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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.

                              2. Re DOC: I have eaten in nearly all of their locations and can say that not only are they not comparable to even average NY pizza (I'm from San Francisco but have lived in Melbourne about 12 years), they are mediocre even by Melbourne standards, and so is the service.

                                Ladro and i Carusi are much better options, though the latter is a bit out of the way.

                                Re Cumulus, its reputation (and McConnell's) is undeserved. Small portions, relatively high prices, fairly medicore and uninspired flavors, and indifferent service. Sadly, that's common to many of Melbourne's high-end restaurants. I urge you to avoid it.

                                Re Vue de Monde, having eaten in the old city location a few times I can agree that it's not worth the money - but then I'm done with most of these high-end degustation-based places and their absurdly tricked-up food and matching prices. That said, Attica is a gem and I can't recommend it highly enough. Haven't been to Town Mouse tho have heard nothing but ecstatic praise from highly trustworthy sources and am going next month.

                                Re Cookie: my favorite Thai food in Melbourne. It's better at lunchtime, when the bar isn't packed out. Much better value than Longrain, which if you're going in Syd is only worth going here for the cocktails - and there are a lot of great places in the CBD alone for drinks. Speaking of which, the Supper Club is very Melbourne and when they say 'late' they mean sunrise. The roof is excellent though in May probably inclement (they'll have cover and heaters but still ....) - just be prepared for cigar smoke (they have a great selection if that's your thing).

                                If you do get down to St Kilda I always prefer Cicciolina - best steak in Melbourne.

                                Coffee: there are many places around town for excellent coffee. However, some of them - 7 Seeds and St Ali come to mind - are obsessed with 'single origin' and frequently brew coffee so acidic it's like licking the top of a battery. Or they'll offer you cone-filter-brewed 'pour-over' coffee as if it were cutting edge and charge you anywhere from $5-$7 a cup for it. Auction Rooms is good, though it's a cab or tram ride out of the DBD. I tend to stick to the Con Christopoulis places because they have consistently excellent coffee without the fads - Journal, Commercial Bakery/Gill's Diner, City Wine Shop (the last two have excellent food). The Spring Street Grocer (another of his places) is next door to the Wine Shop and has excellent gelato. Another excellent place for coffee is Oli & Levi, hidden down the end of Coromandel Place, just off Little Collins between Exhibition & Russell.

                                Have a great time -
                                Sneeds

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: sneedy

                                  I disagree with lots in this post. However, Sneedy is right about Cookie and its sibling upstairs; Toff is always an interesting place for visitors. Great thai food and an extensive wine list.

                                  One thing I do have to address is the coffee at Con C's places. The coffee at Dukes (three doors down) from Journal is orders of magnitude above. The European, CWS, Siglo - while I love them dearly aren't places for coffee.

                                  1. re: kersizm

                                    true - the european, cws and siglo are restaurants, not cafes. however i've found the consistency in the cafes to be better than most. i haven't tried dukes so i'll get there soon.

                                    note that karen batson, who's responsible for the food at cookie & the toff, is also running boney, which opened recently in the old pony space on little collins near exhibition. had a delicious lunch there recently and apparently they have a 24-hour licence.

                                    1. re: kersizm

                                      Duke's is a case in point: $4 for a short macchiato ($1 more than most other places) that was undrinkably bitter and acidic. Go to the Postal Hall in Russell St (in the city) instead: cheaper, better, unpretentious

                                      1. re: sneedy

                                        Wow we have really divergent views here Sneedy. :) I'd go to dukes over anywhere else in Australia.

                                        1. re: kersizm

                                          Ra-ther. There's clearly a market for this stuff, but then I'm a cynic. Personally I find the whole 'single-origin'/'third-wave' movement to be a hilariously misguided fad (eg plunger/french press coffee is better than filter/pourover; $7 for a cup of coffee is obscene), but horses for courses.

                                          Possibly the best coffee I've ever had (and I was a barista for 5 years in SF) was a short mac at the Commercial Bakery. If you want a full-bodied, balanced espresso with just a hint of sweetness, avoid places like Dukes, 7 Seeds, etc.

                                          Try South of Johnston in Collingwood. Just had the corn fritters w/ smoked salmon & eggs - delightful. And good coffee.

                                  2. This is a continuation of my trip reports about a recent vacation my wife and I took to Melbourne. Feel free to read about my Sydney reports in that thread.

                                    We arrived in Melbourne mid-afternoon and after checking into our hotel and purchasing Mykie cards we made our way to The Town Mouse. We had a 8 PM booking and were immediately led to a two top towards the back of the dining room. We sat on stools but hooks mounted on the wall were provided for coats and bags. Our server gave us the annoying speech about how the menu works (share plates) but was otherwise very pleasant and helpful answering our questions. We started off with complimentary sourdough and seaweed butter. The sourdough was underwhelming with an underdeveloped crust but the seaweed butter was a nice touch.

                                    We began with a few small plates: Olives with Rosemary, Garlic and Lemon, School Prawns with Green Goddess Dressing and two Goat's Cheese Profiteroles with Caraway, Thyme and Honey. The prawns, eaten whole, were delicious especially with the dressing that almost mimicked an aioli. The profiteroles were also very good, however, we both really enjoy the goat's cheese-honey combination. The olives were fine for what they were and were nice to snack on over our wine.

                                    From the vegetable section we ordered: Crisp Brussels Sprouts with Buttermilk, Lemon and Mint and the Slow Roasted Red Cabbage with Prune, Parmesan and Red Apple. The Brussels sprouts were okay, but were overseasoned and lacking acidity. I felt the buttermilk and lemon would suffice but this was an inferior version of a similar dish we ate at Porteño. The cabbage was fantastic. Easily the best dish of the night. Being fans of vegetable dishes I felt this restaurant did a commendable job featuring these ingredients. Roasted cabbage with apples are a classic combo but the addition of Parmesan cheese helped transform the dish into something different altogether.

                                    We split one main: Duck Breast with Pickled Quince, Turnip, Cavolo Nero and Gingerbread. This was a well executed dish. Duck cooked med rare with a properly rendered skin but wasn't as interesting as the vegetables.

                                    We decided to split a single dessert: Lemon and Yuzu Curd with Banana, Sesame, Spiced Rum and Coconut. We chose this wanting something on the lighter side and were satisfied. The yuzu and sesame elements were very Asian but made complex with the spiced rum jellies.

                                    Service was informative and friendly (unnecessary but welcome) and the food was uniformly good. Town Mouse received a slew of praise and good PR and our meal confirmed why. To us, the restaurant was a shining example of a place with better food and service than it needed to be which is very welcome these days.

                                    25 Replies
                                    1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                      For out first breakfast in Melbourne we visited Auction Rooms. Flat Whites ordered we were disappointed to see many of the more popular items missing from the breakfast menu. We split the following dishes: Brûlée Brioche with Devils on Horseback and Grapefruit, Chilaquiles with Pulled Pork Shoulder, Toasted Corn Tortillas, Salsa Verde, Queso Blanco, Black Beans and Fried Eggs and Potato and Ham Stack. The French toast was excellent, with a nice caramelized flavor. The devils on horseback, bacon wrapped dates, were salty and sweet and the grapefruit helped temper the sweetness. The chilaquiles were impressive. A bit richer with the addition of pulled pork but tasty. The potato and ham stack was equally delicious and we enjoyed the crispy edges.

                                      I was able to sneak in an afternoon Flate White from Patricia. Really enjoyed the coffee from this standing room cafe.

                                      We had a later lunch at Cumulus Inc. We avoided the crowds and were immediately seated. We started with the Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with crispy Skins and Sour Cream. The soup was nutty and sweet with a great texture. The crispy skins and sour cream kept the dish interesting. Served alongside the soup was a bread selection of Seeded Bread and a Housemade Sourdough. Both were okay but useful for finishing the soup. A simple Bitter Green Salad was ordered to supplement our lack of fresh greens. Marinated and Pickled Octopus was good. The octopus wasn't overly pickled and maintained a supple texture while the pimenton infused aioli carried a Spainsh flavor profile. Equally Spanish was the Peppers de Padron that had been blistered and sprinkled with sea salt. Warmed about the possibility of the random spicy pepper we enjoyed these familiar snacks. The final dish we shared was the Foie Gras Parfait with Toasted Brioche. This was unfortunately disappointing. Unbeknownst to me, Australia cannot import unprocessed foie gras and many restaurants (Nomad) cut the mixture with chicken livers. This is really unfortunate because Australians are stuck with a grossly inferior product. As with the lack of unpasteurized cheeses, these restrictions severely limit many fine dining restaurants which often use/rely on such luxury ingredients. Anyways, the parfait was good but hardly a substitute for a proper torchon of foie gras. Only mistake was not ordering the made to order Madelines with Lemon Curd.

                                      Dinner was at Attica. Was able to secure a 8 PM booking and were the final table to leave. Chef Sherry had left earlier that day for France but the kitchen performed well. Bread service consisted of a Housemade Rye Sourdough with Freshly Churned Butter and Sea Salt and a Macadamia Nut Butter with Salt Bush and Macadamia Oil. The bread was good but hardly special which was a bit disappointing for a restaurant of this caliber but we enjoyed alternating between the sweet butter and the rich macadamia nut butter.

                                      Snacks included Fresh Milk Cheese with Honey from the Rooftop. This was very good with two servers scraping fresh honeycomb onto our bowls of fresh cheese. Next was Rainbow Chard Leaves with Housemade Sourcream and Quongdong Powder. Slightly sour and slightly sweet this showcased the garden and native qoungdong. Steamed corn from the Southern Penninsula with Housemade Butter and Alpine Pepper was a miniature buttered corn on the cob. Next was Walleby Blood Tartlets with Plum Jam. Chef Sherry's grandmothers recipe, these were rich and very good. Finally, arriving inside a hollow walnut shell was Shaved Button Mushrooms with a Walnut Purée.

                                      First course was Steames Western Australian Snow Crab with Sorrel Leaves and Verjus. This was excellent, sweet crab meat with bitter sorrel and sweet from the reduced sauce made from verjus, an excellent start of the meal.

                                      Next was Western Australian Marron with Sorrel, Tarragon and Fried Chicken finished with a sauce of Onions and Pork Fat. Another strong dish, the Marron was beautifully cooked and enhanced by the greens laced with savory chicken skin but the sauce was just stunning.

                                      Third course was Salted Red Kangaroo and Bunya Bunya. Minced raw kangaroo meat was atop a purée of bunya bunya (similar to pinenuts) and topped with shaved disks of raw red carrots. Texturally interesting, the kangaroo meat was mild but appropriately seasoned and the addition of frozen currants provided bursts of a welcome bitterness.

                                      Given the acclaim of Chef Sherry's previous potato dish we were very disappointed with his current version. Called Minted Potato, Medium Rare this consisted of a roasted potato topped with a sauce of mint, garlic and Clothbound Cheddar. Told the dish emphasized texture by our server, the potato was indeed cooked medium rare. Unfortunately, it tasted like an undercooked potato with a very good sauce. I have no doubt Chef Sherry is trying to push the envelope of his diners with these dishes, however, IMO it shouldn't compromise it's flavor.

                                      Much better was the King George Whiting in Paperback. A filet of King George whiting from Port Phillips was topped with Minced Pearl Oyster Meat, Green Tomato Juice and Beach Spinach and cooked in paperback bark. Mimicking a traditional way of cooking fish, the process resulted in a moist and flakey fish with another excellent sauce.

                                      Our final savory was Pork, Rotten Corn and Lemon Aspen. A bit surprising to many diners our server explained the "rotten" element as a traditional method of using excess corn from harvests and was combined with fresh corn and turned into a sauce poured over roast pork loin. Despite the name, the sauce was sweet without any discernible funk of rotten corn. While the pork was cooked well, I wished the kitchen incorporated more of a fermented flavor profile into the sauce to add some complexity. To us, this dish felt a bit safe.

                                      All evening we saw nearby tables being escorted away for some time. Our time had come and a server asked if we would visit the backyard garden for a pre-dessert. After being showed the garden we were given an Anzac Biscuit and given a cup of warm Apple Tea.

                                      Upon returning to our table we were served our first dessert: Pears and Maidenii. Served in a pear shaped wooden dish were balls of Bosc Pear that had been rolled in Pepper Spice over a smooth and refreshing Pear and Vermouth Sorbet.

                                      The final dessert was Raw Strawberry Jam. Macerated Yarra Valley Strawberries had been put through a centrifuge to create a thickened jam-like consistency without having to cook and in turn process the natural sugars of the strawberries. This was served over a meringue with raw and dehydrated strawberries and a native berry granita. This was equally innovative as it was delicious. Staying with the restaurnant's ethos of showcasing native ingredients, this was a very worthy conclusion.

                                      Served the restaurant's signature petits fours of Puhko Eggs which were Milk Chocolate Eggs filled with Salted Caramel and a copy of our menu the meal had officially concluded.

                                      Our overall assessment of the meal was marred by the painfully slow progression. Service was good, friendly and knowledgable but the kitchen took far too long between courses. We spent an excess of five hours during the course of the meal. The food, aside from the potato, was uniformly excellent. Highlighting native ingredients and cooking preparations the restaurant evoked a strong sense of place which is precisely what we were looking for when we made our initial booking. Chalking up the odd timing aspect of our meal to an off night, we still thoroughly enjoyed our meal at Attica and would highly recommend dining there.

                                      1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                        So you didn't get out until 1am!? Wow.

                                        (And it's Shewry, not that it really matters)

                                        1. re: mr_gimlet

                                          Yeah, thanks for pointing out my mistake. Been busy retracing notes and typing up these reports so apologizes in advance for typos/errors.

                                          Yeah, long meal. We've done longer or ones about the same (Eleven Madison Park) but the kitchen's timing wasn't as off as it was here. Hopefully it wasn't a result of Shewry not being in the kitchen, regardless good food but painfully slow.

                                        2. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                          After a late dinner from the previous evening we were up early to pick up a rental car for an early lunch reservation at Dan Hunter's Brae. Thanks to useful advice from this board we chose to rent a car and make the 1.5 hour drive instead of taking the train and staying the night. Accordingly, breakfast was light, consisting of coffee and croissants. After a scenic drive through the countryside we arrived early for our reservation. Under the staff's advice we took a stroll through the garden and eventually made our way inside for lunch. I should disclose that we were known to the house and were greeted by name upon arrival. Having learned that we were to lunch at Brae the following day, our server at Attica was sure to mention his partner worked at Brae. Having said this, we paid the full price for all of our food and drink and were served nothing additional from the kitchen. Having decided to drive we were pleased to hear that half pours of the menu's beverage pairings could be accommodated.

                                          After being asked for dietary restrictions the meal began with a series of snacks. Beef Tendon with Mountain Pepper was fried and resembled a beef tendon prep at Mugaritz, a holdover from Chef Hunter's days as chef de cuisine no doubt. Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips were seasoned better than the version at Vue de Monde and were pleasant with our Sparkling Wine. Fresh Ricotta with Dried Figs were also nice. The snacks really became exciting with the Burnt Pretzel with Treacle and Pork that paired wonderfully with an Australian microbrew. Short Fin Eel with Sea Urchin, Zucchini and Chicory was also very nice. Turnips were braised then hollowed and filled with Brook Trout Roe was an excellent combination that literally burst with flavor. Finally, the Prawns with Nasturtium and Finger Lime was served as two bites. The tails were dressed but IMO the best of all of the bites were the heads which we were encouraged to eat whole filled with that amazing head fat.

                                          Our first course was Calamari and Pickles. The knife skills of the kitchen were on full display as the squid (from Port Phillips) had been immaculately scored, then lightly poached. The combination of sweet squid and pickles was a promising start.

                                          Next was Southern Rock Lobster with a sauce made from Carrots, White Onion and Sea Butter. The morsels of lobster meat were cooked just until tender and enhanced from the sauce containing strong lobster coral flavor. Excellent, especially considering how disappointing lobster is usually prepared.

                                          At this point we were offered bread which is all baked in house in a special brick oven located just outside the restaurant. By far, this was the best bread we ate in all of Australia and could rival the excellent sourdough from Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. Thick slices of Whole Wheat Sourdough were served with Fresh Jersey Cream Butter. This was incredible with a complex whole structure and dark and crusty exterior. Needless to say, we had several pieces throughout the meal.

                                          The bread was aptly served with Egg Yolk, Potato, Jerusalem Artichoke and a sauce of Gruyere and Vin Jaune. Rich and savory, this tasted like the wonderfully haute version of breakfast that just begged to be cleaned with that great bread.

                                          Raw Wallaby with Wattle and Lemon Myrtle was a nice play on beef tartare. The lemon myrtle was a nice touch as was the wattle which provided some necessary texture.

                                          This being autumn Chef Hunter mentioned the abundance of mushrooms and so the following course of Wild Mushrooms and Milk Curd with Chicken Liver and a Chicken Broth was a homage to his foraging trips. The rich liver and medley of raw and cooked mushrooms were came together with the chicken broth.

                                          I was saddened to see the local lamb removed from our menu. However, as far as beef courses go the Grass Fed Wagyu Short Ribs with Leek, Cauliflower and Kale was good.

                                          Dessert took an interesting turn as we were first presented with Simmered Plums with Onions, Honey and Cultured Milk. The onion in the simmering liquid helped restrain the honey's sweetness while the plums acidity was balanced from the cultured milk.

                                          The last course is fast becoming the restaurant's signature dessert: Parsnip and Apple is a deceptive name. Apple and vanilla pastry cream was housed inside dehydrated and candied parsnip skin. For parsnip fans like me, I found the synergy between the nutty parsnip and sweetness of vanilla and apple outstanding. A truly inventive and delicious combination.

                                          Finally a petits four in the form of a Pistachio, Blood and Quince Tart was a great parting bite while we sipped a double espresso.

                                          Before leaving we had a pleasant chat with Chef Hunter and I can honestly say service was the best of our trip. Brae was easily the best meal on our trip, Sydney included, and I hope more people make the trip out to his restaurant now that it's even more accessible from Melbourne. The food is highly technical but like Attica, conveys a strong sense of place with surroundings to match. This is destination dining at its pinnacle and hope to be able to experience Hunter's food again at some point.

                                          1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                            Just remembers I forgot to post from a late dinner at Northern Light (will report later). Anyways, we slept in and decided to skip the brunch queues and instead, join the lines at D.O.C. Pizza and Mozzarella. Having skipped Lucio's in Sydney and craving pizza we arrived hungry and looking forward to these hyped Neapolitan pies. We arrived to a busy but by no means slammed lunch service. Service seemed scatter-brained as the entire staff ran around like chickens with their heads cut off. Charming? Maybe to some but for us it seemed frustratingly inefficient. Regardless, we were eventually seated and ordered: Farro and Spelt Salad with Rocket, Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Pumpkin, Toasted Pine Nuts, Goat's Cheese and Vincotto. Expecting the salad to appear before the pizza we were a little surprised when delivered simultaneously. Admittedly we didn't ask the order, my real issue with this practice is that you ultimately run the risk of some food going cold. The salad was good, hearty from the grains with sweet and creamy bites from the roasted veg and cheese. We ordered and split the following two pizzas: Pizza San Daniele - San Marzano Tomato, DOP Buffalo Mozz, DOP San Daniele Prosciutto and the Pizza ai Porcini - Wild Mushrooms, Truffle Oil and Mozz in Bianco with grated DOP Pecorino. Both pies used high quality ingredients with nice ratios maintaining balance, however, our complaint was with the crust which we felt wasn't chewy enough and too blonde, though this just our preference. Most Neapolitan style pizzas in NYC have superior char on them affectionately known as "leopard-spotting" and imparts a smokey and complex flavor. Overall, we thought DOC P&M to produce good but not great pizza that is very popular.

                                            On our way back to the CBD we exited the tram for dessert at Spring Street Grocer to visit Gelato Primavera. Heeding the advice from fellow hounds on this board we came in with high expectations but left a disappointed. We ordered just two scoops: Pistachio and Fior di Latte. Texture of both were nice but the flavor intensity (more so in the pistachio) seemed lacking.

                                            Dinner was another marathon, this time at Vue de Monde. From the private elevator to the views and open kitchen, the restaurant makes quite an initial impression. We were led to our large two top overlooking downtown Melbourne and a flurry of snacks started arriving.

                                            Salt and Vinegar Chips with Macadamia Nut Purée and Compressed Apple was a fun starter. Truffle Marshmallows were good, reminded me a bit of the savory marshmallows Eleven Madison Park used to serve. An oyster poached in its natural juices and served in its shell was fair but lacking it's liquor. Salt cured Wallaby with Wasabi was rolled table side from a large block of Himalayan Pink Salt. This was tasty but lacked any gaminess to make it distinctive from beef or other proteins. Smoked Eel with White Chocolate and Caviar was very good. Loved the savory-sweet interplay. Finally, two BBQ skewers: Duck Tongue and Lamb Heart with Pineapple. Both very good.

                                            First course was Barramundi with Potato, Chicken Liver and Caviar finished table side with an Apple Cider Chicken Jus. The barramundi was bolstered with chicken liver and potato with the caviar acting as seasoning. Fine but a tad interesting to start with a cooked fish course. When asked, our server explained the current chef de cuisine wanted to digress from the usual degustation progression. I've experienced this once before and had mixed feelings about it, we left this meal unconvinced of its superiority.

                                            Next was Flinders Island Lamb with Apple, Sun Flower Seed Purée and Mustard Foam. This was the second course in a row with a table side finishing element. The mustard foam in this case was fine by itself but took away from the lamb which we thought was very good.

                                            Third was Blackmore Wagyu with Smoked Bone Marrow and Salt Bush with grated slices of Frozen Beef Fat. This was simply ill-conceived. Far too little meat to make any impression and severely under seasoned (a tartare pet peeve of mine). The combo of smoked bone marrow (didn't detect smokiness) and unmelted beef fat (disgusting) made the dish too rich. Finally, the dish being served in a small marrowbone sans spoon made eating difficult.

                                            Fortunately, a palate cleanser arrived next. Cucumber and Wood Sorrel Sorbet with Herbs we crushed with the help of a mortar and pestle and liquid nitrogen was smart and delicious.

                                            Bread service included a sack of warm Fennel Sourdough and served with Hand Churned Salted Butter made from organic cream from Victoria. We were told the chef previously worked at Noma and made it a point of emphasis to craft the menu around Australian-centric foods and ingredients. The restaurant previously used French Butter. I wished they never switched. Similar to Eleven Madison Park (a restaurant we've visited multiple times and enjoy) the proliferation of chefs coming out from the kitchen to serve or finish a course, a theme (NYC vs Australian ingredients) has a difficult task IMO of toeing the fine line between being well executed and becoming kitsch. In a way to differentiate itself and climb the S. Pellegrino rankings we feel EMP has fallen hard into the kitsch and frankly felt similarly about Vue de Monde. Rant over, aside from being served warm, the bread was merely average and lacked a crusty exterior or any discernible fennel flavor.

                                            Bread was served alongside Duck Yolk cooked 63 degrees a la sous vide with Pear and Truffle. The egg was good. The sweetness and crunch of the pear and earthiness from the truffle paired well with the runny egg yolk.

                                            Marron from Western Australia was served with a Pine Mushroom Cream. We were instructed to eat this course with our hands. Another very good course. Hand towels were provided afterwards.

                                            Another utensil-less course was Fried Soft Shell Crab with a Tarragon Cream. The body, claws and sandwich were served a bit overseasoned and lacking any acid to help cut through the oil.

                                            Ox Tongue with Bone Marrow, Beetroot and finished with a Crème Fraîche Snow (table side) was the final savory course. Unlike some of the other elements served table side, the Crème Fraîche snow worked here and made complete sense within the dish. Sweet, tangy and beefy, this was a nicely executed course.

                                            Cheese was to be served next but the trolley had a three table queue and we were asked if we would allow them to serve us cheese at the end of the meal. We agreed. A palate cleanser of Candied Celery wrapped around Coconut Sorbet was a nice transition to the sweet side of the menu.

                                            Fresh Milk Ice Cream rolled in Mandarin Biscuit and Gel with Malt Snow was fine but we felt the course didn't need the malt snow.

                                            Tonka Bean Soufflé with Valrhona Chocolate Ganache and a Smoked Ice Cream was very good. Extremely light, this was a textbook soufflé.

                                            The cheese trolley eventually arrived and we were given a nice selection of: Epoisse, Cheddar (Tazmania), Goat Cheese (France), Brie and a Roquefort. All were ripe and served with a bevy of accoutrements that I cannot fully remember. A truffled honey was especially nice.

                                            Petits fours included: One Penny Orange Jellies, Lamingtons - delicious, White Chocolate with Olive Oil and Sea Salt and Eucalyptus Ice Cream Bon Bons.

                                            As with our meal at Attica, we were the last to leave and were given a tour of the kitchen. Service was good but opened up much more after some conversation. One puzzling aspect was the upsell of a truffle supplement. Truffles were from Western Australia and were offered at $60 pp/three courses...their choice. Considering no menu was provided ahead of time and the fact that they weren't particularly fragrant, especially compared to the black truffles from Perigord, we passed. We were pleased when we saw the kitchen use truffles for the dessert (soufflé) course and an IMO would've been a waste of truffle. As with all other tables we were given a nice take home bag that included: tea, brioche, honey and cookies/biscuits.

                                            Overall, our experience at Vue de Monde was a relatively mixed. This, coupled with their prices resulted in a disappointing experience. There is no doubt that the restaurant sources great product but we were out off by the theatrical presentations which IMO seemed to overcompensate for a lack of flavor. With one exception none of the food was bad per se, but compared to other meals during our trip, should not be held in the same category as our meals at Brae, Quay, Rockpool, Sixpenny, etc.

                                            1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                              A few years ago I ate at VdM when they were at their old location. At the time it was far too French using French ingredients and having a very French wine list. I thought this was a gimmick with inferior French produce used instead of local stuff (and at the time I lived in Paris). Its one thing to select produce in situ but another to use it thousands of miles away when the journey has impacted its quality.

                                              1. re: PhilD

                                                Many years ago, in their old old location, they were basically a French restaurant aiming for 1* territory with all that entailed in terms of napkins and stuff. Then they moved to a better location to do all the frippery with nice tables and stuff, and then started to introduce a more Australian feel to the food with the French classics going to Bistro Vue.

                                                It's a special occasion restaurant in a stunning location that can't be too avant garde because of its clientele and so I tend to avoid it: I'd rather go to Quay or Brae

                                              2. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                                Sorry to backtrack a bit but I recently realized I forgot to write up my report on Northern Light and Gelato Messina.

                                                We had a 9 PM reservation at Northern Light. Billed as a riff on a Japanese Izakaya I was intrigued and booked a reservation after reading Yuki's (dining without borders) blog post. We arrived to a packed restaurant. Our seats weren't quite ready and had to wait but was politely offered complimentary glasses of sparkling wine which we accepted. A few minutes later and we were seated at the far end of the bar and eventually left the ordering to the manager who I had been in correspondence with. We stuck with mostly draft Sapporo beers but were given complimentary tastes of Yuzu sake.

                                                We began with Charred Shishito Peppers with Togarashi. A twist on the classic izakaya staple, these were good. We enjoyed the Togarashi since none of the peppers were spicy.

                                                Sichuan Spiced School Prawns with Curry Mayonnaise was a great beer snack. I cannot help wondering why these haven't caught on in NYC restaurants but aside from a non-existent Sichuan flavor, these were excellent.

                                                Air Dried Blackmore Beef with Wasabi, Yolk and Fried Potato was one of the restaurant's signatures and for good reason. The fatiness of the beef was excellent in dried form and enhanced with the rich yolk and sharp wasabi which we mixed-in with the tangle of fried potato threads.

                                                Another item we "had to try" was the Unagi with Squid Sauce, Salted Grapes and Mojama. Another well comprised dish. The eel had been lightly smoked and the rich glaze complimented the grapes and the salty mojama.

                                                Things veered off-course a bit with the Kurobuta Pork Belly with Kimchi and Smoked Cauliflower. The dish was just too heavy. The kimchi wasn't pungent enough to balance the dish.

                                                The Chicken Skewer with Honey and Katsuo Soy was much better. Grilled over Japanese charcoal the chicken thighs remained perfectly moist with a subtle sweetness from the honey.

                                                The final dish was unfortunately, the weakest. Bo Ssam with house Kimchi, Lettuce, Red Pepper Jang and Duck was the most disappointing for multiple reasons. First being the duck was far too dry which was unsalvagable even with the additions of both kimchi. The other problem was with the kimchi with was proudly advertised as being house made. Being Korean I've eaten my fair share of kimchi and this was just not good. I applaud the thought but not the execution.

                                                Northern Light was good but nothing I'd regularly seek out. That said, in a country that lacks world class Japanese food (yakitori, sushi, tempura, kushiage, etc.) perhaps this is a fine alternative. Staff was very nice and informative and due to the tight spaces between tables, I would recommend eating at the bar if possible.

                                                We passed on dessert and instead walked down the street to Gelato Messina. Another two scoops in cups: Chocolate Fondant and Vanilla Manjar - Vanilla Gelato with Dulche de Leche filled Doughnuts and Salted Roasted Almond Flakes were both perfect ending to a serious day of eating and drinking.

                                                1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                                  "That said, in a country that lacks world class Japanese food (yakitori, sushi, tempura, kushiage, etc.) perhaps this is a fine alternative." Are you saying Australia lacks world class Japanese, or do you mean the US?

                                                  1. re: PhilD

                                                    Phil, I was referring to Australia. Aside from Tempura Hajime which I read was good but not on the level of Kondo, I hadn't read about any notable Japanese restaurants. In the US what we lack in tempura restaurants we more than make up for in quality sushi (Masa, Urasawa) as well as a few decent Kaiseki, Yakitori and Izakayas.

                                                    In your opinion did I miss something worth visiting?

                                                    1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                                      I think there is good Japanese food, but its a little below he radar. So either quite local, the main Japanese community is on the North Shore,so Crows Nest has a concentration, small hole in the wall type places, or some new very modern places.

                                                      I have only been back a few weeks so still re-orientating but I see my go to place for sushi/sashimi has closed. I also wonder if Japanese in Australia (apart from ramen) is a bit '90's so no longer on trend and thus no longer era;;y mentioned. I also notice that the red hot ramen craze of four or five years ago seems to have subsided....maybe Sydney diners are simply fickle.

                                                      1. re: PhilD

                                                        Being a regular traveller to Japan, except for Tempura Hajime, I am always disappointed by the quality and price of Japanese food in Melbourne. IzakayaDen is fun but extremely pricy for the same food in Tokyo.
                                                        Don't even get me started on sushi in Melbourne.

                                                        Really glad you enjoyed Brae and I'm disappointed to hear about your experience at VdM - I've always had great meals there. Maybe Bennett has been damaged by his constant expansion.

                                                        1. re: kersizm

                                                          I forgot you were a Japan regular. Izakaya Den seems to reflect a Melbourne speciality: take an inexpensive cuisine, preferably street food, and then make it really, really expensive. I was dragged to a place in Brunswick last week and it was $8 for a taco. One. Taco. And I had a $15 pho as well in Preston.

                                                          1. re: kersizm

                                                            Brae was easily my favorite meal of the year (so far, as we will be visiting Saison in August). I think Dan Hunter is doing something very special between the local product he can obtain combined with his technical skill. I feel that along with Attica and Quay, Brae should be included on the shortlist as Australia's best restaurant.

                                                            As for VdM, I feel the meal was a bit more style than substance. I made the EMP comparisons because it was a calculated move by Humm and Guidara to rise in the S. Pellegrino rankings even at the risk of alienating many of their regulars. The interesting thing is from the conversation we had with our captain, the restaurant's abrupt change of pace was more Cory Campell's decision that Shannon Bennett agreed to. IMO, the problem with telling such a narrative (kangaroo hide chairs, dried Penfold vines, Australian ingredients, iconic Australian foods) is that its success is predicated upon the quality of the food. Without such reinforcement, the narrative becomes weak at best and to many tourist (such as us) becomes lost.

                                                            That said, taste is subjective and I'll be the first to admit I've eaten only a single meal there. Hardly fair to make a sweeping statement about a restaurant. But I was disappointed, especially compared to similar restaurants we've visited throughout Australia, Asia, Europe and the US. Hope my experience was an outlier and I'd still suggest people visit if they're interested.

                                                          2. re: PhilD

                                                            The Japanese comment is valid for Melbourne. There is really good stuff, but it can be a little hidden in that blink and you'll miss it kind of way. For example, the couple of best sashimi in Melbourne are obscured: one is a small frontage between a laundrette and a bed shop, and the other is in a bland Eastern suburbs shopping centre. (Think Attica). There is also the added complication in Melbourne that it will be an expensive meal - for people whose price expectations are set by their local sushi lunch spot. I still enjoy Yoshii in Sydney, but i suspect Sydney tastes have moved to the more flamboyant celebrity chef model (don't get me started on the abomination that is Sake).

                                                            The ramen craze never really hit Melbourne, but there are good, still popular lunchy places with broad menus of various katsus and ramen. But, again, they pitch at the $10 lunch market.

                                                            1. re: mr_gimlet

                                                              Re: my comments about the quality (or my perception of a lack thereof world class) Japanese food in Australia wasn't meant as an insult but rather an observation. All cities, even world class cities such as New York or London or Paris or insert whatever city, has their culinary strengths and weaknesses. I also don't take my descriptor of world class lightly. Europe, which has historically been lacking even quality sushi restaurants improved significantly with Sushi Tetsu in London (I don't consider Zuma anywhere near world class).

                                                              For me, having lived and worked in Tokyo for a period of time, the lack of Japanese seasonal ingredients (especially when it comes imported seafood and produce) in many Australian restaurants is particularly telling. Again, considering Australia's love for Asian cuisine coupled with the relative close proximity to Japan makes the absence of a world class Japanese restaurant even more surprising. Hong Kong of example has significantly upped its Japanese restaurants with the recent additions of Sushi Shikon and RyuGin, plus the more fushiony likes of Yard Bird and Ronin.

                                                              This is no slight to Australia. New York is very conservative compared to Chicago (Alinea, EL Ideas, Schwa, Moto) and lacks the Thai/Malaysian/Vietnamese food other cities have. Many European cities lack good pizza, all if not most cities don't do everything well and I was just commenting as to this fact.

                                                              1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                                                To be fair the HK example is probably a bit of an outlier as I think lots of restaurants are opening up to make money and Australia simply would't tolerate the price points now found at HK especially the offshoots of the multi starred Michelin places. Some locals say its cheaper to fly to Tokyo and eat in the mothership of certain restaurants than eat in their HK offshoots.

                                                                I didn't eat Sushi or Sashimi in HK preferring Sydney's offerings, or maybe I preferred the Sydney quality/price equation as i could never justify the HK price (plus I went to Japan quite frequently).

                                                                Another thing in HK's favour is its only 5 hours flying time compared to 10+ hours to Sydney from Tokyo, I suspect HK customs/quarantine are also more tolerant of imported foods.

                                                              2. re: mr_gimlet

                                                                I'd love to know where these good sashimi places are - thanks!

                                                                1. re: sneedy

                                                                  It's not insulting at all... I think you are on the money. It starts with the quality of the product. All the chefs I have spoken to in Japan who have visited Australia lament our fish handling and storage. 1* Kanesaka-san who opened up a branch in Singapore was horrified by what he saw at Sydney fish markets - that said (like many Japanese chefs) love the fishing here.

                                                      2. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                                        Our final day in Australia was spent packing and eating. Lunch was at Lee Ho Fook. We had a booking but probably didn't need one for Sunday lunch and were seated at a small elevated two top when plenty of tables were available (annoying). Staff was informative and answered most questions without any issues.

                                                        Started with Warm Scallop with Silken Tofu and Soy Butter. This was more interesting than good. The scallop and tofu were fine but the dish lacked texture and wasn't seasoned enough as the soy butter failed to register.

                                                        Better was the Milk Bun with Braised Pork Belly, Salted Cucumber, Fermented Chili and Peanut Sugar. Interestingly enough the chef chose to use a milk bun instead of the overused steamed bao. But despite this decision, we preferred this version since it closest resembled the classic Taiwanese Gua Bao.

                                                        The Crispy Eggplant with Spiced Red Vinegar was their take on the popular Fish Flavored Eggplant. Another dish that's not popular in the USA, we enjoyed the crispy eggplant with the sweet and tart sauce.

                                                        White Pepper Spanner Crab and Taro Mille Feuille was sadly a deconstructed version. No stack as we initially imagined, but still tasty, instead we used the taro chips to scoop the crab.

                                                        We ate the Moreton Bay Bug Tails with Leeks and Fragrant Sichuan Chili Oil with the House Fried
                                                        Rice. This was excellent, plump bug tails cooked perfectly with plenty of sweet leeks and spicy oil to spoon over the rice. Speaking of the rice, this was a bit more oily than what my mother-in-law makes (Cantonese) but a solid version that avoided being over seasoned.

                                                        Already planning on revisiting Messina for a final gelato we couldn't leave the restaurant without splitting a Jasmine Tea Custard with Burnt Caramel. Having previously worked at Marque this seemed like the obvious choice and we weren't disappointed. As advertised the custard had a subtle but present Jasmine flavor which paired beautifully with the complex burnt caramel.

                                                        Compared to Northern Light we enjoyed Lee Ho Fook more. Perhaps we are biased, Chinese background and my Korean heritage but the execution seemed slightly better here when comparing the two meals. Lee Ho Fook won't be for everyone, while it's not particularly expensive it's certainly not cheap but after chatting with the Chef, we both agreed that hopefully restaurants like this will dispel the notion that Chinese food needs to be inherently cheap.

                                                        One final trip to Gelato Messina. Our final selections were: Breakfast of Champions II - Yogurt Gelato with Housemade Croissants and Plum Jam and Salted Caramel and White Chocolate.

                                                        Dinner was at Rumi. Lacking many notable Turkish restaurants in NYC, I chose this for a nice change of pace. After getting lost (thanks Google Maps) we arrived and were immediately seated. Started with the Labne house made from organic milk and was served with flatbread.

                                                        Spiced School Prawns with Tahini was good. We liked how the tahini's nuttiness paired with the crunchy prawns.

                                                        Fried Cauliflower with Caramalized Onions, Currants and Pine Nuts was fantastic. Sweet, nutty with plenty of texture, this was a great side with our mains.

                                                        We shared the Quail "Joojeh" Kebab with Pickled Grapes and Oregano and an off menu Chicken Kebab. Unfortunately, we passed on the Lamb Shoulder since we were still a bit full from lunch. That being said, both kebabs were good with the quail being a highlight.

                                                        To finish we shared a Almond Milk Pudding with Raisins and Pistachio. We weren't particularly fond of the lumpy texture, but it was a fine dessert taste wise. Had we been hungrier or with a larger group I'm sure we could've sampled more of the menu which looked great, but we managed to enjoy our visit.

                                                        I'm not about to make any statement on whether Sydney or Melbourne is better. Instead, I find them both great for different reasons. My one regret during our time in Melbourne was that it was so short and became so fine dining oriented. While Melbourne has some excellent fine dining, I'm confident it's strength is actually the mid-range restaurants serving excellent food in a casual setting. I really enjoyed my time here and hope these reports are entertaining (agree or not) and helpful to others.

                                                        1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                                          Thank you for taking the time to write things up. Reviews are always a matter of opinion, but I appreciate the time you've taken to explain why you enjoyed or didn't enjoy something.

                                                          I have always said that Sydney can support more great restaurants than Melbourne. Both cities do mid range well, but it's easier to travel between suburbs in Melbourne and so catchment areas are bigger. the downside is you almost always have to travel for something, because we don't have these little villages of solid local eating like Sydney. So in Sydney there is always a good thai within ten minutes; in Melbourne there is a great thai in twenty.

                                                          1. re: mr_gimlet

                                                            Thanks for all of your help answering my questions and helping me form my itinerary. Without the help from hounds like you, PhilD, kersizm and others on this board I would've had much more trouble. I had a wonderful time visiting and wish I could return more frequently. Please feel free to reach out if visiting New York as I'd like to repay the favor should you need advice.

                                                            1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                                              We'll be in NY soon and would love to get your tips on mid-range places.

                                                              1. re: sneedy

                                                                Hi Sneedy, will gladly provide some mid-range NYC suggestions.

                                                                Feel free to email at roseUNDERSCOREswp @ hotmail dot com and let me know what you are looking for.

                                                          2. re: TheDegustationAsian

                                                            yes - many thanks for such detailed and informative notes. i agree re attica vs vdm - while i've only been to attica once, i'm ready to go back, whereas i've been to vdm twice (in the old CBD location - never made it to the carlton one) and that's enough. you've been a few places i haven't yet (brae) and now i'm pretty motivated to go.

                                                            re prices for what is basically street food, i am (as a long-time san francisco resident who's been in melbourne for over 10 years) continually disappointed by the quality and price of mexican food here. $8 for a taco is about par for the course, and it won't be comparable to one from an average SF taqueria - where you'll pay about $3 (and get free chips & salsa). i had a couple of tiny korean sliders from kong at rue & co (which quickly became a goopy, garlicky, sickly sweet mess): $11. almost anything that can be quickly turned into an exotic fad will be severely overpriced here (think 'pour-over' - ie filter - coffe: $5 and up).

                                                            but you're right: there are many excellent mid-range places where the quality is excellent. just wish more melbourne restaurants would focus on better service. too many lovely meals spoiled by being forgotten by staff towards the end.