Flying interstate over the break? Broadsheet’s city cheat sheets cover everything from new players that live up to the hype to old favourites that continue to deliver. This is a hit list that’ll have you making the most of every minute in Melbourne, no matter where you’re staying.
Big day planned? Hit the ground running with some grab-and-go carbs. In a converted CBD garage, Japanese-inspired bakery Bakemono does fluffy shokupan (Japanese milk bread); pillowy canelé (small French cakes flavoured with rum); and tall, puffy danishes. Or join the line at Melbourne’s world-famous, worth-the-hype croissanterie Lune, which has outposts in Fitzroy and the CBD. Heading north, there are excellent pork-and-fennel sausage rolls (and a cabinet full of baked goods) at the popular All Are Welcome; smoked-salmon bagels with schmear at Mile End in Fitzroy and Brunswick; and real-deal pastéis de nata at Casa Nata, a dedicated house of Portuguese tarts.
Moving to Collingwood, get the chicken-salad (or traditional salad) sandwich we’ve waxed lyrical about at Falco, or whopping tortas (a type of Mexican sandwich) from Frankie’s, in a jazzed-up former kebab stand.
Newcomers to Melbourne’s restaurant scene include 1800 Lasagne, a moody Italian spot where – you guessed it – the cheesy, bechamel-doused stuff reigns supreme, and Poodle, a double-decker bar and bistro that’s almost too handsome for its own good. South side, Firebird is an aptly named fire-focused Vietnamese joint in a soaring old furniture warehouse, and Komeyui is a swish Japanese diner where you can splash out on a sushi degustation.
Always-exceptional old faithfuls include Supernormal, Cumulus Inc and Cutler and Co by trailblazing restaurateur Andrew McConnell, as well as in-demand Italian spots Tipo 00 and Osteria Illaria. For boundary-pushing Southeast Asian, try Sunda in the CBD (hint: there’s a knockout off-menu Vegemite curry) or Anchovy in Richmond.
Gimlet is another McConnell stunner in the CBD – this one’s located in a Chicago-style 1920s building, with a supper menu (from 10pm onwards) worth skipping dinner for. Or descend some stairs, pass through a nondescript door and enter the dimly lit brasserie Bar Margaux for one helluva burger. In search of an Asian feast? Melbourne institution Supper Inn nails Cantonese classics, and the 24-hour Dragon Hot Pot is perfect for a spicy, Sichuan-y, soul-cleansing soup.
For a night-ending – or stamina-maintaining – slice, there’s Pizza Pizza Pizza in the CBD (which has a bar hidden behind its glossy black curtain), and Ollie’s Pizza Parlour and Bar Romantica in Brunswick.
Sun’s out? Get sky high with an ice-cold pint or bottle of pét-nat at one of Melbourne’s best rooftop bars. Use this guide to find the one nearest to you.
Plus, it’s the summer of breezy outdoor pop-ups – check them out before they’re (or you’re) gone. Three to try: Layla, a laid-back Middle Eastern bar doing saffron-spiked Aperol Spritzes and zaatar-infused Margaritas in a CBD laneway; an Italian piazza (with a spritz station, cocktail towers and bocce) in the Pepe’s courtyard; and a Naples-style laneway-drinking situation at the usually standing-room-only Bar Americano.
Two other top spots for arvo boozing in the sun: the Palm Springs-inspired Ponyfish Island – Melbourne’s only bar in the middle of the Yarra – and the similarly buoyant, 69-metre-long pontoon bar Arbory Afloat.
Pre-dinner or post-dinner (or with dinner, if need be):
Ideal for this category: wine bars that aren’t technically restaurants, but may as well be. Our coincidentally all-European-leaning picks of 2020’s new arrivals: Northcote’s Oh Loretta, which feels like a dinner party in your bougie mate’s living room (but with a more well-rounded wine stock); the three-in-one bistro, bar and deli that is Zsa’s, also in Northcote; and Clifton Hill’s buzzy neighbourhood spot Spensley’s, where natural and skin-contact wines are favoured.
Other failsafe options: Embla, City Wine Shop and Kirk’s in the CBD; Marion and Bar Liberty in Fitzroy; and sibling spots Neighbourhood Wine (in Fitzroy North) and Old Palm Liquor (in Brunswick East).
Kick on in 1930s opulence at Nick and Nora’s – the newest arrival from the prolific Speakeasy bar group – with fancy canapés, theatrical cocktails bubbling with liquid nitrogen and boozy yuzu-pineapple punch bowls for four. Or embrace the always-3am-feel of Melbourne’s newly relocated rock’n’roll icon Cherry Bar. Other rowdier options include the neon-lit, loud AF Heartbreaker, where the jukebox does all the work and the pre-batched cocktails are topnotch, and the good-time Angel Music Bar, which sits somewhere between a cocktail bar and a nightclub.
Theodore’s: this family-friendly spot in a residential Brunswick backstreet does bottomless filter coffee (and morning-appropriate cocktails designed for boozy brunches).
King & Godfree Espresso Bar: old-school Italiana is the vibe at this heritage-listed spot, which does robust house-blend espresso, as well as filter and cold brew.
Everyday Coffee: the name says it all. This place serves consistently outstanding coffee – every day – in a converted warehouse in Collingwood.
Industry Beans: this warehouse cafe’s backstreet location is often quiet during the week – you might even have the tranquil front yard to yourself.
The National Gallery of Victoria emerged from lockdown – in glorious fashion – with its second blockbuster Triennial (bonus: it’s completely free). There’s a soaring, mirrored sculpture of a Roman goddess by Jeff Koons, a chapel-like structure in the garden by renowned French artist JR, and a gallery wrapped in fruit-covered wallpaper. And nearby, at NGV Australia’s Ian Potter Centre, find a major retrospective of bold Indigenous artist Destiny Deacon, which features an Indigenous reimagining of The Wizard of Oz (yellow-brick road included); a “Koori kitsch” lounge-room installation; and a room dedicated to blak life in urban Melbourne.
Elsewhere, discover an iconic Keith Haring mural hiding in plain sight on a Collingwood building, and an “Arid Garden” with more than 3000 cacti and succulents at the Royal Botanic Gardens in South Yarra.
For those wanting to mosey up and down all-encompassing shopping strips, Gertrude Street in Fitzroy and High Street in Armadale are very safe bets. If you’re wanting to zero-in on specific categories, find Melbourne’s best womenswear stores here, homewares stores here and bookstores here. And, for skincare fanatics, a heritage-listed Carlton building is now home to Aussie label Grown Alchemist’s new global flagship – look for the brick, steel and glass-clad cube.