Melbourne, Victoria

By Michael Harden
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Melbourne skyline and Yarra River, Melbourne, Victoria

Melbourne skyline and Yarra River, Melbourne, Victoria [©Great Wine Capitals]

Melbourne is a city obsessed with food and wine. It is a place where proximity to a market increases the value of your house, bookshops can stock nothing but food and wine titles, the opening of a new restaurant is acceptable water cooler conversation and the standard of coffee is cause for civic pride. There are more than a dozen sizeable food and wine events held across the city every year and the biggest, the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, pulls in 270 000 people. Melbourne is the kind of place where it is perfectly reasonable to drive across town to buy renowned sausages or to get into a heated debate about the merits of different pizza bases. It is a city obsessed with food and mad about wine but go exploring and you’ll soon discover that it has every reason to be.

Melbourne has a remarkably strong and diverse restaurant, bar and café culture. Eating out is a constantly interesting and surprising experience whether you’re grabbing a quick bowl of hot and sour soup in Chinatown, washing down tapas with sherry in a laneway bar or mopping up a tagine with Turkish bread on the waterfront. Melbourne’s restaurant scene has nurtured and attracted some truly brilliant chefs, but in terms of a chicken and egg scenario – what came first, the chefs or the scene – you could argue that Melbourne’s food culture owes as much to the accessibility of brilliant produce and a constant stream of migrants as it does to the people who cook so skilfully today.

Great ingredients inspire great cooking and this is perhaps where Melbourne’s real strength as a food and wine destination begins – easy access to brilliant produce. A lucky geographical position has the city surrounded by fertile farming regions with a wide variety of soil types and climates that are capable of producing an enviable array of ingredients while its close proximity to the sea has meant fresh seafood is always available. The added bonus of having some of the country’s best winemaking regions on the doorstep - and a population that loves a drink - has helped wine become a constant on the Melbourne radar.

Waves of immigrants – Chinese, Italian, Greek, Lebanese, Vietnamese, Ethiopian – and a population increasingly open-minded and receptive to new flavours have also had a huge effect on the food fabric of Melbourne. Each wave of immigrants has brought with it both people who understand and cook the cuisine of the ‘old country’ alongside a ready-built customer base of fellow immigrants who want real rather than assimilated versions of the food they know. The food culture of the city cannot help but become richer and more diverse for it. With its many produce markets providing fertile ground for new ingredients and ideas to take root in the general population, Melbourne has become a city with a broad and knowledgeable palate.

So arrive hungry, take a deep breath and plunge in – it’s deep, delicious and constantly surprising pool.

Five Great Laneway Restaurants

  • Mo Vida – authentic tapas and Spanish sherry in Hosier Lane

  • Syracuse – superb winelist and a romantic setting in Bank Place

  • Yu-u – great yakatori in a hidden basement location off Flinders Lane

  • Vue de Monde – masterfully worked food and edgy attitude off Little Collins Street.

  • Supper Inn – crispy suckling pig in this bustling late night Cantonese place on Celestial Avenue.

Five Great Winelists

  • France-Soir, South Yarra

  • Charcoal Grill On the Hill, Kew

  • Cookie, City

  • Melbourne Supper Club, City

  • Circa, The Prince, St Kilda

© Michael Harden 2006

First printed in Food and Wine Lovers’ Guide to Melbourne and Surrounds (2006)

Regions

  • Melbourne (VIC)

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