It happens. A moment of celebration arrives and you cycle through your mental shortlist of venues trying to place the occasion. Five minutes later you’re back to wondering if everyone might be okay with just having pasta at home. Don’t let it happen again.
In preparation of your next brainfade, we’ve hand-picked a selection of Melbourne venues ideal for special occasions of all stripes. From date night to corporate consumption, these are the places guaranteed to impress your family, friends, even yourself. Bookmark now.
First Date – Gerald’s Bar
Gerald’s Bar on Rathdowne Street in North Carlton feels custom-built for date night. With a softly lit front bar that curves around an exotic wall of spirits and wines, alongside small window booths and cute tables for two (including one tucked under the staircase), Gerald’s’ design and atmosphere alone invites intimate conversation.
That’s backed by a menu that changes frequently, which in turn encourages conversation with the wait staff seemingly employed as much for charisma as service. Dishes might include hare and mash, sardines, pickled veggies or sliced jamon and manchego – whatever’s scrawled on the paper menu hanging over the bar’s sliding ladder. Start with the cheese board as an entrée to share, or dive into one of the more than 200 wines and see where the night leads.
Birthday Party – Le Bon Ton
Formerly an old-school pub, the sprawling layout of the New Orleans-inspired Le Bon Ton lends it the aura of a dimly lit clubhouse as much as a bar and restaurant. The Collingwood venue is a warren of multi-purpose rooms including an oyster saloon, smokehouse, cocktail bar and absinthe den. There are plenty of atmospheric options for parties, both intimate and intense, including an astro-turfed bourbon garden out the back.
For small groups, the Smoker’s Lot – a chef’s selection of brisket, pulled pork, sausage and chicken smoked over ironbark and fruit woods – is a great way to begin. For bookings of 10 guests or more at dinner and 15 or more at lunch, the Southern Pride set menu of house specialties is the way to go.
Family Catch-Up – Firechief Pizzeria
There’s a range of options to consider when proposing a family get-together. You need to cater for a range of palates and comforts, from kids to pensioners. There’s an all-encompassing word for that: pizza.
Firechief Pizzeria in Hawthorn East is ideal for this. Aside from a bright, bold interior with an inviting checkerboard floor, head chef Daniel Baresse (ex-Ladro) presides over a team custom-trained in Naples, the birthplace of Italian pizza. Before they’re even allowed to flour the bench, they're shipped off for an intensive seven-day course at Naples' Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana – the resulting accreditation proving the quality and authenticity in every detail of the pizza-making process.
For the less pizza-inclined, there’s also fresh grilled sardines, spicy pan-roasted spatchcock, crumbed pork cutlet and zuppa di cozze (soup-steamed mussels) on offer. An early get-together can take advantage of the Italian-style breakfast; a late one, the cocktails.
Firechief has a function room for hire that can hold up to 150 people for stand-up cocktail style events, and 70 for a sit-down banquet style. The team can also tailor a package to suit both your needs and grandpa’s demands.
Engagement Party – Supernormal
Most people know about Andrew McConnell’s Supernormal on Flinders Lane. They know about its glorious lobster rolls, and the large and inviting, glass-fronted space. But not everyone knows there’s also a private dining room that can be hired out for special events.
Located past the kitchen, a circular descending staircase leads to a hidden private dining room that can accommodate up to 40 dining guests or 60 for a cocktail event. A selection from the regular menus id available and can be tailored to your event. Perhaps best of all? In keeping with the venue’s Japanese aesthetic, the private room has a Bose-powered karaoke system complete with 65-inch screen.
Friend from Out-of-Town – MoVida
Have a friend visiting from out of town? Someone wanting to get a feel for the city, as well as sample one of its infamous food attractions? Frank Camorra’s original MoVida in Hosier Lane is a handy double-up, offering both a Melbourne-centric laneway experience as well as some of the finest Spanish-style food in town.
If just a party of two without a booking, you might get lucky with a window seat looking onto the lane, though a seat at the bar will perhaps give you better access to the bartenders and their extensive knowledge of all things sherry and Pedro Ximenez. If the original is full, you can still get lucky with a spot at the adjacent MoVida Next Door. And let your friend know: the anchovy with smoked tomato sorbet is arguably the most Instagrammed dish in town.
Wedding – Burnham Beeches
Burnham Beeches out at Sherbrooke in the Dandenongs, is a 1930s art-deco mansion on a sprawling estate carved out of surrounding forest. If that doesn’t sound like a slice of fantasy worthy of a wedding venue, there’s also a nearby rainforest, streams, waterfalls, lawns, and an old piggery and mill on-site that’s been converted into a world-class, warehouse-style restaurant helmed by Vue de Monde’s Shannon Bennett.
While a photographer works against this backdrop, guests can work their way through a menu drawn from sustainable and ethically sourced produce. If eating’s cheating, they can simply play bowls, croquet or a spot of bocce on the grassy field beside the restaurant.
If your wedding is a spur of the moment thing, small parties can wander in any time, while reservations can be made for groups of eight to 18 people. Anything more than that, you’ll need to get in touch with the events crew.
Work Colleague Dinner – Donovans
Politics, personality clashes and office gossip – work dinners can get weird in the wrong hands. Head that off at the pass with a booking at Donovans on St Kilda beach. The iconic venue is light and breezy, the kind of place where everyone instantly relaxes. That has something to do with an atmosphere led by owners Kevin and Gail Donovan, who have been running the venue for more than 20 years. Incredibly, both still work the floor.
The ideal menu for a work dinner should be mildly radical but based on familiarities. Donovans’ signature dishes – cold-smoked salmon, seafood linguine, chicken pie, T-bone steak, prawns, Bombe Alaska, duck for two and fish and chips – provide the latter, while a Moreton Bay bug salad with apple and tarragon, braised veal cheek with mac'n'cheese, or pistachio souffle all make excellent small-talking points.
Note that confidential work functions are welcome here: there’s a private dining room out the back with floor-to-ceiling windows facing St Kilda Beach and Port Phillip Bay.
Intimate Anniversary – Grossi Florentino
When you walk in the door at Bourke Street institution Grossi Florentino, staff will take your jacket for you, pull out your chair, and fold a napkin across your lap. It’s a basic service, but also a message – Grossi Florentino will make you feel special.
With its opulent dining room featuring large, Renaissance-styled murals, black marble and leather armchairs, as well as wait-staff decked out in black suit and tie, Grossi Florentino is where you go to retreat with a lover and press pause on life for a moment. Submit to being pampered while grazing on the likes of venison carpaccio, lardo ravioli and honeycomb tripe, suckling pig, roast partridge and hand-cut fettuccine with rock lobster. This is dining at the top level and service is precise, but discreet.
This article is presented in partnership with Bank of Melbourne, presenting partner of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. To celebrate 25 years of the festival, Bank of Melbourne is giving you the chance to win dinner for two at one of the world’s top restaurants in London. To enter, follow @bankofmelb on Instagram and post a photo of how you celebrate with food and wine with the hashtag #socialfeeds.