“People usually try to compare Melbourne and Sydney, but you really can't, they are just too different,” says Gelato Messina co-founder Declan Lee.
While Sydney is home for Lee, he visits Melbourne regularly to check in at the Messina outpost in Fitzroy. “I usually only get down there for short bursts of work...and most of what I do is just eating.”
When in town together, Lee says he and his business partners will usually head to burger joint Huxtaburger or to George Calombaris' Jimmy Grants for a souvlaki before enjoying the creature comforts of home. “I'll admit, we often find ourselves cycling through the two of them before ending up at Messina for dessert.”
During his days on Smith Street, Lee says some of his favourite spots to stroll to are Shop Ramen, which serves a home-style take on the popular noodle soup and Hinoki Japanese Pantry. Filled with shelves stocked with imported goods, Hinoki also makes a great lunchtime stop for a freshly made hand roll from the in-store sushi bar.
But, if your budget stretches beyond noodles and sushi, Lee suggests splashing out at Shannon Bennett's Vue De Monde in the city.
“The food, the service, the atmosphere is just incredible,” he says. “I had the Balmain Bug Tails and the waiter asked me how they were. I said, jokingly, ‘Great, can I have another one?’ and they just brought me another. It was that level of service.”
Down in Melbourne during January for the Australian Open and Messina’s Soup Kitchen at Royal Croquet Club, Lee says he looks forward to exploring the city and doing some shopping.
“The guys from Vanishing Elephant are actually from Sydney, but they opened their first store in Melbourne,” he explains. “I think that says a lot about Melbourne's fashion scene.”
In the evenings, Lee cites pioneers such as Croft Institute as a favourite place to drink. He also recommends Melbourne's Eau De Vie and The Black Pearl on Brunswick Street. And in summer, Lee says you can't go past Naked In The Sky, with its huge rooftop bar overlooking the city. “Melbourne’s small-bar scene runs rings around Sydney’s,” he adds.
In his life before Messina, Lee often visited Melbourne to work as a DJ. “It was a very long time ago,” he qualifies, when pressed for some suggestions for those who want to kick on – back when the infamous Honkytonks reigned over Melbourne's nightlife.
“We’d often end up at OneSixOne,” Lee recalls, though he doesn't seem surprised that the clientele has changed somewhat over the years. “The other one was Revolver, is that still a thing?”
As anyone who's ever been to the Melbourne mainstay knows, there's only one response to that question – Revolver will outlive us all.
Create your own Play Melbourne playlist and make your next trip to Melbourne full of experiences, from rooftop bars to second helpings of Balmain bug tails.
106 Smith Street
113 St David Street
237 Smith Street
329 Smith Street
Hinoki Japanese Pantry
279 Smith Street
Vue de Monde
Level 55, Rialto
525 Collins Street
274 Flinders Lane
QV, Corner of Russell and Lonsdale Streets
Shop 14, Albert Coates Lane
Eau De Vie
1 Malthouse Lane
304 Brunswick Street,
Naked For Satan
285 Brunswick Street
This article is presented by Tourism Victoria