As outlined in an earlier post, we choose to organise dinners because we find them to be the best way of getting to know new people. That said, we also plan dinners because we love food, and know that lots of other Melbournians do too! From our weekly dinners, we know the best restaurants in every area are always up to date with their quality, so we thought we’d share some of our industry knowledge with favourite recent foodie trends and the restaurants doing them best!
Increasingly, we are seeing venues strip back their menus from twenty page ordeals to focus on a simple and curated set of just five or six tasty dishes. Heartattack and Vine, in Carlton, offer four options for breakfast, five options for lunch and three evening bar snacks. Short and sweet (or savoury), these menus create a casual and intimate atmosphere without compromising on the quality. They allow you to get the awkward decision making out of the way, and to move straight into the lovely conversations and food you’re really looking for.
Underground and On the Roof
Often mocked for our hipster obsession with the “underground”, Melbourne venues have begun to open venues that take the word literally. Bodega Underground is one such restaurant, sitting in the basement of 51 Little Bourke St. With a varied offering of Mexican and a drinks list that can be garnished with salts made from worm and grasshopper, this venue is adventurous, experimental and generally cool.
In the opposite vertical direction, we are also seeing more venues expand up into the sky. One of our favourites is the irreverent Naked in the Sky, above Naked for Satan on Brunswick St. Named for a local early twentieth century vodka distiller, Leon ‘Satan’ Satanovich, who had to work close to naked in the Aussie heat, Naked in the Sky offers an extensive Basque influenced tapas menu, a strong drinks menu, and a beautiful vision over Fitzroy to the City.
For a date you want to impress with cool, you can’t go wrong with a venue above or below street level.
Vegetarian and Vegan
Melbourne is fast becoming the vegetarian/vegan capital of the world, and our one vego member of staff is not complaining about it at all. Although Melbourne has always had a few vegetarian institutions—such as Fitzroy’s Vegie Bar—there are an increasing number of good quality restaurants opening whose plant-based menus will appeal to the omnivorous.
Moroccan Soup Bar—and their lunch restaurant, Moroccan Deli-cacy—offer delicious Middle-Eastern cuisine often feisty conversation with their owner, Hana Assafiri. Their chickpea bake is a cult menu item for a reason, but whatever you order you will be in for an absolute treat. Moroccan Soup Bar also recently released an excellent cookbook, featuring recipes for their food, recipes for their paint, and profiles of the women who work there.
For a more rock ‘n’ roll vibe, head to Smith & Daughters in Fitzroy. With an inventive Mexican and Spanish influenced menu and a punk rock attitude, Smith & Daughters is anything but the stereotype of a self-serious, proselytising vegan. Smith & Daughters also have released a cookbook, and generously include page numbers on their menu next to dishes featured in the book so diners can easily become chefs of their own.
Diners and Speakeasys
Vintage fever has well and truly hit the Melbourne dining scene, and it’s a lot cooler and tastier than you might remember. From 1950s American inspired burger joints, to 1920s French inspired bars, Melbourne has a lot of fresh new restaurants that feel like a warm stroll down memory lane.
St LuJa in St. Kilda is the latest to get on this trend, boasting an exciting Gatsby 20s meets Grungy 90s venue and a menu of classics with original twists. It was the perfect venue for our recent intimate, quirky end-of-year event. The cocktails were worth moving in for, the waiters were as yummy as the food and we will definitely be back (as individuals, and as the Dinner Club).
Mexican mainstay, Mamasita, are also playing with fun vintage vibes, recently opening their more casual, 70s inspired younger sibling, Hotel Jesus. Hotel Jesus’s bright colours, shiny décor and fantastic menu pay homage to old style taquerias and tostaderias of Mexico, and makes for a fun high-energy evening out with someone special you want to impress.
No piece on Melbourne dining would be complete without paying homage to our global export, Brunch. The relaxed yet intimate atmosphere of a brunch is a great way to get to know somebody with less of that formal, first-date awkwardness.
It’s hard to know where to start with café recommendations, with most corner cafes now offering great coffee and slice of smashed avo. Bringing a little more of that high dining touch to breakfast, The Kettle Black in South Melbourne presents a consistently excellent menu to compete with Melbourne’s fine dinner venues. Integrating local seasonal ingredients, like their home-cured kangaroo and compressed pears, The Kettle Black pushes the boundaries of Melbourne brunches, as well as offering a solid array of the classics you might expect.
East Elevation in East Brunswick provides a delicious seasonal menu with a touch of hidden cool. With no sign out the front, first-time diners should keep an eye out for their bright red door. Boasting a seasonal menu built around ingredients grown by chefs and Cottage Botanical, and an in-house artisan chocolate factory—Monsieur Truffle—East Elevation is a café with qualities to excite anyone, from the sweet tooth to the gourmand.