Almost everyone we’ve spoken to this year in Melbourne for our Where Chefs Eat series has called out Bar Liberty. Toddy Shop’s Mischa Tropp recommends the laid-back Fitzroy spot for first dates and Pipis Kiosk head chef Ben Parkinson says its where he’d take visitors from out of town for “interesting, fun and tasty-as-fuck food”.

Key to Bar Liberty’s success is head chef Zackary Furst, who has been with the team since 2019. Furst tells Broadsheet he was “born into hospitality”. Furst’s parents ran a catering business in Wodonga,

“I worked all sorts of events with my four siblings both back of house and front of house from the age of 10.”

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He moved to Melbourne at 16 and apprenticed with late chef Gabriel Martin at The French Brasserie and Metropolis Eating House. Furst also worked under chef Nic Poleart at Embrasse and Brooks, spent two years at Attica, and was the sous chef at Ides for three years before leaving in 2019 to join the Bar Liberty team as head chef where he’s become known for contemporary Australian-Polish food.

Here Furst shares his favourite banh mi spot, why he always saves room for dessert at Embla and where to find mini fried pork buns that can “really change your day”.

What's your go-to for a quick takeaway?
I’m a big fan of Ying Thai 2, it’s great Thai spot on Lygon Street. I love the tom jurd tao ho moo sub (light broth with minced pork and tofu) and the duck gang panang with sticky rice. Quick and easy no brainer for me.

How about lunch on the go?
N Lee Bakery is a staple lunch spot on Smith Street. The meatball banh mi is my choice, add eggplant to make a good thing great.

And for a drink and snacks?
Caretakers Cottage is it for me. Everyone there has a special place in my heart and the whole place is inclusive, creative and just pure hospitality. I love a Guinness, but the punch is always a winner.

If it's a special occasion where do you go?
I love Flower Drum for a special occasion – great service with mastered Cantonese food it's really just too good. I love the thousand leaf tofu and the seafood soup dumpling and always will take a banana fritter.

If you’re looking for inspiration?
I've always enjoyed dining at Chae. How she [chef Jung Eun Chae] cooks and treats her ingredients is truly so exceptional and being welcomed into Chae and Yoora’s home is such a special privilege.

I’m long overdue for a visit but one of my most memorable dishes was hobakjook (pumpkin congee) with pine nuts from her mother’s farm in Korea. All the makgeolli she makes are amazing, too.

If you're recommending a spot for a first date?
For me I would say some of my best conversations with people have been over a bowl of noodles, so if I wanted to get to know someone, I would suggest Bowltiful. The lamb offal broth might be a wild first date choice but it’s delicious none the less, and I guess the element of choosing of broth along with noodle thickness and spice level could be fun experience with someone your just getting to know.

If you're going out with parents?
My dad is a huge seafood lover and living in Wodonga, is often missing out on that element in his regular eating. He also never has much time for fuss so I would love to take him to RST Seafood.

It’s a classic European seafood restaurant in a very approachable venue. The half shell scallops with champagne cream sauce and the Moreton Bay bug tails with honey and sesame are both winners.

If you have visitors from out of town?
Embla is a great spot for visitors, Dave Verheul and Christian [McCabe] – heavy weights of the Australian and New Zealand hospitality scene – have a beautiful space that seems to only shine more and more as the years go on.

Always been a fan of the service and the food from [the duo’s former spot] The Town Mouse to Embla, it is honest, creative and a contemporary approach to hospitality that has created so many ripples through the culinary scene of Melbourne and beyond.

Everything’s good and always changing, I’ve always enjoyed the approach to desserts a lot so leave space for them.

What's your go-to hangover food?
Tora Dumplings is an absolute god sent, a plate of Shanghai xiao long bao or some mini fried pork buns can really change your day. But an honourable mention to Raph [Rashid] at Juanita Peaches for resurrecting me after one too many the night before.

Where can you find your favourite dessert or sweet treat?
Kariton Sorbetes is a favourite of mine. Ube halaya [ube gelato] is so good and John [Rivera, Kariton chef and co-owner] is a fantastic human, also.

Bucket list restaurant?
Ikoyi. I have been before but would go back in an instant Jeremy [Chan]’s approach to food is super unique and worth a visit.