explore Melbourne, Australia

What to eat in Melbourne, Australia

For the culinary traveller, Melbourne is one of the best destinations in the world. There is an abundance of affordable, high quality restaurants representing almost every cuisine. Eating out is cheaper than in Western Europe but not as affordable as North America. The service in Australian restaurants may be more discreet than many North Americans may be used to. Although service staff in Australia is paid considerably more than their North American counterparts and tipping is not compulsory, a tip for good service is always welcomed.

Excellent eateries can be found sprinkled throughout all of the inner (and some outer) suburbs, while certain neighborhoods have become magnets for residents and restaurants of particular countries. A large range of restaurants and cafes offering high quality food, and representing various cultures and countries, are scattered through the central city, Southbank, Carlton (mostly Italian and touristy), Victoria Street in Richmond (many low cost popular Vietnamese and South East Asian restaurants), Docklands, South Yarra and Prahran. Sydney Road in Brunswick and Coburg is known for its many Middle Eastern, Lebanese, Greek and Turkish restaurants. The popular tourist area of St Kilda offers a large range of good quality restaurants and cafes, especially on Acland Street, and Fitzroy Street.

English-style fish and chip shops are scattered through the suburbs – particularly in bayside areas. Souvlaki and gyros are very popular in Melbourne and outlets are plentiful through the inner and outer suburbs. Japanese nori rolls and sushi is very popular and many stores through the city and suburbs sell these items.

There are also a number of ongoing/pop-up markets and festivals dedicated to food. One of the larger and more well-known food markets is the Queen Victoria Night Market held on Wednesday evenings 17:00-22:00. And don’t overlook the growing food truck culture, with some of Melbourne’s amazing chefs now starting up their own trucks; it is an experience not to be missed.

African

There is a concentration of African cafes in Nicholson St, Footscray and Racecourse Road, Flemington. Most serve a small range of Ethiopian cuisine and coffee, and are frequented by the local African residents. The Abyssinian is a well-regarded Eritrean/Ethiopian restaurant popular for locals and tourists for a more elaborate dinner. The stewed foods are served on a large pancake in the middle of the table. Everyone eats with their hands which is messy but fun.

Australian

“Australian cuisine” is a nebulous concept that may include traditional native foodstuffs and more modern cafe infusions of international influences. Items such a emu and kangaroo meat are available, however tend to be found only at the high-end fine dining restaurants as a specialty item. You can also find kangaroo products at some larger supermarkets; they are growing enormously in popularity due to their high level of nutrition. Ten good quality sausages can be purchased at your local Coles or Woolworths supermarket. Kangaroo meat is also usually available from the meat section of the Queen Victoria Market.

Meat pies are available from bakeries and convenience stores. The ‘best’ pie really comes down to personal taste and preference, however it is arguably a poor decision to base your opinion on this much loved Australian staple on a pie from a convenience store – head to a bakery in the suburbs, or if in the CBD, Pie-Face offers very good quality pies, at a price similar to that of convenience stores.

Other foods considered to be ‘Australian’ include lamingtons, Vegemite, and roast lamb. All of these products are widely available from just about any supermarket, no matter how small. Vegemite is ubiquitous and likely to be included with the buffet breakfast of any hotel or hostel, so be sure to try some spread on hot buttered toast. Whilst it’s an acquired taste, the product is synonymous with breakfast (“Brekky”) in Australia. Be warned – a little goes a long way!

Café/delicatessen food

High quality delicatessen style eating available in many of a cafes in the small lanes of central Melbourne. Many high quality deli style diners can be found outside the city, in Acland Street, St Kilda.

Chinese

Many of Melbourne’s Chinese restaurants are located in Chinatown, pictured here during Chinese New Year

Chinese cuisine has a long tradition in Melbourne and a large number and range of quality restaurants exist. Many are in Chinatown (Australia’s oldest Chinatown) in Little Bourke Street, City centre. They are also dotted through the inner and outer suburbs, with concentrations in Richmond, Footscray, and suburban Box Hill, Glen Waverley and Springvale.

Most of the food is from the Southern (Cantonese) school of cooking, although Northern favourites like dumplings are also available. Eating dim sum, which is consumed either during breakfast or lunch (called yum cha or “drinking tea” in Cantonese) is an extremely popular Sunday pastime for Australians of all ethnic backgrounds.

Most of Melbourne’s French restaurants are concentrated around the inner-city and CBD. Perhaps the most well-known is Bistro Gulliaume, which is located at the Crown complex in Southbank. French Saloon, Oter and Phillippe’s are all located within the CBD.

Greek

Melbourne has the largest Greek population outside of Greece and Lonsdale Street in the City Centre is Melbourne’s Greek precinct. It features a choice between several bars, cafés, restaurants and cake shops. Greek establishments can also be found on Sydney Road in Brunswick, Swan Street in Richmond and in Coburg and Oakleigh in the south-eastern suburbs. These areas have typically been centers of Greek migration in Melbourne.

Indian

Indian restaurants can be found throughout Melbourne, particularly in the city, North Melbourne, and inner eastern suburbs such as Richmond and Hawthorn. The focus is mainly on Northern Indian dishes, though Southern Indian can be found. There are also numerous Indian snack bars in the city that serve cheap but tasty curries and samosas, cafeteria-style.

Indonesian

Befitting its large number of Indonesian students, Melbourne has many Indonesian restaurants. One of the most famous is Blok M which many famous Indonesians have visited. Another popular restaurant is Nelayan with two restaurants on Swanston Street and Glenferrie Rd, Agung on Glenferrie Road, Bali Bagus on Franklin Street, Es Teler 77 on Swanston St, Nusantara in Caulfield and Bali Bowl on Flinders Lane. There are also Warung Gudeg, specialising in Yogyakartan local cuisine, as well as Pondok Bamboe Koening, focusing on serving Indonesian noodles to locals in Clayton. Warung Agus in West Melbourne serves Balinese cuisine on a rather upscale atmosphere.

Italian

With its large Italian population Melbourne has countless Italian restaurants, mostly offering food from the southern regions of the Italian peninsular. Pizza outlets are very much part of the Melbourne landscape, with many chains and standalone restaurants in all suburbs.

Italian cafes and restaurants are plentiful throughout Melbourne but are in the greatest concentration in Lygon Street, Carlton, just north of the city centre. Lygon Street is where Melbourne’s coffee culture originated. Suburban Italian restaurants are often large and family orientated and tend towards the pizza, pasta, seafood and steak formula.

Japanese

A quick “sushi” take away lunch can be bought on almost every block where there is food. In and out of Chinatown there are also plenty of places that have good bento, udon and donburi as well.

For dinner, many of the inner city suburbs have Japanese restaurants, but in the city itself there is a long an interesting Japanese restaurant history that continues to this day. Both Melbourne’s oldest, Kuni’s (which has been around since 1978) and its sister restaurant Kenzans are known for a very authentic, if expensive, meal. There are a plethora of choices for those on stricter budgets as well.

Jewish/Kosher

St. Kilda East and Caulfield are home to vibrant Jewish communities and kosher bakeries and cafes abound most situated on Carlisle Street in Balaclava, Kooyong Road in Caulfield North and Glenhuntly Road in Elsternwick.

Malaysian/Singapore

Malaysians and Singaporeans feeling homesick will find a host of restaurants and foodcourt outlets offering items like roti canai/paratha, nasi lemak, prawn noodles, laksa, ayam kapitan, otak otak etc. Many are in the City Centre; there are Malaysian restaurants scattered throughout Melbourne.

Middle Eastern

Arab, Lebanese, Moroccan and Turkish restaurants tend to be concentrated in Sydney Road in Brunswick and Coburg to the north of the city centre. These restaurants can also be found in the outer suburbs that are home to those communities, including Dandenong.

Nepalese

There are a few choices for Nepali cuisine in Melbourne, with notable chain Ghurkas

Thai

Thai restaurants are ubiquitous in Melbourne: even dining precincts mostly known for Italian or Vietnamese food boast Thai restaurants.

Vegetarian

Vegetarian food is widely available in Melbourne, and you can expect every restaurant or cafe to have a few vegetarian or vegan options. Most Indian and Thai restaurants throughout the city will either have a large vegetarian menu or give patrons the option of ordering any dish without meat (sometimes with tofu).

Melbourne’s Little Vietnams are in Footscray, North Richmond and Springvale out in the far eastern suburbs. The streets in these areas are lined with pho (noodle) shops and restaurants offering other Vietnamese favourites. Many outlets have also appeared along Swanston Street in the City Centre.

Coffee

Melbourne has a long and rich coffee culture beginning with Victorian era coffee palaces and further enhanced by Italian migrants arriving in the aftermath of World War II.

Fitzroy is known for funky, bohemian-style cafes. Collins Street features many elegant cafes. Many Italian style cafes are found in Carlton;

Bars and Clubs

Melbourne nightlife is 24 hours, loud, colorful and anything goes. Door policies can be strict but once inside high quality entertainment is guaranteed. DJ’s, live music, artists, beautiful people and so much more can be found. There truly is something for everyone and every taste. It has a massive live music scene, with many inner-suburbs pubs catering many genres, with drink and food specials all week. The key is to find one you like the most!

Alongside its many clubs, Melbourne is also a fast-rising festival city. Global event companies such as ID&T, Global Gathering, Ministry of Sound and Trance Energy have begun taking notice of the city and bringing their events.

The city centre has a number of pubs. Melbourne is also famous for its many trendy bars in the CBD. Most of these, however, are down narrow alleys and streets, and are therefore hard to find unless you know where you are going.

The inner northern suburbs, such as Collingwood and Fitzroy cater for the young, laid-back, and bohemian crowd. Here you will find lots of live music, cheaper prices, and a relaxed atmosphere. Head for Brunswick and Gertrude Streets in Fitzroy and Smith Street, Collingwood for cafes, bars and live music, while Lygon Street, Carlton has a range of Italian restaurants and cafes with a student vibe, as it’s located near the University of Melbourne. Victoria Street, North Richmond is the heart of Melbourne’s Vietnamese community, with many cheap and cheerful restaurants serving good food.

Chapel Street/ Toorak Road in South Yarra and Prahran have the most glamorous bars and clubs. Here, expect high prices, strict dress codes, and beautiful people who want to be seen partying with the best. St. Kilda has a little bit of everything. With its proximity to the beach, it is often regarded as the Melbourne suburb that feels most like Sydney.

The past decade has seen a revival of Melbourne’s inner-city bar scene, with dozens of weird and wonderful watering holes opening up within forgotten alleyways and anonymous lanes of the City Centre (CBD). Melbourne also has its fair share of stylish places to drink, although the better ones can be hard to find. The theory seems to be: the harder your bar is to find, the more people will talk about it. Secrets are tucked around areas like Prahran, South Yarra and many other areas. However there are plenty of alleyway bars, once you find one they seem to pop up everywhere you look. Melbourne’s clubs often market a member’s only rule which can upset your more upmarket traveler. The rule is in place to prevent fighting and unappealing groups of men from entering a nice club and destroying the atmosphere.

Australian licensing laws are very similar to those in the UK, i.e. you are not allowed to be drunk on licensed premises. Some pubs and clubs are quicker to eject patrons than others, but it’s only ever a short walk to another. Licensing is more liberal then what one may be used to, as you can still expect to find a drink past 2AM. This has led to a culture of late night drinking where some venues won’t get busy until sometime after 11PM, especially true during summer.

Melbournians often draw a distinction between ‘bars’, meaning the small watering holes described above, and ‘pubs’ which are larger establishments in the usual Australian or British sense of the word. Melbourne’s pubs, particularly those in the city and inner suburbs, usually serve restaurant-standard food and a wide range of local and imported beers. Pubs usually offer lunch from approximately midday to 2PM, and reopen their kitchens for dinner from approximately 6PM-10pm