Experience Melbourne's Cool Restaurants
Melbourne is a city where you could very happily live your entire life in a home without a kitchen.
In fact, Melbourne's restaurants, pubs and cafes are so numerous, so good, so varied, and such bloody good value, they're the perfect excuse to never go home at all.
This explains why food hounds and chefs visiting here from overseas and interstate find it so hard to leave. Luckily, some don't, leading to fabulous new restaurants continually springing up like shiitake mushrooms fruiting on a moist oak log.
Over the years, many a restaurateur has swanned in from Scandinavia, Vietnam, Italy, France, China, the UK, copped a feel of the plump sun-ripened goodies at Victoria Market, wrapped their lips around a succulent lamb loin or ocean-juicy prawn, inhaled a brilliant Yarra Valley red, and promptly gone gaga over the endless possibilities for gastronomic awesomeness.
A rich food history
Melbourne's love affair with food cranked up about 160 years ago when gold fever spurred shiploads of hungry miners to flock in from the four corners of the globe.
It was the miners' lusty appetites for plates piled high with prepared food that ignited Melbourne's passion for "cheap eats" and ethnically diverse cuisine.
Regular waves of immigrants have continued to shape, season and flavour eating out in Melbourne.
In the early days, it was the French and Swiss who called the shots in Melbourne's fine dining. And still do to a certain extent.
But it's the Italians, Chinese and Vietnamese who've won over both the masses and the gourmands. In Melbourne, entire ethnic communities are based around cheery places to chow down on drool-worthy cheap eats made to recipes from "home".
While at the big end of town, sublime fine dining experiences abound. Up until recently, Melbourne had more "Hatted" chefs than any other Australian city.
What's on the menu?
There are so many options it's no wonder Melburnians spend so much time studying menus, arguing about coffee beans, and earnestly discussing the attributes of various root vegetables.
From European-style cake shops presided over by black-frocked, pillow-bosomed grand mamas, to impossibly hip cafes bristling with wanna-be rock stars. From tiny tapas bars hidden down historic cobbled laneways, to opulent fine dining rooms dripping with antiques, art and attitude. From chic, glass-sheeted temples to innovative haute cuisine, to quirky pubs dishing up robust vegetarian fare fresh off the farm.
And everything else in between.
Melbourne is paradise for the gourmand, the glutton, the gourmet, the food perve, the Bacchanalian sensualist. And the just plain bloody hungry.
Here are but a few of the highlights.
Don't be put off by the cracked vinyl and crowded communal tables. These are often the most authentic! And epitomise the best of cheap eats. Others offer more sophisticated settings and delightfully surprising twists on traditional Vietnamese dishes.
Check out the suburbs of Richmond and Footscray, both of which are just a short tram ride from the CBD. Springvale is also well worth a visit.
Melbourne is home to the legendary Flower Drum, long regarded as the best restaurant in Australia. It is but one of many excellent places to break out the chopsticks. Chinatown in Little Bourke Street is considered the best in Oz and is chocka with choices as well as been lots of fun to explore.
The adjoining suburbs of Carlton and Brunswick are famously known as Little Italy, the birthplace of Melbourne's vibrant café society and home to many a top Italian dining establishment. It's authentically colourful in more ways than one: some of the locals inspired TV's Underbelly.
This stylish new waterfront precinct is bursting at the seams with funky bars, gorgeous cafes and award-winning restaurants, with views to die for. It's just across the footbridge linking the CBD with Etihad Stadium.
A 10-minute tram ride from the CBD, Brunswick Street in Fitzroy is the State's Capital of Indie Cool. It's got loads of groovy restaurants and bars offering great value and a huge range of dining options. Nearby Johnston Street is where to go for great Spanish and Latin cuisine, and to dance the Tango after a few vinos.
This famous seaside suburb is packed with fine dining restaurants and Boho eateries. Don't miss Acland Street, a firm favourite with the locals. Must avoid if you're on a diet - the cake shops will do your head in.
With its riverfront promenade and proximity to the CBD and the casino, Southbank is a great spot to watch the world go by while tucking into a feed.
Unlike many cities, Melbourne's cosmopolitan Central Business District is even livelier at night than it is during the day. As well as a host of iconic big name restaurants, there are dozens of lesser-known treasures to discover - especially down the back alleys and laneways.
Keep in mind that Melburnians eat out all the time, any day of the week, so it's it pays to book. Especially if you're itching to try the latest and greatest restaurants and cafes.