swimming in a Sichuan braising liquid and served with scallion pancakes that are strong enough to stand alone without being a side, though they’re absolutely necessary for mopping up all that sauce. 

Guaranteed to be even buzzier and busier when it opens this month, Supernormal Canteen (a pop-up in Fitzroy circa 2014) will open in a permanent spot in St Kilda, though it’s delivery only for the first two weeks.

Low Volume

It’s not that it isn’t busy – because, oh, it is (remember when Blumenthal’s Fat Duck moved to Melbourne for a six-month stint and literally 300,000 people tried to get reservations?). But Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, the Melbourne edition, is classy and perfect for a quiet date. The restaurant venue is better than the London original, thanks to floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a riverside view, with high ceilings that ensure your private chat dissipates. Having to walk through the casino to get there is a bit of a downer, but you’re there for the food, after all. Blumenthal’s signatures are all available and must be ordered (specifically, that’s the “Meat Fruit”, a disguised chicken-liver parfait and slices of properly charred toast, and the tipsy cake with roasted pineapple), but though the conceit is that the recipes hark from ye olde-English archives, there’s some Aussie influence too, such as Rice & Flesh, which features curried kangaroo tail. 

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal’s meat fruit

High Carb

Elegant, ambitious and a grand departure from the democratic-dining vibe that defines Chris Lucas’s other Melbourne ventures (which include Chin Chin and Kong), Kisumé is a three-floor, much-hyped, high-end Japanese affair whose crown jewel is a ground-floor sushi bar serving the freshest fish-on-rice exper-ience in town. Just head to the restaurant’s Instagram for food porn of the highest order: shime saba made with mackerel from Ulladulla in New South Wales; panko prawn tempura rolls with cucumber chive and spicy mayo, the crustaceans sourced from Mooloolaba, Queensland; cuttlefish from Western Australia that’s been sliced and styled to resemble a chrysanthemum flower, sitting atop a bed of rice and under an arrangement of salmon roe. 

Although this is an ode to the best of Australia’s oceans, the team is sourced internationally, with sommelier Jonathan Lucas coming from Eleven Madison Park, general manager Markus Tschuschnig from Masa New York, and chef Moon Kyung Soo from Mikuni in Singapore.

By the time you read this, the restaurant’s upstairs private-dining omakase area, Kuro Kisumé, should also have launched – yet another reason to follow Kisumé’s social-media page.

Low Glycemic Index

From the team behind always-roaring pasta purveyor Tipo 00 comes Osteria Ilaria, where the double-zero flour gets a rest in favour of plant- and protein-led dishes such as hiramasa kingfish with bottarga and watercress, whole whiting with pippies and sea herbs, and rabbit terrine with dijon mustard and pickled quince. It’s not entirely pasta free (a prawn paccherri with chilli oil is the sole transgressor), but the menu will certainly satisfy those who’ve made an enemy of gluten. The best part? Unlike its sister restaurant, Osteria Ilaria accepts reservations. Book soon! Since the wine bar opened at the end of May, reviews have been of the rave variety, so table availability is probably diminishing as we speak.

The interior at Kisumé

High Mileage

Inspiration comes from afar at Long Chim, the Thai street food-focused restaurant that marks David Thompson’s debut in Melbourne. The Australian, whose dedication to rediscovering family, historical and lost recipes of Thailand has made him one of the most recognised chefs in Asia, doesn’t dumb down the spice levels for the foreign market, so expect to have your tongue lit on fire by dishes such as Chiang Mai larp of chicken. This street-food experience doesn’t come for a small handful of baht, though – Thompson’s craving for authen-ticity means that a lot of the spices and sauces he uses come from Thailand, whether we’re talking fish sauce, limes, noodles or even the Koh Loy sriracha. Noodles are definitely a highlight, so come with friends and order up a storm, from charred noodles to laksa to classic pad thai.

Low Carbon Footprint

Maybe it’s a little cheeky to offer up Attica to our readers (it’s so highly ranked and publicised that it hardly needs more new customers). In fact, its website lists a schedule of when bookings are released, no doubt due to the number of potential patrons bothering them with reservations queries. (FYI, the calendar tends to open three months ahead, and you should have your finger poised above your computer mouse to click and book immediately.)

Ranked 32 on the World’s Best Restaurants list, which makes it the top dining establishment in Australia, Attica is the brainchild of the earnest Ben Shewry, who not only espouses the country’s love of farm-to-table dining, but was a great champion of foraging before it was deemed a foodie fad. What this translates to is menu items such as Gazza’s Vegemite Pie; Kangaroo, Wattles and Waxflower; Jumbuck and Tulips; and Whipped Emu Egg with Sugar Bag. From start to finish, it’s an exemplary experience – if you can secure a booking.

Whipped emu egg with sugar bag from Attica

High End 

Asian food is a big deal in Melbourne, but it’s usually a riff on the traditional. Not so at Flower Drum, which does fancy Canto, and has done so unapologetically since opening in 1975. It isn’t quite as flash as, say, Hong Kong’s Lung King Heen, but it retains a bygone charm that’s rare on Melbourne’s fine-dining scene, and that has charmed food critics for decades. That is, until one reviewer for the city’s Herald Sun newspaper deigned to roast the restaurant in 2015, prompting a public outcry, not to mention news coverage of the incident (the writer stands by his comments, including his comparison of one sauce to a “springtime sneeze”). Despite the hullabaloo, Flower Drum still holds its own, with two hats from this year’s The Age Good Food Guide. Recipes by Flower Drum’s executive chef, Anthony Lui, were also published in last year’s comprehensive and seminal China: The Cookbook.

Low Brow

Pacific Seafood is pretty darned mass market, but here’s the secret: it was opened by an old-school Yung Kee chef who knows a thing or two about the most divine roast goose. It’s juicy as anything and gives the Hong Kong stalwart a run for its money because, let’s face it, Australian geese taste better than Hong Kong ones. Buyer beware: portions are the size of China, so either come with a large group or be ready to waste food. We know ordering fewer dishes is not really an option. If the poached free-range chicken is on the specials board, get that. And the lobster. And the fried rice. And …

AFTER HOURS

High up

Looking for Melbourne’s answer to Sevva? The Rooftop at QT opened late last year and the design hotel’s top-floor hangout has it all: an interplay of indoor and outdoor seating, that killer city view, bar bites that include Scotch quail eggs, as well as fried chicken and kimchi bao, and a cocktail menu as elevated and hipster as you can imagine. Smoking Guns, for example, works with a trendy Mezcal base, powered up with lemon, mint, sugar and bitters. Those with a taste for the medicinal might enjoy the Burnt Rosemary Bramble, while locavores will swoon for the Yarra Valley Sour, which uses Four Pillars Gin (distilled in the not-too-distant Yarra Valley) and throws Melbourne’s gratuitous favourite menu item, edible flowers, into a mix that also features Pinot Noir and egg white. If that sounds a little too controversial, then put your money down on the safe bet of Hokkaido Milk Damper Buns – wagyu-beef patties on pillowy buns with panko and mustard for a twist.

The Rooftop at QT

Low down

Sales of Nintendo’s NES Classic were brisk last Christmas (thanks to children of the ’80s looking to pick up a bit of video-game nostalgia), until the novelty of blistered thumbs wore off. A better way to unleash your inner vintage gamer is to head down to Bartronica Arcade Bar, a Flinders Lane basement video-game arcade-cum-bar where large-format arcade machines host titles such as Mario Kart, Double Dragon and Street Fighter 2, and you can throw back craft beer in between challenges. It’s not upscale in the least, but a private Mario Kart booth that you can pre-book will give you some semblance of VIP status. And if you’re feeling really fancy, you can order a colourful cocktail instead of a long-necked cold one. Diddy Kong is a sweet treat with gin, pineapple and cherry soda, while the Maverick combines Mezcal, house-made jasmine-and-lemongrass syrup, Cointreau and lemon. Or, spring for a round of Chai Latte shots with fireballs – a throwback to the days when hipsters drank spiced tea instead of flat whites. 

SWEET SURRENDER 

High calorie

There may be a pilates studio on every block, but Melbourne has some pretty sweet sweets, too. At Burch & Purchese in South Yarra, colourful tarts and inventive layered cakes are almost too pretty to eat, and include a vanilla, mascarpone, orange and pistachio tart, or a strawberry, lemon, feijoa and raspberry cake. Lining the wall opposite the glass case of goodies are fine grocery items such as packets of pimp-your-cake goodies like honeycomb and salted-oat and ginger crumble. 

Low fat

Raw, vegan and utterly suitable for smuggling overseas, Pana Chocolate treats are no-guilt goodies that will keep you coming back for more. Inventive chocolate-bar flavours range from Coconut & Goji to Fig & Wild Orange, but what we really love are the cakes, which are a riff on cheesecake in texture but with gorgeous flavours. Citrus Mint is a favourite of ours, but really they’re all good – and thanks to the healthful philosophy, maybe you can actually have them all.