As we return to dining in at restaurants again, many of Melbourne’s best restaurants and institutions feel like brand new openings to us. Especially considering most of them have had to reinvent the way they look and feel to comply with these strange times.

It’s important we support these icons, but the pull of a truly new place is hard to deny. And believe it or not, plenty of new restaurants have actually opened recently.

So here it is: our edit of the best new restaurants in Melbourne from the past 12 months, updated monthly. Some of these places opened on the precipice of the pandemic, others opened in the limbo between lockdowns. Either way, these are the spots we’re enjoying eating and drinking at right now.

Related Pages:
Best Restaurants in Melbourne
Best Restaurants in Melbourne’s CBD

Gimlet at Cavendish House

Back in June, Andrew McConnell’s latest restaurant opening was supposed to herald the return of restaurants and everything else that’s good and normal. Of course, Lockdown 2.0 happened and, a week after opening, Gimlet had to shut. We can’t wait to get back in there and – Martini in one hand, maybe an anchovy Danish in the other – experience all the charm and theatre this beautiful Cavendish House bar and dining room has to offer.

33 Russell Street, Melbourne

Poodle Bar & Bistro

You might not know Poodle Bar & Bistro but you’ve likely heard of Rocco’s Bologna Discoteca – Poodle’s takeaway-focused, cheese- and red-sauce heavy lockdown alter ego. Now that dine-in’s back though, Poodle’s returned to the driver’s seat. The menu here is filled with room-service classics such as club sandwiches and prawn cocktails, elevated by excellent ingredients and wry tweaks. The dining room, shortlisted in this year’s Eat Drink Design Awards, is a stunning setting.

81-83 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
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Firebird

Firebird opened in March, about a week before Covid-19 upended everything. With its fun cocktail range and its fire-cooked mod Vietnamese menu, the diner – from the restaurant group behind Tokyo Tina and Hanoi Hannah – was poised to become a southside staple. Now, it still feels brand new and, coming into the warmer months, Firebird is primed to receive the long overdue attention it deserves.

223 High Street, Windsor
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Longrain

When CBD icon Longrain (and its upstairs bar, Longsong) announced its permanent closure back in May, it was set to be one of Covid-19’s highest-profile restaurant scalps. Fortunately, chef Scott Pickett (Estelle, Matilda) stepped in to save it. Longrain ran a takeaway menu of classic dishes throughout Melbourne’s second lockdown; now that we’re dining in again, we’re looking forward to seeing Pickett put his own stamp on this institution.

40-44 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne
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1800 Lasagne

This is the lockdown success story of 2020. Man spends five years delivering lasagne in his ’91 Holden Barina. Pandemic envelops country; lasagne becomes national crisis dish. Man turns said side-hustle into a bar and restaurant in Thornbury, but keeps the delightfully one-track focus. The idea of a place that’s confident enough to serve nothing but great lasagne and sides, plus spritzes and tap wines, is something we can get behind.

653 High Street, Thornbury

Mr Brownie

Mr Brownie is Jessi Singh’s (Horn Please, Daughter in Law) Indian rendition of a classic British pub. It’s four storeys, with a different, eclectic bar on each floor. In the basement, there’s a cocktail den; on the ground floor, a bottle shop with counter seating; level one is a dining room; and up top is an open-air tiki-style bar with knockout CBD views. The menu’s intent is to demonstrate how well curries and beers can work together – that proves itself across the samosa burgers, curry pies, spice-dusted fries and Singh’s signature thali deals.

343 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne

Zsa's

During Lockdown 2.0, this all-day bistro, bar and deli could only legally be a deli. Luckily for anyone living within its five-kilometre radius at the time, Zsa’s was very good at being a deli. Its sandwiches, the porchetta roll especially, regularly drew (socially-distanced) crowds. Now that Zsa’s has the green light to fulfil its original vision of cheeseboards, charcuterie, wine and European bistro classics, we’re predicting a whole new legion of fans will be joining the sandwich-lovers in the queue.

202 High Street, Northcote

Oh Loretta!

For a wine bar that only opened in February, Oh Loretta! already feels like part of the High Street furniture. That’s thanks to the welcoming design: with its plump, comfy couches, carefree decor; sharehouse-esque fairy-lit courtyard and huge light-bringing windows. The food menu is just as accessible – it’s a changeable, veg-heavy affair that might involve smoked pumpkin with burrata one night, or a barbequed carrot showered with shards of crunchy chicken skin the next. The Victorian-leaning wine list and punchy cocktail roster are equally crowd-pleasing.

324 High Street, Northcote
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Chibog

Chibog (a slang term meaning “to eat”) is a neon-lit West Footscray eatery hoping to appeal to homesick pinoys while simultaneously introducing Filipino food to a wider audience. The signature here is sisig, a sizzling plate of pork “secret cuts” and chicken liver. Kinilaw, a raw tuna dish similar to ceviche, is also popular. There are three kinds of rice: plain, garlic-fried (sinangag) and an orange-tinged number cooked in rich aligue (crab fat). For dessert, try a classic leche flan (crème caramel) that comes in spring roll form.

553 Barkly Street, West Footscray

Ollie’s Pizza Parlour

Spitfire, Stay Gold bandroom’s front-bar and diner, was replaced by Ollie’s earlier this year. The pies here fall somewhere between Neapolitan and New York styles: enough structural integrity to eat folded by hand and just the right amount of cheesy-saucy in the centre. The crusts are basted in extra oil and salt, and you can add dipping sauces to your order too. Sides include fried mozzarella sticks and crispy broccoli. Each week, a guest “PJ” (pizza jockey) creates a one-off special that usually involves over-the-top ingredients and flavour combinations.

133 Sydney Road, Brunswick

Faye

This adventurous new Brunswick East spot champions offal (think skewers of chicken heart and cherries); Victorian seafood; and all things charred, cured and preserved. This is food worth stepping out of your comfort zone for. The team makes its own cultured butter, ricotta and pasta, and forages as much as possible. It’s in a sparse 70-seat space with rainforest-green walls. For drinks there’s a healthy mix of local and international wines, and house-fermented sodas that are almost as funky as the eclectic vinyl selection.

Shop 1 22-30 Lygon Street, Brunswick East

The Hardware Club

The Hardware Club sets itself apart in a crowded field of Italian restaurants thanks to its homey, comfortable feel (despite being on Hardware Lane). Childhood friends and owners Nicola Dusi and Andrea Ceriani were looking to channel the neighbourhood eateries of their hometown in northern Italy. On the menu, that means bold and robust wines from small-scale vineyards paired with simple flavours such as tinned anchovies on house-baked bread; or roast chicken with baked brussels sprouts. The trattoria feel extends to the fit-out, which pairs a warm colour palette of yellow and red against wooden accents and ecru walls and tiles.

Level 1 43 Hardware Lane, Melbourne
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Hazel

Cafe specialists Nathan Toleman and the Mulberry Group are no strangers to ambitious venue concepts, but together, Hazel (the restaurant) and Dessous (the underground bar), presents the group’s first foray into night-time trading. Hazel is all about pared-back elegance. Yes, the wine list namechecks all of the blockbuster regions but you’re welcome – encouraged, even – to pair it with something from the toast menu (which consists of charred sourdough topped with anything from fried nduja to beef tartare). It all comes in a modern dining room accented by touches of baroque and chintz.

164 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
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Marameo

Marameo's voguish menu taps into current pasta obsessions such as cacio e pepe and cavatelli with pan-fried pork sausage; bolstered by larger, protein-heavy mains. The wine-list has an emphasis on Australian and Italian varietals, while the easy-drinking spritzes are the name of the day over on the cocktail side of things. The best spot for those drinks is on the pretty rooftop courtyard.

6 Russell Place, Melbourne
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The Happy Mexican

The Happy Mexican is an improbable oasis of calm amid the chaos of Hoddle Street. The fare on offer here is an undiluted, down-home interpretation of Mexican cuisine. We enjoyed the generously stacked tacos (especially on Tuesdays, when they’re half price). Other highlights include the California-style burritos and the Mexico City tortas (sandwiches). The team here is small, and they’ve yet to iron out a couple of kinks, but be patient and give them a chance. It’ll be worth it.

106 Hoddle Street, Abbotsford

Gaea

Gaea is a degustation-only restaurant with an intense focus on local ingredients, expressed through eccentric riffs on classic European techniques. You could find anything from cured wallaby to brined and charred dandelion flowers served with a pumpkin puree made from fermented pumpkin juice. One dessert dish involves roast-hay ice-cream served with a charcoal-infused milk-cream sauce.

Gaea reopens on November 4. Book here.

1/166 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy

Pepe's Italian & Liquor

After 10 years operating as Trunk Bar and Restaurant, its owner Nick Kutcher felt ready for a refresh. Now we have Pepe's, a New York-inspired Italian restaurant. The space was overhauled and given all the terrazzo floors, plump leather booths and dim lighting you could ask for. So grab a Martini, take a seat in one of those booths and scan the menu. Clams Casino? Veal parmigiana? A hot-fudge sundae? It’s hard to go wrong.

275 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
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