Melissa Leong, Masterchef judge and food writer
One thing I love about Melbourne is dining solo. Sitting at the bar and having a glass of wine and a meal while chatting to staff and taking in the atmosphere is a real tonic for grown ups (and for people like me, who try their hardest to be one). A favourite place of mine since I moved to Melbourne nearly five years ago is Bar Louriñha. The rowdy, Latin-focused bar at the top end of Little Collins Street in the city is like ’90’s sitcom Cheers – only with happier patrons and better things to eat and drink. At night it glows like a lantern and if you stay long enough you’re likely to see someone you know, or make a new friend.
I always ask for a seat at the bar with my back to the window so I can see the whole room. I start with a glass of cava and end with a Negroni, and I’ll take whatever snacks chef Matt McConnell wants to throw at me: briny Gildas, crisp croquettas spiked with jamon, plump little charcoal-scented duck hearts on skewers. He is easily one of the most effortlessly gifted chefs in this city, and I’m here for it. Add partner Jo Gamvros’s generous way with people on the floor, and you have what this city is renowned for: real, proper hospitality.
Michaela McGuire, artistic director, Melbourne Writers Festival
I’m a walking cliché but I miss getting a text message from a friend saying that they’re running late to a drink after work. I miss telling the staff at Gerald’s Bar, or the man himself, that it’s “just me, for now”, taking a seat at the bar, ordering a glass of red wine, and texting my friend back: “It’s okay, I’ve got a book.”
Sarah Sheridan, co-founder Clothing the Gaps
I’m so excited about kicking off my Saturdays again with a run around Princes Park, dodging the puddles and the puppies with friends before shopping my way up Sydney Road. I’ve missed wandering through the hustle and bustle of all the cafes and grocers and going in every op-shop and recycled fashion store on the hunt for that perfect find. The green smoothie at Lobbs cafe keeps me going all the way up the hill so I can call in and say hi to the team at Clothing the Gaps HQ.
Victor Liong, chef Lee Ho Fook and Chuuka
For me, it’s all about the bar. My earliest memories of coming to the city are from when I was perched at a bar elbow-to-elbow with a local or a visitor, and being guided to a must-try or a local favourite. Be it my first time at Movida smearing cold tomato sorbet over excellent anchovy toast. Or at now-closed The Town Mouse. Or at the Long Room in the MCG watching my first footy game. Or in tiny Bar Americano learning to love the bittersweet aperitifs. Or eating the tasting menu at the chef's counter at Cutler & Co. I love the small, passionate and personality-driven styles of hospitality that are distinctly Melbourne.
These days the setting for much of what I look forward to is still at the bar. I’ve swapped Bar Americano for Above Board (bartender Hayden Lambert moved there and is still the maestro). I'm perched at Embla for Christian [McCabe’s] wine nous and Dave [Verheul]'s cooking (he was previously at The Town Mouse). And Andrew McConnell's Gimlet is a real jewel in this city’s crown. This time, though, I'm the local starting conversations and debates, suggesting gelato spots, cocktail bars and restaurants. I can’t wait to sit at the bar, glass in hand awaiting delicious plates of food to arrive – and to fall in love with Melbourne all over again.
Anthea Loucas Bosha, CEO of Food and Drink Victoria and Melbourne Food and Wine Festival
Breakfast meetings at the Grossi Cellar Bar. It’s a bar by name but, like many Melbourne eateries, it’s an all-day space – from bombolino in the morning to digestivo after dark, and all eating and drinking occasions in between. It could be the chic Europeanness of it or the beautiful history of the space (circa 1900), but nothing quite beats breakfast at a window table – maybe eggs on toast, maybe the fabulous erbazzone (greens pie) – looking out to Bourke Street. It’s Melbourne writ large. I miss it. And there’s that greens pie.
Nornie Bero, chef and owner Mabu Mabu
The thing I miss the most is being able to wake up early on a weekend morning, heading to South Melbourne Market and having a huge island breakfast, as I call it. I get a smorgasbord of seafood from my favourite fishmonger and I love being able to stand at the market and eat the freshest catch of the day with my choice of condiments. I have two places I go, both for different things, but the standout has to be Aptus as they have my fave St Helens oysters from Tassie and sweet, sweet sea urchin.
[Ed note: Since publishing, the market has been listed as a tier-two exposure site. Find more details here.]
Virginia Lovett, Melbourne Theatre Company co-CEO
After coming out of last year’s lockdown I craved being in the water so I took up lap swimming. The meditation of swimming, being outside, helps me deal with the pressure of work, gets me away from the screen and I slowly decompress – lap after lap. I usually jump on my bike, and ride through Edinburgh Gardens to Fitzroy Pool. I love this pool, particularly in the cooler months – steam rises from the water, the light is beautiful and you never fail to forget how iconic it is to Melbourne’s inner-city cultural history. After I swim on the weekend I cycle to Babka in Brunswick Street, pick up some of their fruit buns – best buns in Melbourne – ride back home through the gardens and proceed to undo all my good work. I will never have the best buns in Melbourne.
Tomas Telegramma, Broadsheet Melbourne editor
One of the things I love most about dining at Melbourne’s quote-unquote fancy restaurants is the notably unfancy moments. The finesse-less flashes that might cause your picture-of-composure waiter to break the fine-dining fourth wall – so to speak. The kind of tongue-in-cheek service that’s lost in the lockdown-takeaway cosmos. That’s something I miss. The wink of encouragement one of the staff at Etta shoots you when you forgo your cutlery and take to the remnants of the charry pork-belly rib mouth-first. A straight-up chuckle from your Bar Margaux waiter as you order another “petit” Martini (though you may as well go full-sized at this point) with Bordelaise sauce from the decadent MGX Burger dripping down your arm. Or the knowing glance from your Supernormal server, who arrives tableside just in time to find you index-finger-deep in the peanut-butter parfait’s excess salted caramel, ensuring not a drop goes back to the kitchen.
Ryan Klewer, interior plant stylist and owner of Plant Charmer
Even now, as the cold weather sets in, we [myself, partner Ellen Porteus and our dog Maggie] love to venture through the leafy streets of Fitzroy admiring the change of seasons, on our way to one of our favourite cafes. Mugs in hand, we step foot into the warm embrace of Calere. As we wait for our coffee to be brewed, our minds get lost in a swirling of lo-fi jazz, roasted coffee and fresh baked sourdough banana bread. We wish we could sit there longer, like we usually would. But we are sent on our way into the cold to recount our steps back home through the yellow and amber-lined streets.
Gretta Ray, musician, whose debut album, Begin To Look Around, is out August 27
I miss the simple beauty of connecting with others in warm inner-city cafes on cold mornings. Prior to lockdown four, I was still lapping up the novelty of Melbourne being open after the lengthy second lockdown of 2020. Hope was in the air all through April, and I had an appreciation for our beautiful city operating, for the most part, “as usual”. After all that waiting, we were back.
This feeling of relief was palpable on Brunswick Street, where I drive to work at my collaborator Gab’s studio. Recently on a classically dreary autumnal Melbourne morning I was rugged up and wandering to Alimentari to meet him, when I noticed people quietly working from the cafe and catching up with friends, and they seemed much more animated and connected with one another. There was no sense of frustration with the miserable weather, or a communal panicked rush to move onto the next thing.
Over the course of lunch I found joy in the simplest of moments: reading from a laminated menu, momentarily locking eyes with strangers without our smiles being concealed by masks, staring longingly at all of the wonderful goodies in the deli cabinet and engaging in conversation with the staff. The pleasure in these kinds of occurrences is certainly amplified, and can make the global pandemic seem like a distant memory.
That day, Gab and I left Alimentari and wandered towards his studio, clutching takeaway coffees to warm our hands. Everyone was out to get lunch: small huddles of people gathered outside of Viet Rose, Vegie Bar and Nico’s. The first lyric I wrote when we got back to the studio was “mornings are cold where I am from. Wrapped in a coat coming on late April.”
I deeply love my hometown of Melbourne. It has lost so much during this pandemic, but frosty mornings spent with friends and strangers in cafes in North Fitzroy embody the hope I have that our resilient community will indeed get back to that good place.
Shane Delia, TV host, chef and owner of Maha, Maha East and Maha Bar. Plus founder of Providoor
I’m not an Australian – I’m a Melburnian. I like wearing all black, I like the cold. I live for the rain and I thrive for the grit and character of our inner-suburb culture. But to be able to escape the city and be blasted by the raw force of nature is something I yearn for. For years my family have had a little shack hideaway on Phillip Island. It’s a small two-bedroom pad with no frills but it’s our slice of paradise.
I can walk to Cape Woolamai at sunset all rugged up and sit on the sand dunes and watch the sea crash into rocks, the storm clouds form over the ocean and have my face frozen off by the powerful arctic winds. It’s empowering, disarming and confronting. It makes me feel vulnerable and helps me re-centre and focus on what’s really important.
Once I’m frozen to the bone and the sun has set, it’s time to warm up. It’s then a quick drive to the San Remo pub to position myself at the counter so I’m close to the taps with a clear view of the TV to watch the doggies play. I don’t visit for a meal that’ll change my life, or for the brilliant local produce – I come to feel whole and forget about all the noise and demand of the “real world”. A plate full of chips covered by a chicken schnitzel drowned in a good mushroom gravy is all I need. A cold schooner or four of draught, some passionate screaming and barracking at the TV screen and, if all goes well, a Bulldogs win and my replenishment is complete.
Melbourne is more than a food city – it’s more than the home of sport and arts. It’s the soul of Australia. It’s unique, complex, loving and challenging. I don’t need to travel the world to escape my home, all I need is here and this is where I’ll stay.
Shannon Martinez, head chef and owner of Smith & Daughters and Smith & Deli
Twenty-four-hour licensing. It’s the thing that sets us apart from the rest. The thing that makes our city the hot bad boy character in a cheesy teen film. When I think about Melbourne, I think about that time in my early 20s when I would go out almost every night of the week. My friends and I used to frequent a particular area that we referred to as the Bermuda Triangle. Cherry, Pony, Ding Dong. While that early ’90s trifecta no longer exists, the same values apply. Melbourne owns the night. We always have. Late-night gigs at Cherry Bar, eating at Dragon Hot Pot at 4am and drinking til 6am at the Supper Club. Melbourne, I bloody miss you and I can’t wait till we can hang out again.
Pete Dillon, former chef, food and wine writer and radio host
I’ve missed one of my newfound habits the most. Late afternoon, later in the week, my English housemate would suggest a pint at the London (on Lennox Street in Richmond, very close to home). It’s one of those pubs you’re quickly adopted as a local. The staff know who you are and what beers they’re pouring for you (Balter XPA for him and a Four Pines Refreshing Ale for me). We sit and ruminate over several pints, discussing at length our work challenges, the state of politics, our personal lives or the breaking news of the day. Of course, we could talk about these things at home, in our living room or at the kitchen bench. But each issue seems deeper, more visceral, of greater importance over those couple of beers – the biting autumn winds tempered by the overhead heaters.
There’s footy on the big screens and the fire is crackling. The waft of frying potatoes and crumbed chicken wends its way from the kitchen, making the taste buds come alive with anticipation of a pub meal in place of something home cooked. There’s an eclectic but “doors always open” atmosphere. A joke is shared with the staff about the state of North Melbourne’s abysmal season. Witnessing laughter and sadness at tables nearby, seeing the odd patron, mildly over-refreshed, staggering ever so slightly to the gents. I have missed this the most and my first post lockdown beverage out of the house will remedy my malaise like no other. I will be rugged up, scarf on and off to the London for a pint.
Emma Boseley, menswear designer Neuw Denim
The thing I miss most during lockdown is heading to my favourite pizza restaurant in Carlton: Leonardo’s. My partner and I love sitting at the bar at the end of the week – we have a couple of cocktails and then move onto a nice bottle of orange wine and a pizza to share. We’ve found after a hectic week it’s a lovely way to unwind and relax into the weekend – the atmosphere is always cosy and cool and the staff are so lovely and knowledgeable on wine.
[Ed note: sadly, since publication, a fire ripped through Leonardo’s kitchen and it’s been forced to close.]