Even by Melbourne standards March was a whirlwind, with the city hosting Melbourne Fashion Festival, Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Australian Grand Prix and the start of the AFL season. Adding to that list, the city also played host to former US president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama.

While the couple were in Melbourne to work – Barack was headlining speaking events arranged by business educator Growth Faculty and had just finished the tour’s Sydney leg – the Obamas were also on holiday, and took the opportunity to play and enjoy the city. And, just as it does for locals, eating featured strongly in their plans. (The Obama team liaised with Broadsheet for guidance on venues to visit.)

They kicked off their eating itinerary with a visit to St Kilda landmark Stokehouse for Thursday lunch. Like all those in charge of venues the Obamas ate at, Stokehouse general manager Hugh van Haandel had to keep details of the Obamas’ visit a secret and could only tell staff on the day who was coming in for lunch. Van Haandel emphasised the ex-president’s “calm, gentle but authoritative demeanour”.

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“Everyone was impressed by the stature and the presence that he had,” the restaurateur says.

If there were any doubts about the star appeal of Barack Obama post-White House, an Instagram post from CBD wine bar Embla revealing that the 44th president had stopped by showed his stock is doing just fine. While the Obamas had the upstairs bar all to themselves, Embla guests ate and drank merrily at street level, unaware of what was happening one floor above. Observant diners, however, might have noticed more black SUVs scattered around the corner of Russell and Little Collins streets than usual.

“It was a pleasure to have them in,” says Embla co-owner Christian McCabe. “The Obamas are both great leaders who are still doing amazing things post-politics.

“They clearly have really good taste in restaurants, too,” he adds.

Despite taking up more parking spaces than the average dining party, the Obamas and their security detail kept a low-profile during mealtimes – not just at Embla but everywhere they went.

On Friday, they travelled to the Mornington Peninsula to eat lunch at Laura, the polished 40-seat fine diner at Pt Leo Estate. According to Roger Lancia, the estate’s general manager, team Obama lunched without upsetting the flow of anyone else’s day, whether guests or staff.

“It wasn’t a Hollywood detail with people talking into watches, but more like having some extra staff rostered on,” says Lancia.

For their final dinner in Melbourne, the Obamas kept it classic with a Friday night booking at Gimlet at Cavendish House, Andrew McConnell’s glamorous ode to big hotel dining rooms that, last year, made its debut in the influential, albeit controversial, World’s 50 Best Restaurants countdown.

There is only one way into Gimlet – through the grand front doors on the corner of Flinders Lane and Exhibition Street. But many diners at Gimlet would have missed the Obamas’ quiet entrance. Flanked by Secret Service, one of the world’s most recognised pairs swiftly and silently reached their table on the mezzanine, according to diners who were at the restaurant.

The couple’s visit was brief – not much more than an hour – allowing them time for a main course and a drink or two. Barack and Michelle chatted and laughed with a neighbouring table, before departing almost as stealthily as they arrived; while Michelle was out of the door in a flash, Barack strolled through the restaurant in leisurely fashion, with many diners suddenly realising who had been eating across the other side of the room.

Although the Obamas were flying home on Saturday, they got one final taste of Melbourne care of a takeaway order from Chin Chin. As founder Chris Lucas tells it, team Obama asked him to put together a Feed Me box with the restaurant’s greatest hits. He obliged and sent them off with the barramundi and caramelised pork salad, some of the restaurant’s curries, plus two copies of the Chin Chin cookbook.

“Because the Obamas went to Embla, Stokehouse and Gimlet, they’re clearly interested in dining and clearly interested in immersing themselves in local culture,” says Van Haandel. “For me, that speaks volumes. So many people come to Melbourne and they don’t understand it. We don’t have the beaches like Sydney and we don’t have the Opera House. But what we are about is hospitality and culture.”

Additional reporting by Katya Wachtel.