The fine dining experience doesn’t have to arrive hand-in-hand with a bill of frightening proportions. Indeed, you don’t have to hang out for the next birthday or anniversary – just your next lunchtime. Plenty of upscale restaurants around town offer express and daily lunch specials, giving you a taste of what they’re famous for, at a fraction of the usual cost. Take a look at some of our favourites below. Lunchtime won’t come fast enough.
Chinese food doesn’t necessarily equate takeaway sweet and sour pork, as Flower Drum have proven with their string of awards. The Winter Tasting lunch of two courses for $40 gives you the opportunity to sample the finest of the cuisine. Choices include favourites such as steamed dim sum and Peking duck, steamed wild barramundi, grain-fed eye fillet with black pepper sauce, and almond tofu with fresh fruit salad for dessert.
Available Monday to Saturday.
You can sample the refined Southeast Asian offerings of Gingerboy via their express lunch, which provides three choices of a snack, salad and a shared dish for $40. From the street-style food of salt and pepper oysters and vegetable spring rolls, to a hot and sour banana flower salad and Szechuan spiced pulled pork, don’t be surprised if you feel compelled to return to sample all the available options.
Cafe di Stasio
An established favourite for lovers of Italian food, Cafe di Stasio offer lunch diners a choice of apertivio (aperitif) or vino (wine), followed by piatto del giorno (dish of the day) or pasta, finished off with a caffe (coffee) for just $20. Alternatively their Slow Food Seasonal Lunch offers a choice of two courses, a glass of wine and coffee for $35, featuring options including rigatoni with pork rib ragout, beef roulade with mushrooms and braised chicken with porcini mushrooms and polenta. Both specials provide the classic cuisine Di Stasio are known for, seven days a week, without breaking the bank.
Depending on the day of the week, French-Japanese restaurant and sake bar Heirloom, offer a rotating daily lunch special of just $14.50. Wednesdays, for example, offer teriyaki chicken, taro and wasabi risotto, while on a Thursday you can grab a wagyu burger with miso barbecue sauce and wasabi coleslaw. Perfect for those who are indecisive.
Available Monday to Friday.
Only open for lunch on Fridays, Izakaya Den (if you can find its unmarked entrance), will pleasantly surprise you with their $20 Den set lunch. Available between noon and 2pm, the menu changes weekly with vegetable, meat and fish options, accompanied by a salad, pickles and miso soup, to round out your working week.
Though not exactly fine dining, we couldn’t leave this out this one out. If you happen to have a group of six (or more), pop into Mamasita between noon and 2pm on a weekday and indulge in the chef’s special two-course lunch for $25. It features tortilla chips and salsa alongside their famous char-grilled corn with chipotle mayonnaise for firsts, and a platter of shared chef’s selection with rice and salad for the main. With a chance to miss the usual dinner rush, why not get in early and sample what they’re famous for: honest, fresh, Mexican food.
Situated in the former Press Club digs, George Calombaris’s latest venture, Gazi, is offering a $27.50 ‘Bend over box’. Available Monday to Friday until 3pm, it includes a range of treats from savoury to sweet, which changes throughout service. Expect choices of a dip and olives or pickled veg, some fish, something from the grill or rotisserie, all served with chips and Marouli salad and dessert. If you like good surprises, Gazi has you covered.
From Manhattan to Melbourne, this famous establishment might not be at the top of your cheap lunch list. But if you’re up for some of the freshest and most expertly prepared Japanese around at reduced prices, then look no further than Nobu’s lunch bento box. $50 will get you a sashimi salad, chef’s selection of sushi, black cod miso, baby tiger prawns, sautéed vegetables, and rice. It might not be the cheapest of the pick but the quality of produce speaks for itself.
Offering an express lunch of three courses and a glass of wine for $55 from noon to 2.30pm, you can take your pick from citrus and vodka-cured salmon, steamed spanner crab dumplings and an open wagyu beef burger, just to name a few options. All washed down with a glass of Chestnut Hill wine.
Delve into an experience full of flavour, spice and all things nice with the slightly more expensive but oh-so-worth-it lunch menu of six courses for $75 at Maha. Chef Shane Delia puts together a series of chicken, scallop, stew, veal and 12-hour lamb shoulder, with frozen baklava rounding out the feast. Not for the faint hearted, you may want to take the afternoon off for this one and include the matching wines – which certainly won’t see you doing anything productive afterwards.