It’s not easy predicting the future. Remember when everyone was talking about how Peruvian food was about to explode – and it didn’t? Or how “bulletproof coffee” (coffee with a chunk of butter in it) was going to be the next big thing? That didn’t quite get there either.
That said, there are clues that can give you a pretty good idea of what 2016 will hold. Here’s our forecast of what this year will bring to our plates.
High-end soft serve
The last time you had soft serve might have been on a beach next to a Mr Whippy Van as the wind flung sand into your cone. Or when you rustled up 50 cents in change at Maccas.
Now this nostalgic ice-cream style is being reinvented with high-grade ingredients and toppings.
Dessert degustation chef Pierre Roelofs has just kicked off Pierre’s, a weekend soft-serve pop-up outside Carlton’s Green Park with fun toppings including dulce de leche, strawberry cheesecake and vanilla meringue.
In South Yarra, celebrity patissier Adriano Zumbo has just launched a dessert bar (also only on weekends) in his existing high-tea salon, Fancy Nance. Creative soft serves will go down a treat alongside fairy-floss, popcorn and cocktails.
This is a tough one to define – European food is hardly new to Melbourne. It feels like a return to traditional European cooking – the meals you’d eat in a small town in France or Portugal, rather than something in a Michelin-star fine-diner in Paris.
This trend has a more regional consciousness, too. Take Ashley Davis’ Copper Pot in Seddon, which he described to us as “a foodies’ road trip across Europe; not just Italy, France and Spain”. There’s Croatian-style octopus, Catalan-style pig’s head croquettes, pork hock with sauerkraut from Germany.
It’s a similar story with the new Emilia in the city, which showcases traditional regional dishes on its menu and with its daily specials, such as a Tuscan tripe dish, or imported meats and cheeses.
The wine bar/restaurant hybrid
2015 gave us Bar Clarine, Kirk’s Wine Bar, Smithward, Lady Nelson Wine + Kitchen, Prohibition Food and Wine, Smalls Bar and more. We’re not expecting the flood of intimate, moody wine bars to peter out yet.
While Melbourne has enjoyed a love affair with wine bars for decades, we’re seeing more serious chefs take over their kitchens – meaning you can get excellent, restaurant-quality food in the relaxed setting of a bar. It can be a couple of snacks with a glass of wine, or a feast with a few bottles – the dining structure is loose, fun and free. See Andrew McConnell’s Fitzroy winner Marion, or The Town Mouse’s new city bar, Embla.
With close to 15,000 restaurants and cafes in Melbourne, how do you cut through the noise?
One sure way – give it a theme. And if you hit on the right one (like, say, a major ’90s sitcom), you might even go viral and score a tweet from Jason Alexander.
The biggest success story of 2016 so far is of course, George’s Bar – the George Costanza-themed bar (now with a Frogger machine) by the owners of nearby Laundry Bar.
We definitely expect more bars and restaurants to catch on to such an easy win – although overkill is certainly a possibility.
Remember when interstate friends would come to Melbourne, and taking them out for a good time involved squeezing past laneway dumpsters, or climbing a rickety staircase and ringing a bell twice?
For a long time you had to “find” the bar, and when you got there, it was a very serious experience with a mixologist (a now-defunct word for “bartender”).
At the end of 2015, we were glad to see resurgence in bars dedicated to a simple, good time. There’s almost always a pool table in the back, a jukebox stuffed with classic-rock bangers and quick, personable service. What’s more, the drinks are consistently excellent.
Melbourne goes to Sydney
While over the years a collection of Sydney restaurants have migrated here (Longrain, Rockpool, Toko, Spice Temple), 2016 is the year popular Melbourne restaurants are making their way north.
In a previous interview, Shortstop co-founder Anthony Ivey told Broadsheet the move was prompted by increasing demand from Sydney. “There’s hardly a day that goes by without a group that’s jumping on a flight back to Sydney coming in and ordering 10, 20, 40 doughnuts at a time.”