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Melbourne eating and drinking recommendations (medium prices, casual dining/ bistro, cocktails)

Hello fellow Chowhounders,

I'm going to Melbourne for a week with my partner and two friends. We are interested in relaxed/ casual dining, home-style cooking and eating, small plates, and drinking some interesting cocktails. We are not into Asian fusion.

Initial research suggests the following might fit the bill:

Food:
Huxtable
Pope Joan
Anada
Cumulus (is this reasonably priced or more fine dining dollars?)
Proud Mary
Journal Canteen
de Clieu

We would like to go out one night for a higher-priced treat. We have been to Berta in Sydney and really liked that (and had the banquet option - surprise shared plates until we were full, matched with wines, fantastic). Is there a Berta-like equivalent in Melbourne that anyone would recommend? I'm sure there may be more than one.

Cocktails/drinking:
Black Pearl
Bar Lourinha (though some mixed recommendations - is this still worth trying?)
Cookie (for good cocktails and Thai food)
Der Raum (I hear the cocktails are good, but the ambiance/setting maybe trying too hard to be trendy?)

Are these good choices and are there any others I have missed?

Thanks for your help.

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  1. Pope Joan, de Clieu and Proud Mary are more cafes than casual dining. While they are excellent, they are hyper busy, hyper popular, hyper trendy ;) Pope Joan would be my pick of the three.

    Der Raum is stupidly popular. They have opened up a sister bar, Bar Americano. I am actually off there this week to check it out. You could also try Gin Palace. If you want to take a travel out to the burbs you could go to Yarraville's Acqua e Vino. Bar Lourinha is not so much a cocktail joint and more a wine bar with serious food (I'm off there for dinner tonight).

    Cumulus is pretty well priced. I like to take out of towners there.. I think it is very Melbourne.

    2 Replies
    1. re: kersizm

      I ended up at Bar Americano last night. Excellent, excellent, excellent! but.. It's tiny. 8 people in there will make it feel packed. It has a real speakeasy feel, being hidden away. The bartender Jacob knows his stuff!

      I recommend anyone into cocktails get there before word really gets out...

      1. re: kersizm

        Thanks kersizm, that is all incredibly helpful information. It sounds like Cumulus will be our treat night out for a Melbourne dining experience. We have actually just arrived today so thanks too for your quick reply! We will aim to check out Bar Americano later in the week.

    2. Can you tell us a bit more about where you are from as that would help us to target better.

      You've picked a few cafes on your list, are you sure that's what you're looking for? (Edit: see post below) Never been to Berta so can't help you on that one.

      On the bar front, Supper Club is oh so Melbourne.

      7 Replies
      1. re: mr_gimlet

        We are over from New Zealand. I'm not sure what else to tell you except that we have a limited budget, appreciate good food but are not into formal dining environments. Sorry I can't be more helpful. The above post has already been very useful & I will post some comments when we get back.

        1. re: Miss_P

          No, that's fine. It just gives insight into what might be different for you.

          Cumulus is a good choice for a treat night out. Like Auckland, the cheaper end of food is normally Asian, especially in the CBD. There are great soups, dumplings, Hong Kong style and Malaysian throughout the city (and some expensive ones as well). It's not fusion. Good for budget protection.

          There are also good cheap food options in the main shopping part of the Queen Vic market, market days only of course. The bratwurst shop is a Melbourne institution.

          What else springs to mind at the value end at random? Pellegrini (don't touch the coffee). Yak bar for minimalist pasta.

          You mentioned both Pope Joan and Huxtable. Both are substantial rides by public transport. Is this time you're prepared to spend as if it is, a whole vista of Smith Street (kersizm's spiritual home) and Brunswick (mine) open up. There's also St Kilda but that is South Of The River where I never go.

          1. re: mr_gimlet

            Carlton Espresso for cheapish Italian is great.

            Carlton Wine Room is good for a bit of a drink and some dinner. Can get pricey though if you are ordering a proper 3 courses though.

            1. re: kersizm

              Thanks mr_gimlet and kersizm, you have both been super-helpful. We are prepared to venture out of the CBD and have a day planned shopping, browsing and eating in Fitzroy and Smith Street is also on the cards too. We did go to Richmond yesterday with our Vietnamese friend for a very tasty lunch at Tranh Tam on Richmond Rd. More soon.

            2. re: mr_gimlet

              Vic market is patchy, the good bit is good, the mass catering bit average. Find the Bratwurst stall in the old indoor market (not the covered market) near the deli's and you are in a good spot - with good options (but no sears). But avoid the cafe area with the tables......!

              1. re: PhilD

                that's why I said 'main shopping part'

                1. re: mr_gimlet

                  Makes sense if you know the market but hitting it for the first time it all looks like the "main shopping part" esp the fresh veggie stalls.

        2. Dear Chowhounds,

          I wasn’t sure where to post this but have replied to my original post so I hope you see it.

          My apologies for the rather tardy update on our week in Melbourne but here are the highlights of what turned out to be a mostly fantastic food experience. The exception was Il Primo Posto on Southbank – yes, you may well ask why we went there but friends that evening were in charge of food and seemed to have a different way of deciding where to dine than my partner and I (i.e., do your research!). We spent a night out of Melbourne and had a couple of good plates at Frangos & Frangos in Daylesford. Thanks again for all your helpful posts.

          Movida Next Door
          We loved this place, great atmosphere, and really good service (something that can be a little patchy in NZ). We didn’t have long to wait at the bar on Sunday evening for a table. Snapper, gamba (prawns), and tinned squid in ink sauce all delicious. I think we also had the chorizo buns which were reasonably substantial. Very patient staff explained the wine menu to me since I’m not au fait with Spanish wines.

          Thanh Tam Vietnamese 172 Victoria St, Richmond
          Go for the food and not the atmosphere or décor, especially the salads and pancakes. Our Vietnamese friend found this one for us.

          Little Mule 19, Somerset Place
          Tucked down the end of a little lane with fixies on the wall (I do like a well-turned out bike). Great coffee and muesli, and a very chilled out vibe post the morning worker rush.

          Hutong Dumpling Bar, 14-16 Market Lane
          I am partial to a good dumpling and these are a step up from even the best we have at a local in Dominion Road Auckland. More like fine dining dumplings - they were pricey considering they are dumplings but a delicious one-off meal.

          Bar Idda, 132 Lygon Street, Brunswick East
          Sicilian style food with shared plates. Not everything was totally successful (like the sausages), but otherwise tasty home-style cooking that went down well with a bottle of red.

          Yu-u Restaurant, 137 Flinders Lane
          We went here for lunch (after nearly not being able to find it). Excellent light lunch (we had the set menu) and loved the minimalist décor. A peaceful refuge in the middle of the day.

          Cumulus Inc, 45 Flinders Lane
          We only discovered this towards the end of our stay and wished we could have gone back to try lunch and dinner. Very full and busy when we arrived around 9:30am on a week day. A diverse crowd from high fashionistas, to businessmen having what seemed like a tedious board meeting next to us. Fantastic service, excellent coffee and a very interesting breakfast (I had the shakshouka).

          The Waiting Room Bar, in the Crown Complex
          Not usually my style at all to go to casinos but friends were curious to look around. The cocktails here were very good, including the unusual Mexican Penicillin (tequila, smokey mescal, lime, honey & ginger). I should also mention the service: the young waitress was exceptionally friendly and helpful without being overbearing.

          Madame Brussels, level 3, 59 Bourke St
          A fun, frivolous rooftop bar that we went to on one of our sunniest afternoons in Melbourne. Not somewhere to go for refined or serious cocktails. From the crowd it seems to appeal a lot to women. Free sunglasses and parasols were much appreciated. Service was a little slow when they got busy but if you still have half a pitcher of a Moscow Mule left it’s hard to care too much.

          Bar Americano, 20 Presgrave Place
          Thanks for this recommendation! Fantastic small bar, standing room only, and what an accomplished and friendly barman. We only went once in the end but are recommending this to friends who like drinking and who are planning a trip to Melbourne soon.