Melbourne has enough world-class restaurants to sustain a scene unlike any other in the whole world. Melbourne’s epicures are a creative lot, prone to clashing wacky cuisines and resurrecting old recipes in the form of wild new frankenflavours. Here are the laboratories.
Where: 180 Flinders Lane in the heart of it
Expensive?: Meat and fish mains are big and pricey. Best value for money is in shared eats.
Brainchild of chef Andrew McConnell, Supernormal is Chinese, Japanese and Korean food exploded on a vast menu of share platters. You’ve got McConnell’s own kimchi, pillowy dumplings and soup-filled bao, and fresh fish roasted whole. The space is open and bright. Guests sit on a long bar-style table, shoulder-to-shoulder. On any night of the week you’ll see bottles of warmed sake passed up and down; you’ll see chopsticks wander.
- Chin Chin
Where: Also on Flinders Lane: number 125
What: Thai seafood revisited
Expensive?: Yes. Ravenous? Ask for the FEED ME banquet. $69.50 per person at time of writing. An all-you-can-eat tour of the menu, with best-sellers brought to the fore.
Chin Chin may be modernised Thai, but the kingfish sashimi is the only choice for an opener. It’s the best treatment an oily pelagic fish can get in Melbourne. Otherwise, locals love the curry selection: You’ve got the “Scud City” Jungle curry with steamed barramundi; red curry of braised duck with son-in-law egg; rendang curry of wagyu beef with toasted coconut; and a delightfully creamy braised goat concoction brought in from the south coast. On-a-whim dinner bookings are hard to come by, so book well in advance.
- Dexter – Meat and Buns
Where: 456 High Street Preston
What: complicated grill creations, delivered simply
Expensive?: No. Prime cuts occupy the pricier end of the menu.
It’s an oversimplification to say Dexter is a barbecue smokehouse-style haunt, but that’ll get you in the door. What unfolds over an evening at Dexter comes closer to gastronomical experimentation. Which means it’s glorious and filling and fun.
The summer menu features US-style smoker mainstays like pulled pork and cured brisket served with mash and pickles atop trenchers of dense sourdough. The kurobuta pork loin comes sizzling to your table. There are burgers, too, like the buttermilk-fried chicken and pigs (sic) head croquette. Go for a hot meat donut to start.
- Papa Goose
Where: 91 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
What: modern British, covered in glorious crackling
Expensive?: considering it’s an upscale carvery taking cues from the new-wave British movement popularised by the likes of Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay, et al? No.
‘Slow food’ here means big hunks of meat, land and sea, grilled and basted until it retains no muscular integrity. So the produce is guaranteed to melt in the mouth. The 24-hour beef short ribs come with a blood plum and pickled fennel glaze; the Robin’s Island wagyu rump comes MB9+ and cooked by experts. And, of course, there are the roasts. Papa Goose promises modern British fare in a sophisticated setting, lit invitingly by yellow-warm jarlamps, punctuated by fine wine.
- Hu Tong Dumpling Bar
Where: 14-16 Market Lane
What: Chinese dumplings, just like you might expect, but better
Expensive?: The traditional options, like prawn or pork, are very affordable.
With its charming brick-and-timber upstairs dining area, Hu Tong is a true laneway secret bursting with convivial energy. The menu isn’t exploratory, and it won’t set trends, but that’s not why it exists. The dumpling-makers here make home-style food, according to the old ways of home, which means the dumplings are light, fluffy, and rich in lots of different kinds of protein. Order a ten or fifteen-piece plate of fried wontons – the pork and prawn kind are also good – and pass the plates around. Bookings here are easy to get most nights of the week.
- Mr Miyagi
Where: 99 Chapel Street, Windsor
What: funky, bizarre, in-your-face Japanese
Expensive?: In the words of the proprietors, “Food baby cheaper than real baby.”
Seeing the inundation of traditional Japanese restaurants in Melbourne, Mr Miyagi’s owners decided they’d turn the usual suspects – sushi, ramen – upside down, then right side up again. Thus, on bustling Chapel, Melbournised Japanese made for casual, in-and-out dining. Salmon nori tacos, David Chang’s ramen gnocchi, tempura broccoli, tuna tataki pizza, nikuman steamed pork buns. You can let “Mr. M make you full” and choose the FEED ME! banquet, which is a perfect night-starter with friends coming in at a reasonable $55 per person. Don’t forget a plate of tofu to get things going.