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Take a Local Bite Out of Melbourne

4 min read
Published on Apr 02, 2024
Globetrotting
Christian Baines
By Christian BainesGlobetrotting Contributing Editor

A nation rich with over 60,000 years of Indigenous history as well as diverse immigrant cultures, the land downunder tempts your palate with cuisine from around the world. Its vino is also world-renowned, from big, bold reds to delicate sparkling wines. Yet no city shapes Australia’s taste like Melbourne. Long known for its culture, art, sport, music, fashion, and good living, food and drink rides high on the list with over 3,500 restaurants across the city. Melbourne’s culture is all about contradictions. Sure, the locals like to keep it classy, but they don’t make a big deal out of it. No need to dress up for a plate of “smashed avo” on toast or spicy shakshuka, best enjoyed in a laneway with a strong flat white and plenty of street art.

Afterwards, hop on one of the city centre’s free trams to Queen Victoria Market and take an Ultimate Foodie Tour to taste some innovative fresh creations from local and international suppliers. The land you’re on is of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung and Bunurong Boon Wurrung Peoples of Eastern Kulin and the traditional name for Melbourne is Naarm. An Aboriginal Heritage Walk within the Royal Botanic Gardens is an excellent way to explore that history. Nearby at Fed Square, next to the traditional meeting grounds of Birrarung Marr, is the Koorie Heritage Trust, which houses Australia’s largest collection of Koorie art and artifacts. Its neighbouring restaurant, Big Esso by Mabu Mabu, celebrates contemporary Indigenous culture and cuisine and is a must add to your dining list. Reset your palate with a stroll through Carlton Gardens to Melbourne Museum. The largest museum in the Southern Hemisphere, it includes a wonderful gallery, Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre, which explores the history of Victoria’s First Nations.

bridge over river in early morning
You’re never far from the Yarra River in Melbourne.

After the Melbourne Museum, stop at one of Lygon Street’s classic Italian restaurants or split a rooftop platter with a cheeky glass of wine and city views at Johnny’s Green Room. Try something from Victoria’s Yarra Valley, famous for its pinot noir, plus sparkling wines from Domaine Chandon. Yarra Valley is Australia’s premiere indulgent wine region, where you can fall in love with wine or try some of the world’s best gin at over 80 cellar doors, distilleries, and award-winning restaurants. Explore bohemian Fitzroy or swing by the Rose Street Artists’ Market for a one-of-a-kind souvenir. Feeling competitive? On a weekend between March and September, you can try to score tickets to an AFL game. Australia’s own “footy” is a Melbourne obsession to rival food, and no match day is complete without nibbling a hot meat pie smothered in tomato sauce (they don’t call it ketchup in Australia).

Catch an eyeful of the beautiful Princess Theatre and Victoria’s parliament on your way to rooftop institution Madame Brussels. Named for 19th-century brothel owner Caroline Hodgson, the bar lures guests today with cocktails, sangria, finger food, and the kind of good-natured sass that would make the Madame proud.

Mildly lubricated, it’s time for dinner in Chinatown. Good budget options abound, but if you’re feeling fancy, Flower Drum’s tasting menu is pure eastern decadence. For something in between, slurp on delicious soup-filled Shao-long bao at Hutong.

Nighttime Melbourne is your oyster. Take the tram down to Federation Square for nighttime Yarra River views or a show at The Arts Centre, or slip down to The Butterfly Club for cocktails in a quirky performing arts space. If you still have room after that last drink (or need to fortify against morning regret), Stalactites on Lonsdale is a Melbourne institution, serving up fast, flavoursome Greek souvlaki until late.

Don’t stay out too late though. There’s a whole new menu waiting tomorrow.

This article was originally published in No. 32 of Globetrotting Magazine.

Related Topics
Food & Drink
Australia
Australia & New Zealand
Christian Baines
Christian Baines
Goway - Globetrotting Contributing Editor

Christian’s first globetrotting adventure saw him get lost exploring the streets of Saigon. Following his nose to Asia’s best coffee, two lifelong addictions were born. A freelance writer and novelist, Christian’s travels have since taken him around his native Australia, Asia, Europe, and much of North America. His favourite trips have been through Japan, Spain, and Brazil, though with a love of off-beat, artsy cities, he’ll seize any opportunity to return to Paris, New York, or Berlin.

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