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Melbourne Advice - 5 Days

Hi, wife and I will be visiting Melbourne for 5 days at the end of May. We're from New York City (Brooklyn) and will be staying near Southern Cross Station. I've done some research but would appreciate any input regarding this preliminary itinerary.

Dinner:
- Attica
- Vue de Monde
- The Town Mouse
- Saint Crispin/Estelle
- Rumi (Sunday)

Lunch:
- Brae
- Dainty Sichuan
- Laksa King
- Cumulus Inc
- Hellenic Republic or D.O.C. Pizza and Mozarella

Cafés:
- Hardware Society
- The Grain Store
- Chez Dre
- Auction Rooms or Twenty and Six Espresso
- Top Paddock or Three Bags Full

Clearly we enjoy fine dining and will be doing degustations at Attica, VdM and Brae. However, we like a variety of cuisines and more casual meals (Town Mouse, St Crispin, Rumi).

A few specific questions:
- Does Dainty Sichuan have two locations and if so which is better?
- NYC has some good pizza, do you think DOC's pies are worthy of a meal?
- Masterchef aside, is the food at Hellenic Republic good? NYC doesn't have much notable Greek and so I was curious.
- We are both young adults with no children, using public transportation do you think we should stick to the CBD or venture to N. Mel/S. Mel/Richmond?
- Is the dessert tasting at Cafe Rosamond not to be missed?
- We like cocktails, I've heard good things about the Black Pearl, the Everleigh and the Mel location of Eau de Vie, any preferences?

Thanks in advance for all of the help, looking forward to our visit.

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  1. Brae is at least a 90 minute drive. That'll be a whole day adventure and won't be accessible by public transport.

    Looks like a fun list. I'd skip Hellenic Republic. Plenty of other interesting places to go, Bar Lourinha, Epocha, Nieuw Amsterdam, Cookie, The Commoner. (EDIT: these places aren't Greek just more my thang. If you eat the lamb shoulder at cumulus that's Greek enough;)

    I like Black Pearl because I'm a local... However a lot of their staff have recently moved interstate or are setting up their own bars.

    Personally, I think Dainty has gone down hill. Go to Hu Tong for dumplings instead.

    DOC is my favorite for pizza - it is Italian style pizza. May not compete with some NYC places.

    My 2c - will have more as the discussion goes.

    11 Replies
    1. re: kersizm

      I'd back kersizm on DOC for pizza, it's very Italian and their minimalist style might be a nice contrast to NYC pizza.

      What I'd probably say is that is worth working out what you are doing other than eating, and where you will be, before deciding where to east. Laksa King is great, but I wouldn't drive from Brighton for it. Hellenic is solid (I like it quite a lot) but for me the big deal is that it opens late so tags on to a long day of doing stuff. Dainty has three locations, CBD, South Yarra and Box Hill.

      Brae will be a full day and you will need a car. You will probably need to book Attica now.

      Public transport and the odd taxi is fine for almost all of Mewlbourne. Just get a myki from your hotel and top it up.

      Very personal opinions:
      - Everleigh is my favourite bar in Australia atm
      - Sichuan House is better than Dainty
      - Town Mouse is underrated
      - Crispin better than Estelle, both a bit up themselves, it's the middle class' answer to VDM
      - I have much better things to do with my time than queue with overexcited hipsters outside Cafe Rosamond

      1. re: mr_gimlet

        Thanks for your reply Mr. Gimlet. This board tends to be a bit quieter and I try to do research before posting to avoid wasting people's time.

        I will heed your advice and try to plan meals around our plans instead of the other way around. However, food is a huge motivation for visiting Melbourne. We will be coming from a 13 day stay in Sydney.

        - Thanks for the kind words about Everleigh, we enjoy cocktails and will try to visit.

        - Please see my comments above re Brae and Sichuan in Melbourne

        - Main reason I considered Hellenic Republic was the relative lack of good Greek food in NYC and would consider Press Club but wanted something less formal, that said, will start researching the suggestions kersizm gave, but feel free to provide additional ones

        - We will probably be visiting Rockpool Bar & Grill and Longrain in SYD so wanted to avoid them in Melbourne

        Was leaning towards skipping Rosamond, will probably stick to ice cream/gelato if we are still craving something sweet

        - Any thoughts on Cafe di Stasio's bar area for a casual lunch? Heard good things about that as well

        1. re: TheDegustationAsian

          If you're looking for Greek, I'd suggest possibly doing The Apollo in Sydney instead of Hellenic Republic in Melb.

      2. re: kersizm

        Thanks for your reply kersizm, it's really appreciated. I do have some follow up questions:

        - Brae's website mentioned taking the V Line (rail?). I thought I would take that then catch a taxi to the restaurant for an early lunch. Is this possible? My wife and I have done similar trains/day trips for meals in Spain and we're quite interested in Dan Hunter's food.

        - Prob will sub DOC for Laksa King based on feedback from the board, we like Malaysian but would rather avoid too long of a trip for a quick lunch.

        - Thanks for the heads up re Dainty Sichuan, I feel it may benefit from the Bourdain appearance. That said, is Sichuan particularly good in Melbourne? My wife is Chinese and I'm Korean and we make regular visits to all three of NYC's Chinatowns. Currently Sichuan (and to a lesser extent Hunan) cuisine is quite popular due to hip restaurants like Mission Chinese. I guess what I'm asking is whether Sichuan House is goo enough to merit a visit over say Cafe di Stasio which I've heard good things about (albeit different cuisines).

        - Thanks for the heads up about The Black Pearl, will try to try a cocktail there.

        1. re: TheDegustationAsian

          I have noticed in the Sydney thread you've mentioned coffee. If you want to explore coffee; it is better in Melbourne.

          As much as it pains me to say this as a Northside boy; the best coffee in Australia is at Dukes in Prahran.

          But...
          7 Seeds
          Industry Beans
          De Clieu
          20&6
          Are all excellent.

          1. re: kersizm

            My choices would be Padre, Auction Rooms and Proud Mary. I only go south of the river for sashimi and sake so can't comment on Dukes.

            Edit: it is close to my sashimi place so i will try it next time I am there

            1. re: kersizm

              So we do enjoy coffee but to an extent. We won't be hiring a car and will likely stay close to the cafés we plan on eating at. My thoughts:

              CBD
              - The Grain Store to eat, Patricia for coffee

              North Melbourne
              - Auction Rooms for food and coffee

              South Melbourne
              - Chez Dre for food and either Padre or St Ali for coffee

              Richmond
              - Top Paddock for food and coffee

              Also, planning on getting a mykki card but are there any good free phone asp for trams? Trying to get my head around navigating Melbourne and smartphone apps are very convenient.

              1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                Yep, depends if you have iPhone or Android. TramTracker and TrainTrapper are the two for trams and trains respectively. The PTV also has a journey planner which does combined journeys but it's more of a planning tool than on the go.

                Your hotel will have Myki starter packs which have a map in. They basically have enough stored value for a day but it's good not to have to fuss around with the machine first time.

                To keep on topic, Market Lane coffee might be worth a look for another style of roasting if you as far as Prahran market, and they have a hole in the wall near DOC. There's also a great hole in the wall coffee place in the underground passage from Flinders Street station but only on weekdays.

                1. re: mr_gimlet

                  Are you talking about Cup of Truth? It's my go-to for coffee when I'm in Melbourne. It took me a while to find on my first visit, though.

                  1. re: pchang

                    There is also a Dukes on Flinders Lane. Highly recommended.

                  2. re: mr_gimlet

                    And don't forget Baker D. Chirico next door to Market Lane.

          2. Oh... I'd throw Moon Under Water into the mix.

            9 Replies
            1. re: kersizm

              What is your favorite of all the McConnell restaurants? I've heard best things universally about Cumulus Inc and would prefer to stay somewhat casual considering we're already doing three degustations.

              1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                My preference is Cumulus, but its no bookings policy can be a pain. I don't like Cutler and Co, the fitout is just too noisy for me - all reflective surfaces. Moon Under Water isn't flash, but it's a good, solid set menu (not really degustation) eating experience. Obviously Cumulus gives you a full menu.

                Cafe di Stasio - do proper lunch, they have a prix fixe lunch deal.

                Gelato - Spring St grocer (CBD) and Gelato Messina (Smith Street). Way ahead of the competition.

                Rockpool - Sydney is better because of the art deco building

                Brae - without staying overnight, it's simply not doable by public transport. There are three trains a day and none really line up with lunch. We're not talking about hourly services to Girona here.

                Sichuan is good in Melbourne, but it is authentic where I go - bony meat, searing hot, and a bright orange oil slick like the Exxon Valdez. No hunanese here (Yunnan perhaps?) but excellent in Sydney at Chairman Mao

                1. re: mr_gimlet

                  I like Cumulus Up the bar upstairs from Cumulus Inc. similar food but quieter and not so difficult to get into. I was at Cumulus this morning for breakfast at 7:45 didn't get a seat until 8:00. It was busy.

                  His brother's places Bar Lourinha and Casa Cuccio are solid too. Bar L is great for tapas style and a very Melbourne dining experience.

                  1. re: kersizm

                    I would second (third?) Cumulus. Their caneles are great.

                    I also like Bowery to Williamsburg, Hardware Societe's sister restaurant. It'll give you a taste of home (both in terms of food and decor), if you get a little homesick while you are down here.

                  2. re: mr_gimlet

                    Greatly appreciate the info re Brae. Not being from there we have no real idea about the regional rail lines and just took info from their website. Glad I asked! Ha, we did assume it was analogous to those rail trips we took in Spain.

                    - No worries in terms of authenticity. Frankly I try to avoid using the term altogether but we like trying various cuisines and Dainty Sichuan seemed highly regarded.

                    1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                      I haven't been but you may find Brutale for Croatian interesting. It's in the same lane way as Sichuan House.

                  3. re: TheDegustationAsian

                    If you're looking for a more casual spot, you might want to look into Huxtable over Cumulus. I like both, but Cumulus is a bit more formal and higher price point. Both on the same street. Don't get me wrong, both are great and I'd go to either in a heartbeat, but Huxtable falls into a more casual atmosphere in my mind.

                    1. re: BeanTownGolfer

                      Que? Huxtable is on Smith Street in Collingwood, Cumulus is on Flinders Lane in the City

                      1. re: mr_gimlet

                        My bad. Thinking Cutler & Co being a few blocks apart from Huxtable.

                2. Thanks again for the help. Assuming I get a reservation for Attica my revised itinerary looks like this:

                  Dinner:
                  - Attica
                  - Vue de Monde
                  - The Town Mouse/St Crispin
                  - Rumi (Sunday)

                  Lunch:
                  - Brae
                  - D.O.C. Pizza and Mozzarella/Cafe di Stasio
                  - Cumulus Inc

                  Cafés:
                  - Hardware Society
                  - The Grain Store
                  - Chez Dre
                  - Auction Rooms or Twenty and Six Espresso
                  - Top Paddock or Three Bags Full

                  Cocktails:
                  - The Black Pearl
                  - The Everleigh

                  Gelato/Dessert:
                  - Gelato Messina
                  - Spring St Grocer

                  Seeing how Brae will take a whole day we probably won't get to eat at all of these places. While certainly not a destination Huxtaburger looks like a good "fast food" style burger and would be a possible option depending on the circumstances.

                  Anyone with experience with Attica know how possible accommodating they are. Noticed current menu does not include their famous Plight of the Bee's dessert and seeing how it made many people's "best of" list was wondering if you think they would try to accommodate this request if we ask in advance.

                  Interestingly, saw something about VdM's cdc saying how they are tweaking the progression of their meals and starting off with bolder wines/proteins early in the meal instead of the more practiced gradual progression.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                    Having seen the prep that goes in at Attica, I don't think they will be able to handle requests, but you can always ask. You might find it is back on by then anyway. When I went, the dessert was an Australian native fruits dish - possibly one of the worst desserts I have ever eaten in my life.

                    1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                      Huxtaburger is just expensive Hungry Jacks (Burger King). I'll probably be shot for saying that. ;)

                      I'd give di Stasio a go over DOC (even though I'm a massive fan) simply because it gets you to the south side of the city.

                      KZM

                      1. re: kersizm

                        Yeah, huxtaburger isn't really anything special unless you need a reasonable fast feed in the area. Hungry Jacks has the added advantage of seats.

                        Di Stasio is great for a long lunch

                        1. re: mr_gimlet

                          Haha, thanks for the opinions regarding Huxtaburger. Still may try if in the area and we crave a burger.

                          Seems similar to people here and the lovefest for In-n-out burger which is a superior fast food (thin gridded style patty) burger but nothing destination worthy. Then again we like Shake Shake (not destination worthy either but satisfying) and Minetta Tavern's Black Label Burger if looking to treat ourselves.

                          1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                            You could do it at the same time as Gelato Messina if you fancied a grazing meal. It's fine if you're in the area. Also Beatbox Kitchen is a good burger food truck that cruises the inner north.

                        2. re: kersizm

                          I know it's a MEL institution but why is Stasio so polarizing? Gruff service, small portions and high prices tend to dominate negative reviews. Tourist bias?

                          While nowhere near as good or formal as Stasio, I've seen rather good things about DOC Espresso's housemade pastas. Good for an informal but satisfying autumn lunch?

                          1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                            Have to be honest and say I have never had direct or friend experience of negative vibes from di Stasio.

                            My suspicion on the comments is about expectations; it's a bit Parisian in style (small numbers of hard working floor staff, which could come across as gruff because they don't have time to chat. It is expensive on an evening, and I would think the portions are closer to what you'd have got ten years ago or if you are having traditional starter, pasta, main meal structure.

                            DOC espresso's pastas are fine, just basically the pasta of the day - and not many other things to eat... Be aware DOC Espresso is different to DOC. I think their pasta is raved about because the Lygon St benchmark is so low.

                            1. re: mr_gimlet

                              Haha suspected that much. Most of the negative reviews came from eatability and tripadvisor which I know to take with a very TINY grain of salt but I thought it worth asking anyways.

                              Honestly, if the food is good and the service is professional I'm fine with that. I feel many Americans get too worked up over service, and despite the living wage/tipping differences between the countries I think here in the US we associate friendly with proper service. While I agree that a smile can go a long ways, sometimes service here becomes so friendly it becomes awkward and feels phony (Ahem Eleven Madison Park).

                              1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                I'd still go at lunch time when it's a lot cheaper

                      2. So after some great feedback and suggestions by you guys I think my revised itinerary looks like this:

                        Dinners - 5:
                        - Town Mouse
                        - Attica (Booked)
                        - Northern Light
                        - Vue de Monde (Booked)
                        - Rumi (Booked)

                        Lunch - 4:
                        - Brae
                        - Cumulus Inc
                        - D.O.C.
                        - Lee Ho Fook

                        Cafés/Coffee - 4:
                        - Chez Dre and Padre
                        - The Grain Store and Patricia
                        - Top Paddock
                        - Auction Rooms

                        Dessert:
                        - Gelato Messina
                        - Gelato Primavera at Spring St Grocer
                        - N2 Extreme Gelato

                        Cocktails:
                        - Black Pearl
                        - The Everleigh
                        - Lui Bar since we have an 8:45 res at VdM

                        Thoughts?

                        14 Replies
                        1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                          My view is that VdM is high risk for the money. It's a superb restaurant, but it's basically Michelin-style and I would rather eat at a starred restaurant elsewhere for less money. It is one of Melbourne top handful of restaurants though, I am just not convinced you will find it different enough. Estelle, St Crispin or Woodlands might fit the bill better. Breathtaking view.

                          I'm still not sure on Northern Light. they've certainly got good PR but how good are they really? Bars with expensive Asian-influenced food are spring up along Smith Street, I can see the attraction of the business model but it might well be this year's flash in the pan.

                          So did all the logistics work out for Brae? The train timetable didn't look very lunch friendly but if you worked something out, I wouldn't mind knowing if it can be done without a car.

                          1. re: mr_gimlet

                            I disagree with Mr G here. I love VDM and I think it's a great idea if you have the $. It is an Australian high end with our attitude. I prefer it to Jacques, Cutler, etc.

                            1. re: kersizm

                              Do you think VDM has that much of an Australian feel about it though? I feel like I am sitting in a nice Paris 1* and spending three times the money.

                              Entirely personally, I just don't find it unique enough to justify the dollars. Of course, that's in the context of advising someone visiting or travels enough to other countries and restaurants.

                              1. re: mr_gimlet

                                Yeah, I believe the experience of VDM is Australian - more so than Melbourne's other high ends. I'd definitely be encouraging visitors to go.

                                1. re: kersizm

                                  Interesting comments re VdM. I tend to agree with Mr G's comments regarding the food being more in line "European" Michelin food. However, that's not entirely a turnoff for my wife and I, provided that the ingredients are of the highest quality and expertly executed.

                                  Ultimately I think we'll keep the VdM reservation. I'm interested in Shannon Bennett's cuisine and it looks highly interactive.

                                  We had chosen Brae and Attica as our MEL foray into fine dining utilizing native ingredients and cooking techniques. VdM's menus have features ingredients such as: wallaby, maron, Australian Wagyu. Perhaps it will be a good comparison to our meal at Quay in SYD.

                                  My main issue with Estelle and Saint Crispin is the two turns reservation system they have in place. I've read reviews by patrons that weren't allowed a full degustation due to time constraints which at that price point is off putting. I understand the economics of restaurants and how vital turning a table is and applaud them for being so transparent about it but would prefer a more relaxed atmosphere (hence the later booking time at VdM).

                                  Between the Café Paci pop up and degustation at Sixpenny we hope to experience a wider range of foods, but really do appreciate and understand your opinion Mr G.

                            2. re: mr_gimlet

                              +1 on Estelle. I can't speak to your other dinner choices (having not been to the others) but enjoyed Estelle on two separate visits. Not every dish was a winner, but I found it generally good value for money. Less formal than the food would suggest, which was fine with me.

                              I also can't speak to your other cafe selections, but would put in a plug for either Hardware Societe or Bowery to Williamsburg, or both. I have had great brunches at both, and would happily return.

                              1. re: pchang

                                Thanks for the café suggestions but think we'll pass.

                                Correct me if I'm wrong but Hardware Societe is still closed due to fire damage it incurred in Nov-Dec. I originally preferred their menu to The Grain Store's but haven't read anything indicating that it's been reopened.

                                Bowery to Williamsburg is a trip to the Lower East Side for us New Yorkers only with better renditions of these foods. While I could see the appeal of this food to Australians we'll stay with the more unique brunch offerings.

                                1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                  Hardware Societe's twitter feed suggests they will be open by the end of the month. That could obviously slip, but chances are good it'll be back in business by May.

                                  1. re: pchang

                                    Thanks for the update, this may change things and prompt us to visit Hardware Societe over The Grain Store.

                              2. re: mr_gimlet

                                Interested in Northern Light and Lee Ho Fook because they look interesting and we like that style of food. Chefs from both have experience in good kitchens and and offer modern Asian food at reasonable prices IMO. Both menus have little over the $25 price point and while it is shareable small plates it does offer flexibility to try more dishes.

                                I misspoke unthread and do apologize. We are planning on hiring a car for the day to visit Brae. Your comments were particularly helpful regarding the train schedules which wouldn't work without staying over.

                                1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                  Also can anyone help me decsipher what Melbourne restaurants mean when they list closing times as "late?"

                                  Restaurants and bars in NYC can serve until 4 AM, so while I doubt it means that when does Melbourne wind down? The general consensus I've seen is 11 PM which is quite early even by Chicago or San Francisco standards. Also, if it does mean 11 does the restaurant stop serving until 11 or closes by 11? That does make a difference we were hoping for a late night meal after a degustation lunch at Brae. Are there outliers to this general 11 PM rule? Korean restaurants tend to stay open late everywhere in the world.

                                  I'm also assuming Sydney is different as I know Chat Thai serves supper until 2 AM and some Korean restaurants list 3 AM as closing time.

                                  1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                    Opening hours are a bit weird and I have never understood it either. Seems to depend on the area - places on Brunswick St and Smith St seem to open later than the CBD for example. I guess its the interplay between eating, drinking and fighting - CBD can get very nasty after midnight. But i agree that 'late' doesn't normally mean 2am.

                                    I would say 11pm is a good guess, though my local Asians are all day affairs closing at 10pm. There are a couple of OK places in the City well known for opening late: the Waiters Club (I think), Supper Inn, Red Pepper. They basically cater to chefs finishing up and wanting to eat. Sydney's equivalent is the Chinese roast meats place whose name I forget.

                                    But there are lots of newer places that push the envelope to midnight, generally with a bar scene: Mamasita, Chin Chin, Supper Club, Meatball and Wine, Movida and (weekends) Mamak.

                                    Sure Smith St/ Gertrude has equivalents.

                                    1. re: mr_gimlet

                                      Interesting...our lunch is at 1 PM, so with we may try asking for a later booking or try our luck at the bar. Though that begs the question, do most restaurants serve full menus at bars? It's fairly common here in NYC but only now occurred to me to ask.

                                      1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                        It's less about bars and more about what kind of restaurant they are, casual places where people come for beer and a piece of chicken are more likely to open later. You can usually get the same at a bar as in the restaurant if the kitchen is open.

                                        If you want something very Melbourne, go to the Supper Club, have some charcuterie and sit on the roof.

                            3. Love love love Melbourne but its been many years and supposed to be there for a business meeting in August and hope you have a great trip in May and look forward to your report!

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: Beach Chick

                                Thanks. Will do my best to report back. Been getting some great information on this board.

                                1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                  AUS board is a great group of people!

                                  Melbourne downtown, reminds me of old world city in Europe...look forward to your report and have a blast!

                                  1. re: Beach Chick

                                    Thanks, I hope some of my notes will provide useful for your trip.

                                    This will actually be my second time to Australia but my wife's first. I lived in SYD and worked for Clayton Utz after my first year of law school but sadly never visited MEL. We are visiting for a friend's wedding (SYD) and convinced her to stretch the out the trip for a proper holiday. Can't wait to see how much has changed since I was there last in 2007!

                                    1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                      DegustationAsian, are you still practicing? Funnily enough, I work for a NY-based law firm out here in Sydney.

                                      We should compare notes on Aussie (I've not worked in one but have worked alongside several) vs. U.S. law firms.

                                      1. re: pchang

                                        I'm still lisenced but don't actively practice. That is interesting though. Lived across from Hyde Park and walked to work, needless to say I'm very excited about this trip.