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By Chris | May 23 2013
Australia’s stylish southern city is a boon for culinary travelers. A multi-cultural Mecca, Melbournians hail from all over Down Under — not to mention Greece, Spain, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Sudan, India, Sri Lanka and beyond.
The result is a destination rich with homegrown and international chefs, who together form one of the most dynamic dining scenes on the planet.
For proof, try the incredible Spanish tapas made with lamb from Australia’s Flinders Island at Melbourne’s haute MoVinda restaurant. Or follow the paths of the Michelin-starred chefs from Europe and North America, who trek to the Melbourne suburbs to sample hot spot Attica’s inventive treatment of hyper-local ingredients like Illawarra plum pine and mussels plucked from Victoria Harbour.
One of the city’s original culinary trailblazers is Andrew McConnell. A Melbourne native, McConnell trained in kitchens in Hong Kong, Shanghai and London before bringing European and Asian techniques back to his hometown. He now runs four revered restaurants across the city, whose cuisines vary from gourmet pub fare to modern Australian fine dining.
McConnell’s restaurants tend to elevate their neighborhoods as well. Individually designed by his architect wife, an Andrew McConnell vehicle has performed such feats as transforming an industrial district’s former metalworking plant into a see-and-be-seen dining destination.
Thus far, McConnell and his contemporaries’ innovative output has seemed an exciting, inner-circle secret, but the good word is spreading. Fast.
Every March, top chefs from around the world come in droves to the Melbourne Food Festival, and leave raving about the city’s diverse culinary scene. No less discerning a diner than New York City’s Momofuku maestro David Chang recently tweeted that a potato dish at Attica was the best thing he ate in 2012. And Los Angeles’ digital nomad Roy Choi enjoyed his stint cooking at Melbourne’s Coda restaurant so much, he tattooed its street address on his arm.
Still not convinced? Rumor has it Michelin is eyeing Australia. Proud Melbournians are eager to give rival city Sydney a run for its dining dollars, and buzz about which Melbourne chefs will do best is spreading faster than popular restaurant reservationists can say, “I’m afraid we’re fully booked tonight.”
While Oz awaits a “red bible” to call its own, we have compiled the elite traveler’s guide to Melbourne’s hottest tables. From Asian fusion in the city-center, to luxe locavore fare in suburban Ripponlea, consider this your ticket to ride – or, rather, fly – in Australia’s culinary capital.
Style / Ambiance: Featured among Elite Traveler’s Top 100 Restaurants in the World, Vue de Monde is a fixture on Melbourne’s fine dining scene.
Chef Shannon Bennett serves four- and 10-course tasting menus in a recently renovated dining room situated 55 stories above the city. Those looking for an extra exclusive experience should book the Dom Perignon Room, a Joost Baker-designed private space that seats up to 14 guests.
+61 (3) 9691 3888
Level 55, Rialto Building, 525 Collins Street, Melbourne VIC
Style / Ambiance: New Zealand-born chef Ben Shewry has won fans of such tastemakers as Rene Redzepi, David Chang and Magnus Nilsson with his innovative, fiercely local cooking.
His 55-seat Ripponlea hot spot is the only Melbourne-area restaurant on S.Pellegrino’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Attica’s signature dishes include a Virginia Rose potato peeled, dressed and steamed in the earth in which it was grown, a play on the traditional Maori cooking method hangi.
Restaurant Manager Banjo Harris Plane
+61 (3) 9530 0111
74 Glen Eira Rd, Ripponlea VIC 3185
Style / Ambiance: Born in Barcelona and raised in Córdoba, Chef Frank Camorra is credited with introducing Melbourne diners to Spanish cuisine at his perennially popular wine and tapas bar.
Advance reservations are essential at the original, fine dining outpost on Hosier Lane, which has since spawned two casual offshoots, MoVida Next Door and MoVida Terrazza.
Reception Manager Louisa Biviano
+61 (3) 9663 3038
1 Hosier Lane, Melbourne 3000
Style / Ambiance: Hometown hero Andrew McConnell has four influential Melbourne restaurants, but Cutler & Co. is his award-winning take on modern fine dining.
Proudly Australian ingredients like marron, a Western Australian freshwater crayfish, are served à la carte and in sophisticated, eight-course tasting menus. The industrial chic interiors are by McConnell’s wife, star architect Pascale Gomes-McNabb.
General Manager Pippa James
+61 (3) 9419 4888
55–57 Gertrude St., Fitzroy 3065
Style / Ambiance: Australian celebrity chef Mark Best, whose Sydney restaurant Marque was number 42 on Elite Traveler’s Top 100 Restaurants in the World, helms this modern bistro named for architect IM Pei, who designed both the Pyramid at the Louvre and Melbourne complex Collins Place.
The seasonal menu changes daily, and is complimented by award-winning manager Ainslie Lubbock’s elegant service and expertly chosen wine list.
Reception Manager Emma Bottos
+61 (3) 9654 8545
Collins Place, 45 Collins St, Melbourne
Style / Ambiance: The Melbourne outpost of Sydney chef Neil Perry’s Rockpool brand brings top-quality meat and seafood to a luxe, 200-seat space in the stylish Southbank neighborhood.
From daily menus emblazoned with photographer Earl Carter’s elegant cattle images, to the artfully lit bovine display in the meat locker near the entrance, Rockpool presents a strong case for the carnivore. Less beefy menu items also impress, like sashimi-style swordfish belly and Tasmanian abalone with lemon, parsley and brown butter.
General Manager Vanessa Crichton
+61 (3) 8648 1900
8 Whiteman Street, Crown Complex, Southbank
CUISINE: ASIAN FUSION
Style / Ambiance: Located in St Kilda, Supernormal Canteen is the latest concept from serial restauranteur Andrew McConnell. Taking inspiration from the most popular food in Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong and Shanghai, Canteen delivers the best of Asian fusion cuisine in an intimate dining experience.
Inspired by his five years working in Hong Kong and Shanghai, McConnell blends Asian flavors and techniques with an international palate, resulting in untraditional dishes like his interpretation of a lobster roll, made with poached local crayfish and Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise.
Office Manager Sarah Pongratz
+61 (3) 9525 4488
157 Fitzroy St., St Kilda 3182
Style / Ambiance: As international as Melbourne itself, Adam d’Sylva’s smart bistro has an eclectic menu that ranges from rabbit rillettes with sourdough, to tender roast duck in tamarind-scented yellow curry.
The bustling bar area serves wines by the glass and shareable small plates. The minimalistic dining room has artfully distressed walls, wire and mesh light fixtures and chic aluminum window treatments designed by Melbourne studio Projects of Imagination.
Manager Tom Hunter
+61 (3) 9650 3155
141 Flinders Lane, Melbourne 3000