Culture: When In Melbourne...
Every now and then it’s healthy to get off your ass and escape the comfort of your Netflixandchill. I shot over to our (sort of) closest neighbour, Melbourne, to have a suss at what’s good and worth your time. It’s a city that’s proud of its food, arts and culture scene, so we felt quite at home, gorging, boozing, and spending our way around town. We even managed to fit in some exercise, but that was for only two hours of our three days there.
M O R E T H A N S O Y L A T T E S A N D S M A S H E D A V O C A D O
Every good morning starts with a great coffee, and with great coffee should also come outstanding breakfast. Luckily, Melbourne is renowned for its massive coffee scene; it’s pretty much the epicentre of the specialty coffee industry of Australia. What does that mean for you? An abundance of the sweet delicious brown stuff is pretty much around every corner. It helps that most of these cafes also serve top class brunch affair too.
Auction Rooms (North Melbourne) sits at the top of my list of outstanding cafe experiences. Whether you’re after a Bloody Mary-fuelled brunch, an extravagant mid-afternoon lunch, or even an early morning takeaway coffee, Auction Rooms ticks all the boxes of being a damned fine establishment. Set in the old WB Ellis auction house (hence the name), the industrial café’s raw brick walls, high open ceiling, timber beams, warehouse lighting, and the excellent outdoor seating area certainly looks the part. Coffee is supplied by Victoria’s own Small Batch Roasting Co., which guarantees you’ll get delicious smooth espresso or filter coffee regardless of what you order. The seasonal menu is adventurous beyond the standard bacon and eggs (not that there’s anything wrong with a classic), with something special to suit every taste. The evidence is in the details. Each dish has a number of different elements, but all equate to yum. Don’t miss it, but be prepared to wait for a table - even on a Tuesday morning.
Top Paddock (Richmond) has a very similar ethos to Auction Rooms, but in a different format. A modern building surrounded by greenery, with a flood of natural light cascading onto the clean lines, polished floors, and of course the tried but true white tiles. Coffee is from Five Senses, but there are also blends roasted in-house by Square One Coffee Roasters, which basically translates consistently great, ballsy coffee. Food is sourced locally and from around the country, so you’re getting the best on offer, whether you order the soft shell crab from Northern QLD, or the crusty bread from the Tivoli Road Bakery down the road. Get in early, the wait times are usually around the half hour mark.
Brother Baba Budan (CBD) has a funny name and excellent coffee, that’s all you really need to know. Beyond that, the hole-in-the-wall café has only a handful of stools to park on, a few pastries and cakes, and a damn cool fit-out that features a ceiling of more chairs what’s on the actual floor. The revered Carlton based roaster, Seven Seeds, runs the place, so exceptional coffee is the focus here. Swing in for an espresso at the communal table, or grab one to go on your way down Little Bourke Street.
S U P P E R C L U B
With hundreds of unique restaurants in and around Melbourne, it was a daunting task of narrowing down to only two nights of dinner for our trip. We settled on one of the original Asian fusion institutions, Chin Chin, and a boozy Mexican restaurant we’d heard about through chef friends, Mamasita.
Chin Chin (CBD) is what places like Golden Boy want to be. Brilliant service, mouth watering twists on classic Asian dishes, and a drinks menu that just plain works (not to mention a fully functional downstairs bar, called Go Go). Apparently modelled on dining halls of Bangkok, Chin Chin holds a casual swagger with its open-air kitchen, bar style and table seating, warm lighting, and street art, posters and a general ‘Asian’ feel about it. Walk-ins only (unless you’re a group of 10-12), it’s open 11am til late every day of the week, so you can still get a quality meal quite late in the evening if you so please. Be prepared to wait for a table, but you can shoot downstairs for a drink or to a nearby bar thanks to the text message notification service (why don’t more places do that?). Food is all about sharing, so our group of five let the waitress design our night. Asian themed cocktails were eagerly consumed through the evening, and we couldn’t fault the food. Meals ranged from crispy, sticky, sweet, sour and fresh, but were all perfectly balanced and absolutely delicious. Visiting this restaurant should be on the top of your list in Melbourne.
Mamasita (CBD) is a Mexican restaurant with quick service and a lot of tequila. Late night venue and eatery, Mamasita comes across as a no bullshit kind of venue with a very warm vibe. Sitting at the bar we ordered some tequila cocktails recommended by the barman, and before we even could sip through the salt rimmed glassed, our food started arriving. If you want a long and luxurious meal, this place may not be for you. Fresh and vibrant flavours were crammed into each dish; from the chipotle corn on the cob to the pork tacos, everything was tasty. Our only disappointment of the evening was that before we’d got through our second drink we’d finished our entire meal, which came out staggered but very quickly. However, we were left with a lot of time to venture into the night with room for a beverage.
D I G E S T I F
Boilermaker House (CBD) is one of those places you want to be your local. Serving generous charcuterie boards for snacks and bigger eats from the grill, you could happily start every night out there. Drinks wise, the bar specializes in beer and whisky pairing, as well as a custom but very accessible cocktail list. The bar oozes that Prohibition charm that’s so popular at the moment, with a wealth of wood, rustic furniture, and a back bar of over 700 whiskies. Sit at the booths, tables or the bar, and you’ll be treated with great service from fetching waiters and waitresses in uniforms to match the unique setting. Order a Boilermaker, which is a craft beer paired with a unique whisky and a small accompaniment to nibble on. Everything is characterized by flavours such as “fun and fruity”, so you don’t need know anything apart from the tastes that appeal to you, the bar staff will do the rest.
Bar Americano (CBD) is worth a visit just to see what a venue with a capacity of 15 people looks. Set in the entrance hall of a very old bank (I think that’s what the barwoman said?), the place at capacity would be a tight fit. Dedicated to nothing but classic cocktails and - surprisingly - espressos, expect friendly service and a tasteful throwback to the 1920s, with period music to match. Lean against the bar and have a chat to the knowledgeable barkeep, or pop in for an Old Fashioned or Chicago Fizz with a bunch of friends that you don’t mind being cozy with. We don’t have anything like it here in Adelaide, so it’s a must do.
For the cocktail bar wankers connoisseurs like myself, a visit to Lily Blacks (CBD) is an essential detour down an alleyway into the unassuming black-bricked bar. Inside is a rather large cocktail bar that pushes creativity and the boundaries on all things mixed drinks. You’ll find a great Negroni or Sazerac here, but have a peek at their completely custom made cocktail list to find something you like that you won’t find elsewhere. Not only do they make hundreds of their own bitters, but they also host a monthly event called the Iron Bartender, in which competitors invent their own cocktails with mystery ingredients. As wanky or as quiet as you want it to be, Lily Blacks is a great bar for any level of drinker.
Words: Brendan Cooper
Brendan is a freelance writer, barista + coffee expert at Adelaide's Bar 9 and live music enthusiast. Stay tuned for more features from Brendan.
Feature image via Boilermaker House Bar.