Medium- and high-rise towers are slowly transforming every part of inner Melbourne, but South Yarra's skyline has leapt up with particular vigour in the past decade. The block bounded by Yarra Street, Toorak Road and Chapel Street feels almost like an extension of the CBD, with the energy to match.

Elsewhere the wide, leafy streets are lined with historic mansions and terraces, including the publicly owned Como House. These quieter residential areas, such as Domain Road, are some of the most coveted and expensive in Melbourne.

Most of South Yarra’s cafes are concentrated around the new towers. During the week, they’re busy with workers from nearby advertising agencies, creative studios and the big Network 10 building.

On weekends, a similar crowd swaps the business shirts for activewear before taking to brunch. The exercise itself isn’t for everyone, but Faulkner Park and the nearby Tan track are reliably busy with walkers and runners.

Prahran Market – actually located in South Yarra – is another big drawcard in the area. With regular appearances by celebrity chefs and a growing coterie of organic traders, it’s made a name for itself as the upmarket market. This, and Chapel Street’s good mix of apparel stores, such as Gorman and LIFEwithBIRD, keep the area humming all day.

On Friday and Saturday nights, this wholesome routine of exercise, brunch and shopping feels like a distant dream. Traffic is reliably banked solid on Chapel Street with drivers doing “Chap Laps”; packs of revellers roam from bar to bar; and fast-food joints do a roaring trade.

Restaurants

  • It’s been around for years, but this sprawling pub still pulls a crowd with its post-Tan brunches, upscale pub fare and footy season steak nights. It serves top-tier steaks (including Wagyu), which are dry-aged in house.

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  • The izakaya vibes are high at this south-side diner. Watch the chefs working away at the raw bar or charcoal grill as you enjoy citrusy kingfish, twice-cooked chashu pork belly and a house Martini.

  • Named for its dough’s 48-hour rise time (and recognised as one of Oceania’s best pizzerias), the menu here runs the gamut of classic and modern pies with notable vegan alternatives. The eponymous gnocchi comes “della nonna” style.

  • Practice has made perfect at this Melbourne institution. It’s been serving exquisite fish since the year 2000, paired with attentive old-school service and a wide-ranging wine list filled with interesting bottles.

  • Rough-hewn stone walls, high ceilings and golden accents set the mood at this subterranean Japanese diner. Take the glass lift underground for charcoal-cooked Wagyu, delicate sashimi and exciting detours into Chinese cuisine.

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  • Open since 1986, France Soir is one of Melbourne’s pre-eminent restaurants – attracting the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger. Find classic French staples from steak tartare to margret de canard (duck breast) for mains, to crème brûlée for dessert.

  • At 24 storeys high, this bar and diner boasts some of the finest views of Melbourne, extending from the CBD as far as the Dandenong Ranges. The retractable glass rooftop ensures you can enjoy its Cali-cool style and al fresco dining all year round.

  • An Italian mega-venue sprawling across four storeys of a late-1800s building. Get your golden-hour cocktail fix on the rooftop, then head downstairs to the golden-lit trattoria for pizza made from a family recipe. Or a barrel-aged Negroni in the cocktail bar.

  • Shannon Martinez’s all-vegan, all-day diner inside the luxury Ovolo hotel is a symbol of the group’s commitment to plant-based eating. Alongside celebrated chef Ian Curley, Martinez is serving Josper-fired peri-peri cauliflower, steamy tamales and “blood” sausage plus spicy Latin American inspired cocktails.

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  • Local and Japanese Wagyu steaks are the focus at this New York-style steakhouse, ranging from $80 up to $500. For mains, see the roving Wagyu trolley or scour the list of more than 30 steaks to choose by producer, cut and score.

  • Sourdough, spelt, multigrain, and soy and linseed are among the bready delights at this respected outfit. And no visit is complete without trying the doughnuts, filled with rotating flavours such as lemon custard and rhubarb.

  • This compact 20-seater showcases southern Thai dishes with flair. Try its hot, zesty dry red curry with pork, garlicky stir-fried malindjo greens, or a deeply umami sour fish curry. Add on Thai milk tea or rosy pink milk.

  • A bold, contemporary diner dedicated to cooking with fire and smoke, from the owner-chef of Estelle and Saint Crispin.

  • Choose-your-own-pasta adventure at this fast-casual Italian spot. Pick your sauce (be it creamy carbonara or hearty ragu) and marry it with your favourite pasta shape, before adding toppings like anchovies, prawns and kalamata olives.

  • Where fine dining meets a dive bar meets a lounge and it somehow works.

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  • This creative smokehouse breaks tradition by adding smoke to largely Cantonese- and Japanese-inspired dishes. Come for favourites including smoked chicken katsu with house-made barbeque sauce, braised winter melon with smoked almond cream, and an otherworldly coconut ice cream.

  • Not much has changed at this Chapel Street institution since it opened in 1988. Truth be told, not much needs to. There’s always a reliably good meat or fish of the day, plus pastas and risotto. And though it’s small, there’s a bustling energy to the place that’s all part of the appeal.

  • An intimate, 12-seat omakase bar, where no two meals are the same. Experience 20 or more individualised courses while being entertained by the chefs' playful banter. Expect top-quality seafood that might be squid, sea urchin, salmon roe, King George whiting or bluefin tuna.

  • An elegant, produce-driven menu by a former Vue de Monde and Eleven Madison Park chef is the draw at this soaring European bistro on the ground floor of the Capitol Grand building. Plus, there’s a 200-bottle wine list and botanical-heavy cocktails from a former World Class Bartender of the Year.

  • Since 2007, Nahji Chu’s hawker-style tuckshops have served fast and down-to-earth Vietnamese. Menu standouts include scallop and prawn dumplings, refreshing rice paper rolls and flavourful curries.

  • If you usually discard the pizza crust, A25 will convert you. Remo Nicolini’s pizzas have soft and blistery bases that let the ingredients shine. Plus, there are pastas such as Wagyu beef lasagne and pappardelle with porcini. Mopping up the sauce with your pizza crust is recommended.

  • This all-day Italian cafe embraces la cucina povera (“poor man’s cooking”) – or making do with what you have. The result is an ever-changing menu of seafood, salads, paninis and pizzas. Order a plate and settle in at one of the communal tables, or in the sunny courtyard.

  • Australian and Mediterranean influences are combined with flair at the Olsen Hotel’s in-house restaurant. Start your day with its breakfast classics such as smashed avocado; or round it out with dinner stars such as chargrilled prawns, juicy steak and sharp cocktails.

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  • A day-to-night eatery with a refined, European feel.

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  • Ambitious young owner-chef Charlie Carrington changes the cuisine every four months.

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  • Perch at a dedicated yakitori table for succulent chicken skewers, or retreat to the private dining room for an omakase experience where high-end Kobe beef is the star. It’s from the Wagyu Ya and Niku Ou team.

  • It’s a tiny spot, but the romantic, elbow-to-elbow ambience at Thirty Eight Chairs increases the chances of getting to know your neighbours – and maybe even sharing a bottle of wine with them. Pastas pay homage to all the family classics and are made from scratch.

  • Inside a former ice-cream store, this little slice of Venice is big on protein – woodfired in a Josper oven imported from Spain. But if you’re feeling pastas, varieties such as tagliolini and pappardelle are rolled in-house. It’s all served in a terrazzo-and-timber space that’s casual and contemporary at once.

  • Intimate and communal, like a real Italian restaurant should be.

  • Neon signage and dissolving fairy-floss Martinis. Instagram, here we come.

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  • A slick, Vietnamese-inspired cafe and bar in the Royal Botanic Gardens by Shannon Bennett.

  • A favourite pizza joint among the South Yarra locals.

  • Experience a variety of (mostly French) tastes and textures at Bistro Gitan, the Reymond family restaurant.

  • Purebred Angus beef on brioche buns.

Cafes

  • A serene little shop serving up smoothies, DIY acai bowls, toasties and healthy snacks in South Yarra.

  • This bright, canary-yellow spot has big Italian vibes. Come for fly-out-the-door focaccias (with cheeky names like The Roman Empire) and spritzes tweaked with Aperol and locally made limoncello, alongside beer and wines.

  • Familiar with piononos, glaseados, doblegats or xuixos? You’re about to be. This one-woman show specialises in regional sweets and pastries, from syrupy sponge cakes filled with custard to one of the oldest desserts in Spain.

  • Try 10 different single-origin brews every fortnight, learn how to home-brew, or pop in for a coffee and lemon-curd almond croissant.

  • A tiny, 16-seater coffee and sandwich window by day and petite wine bar by night. Stop by for oysters with hibiscus mignonette, buttery pastries, cocktails, and a 50-bottle wine list.

  • At this vegan-friendly bakery, you can get pillow-soft milk bread by the whole or half loaf, as a classic katsu sando, and more. It’s an extension of cafe Fuumi Fuumi, which has locations in West Melbourne and Port Melbourne.

  • This coffee shop may be small, but it has a big heart. Find coffee that’s roasted in Mornington and brewed in South Yarra for a good cause. Plus, snacks to go – from loaded bagels and cheesy jaffles to gooey almond croissants.

  • This is the flagship of the beloved bakery chain. Get lobster and prawn Benedict for breakfast and a buttermilk fried chicken burger later on (not to mention Bloody Marys all day long).

  • Cityscapes, nature and excellent food rarely coexist, unless you’re outside at The Terrace. Here, you can tuck into a scone or some Turkish-style eggs against the picturesque backdrop of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

  • This cafe is the Victorian flagship of a NSW specialty coffee pioneer, and take inspiration from Euro espresso bars. Come for its signature blends and single origins, plus pastries by AM Bakehouse.

  • This is much more than a bakery. Sure, the bread and sweets are great. But you ought to stay for a meal. With past dishes including mascarpone pancakes and chicken-liver pâté on brioche, brunch here is too good not to try.

  • Fresh organic meals that taste as good as they look.

  • Whether you like raw greens or dessert for breakfast, this spot has it covered.

  • A lush fig tree takes pride of place in this light-filled dining room. The all-day diner takes you from blue swimmer crab crumpets for breakfast, to slow-cooked beef cheek and Australian wines for dinner.

  • A nostalgic garden cafe in South Yarra’s historic Como House.

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  • Enter for vegan cheesymite jaffles and Pina Colada smoothies.

  • It's an indoor-outdoor cafe experience on a bend of the Yarra River.

  • Having a local barista is very much like having another husband.

  • There’s something to suit everyone at this health-conscious cafe.

  • For dude food and a signature coffee blend.

  • Nothing too fancy here. Just a solid menu of cafe classics and a comfortable, relaxed vibe.

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  • A rustic spot specialising in more than 15 types of pide.

  • Industrial, yet somehow incredibly homey, too.

  • A sophisticated but down-to-earth spot, with plenty of warmth.

  • Eat breakfast, then take lunch or a litre of milk home.

  • Whether it’s for breakfast at three in the afternoon or picking up dinner on the way home from work, Urban Provedore is here to remind us that local is still best.

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Bars

  • Stop by this dimly lit dive bar for local beers and Guinness on tap, plus American-style bar food. With its neighbourly service, dog-friendly status and creative beer roster, it’ll easily become your local.

  • If you’re really into burgers, tick Leonard’s off the list. This ’70s log cabin-themed burger bar serves some of Melbourne’s best. Expect American-style burger combos centred around beef, chicken, mushroom and vegan pattys. It’s also dog-friendly, so your furry friend might be begging tableside for a bite.

  • Thibaut Chuzeville takes tea very seriously. Here, he’s serving more than 40 varieties from 10 countries, all in their purest form. There’s also a show-stopping patisserie selection, sparkling wine and tea-infused cocktails.

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  • A dimly lit subterranean bar inside luxury hotel Ovolo. Visit for classic cocktails made exactingly, plus vegetarian bar snacks that lean salty and fried – just what you need with a drink.

  • Rockstar impulses and Sydney hospo sensibility collide at this bar/music venue.

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  • Nab a spot on the terrazzo-tiled terrace for grown-up Espresso Martinis and an Italian homage to the KFC Zinger burger. All from the man behind Il Bacaro, Sarti and Bar Carolina.

  • A trio of hospitality lifers is behind this smart wine bar, which is equally good for snacking as a full, sit-down dinner.

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Shops

  • Gourmet macarons and cakes in shocking flavours.

  • Hommey’s products are designed to be felt as much as looked at. At its first retail space, peruse its lush collection of cushions, towels, robes, slides and pet beds – in dreamy hues and invitingly tactile fabrics.

  • French-born baker Quentin Berthonneau has trained at Vue de Monde and Chez Dre, and wants good bread to be as accessible as good coffee in Melbourne.

  • The Melbourne-born chocolatier's sleek flagship has a dedicated bar for hot chocolates and chilled drinks made with all-natural ingredients. But you'll also find croissants, cakes, cookies and 40-plus pralines; and a chocolate wall filled with around 700 blocks.

  • Where science meets sweetness.

  • One of Melbourne's longest-running womenswear retailers is still setting trends after almost 100 years in operation.

  • Alannah Hill - both the lady and the label - embodies all things feminine, romantic and youthful.

  • A little slice of Greece in the Prahran Market.

  • A-Esque celebrates quality and design with the anti 'it' bag.