Ever feel like you can’t keep up with new openings in this city?
To make it easy, here are four new restaurants and four new cafes worth checking out around town.
Start ticking them off.
Chef and owner Andrew McConnell has done away with his fine-diner Moon Under Water and most of the Builders Arms Hotel (the front bar of the pub is still intact), and replaced it with a modern Chinese diner. It’s not as out of left field as it seems; McConnell lived in China for five years.
Now, when you walk into 211 Gertrude Street, you’ll be met by tables topped with lazy Susans, and neon-lit tanks filled with fish stunned by their new disco surroundings. They’re hoping you forgo the seafood and order the dry-aged duck breast with burnt-orange sauce and steamed bread instead.
White tiles, blond timber, hanging Edison bulbs – nope, nope, nope.
In the biggest rejection of the minimalist design trend we’ve seen in some time in this city, maximalist interior designer Jean-Pierre Heurteau has adorned the new North Melbourne Hotel with black-glass chandeliers, candelabras, cement lions and Romanesque statues.
Don’t get distracted by all the stuff, though – the pub’s food is good, reasonably priced and European with a Spanish skew. Also, did we mention the glasses of wine generally come in at the $5 to $7 mark?
Don’t come expecting “authentic” Thai cuisine. Whatever that means.
The dinner menu is contemporary Thai via modern techniques – sous vides and brining. A khao soi gae, for instance, is a slow-roasted lamb shoulder in a Northern Thai curry, served over handmade black-rice tagliatelle. There’s also a smoked pork belly, supplied by neighbours Meatsmith, served with caramelised stone fruit and a crisp rice cake, and a homemade sausage with young-chilli relish.
FYI: just because the owners list their drinks as “croctails”, doesn’t mean you have to call them that. But you should order one. They’re all made with some kind of Thai inflection, such as pandan, kaffir lime, fresh turmeric and chilli.
You get the feeling this isn’t the last time we’ll report on a new Belle’s opening in this city.
But this third and latest one in Windsor is a little different again from its compadres in Fitzroy and Richmond.
It’s almost a bar first, that happens to serve cracking fried chicken – rather than the other way around. Most of the glasses of natural wine don’t go over the $12 mark, and there’s MB and Brooklyn Lager on tap. The food menu is largely the same as the other restaurants (your choice of meat and heat), but also includes a Windsor-only menu item: a hot quail served with red-eye mayonnaise.
Considering the kitchen is hardly bigger than Harry Potter’s first bedroom, the output is pretty phenomenal.
There’s a breakfast black-rice nasi goreng, vegan vanilla-bean hotcakes, a king-crab benedict and a Jewish-style “Bubi’s chicken soup”.
And wait until the sun comes out. There’s a 10-metre-long deck out the front that’s yet to get the workout it deserves.
“Chotto means “a little” or “for a short time”,” says Caryn Liew, the co-owner of the new Japanese cafe in Fitzroy. “Because we’re a pop-up, we thought it was a cute name that ties into the nature of the space and how long we’ll be around for.”
It’ll be a while until this pop-up pops down, though – it expects to be around as Chotto for between six to 12 months before transforming into something more permanent.
The food is authentically Japanese and mostly based on what you’d be served in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). Think delicate breakfasts with small serves of pickles, rolled omelette, steamed rice, lightly fried tofu and pieces of fish.
You can also order a ceremonial-grade matcha whisked to order at your table.
When siblings Cat and James Laskie installed a neon ice-cream fixture on the front wall of their new Reservoir cafe, they didn’t consider the impact it’d have on the kindergarten next door.
“All the kids came in looking for ice-cream – they call us the ‘ice-cream cafe’.”
There’s an impressive smashed-avocado tower on the menu, and weekly specials. There’s also Doughboys Doughnuts on weekends – and they’re looking for a gelato supplier to appease the demands of the younger clientele.
“There are certain boxes you need to tick,” says Kirsten Taylor, the owner of Heidelberg Road’s newest corner cafe, Hoppa & Joe. Luckily for the Fairfield locals, Taylor’s ticking all the right ones.
Typical Melbourne breakfast items populate the menu: there’s baked eggs, smashed avocado, a benedict, but all with a twist.
Pumpkin bread, duck rillettes and a runny fried egg reinvent the benedict for example. Cheesy cauliflower and a chorizo crumb appear in the baked eggs.
Wall plants, blue tiling and large windows give the space a calming atmosphere, to help you ease into your day.