Top 10 Hot Restaurants To Take Your Date
Where do you take your date in Melbourne? Looking for somewhere with class, chic ambience and an interesting menu? Melbourne is brimming with options but here is some suggestions for your date occasion...
The list (no particular order)...
1. The Town Mouse
2. Altair Restaurant
3. Bomba Bar
4. Vue De Monde
6. Spice Temple
1.Town Mouse - Rathdowne St Carlton
The Town Mouse in Carlton has made a striking impact since it opened and is a stellar performer in a sea of fine dining options. Christian McCabe had conquered every summit on the New Zealand culinary scene (The Matterhorn is oft raved about) and has thankfully brought his culinary skills to Melbourne. Interestingly, he speaks highly of Melbourne weather. We enjoyed one of our best culinary experiences of the year thanks to Town Mouse and Andrew and Pam, who Samantha and I dined with.
Town Mouse is located in Drummond Street where once Embrasse thrilled punters with its fine dining. Christian has captured the imagination with unpretentious food full of technique and flair, and at excellent value. There's larger cornerstone dishes that can be shared and some smaller dishes of great finesse that "wow". Here at Town Mouse its about a culinary journey to be savoured. Chef Dave Verheu also ex-Mattehorn, shines in the kitchen, with consistency and bold cooking. In my opinion this is a "crack" team here at Town Mouse, including the wait staff.
The evening began on a high with Coffin Bay Oysters that were plump and fresh - but the coup de gras was the chardonnay vinegar sorbet and lemon to match. A brilliant flavour combination with the piquant sorbet sitting perfectly against the fresh juicy oysters. Who thinks of chardonnay vinegar sorbet?
Another delicate and impressive dish was the Goat’s cheese profiterole, caraway, thyme, & Town Mouse own honey. The goat's cheese wasn't plainly presented but had a "kick", and was encased in crunchy choux pastry. This baby gets you up and going, as a starter should.
All the while Christian was engaging us, passionate and hospitable. This is not an aloof restaurant but a world of friends enjoying amazing food and wine together.
Town Mouse also served up some decent bread with high grade butter.
The Trout starter could have been entered in fashion week, it was so visually appealing. It could equally be at home on the runway as on the table. Smoked brook trout, pickled clams, radish, verbena, & wild onion. The flavour combination was expertly balanced. The trout itself perfectly cooked, with a plethora of textures coming from the clams, radish and wild onion.
We were disarmed by seemingly humble dishes that provided punch and resulted in enthusiastic approval by our dining posse. Heirloom kales, slow cooked egg, rye, comté, & mustard stole the show. The Town Mouse can creep up on you and take you by surprise. Through the seeming innocuous kales comes a slow cooked runny egg which connects with an indulgent sauce to accompany... Behind the simplicity are nuances that excite.
Lately I've chosen the pork jowl over pork belly as a general rule. I've been becoming a Melbourne pork belly addict and junkie - and I'm now looking for pork variations. This jowl is a standout, but its more about the experience of the whole dish - Pork jowl, charred octopus, ink, turnip, kohlrabi, & chickweed. Paring pork jowl with charred octopus is a masterstroke, with vegetables to cut through the indulgence.
Then arrived our "mains" centrepiece - Slow roasted saltgrass lamb shoulder (900g), chargrilled cos, lemon, & tahini. Firstly, this is one of the better presented lamb dishes in Melbourne. Rather than just a pile of lamb on a plate (which is fine) Town Mouse brings out this wonderfully shaped encased huge portion of golden lamb, then cut according to requirements. The tahini is compelling to accompany.
The saltgrass lamb is first class to boot, juicy and tender with the saltgrass nuance shing through. We enjoyed this dish with a range of accompaniments and some choice Sangiovese from the impressive wine menu.
I was compelled to take another photo of this alluring lamb dish...
Anyone for cabbage? We were gobsmacked by the Town Mouse cabbage dish - it was arguably the dish of the night - and who would have thought cabbage could be such an exciting proposition? Christian tells us that vegetarians flock to this dish. Slow roast red cabbage, prune, parmesan, & red apple. Red cabbage filled with these refreshing and slightly rich ingredients is again a masterstroke. You may be reading this and wondering if I'm high and waxing lyrical over the trivial - you need to try this dish.
And the cabbage dish looked a treat as a red/purple tower with parmesan flecks...
Again a seemingly humble dish is brought to heights with this New season asparagus, pecorino custard, sesame, green olive, & lemon number. If you were going to show off your new season asparagus why not pair it with a delectable pecorino custard? And add extra crunch and flavour with sesame.
A brilliant harmony and signature note runs through the culinary experience at Town Mouse - everything comes together. As surprising as some dishes are they never are at odds with each other. This is a dining experience with an unfolding story.
A bowl of Shaved courgette & cos, parmesan, lemon, tarragon, & mint also hit the mark as something you want more of.
Christian does wonders with humble vegetables. Is there any other restaurant that celebrates vegetables to the extent Town Mouse does?
The next dish was also worthy of a fashion show or art exhibition - Kipflers cooked in toasted hay, buttermilk, crisp sage, & almond brown butter. Most establishments would serve a bowl of kipflers as just a random pile with not much else.
Town Mouse does everything with flair and can make kipflers a work of art. Kipflers at Town Mouse is a dish to be enjoyed in itself, not just an accompaniment, having been prepared in decadent toasted hay, buttermilk, crisp sage and almond brown butter.
Town Mouse is a smallish restaurant with a classic convivial ambience. Check out the mood lighting, fine tiles on the walls and attractive use of timber. A courtyard was opened the night we visited as another dining space.
I personally enjoy the set up with modern bar in the centre of the room and high tables with stools. It lends itself to interaction and conversation. And its a trend right now to imbibe fine dining experiences with casual expressions.
It's also a trend to bring together bar and dining space... And feature the best of both worlds in the one experience. Bars are generally becoming more sophisticated and food at bars is becoming more accessible and of increased quality - I can think of several exciting venues right now that are going this way...
Staff at Town Mouse are professional and engaging. Our waitress ran 600m down Drummond St to catch us after we left a package at the restaurant. Out of breath we should have paid for her taxi back to the restaurant.
Town Mouse has a secret dessert - just don't tell anyone. We ordered this Cigar like dessert - Lemon and yuzu curd, white chocolate, burnt coconut, spiced rum and coconut sorbet. One of Melbourne's best desserts but no longer on the menu as such. A hidden treasure for those in the know. And it tastes every bit as good as it looks. Town Mouse adds another dimension to "a cigar at the end of the meal".
Apart from Sangiovese we enjoyed these dessert wines...
And we enjoyed this White chocolate & lavender curd, strawberry, shortbread, & violet ice cream. Another attractive delicate dessert with finesse, giving special kudos to the curd and strawberry.
The final dessert looked like a deep sea creature bedazzling and curious. Buttermilk poached pear, walnut, caramel, roast chocolate, & pear sorbet. The bevvy of textures was amazing, and the taste of the sorbet was sumptuous.
We were satiated beyond satisfaction by now. Fennel, chocolate, goat’s milk, & candied olive vienetta was playful and exciting. Reliving our childhood with this vienetta variation.
Town Mouse is a standout restaurant in Melbourne and the enthusiasm has been consistent and growing. Having personally visited over 500 restaurants in Melbourne I place Town Mouse at the top of the tree in rarefied air with a few others. Christian is affable, not showy, and a culinary genius whose food does the talking.
I respect the hat assessments from luminaries, however my personal view (and I'm not alone) is that Town Mouse should be awarded at least one hat if not more...
In the meantime I plan to return to this stellar establishment that is now open 7 nights a week.
2. Altair Restaurant - Warrandyte
Altair Restaurant is a fabulous restaurant for your date; with stellar fine food, top notch service, award winning drinks list and a charming location in Warrandyte. There's a sense of occasion here and a willingness from staff and the kitchen to please.
Kelvin Shaw is a leader in the innovative use of indigenous ingredients and his food creates memorable dining experiences. Partner Michelle as front of house manager is engaging and foodie savvy.
The food at Altair is top notch; this is fine dining in the eastern suburbs. They destroy the myth that you have to travel into the city of Melbourne for fine dining.
Technique and a sense of theatre are at the fore; memorable experiences! Rainbow trout paupiette with bush tomato, native lemongrass and ginger consomme, wild dill was a highlight at their epic Indigenous Dinner. Creamy fish with depth of flavour in the bush tomato, and the consomme is compelling.
Textures are a big deal at Altair; big flavours, big textures and big on innovation. Expressions of macadamia with pickled beetroot, toasted grains, Warrigal greens and mountain pepper. This is a unique dish that resonates with texture highlights.
The Seared marlin is another cracking dish, honouring the main ingredient of marlin. Lightly seared the marlin is top notch, and a dish many diners may not have tried. Fish crackling on top of the dish is a nice touch. The cubes of marlin belly cured in coffee are a highlight of the dish for the texture of the belly and the coffee nuance.
The fried sesame is a surprise, combining wonderfully with the marlin for crunch. The advent of desert limes is a touch of brilliance bringing a rewarding zest, along with the pickled seaweed.
Again, Kelvin's genius is in bringing a native ingredient, desert limes, to the dish for extra depth, rather than using ordinary limes.
Chicken? The roast chicken dish is a revelation. The World Loves Melbourne feels that chicken dishes at most restaurants can be boring, if not predictable. The only flavour intensity is often in the skin!
Kelvin has packed the flavour into the chicken in his cooking process for a rich chicken experience. The addition of lemon and tarragon is superb, and the BBQ peas and chicken crumble compelling for crunch. The chicken crackle adds even more crunch to this stunning dish. We think of it as the perfect dish in the Christmas season.
Again, this is one of the best chicken dishes we've ever eaten.
This is fine dining with white tablecloths, a serious wine list and things done well.
To enhance your romantic interlude you may want to wander along the main street of charming Warrandyte or even stroll along the Yarra River just across the road.
3. Bomba Bar - 103 Lonsdale CBD
Bomba Bar is one of the hottest destinations in Melbourne with its killer ambience, exciting Spanish cuisine and a sexy wine and cocktail list. Jesse and Vanessa, Melbourne culinary royalty, have transformed former The Aylesbury - already a hit - into something even more rewarding as a Spanish Workers Bar. The World Loves Melbourne was invited to Bomba and we enjoyed the experience.
Bomba is launching out with Vermouth of sophistication soon to be on tap and currently imported bottle, including an amazing Vermouth from Barcelona that's alluringly aromatic. Vermouth is big in Barcelona right now, notably some hip specialist Vermouth bars. Often drunk at the start of the evening with snacks, Bomba pleases with its unique Vermouth range served up with snacks such as Smoked almonds and olives. Check out The Independent publication from the UK on Vermouth back in vogue - time to rediscover Vermouth. Vermouth could be my drink of the summer. It's taking over gin and tonic as drink of the moment.
Jesse Gerner exudes Iberian passion in the kitchen and with Vanessa are such congenial hosts. They seek to please in attention to the detail, treating customers as VIP guests. No pretension. The Aylesbury was a hit and Anada in Gertrude St is another success. Jesse and Vanessa have much to bring to Taste of Melbourne.
Bomba Bar delivers with this Shark Bay Prawn pil pil. Of course pil pil refers to the unique sauce that derives from the Basque region of Spain. These prawns are sumptuous with appropriate high garlic content. And the oysters (below) fresh and tangy - with Bomba serving up quality Coffin Bay and Wapengo lake rock oysters.
Vanessa Gerner is a vivacious host who exudes positivity and passion for good food and wine. She and Jesse are visionaries in the industry, focussing on honest hospitality and bringing us the best of global trends with creative flair.
Bomba Bar's transformation to a Spanish Workers bar is impressive. The ambience is rustic, alluring and warm. Use of textures is top notch, including recycled timbers, woven straw light shades, copper reinforced benches, and sexy lighting tones with red and orange tinge.
As the Taste of Melbourne site says, Jesse Gerner and Andrew Frisk head up the kitchen with a love of all things Spanish, a dimension they bring to Taste of Melbourne.
Lamb ribs hit the mark...
But it's the epic Pork jowl that steals the show. In fact the Pedro Ximenez braised pork jowl with celeriac...
So indulgent. Amen to a fat cut of meat. Melbourne is pork belly crazy but check this jowl brother. It will change your life. Infused with sweet Sherry flavour and almost creamy, it wows. Important is the knob turnip celery to cut through the fatty goodness. The skin is super sticky and I ate it eyes shut.
Bomba's big busty meat dish is the standout track on a pretty heady album.
Grilled asparagus. lemon, egg and migas, is arresting with its refreshment and zest.
Bomba also satisfies with Slow cooked pork belly ribbons... I sneaked a couple of extra ones while my fellow diners weren't watching.
Adam Valentine from Hot House Media motions to the kitchen and we are graced with Broad bean and goats curd Spanish toast. This hits the high notes with a cut of spicy morcilla (black pudding baby) on top. Humble toast yet so delectable.
Bomba was packed on a Tuesday night, not only downstairs but upstairs at the Rooftop Bar. Were we in Spain? Such a unique ambience in Melbourne.
Bomba has also delivered in its Rooftop Bar - with added dimension to The Aylesbury version. Like Etihad Stadium it has a retractable roof, great for big game cocktail sessions. We were treated to Vermouth and Negroni's. A Negroni is another incarnation of Vermouth of course.
Bomba has everything needed in a rooftop bar. Views are stunning on the 5th floor. Unlike some rooftop bars in Melbourne it has adequate heating. And a decent bar menu including many of the tasty tapas options downstairs.
We were treated to a boutique premium service from Uber taxis - a popular Melbourne and international service that is perfect for your ride home. Check out their app - so easy and rewarding.
Bomba Bar is an in form and hot player in a quality culinary field. Highly recommended.
4. Vue De Monde - Rialto Towers CBD
Vue De Monde is a stellar restaurant that stands out from the fine dining Melbourne restaurants pack with its class, cuisine and complete experience. While the food is amazing it's about the whole experience at Vue De Monde. Shannon Bennett is a man of the masterstroke and an ability to provide diners with something unique and special. Up to the 55th floor of Rialto Towers, into the private elevator then through the glass doors into a world of finery.
I was invited to the Glenmorangie Secret Society dinner for whisky lovers. This was to be a classy event and an impressive showcasing of some of the world's finest whisky. Intitially in the bar, the lounges and spaces are impressive and even the decoration above the bar looks like foam.
With a trend to more casual, even grungy, dining in Melbourne Vue De Monde is true to fine dining pleasure. It keeps that sense of occasion and the "wow" factor in everything it does. And attention to detail is a strength.
Then to attend an evening with world class Whisky specialist Glenmorangie, this was the perfect match. Glenmorangie whisky is silky smooth and classical. It is always complex and well balanced. An evening named "Secret Society" was always going to be interesting.
As well as being captivated by the restaurant and the evening at hand, the spectacular views add so much to the ambience. These are views of iconic Melbourne from far above. Strolling out onto the Terrace is a great experience (especially with cigars later on). The best views of any restaurant I've been to in Melbourne.
We enjoyed an amazing cocktail of Glemorangie Original with Leatherwood Honey. I could drink this all night. Super smooth. The leatherwood sweetness went brilliantly with the whisky.
The Spanner Crab, avocado, beach herbs went superbly with the Glenmorangie Original. The Glenmorangie Original is a 10 year single malt with complex floral notes and a creamy vanilla note from the casks imported from the Ozark mountains in the USA. This is accessible easy drinking.
The Duck Gascony was superb being matched with Glenmorangie Lasanta. These single malts are perfect with the duck. We were able to pick up nutty notes, even hazelnut from the whisky.
The Blackmore Wagyu, beetroot and apple was amazing with the Glenmorangie 18 year old whisky. Vue De Monde excelled in the wagyu and portions of rump, with a delectable smoked bone marrow sauce.
The Lemon meringue ice cream, white chocolate, lemon curd, parsley dessert was a perfect match for the Glenmorangie Nector d'Or.
Vue De Monde served A selection of coffees, teas, infusions and petit fours matched with Glenmorangie Signet.
Credit to Dianna Snape for the larger impressive images. What an incredible night. Wow factor.
5. Rosetta - Crown
Rosetta at Crown is part of Neil Perry's stable of restaurants and is a place of finery and all things Italian. It began with lower score on Urbanspoon maybe due to teething issues but our experience here was top notch and it's well patronised.
The decor and fit out at Rosetta is artistic and upmarket as one would expect for a 2 hatted dining experience...
Neil Perry spoke to us about his successful 17 year association with Qantas. This was another avenue of the partnership with Qantas moving further into the restaurant sector. After all, Frequent Flyer customers are typically those who dine at popular restaurants - so this is a perfect match.
We enjoyed a selection of Antipasti that captured the best of Italy. The Prosciutto Fratelli Galloni with nectarine and hazelnuts was delightful - the prosciutto being a top grade prosciutto with superior air drying processes. And the advent of seasonality with nectarine, especially on a scorching Melbourne day, was welcome. The hazelnuts brought a pleasing crunch to the equation.
House made ricotta (above) with wood roasted tomatoes struck me as Italian comfort food with finesse.
Yellowfin tuna with roast tomatoes, garlic and lemon was a highlight of the Antipasti. The Yellowfin tuna was prepared crudo or ceviche style, with a dressing of oil and lemon in the Italian way. The small elements of tomatoes and garlic complemented perfectly, and I abandoned myself to garlic flavours knowing I would be returning to my office in Docklands in due course, but not planning to meet clients.
Also pleasing was this Fried squid and zucchini, with Rosetta revelling in the fact zucchini's are fresh and in season right now. The combination of fresh squid and seasonal zucchini was irresistable. As we dined, we were asked to go around the room and introduce ourselves. The group included Janne Apelgren Editor of The Age Good Food Guide and Epicure Editor, Nick Shelton the Publisher and Founder of Broadsheet Media, Matteo Pignatelli industry icon from acclaimed Matteo's Restaurant, Dave Schiene from Yelp, Frank Wilden Restaurant Consultant, Michael Nocella and Mark Moran from Dimmi, and delightful Qantas senior management Stephanie Tully and Amanda Bolger.
And then when firmly entrenched in the Italian comfort food zone, I received a large beautifully cooked meatball from the waiter. It felt like an embrace from my Nonna, such was the comfort factor. Meat balls baked in tomato sauce was a voluptuous and great completion of our Antipasta.
Rosetta delivered with the Primi Di Pasta, namely the Spaghetti with zucchini, chilli and prosciutto. I was excited to see prosciutto make a return to the table, and this dish was again rustic and indulgent with more hugs by Nonna. Perfectly cooked spaghetti combined wonderfully with the prosciutto and the seasonal fresh zucchini. I could devour loads of this...
Gazing out the large windows at Rosetta I started to daydream about my Frequent Flyer points climbing as I continue to wine and dine around Australia. With the hope of enough points to enable a visit to culinary Spain or Italy... Ahhh yes!
Sitting next to me was a delightful Qantas flight attendant (oops didn't get her name), who also worked as part of the Frequent Flyer promotional team. I told her I've been a Frequent Flyer for years, usually Silver, and never quite achieving Gold. But I've loved the Frequent Flyer program, worth about 3 billion dollars to Qantas, in enabling me to travel even more expansively - having visited around 40 countries.
Rosetta kept up the high standard in the Secondi with this Wood fire roasted chicken with panzanella salad. The Tuscan salad of bread and tomatoes is a perfect summer salad. The chicken was juicy and brimming with wood oven flavour.
The Charcoal grilled King George Whiting served with braised zucchini, garlic and basil was compelling. Rosetta kept to its theme of honouring the key ingredient, in this case the whiting, by not overcomplicating. The theme of fresh zucchini as an accompaniment was also pleasing.
A cheery salad and crunchy hand cut chips added to the satisfaction.
Rosetta then surprised with its Petit Fours of Canoli di Ricotta and Pesche con Crema di Ricotta. The canoli had us reeling with its citrus flavours being outstanding. The doughnut was also top notch with an explosion of ricotta and fine dough. With a macchiato it was the perfect way to round off our lunch.
6. Spice Temple - Crown
Spice Temple is an iconic fine dining restaurant in the Crown Complex in Melbourne that serves sophisticated cuisine that expresses spice nuances of the highest order.
Spice Temple teaches us that spice is not just about heat but balance and subtleties of flavour. It challenges notions of Cantonese sme old same old dishes and breaks out with imaginative dishes that salute regional China.
Neil Perry is the mastermind behind Spice Temple and he knows how to celebrate a cuisine and bring standout flair, as well as deliver a fine dining experience. While we celebrate Chinatown, this is no Chinatown. It's about finery.
Spice Temple boasts a top notch fit out with excellent use of timber slats, modern decor, window overlooking the Yarra and boulevard, and even incense aromas.
The ambience was of a silky restaurant. I would describe Spice Temple as spicy and silky.
The World Loves Melbourne visited on a weeknight as soon as the doors opened at 6pm. Greeted by several wait staff upon entry I was escorted by an upbeat wait staff member to my table. From the "get go" the service here is brilliant. Greeted upon arrival - tick. Escorted to table - tick. Explanations and drink order soon after arriving - tick.
Spice Temple has an extensive win elist but I had a penchant for beer this particular evening. I consider spicy cuisine and beer to complement each other well.
Spice Temple has developed several famous dishes that thrill. The King Prawn wontons with aged black vinegar dressing make an immediate impression in terms of presentation and your first foray into the spicy sauce that imbibes this dish. The wontons themselves are beautiful and the style and filling first class. Thin and elegant wontons. The dish was generous - although I was eating a shared dish by myself (I'm no stranger to that).
The combination of flavours and balance was impressive. Dancing on the tongue this dish was to be savoured. I felt a compulson to consume the spicy sauce almost as a soup. Apparently I'm not the first to do so. Soon my lips were burning but I wasn't deterred. Sizhuan peppers and chilli bringing the heat.
The casing on the wontons was also perfect, not too thick.
Spice Temple is also famous for its numbing dishes. After the numbing bliss of the Prawn wontons I wondered at my ability to imbibe the Hot and numbing crispy duck. My decision, to order a half duck after a solid intital course of the wontons, meant this was to be an indulgent night. I was also keen to try the Hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork with chilli, sugar, black vinegar and Sichuan peppercorn for another time.
Spice Temple also delivered with the Chinese broccoli with house made oyster sauce as the perfect accompaniment to the duck.
Says the website -
For a simple dessert I chose the White chocolate, blackcurrant and peanut candy bar. I wanted to go for the Three milk cake with pomegranate and pistachios but just couldn't do it. I was satiated by rich and substantial spicy dishes and struggled to face a large dessert. The candy bar was perfect.
Spice Temple also have a banquet menu and cater for Chinese New Year. Highly recommended.
7. Huxtable - Smith St
Huxtable rises above the pack and is a stellar Melbourne restaurant that soars into the stratosphere. Daniel Wilson owner and chef is a genius. You won't find the "fake" and the "forced" at Huxtable. The philosophy according to Daniel is to cook the best food that he loves to share with special people. That's the philosophy. In his words, "life is too short for mediocrity in the mouth."
Huxtable has already received the acclaim of international culinary giant Heston Blumenthal. The story goes that he visited Huxtable soon after touching down at Tullamarine. He and his friends arrived unannounced and sampled a good deal of the menu. It is told Heston was full of praise for Daniel and the Huxtable team.
And that's the thing about Huxtable. International culinary giants visit this place. They have heard of the amazing flavour profiles in the dishes. For example the Croquettes include the kick and heat of Jallapenos. But not too much kick - just enough. The creaminess of the Croquettes are enhanced by the cheddar cheese component. So moorish.
Huxtable was awarded a hat in the latest The Age Good Food Guide. Had one of the best ever Saturday afternoons here engaging with kitchen staff. That's another point of difference. Whereas other venues shun engagement - at Huxtable it's a joy to sit at the counter in front of the open kitchen and engage the staff. Sublime.
Many wonder, is there a connection to the Huxtables of the sitcom The Cosby Show? Talking with Daniel Wilson the identification was more with Huxley's "Brave New World" than the Cosby Show. This is a brave new culinary world. Envelopes are pushed but everything works in the most magnificent way. Inevitably people will connect the restaurant to the Cosby's. And so the design of Huxtable brings in the muted 70s feel of the Cosby show. It embraces an element of "homeliness" to the dining experience - you feel you're dining in someone's home. Even the brick features of the Cosby home are incorporated. It's also an ambience that is very Melbourne.
My favourite dining spot at Huxtable is along the counter to engage with the kitchen staff. The whole team are stars and are recognised in their own right. The ambience is so cool with loud reggae music being drowned out only by the hipster collective in the room. The decor is chic adding to the ambience. Everyone talks about the cool brown swivel chairs in the dining room and rightly so. They work for me, as you tend to slouch a little as the meal progresses into a state of fine dining bliss. The décor has that very Melbourne mismatch fusion between retro and uber modern.
Huxtable is a restaurant where nearly every dish is a signature popular dish. As Daniel says, if not it is taken off the menu. Style comes together with creativity and imagination. The olives are great not just because they are exceptional olives but the tangy sauce they are in is superb.Also some quality bread and butter to start. Wine is by the glass and includes an interesting mix of nations.
The mains are spectacular, divided into sea, land and earth. We ordered several shared meals – always love this form of dining as we bring community to the cuisine.
The Twice cooked Wagyu with Vermicelli salad (a thai element), tamarind, mint and peanuts is sensational.
The Korean BBQ Pork ribs are one of the best renditions of pork in Melbourne, coming with a Spicy Slaw and chilli gherkin.
Another superb dish is the Warm salad of sweetcorn, black beans, with chipotle and lime creme fraiche. A great dish for winter you just want more of.
The crisp NZ King Salmon with polmelo and peanut and chilli salad is simply amazing. The crispy crusted skin on the salmon and the way it was tenderly cooked is outstanding. The accompanying salad is perfect bringing crunch and freshness to match the salmon.
For dessert the Ice cream and fudge sandwich is super popular and iconic. The Rhubarb jam donuts are crazy good, with orange blossom custard and yoghurt sorbet. Watching the chef inject the donuts with the jam from a syringe was a highlight.
Service was excellent with water being poured into our glasses every 5 minutes and great knowledge, attitude and attentiveness. The staff are professional, knowledgeable and keen to serve. Possibly the best service in Melbourne.
Appealing is the philosophy of Huxtable as per their website: “Huxtable is a place where anyone can come and enjoy great tasting, uncomplicated food matched with wine and beverages that express consideration and experimentation delivered in an environment that is comfortable and easy to use.” Still on a Huxtable high.
8. Maha - Bond St CBD
The night began with sourdough bread and this crimson Hibiscus tea. Sweet and refreshing the palate. The dishes to follow were not to be shared (that's the Soufra) but we each received the respective dishes separately. The Sommelier was on song with his recommendations of wine of the Italian variety and we opted for a McLaren Vale Sangiovese/Cabernet blend.
Maha impressed from the get go with this exquisite Chicken kibbeh, jamon butter, corn and coconut, flowers and cresses. To our amazement this was actually a soup. The dish was amazing with infusion of hamon and buttery tones of corn and coconut, along with fresh ingredients to the fore and the tasty meatball. With a sense of theatre the waiter poured the corn and coconut broth over the plate... What a dish! The best soup I've ever had methinks. And I contained my urge to lick the plate...
Interestingly my wife and I both remarked we'd be happy to leave now and pay $300 after the soup, bread and wine...
Maha then delivered again with White miso, scallops, smashed potatoes and Lebanese cress. The scallop was perfectly cooked but it was the foam that stole the show. This saffron and seafood foam was stellar. The potato was a brilliant accompaniment and it all worked.
Maha had been featuring a dude food week and we were treated to these Armenian Ma'hani lamb sausage stuffed chicken wings with sour sherry bbq sauce above and Shane's version of Beirut lamb pizza below (with chips in the middle). We really enjoyed these offerings for their inventiveness as well as taste. Have to say I loved the sherry sauce with those stuffed chicken wings. And the Beirut pizza was like a top notch souvlaki.
Maha then produced the dish of the night, the Boat smugglers stew with prawn filled snapper, pork belly, tamarind, saffron and tomato - and Nigella flat bread. A showstopper. The story goes that Shane met a boat smuggler in Iran and was able to dine at the smugglers house. In a small kitchen this smuggler produced an extraordinary meal that Shane translated to his restaurant.
Pork and snapper? You bet! The unusual combination worked superbly well with stew that had some kick. I could eat masses of this.
Maha then served us Seven spiced rangers valley wagyu rump cap marble score 9+, tahini mayo, black beans, beetroot and barberries. Quality wagyu with excellent accompaniments such as tangy mayo and earthy flavours of black beans and beetroot.
The signature dish of Maha is the 12 hour roast lamb shoulder, pistachio and green olive tabouleh. It stays on the menu and is so popular (have a feeling the Boat smugglers stew is also vying for permanent status). Succulent lamb (with some of the fat I'm glad to say) and tasty yoghurt is so soulful and satisfying. The tabouleh is sexy and the dish can only be enhanced by a squeeze of lemon.
We were also served the Milk fed veal cutlet, smoked freekah, eggplant, awarma, and kefalograviera. This veal was so rich in flavour. For tonight this dish also featured Yarra Valley cheese.
The pilaf rice was also exceptional, with aleppo pepper, coriander and noodles..
And the Fattouche salad was delectable. Sauteed greens, tahini, sweet soy, mushroom and roasted shallots.
Loved this salad with sumac, tomato, cucumber, mint, leaves and roast garlic. So refreshing.
Maha had been spectacular until this point. And the desserts dind't diminish the quality. Check out the Turkish delight doughnuts below with rosewater honey and walnuts. So moorish with quality turkish delight.
The pomegranate ice cream served with sumac and pomegranate foam was spectacular. Gels and foams.
This restaurant targets all the 5 senses - the food has varying exciting textures, the flavours are strong and wholesome and expertly balanced, the visual appeal is strong here in terms of food presentation and restaurant ambience, there is a cool sound of music and conviviality, and the fragrance of the food but also the permeating Middle Eastern incense.
One of the attractive dining spaces at Maha is this lounge area...
Maha is a consistently hatted restaurant (The Age Good Food Guide) and I'm keen to return to soon. The team here provides exceptional service and this includes the little touches such as repeated cleaning of our table, explanation of dishes, recommendations, turkish fragrance for the hands and a small sample of tea on departure. Having eaten many times in the Middle East I can vouch for that explosion of freshness, subtle marinade and perfectly slow cooked meat, and imaginative dishes. Highly recommended.
9. Movida - Hosier Lane
MoVida Bar De Tapas is a 2 hatted Spanish sensation that many claim to be better than the food in Spain. A big call but MoVida does invoke international acclaim. Several years after Frank Camorra's masterstroke in opening MoVida it still wows and is one of the best places to take international guests.
MoVida is a cosy intimate affair with a degree of chic. The long bar area is sensational. One of the best ways of experiencing MoVida is to do what I did and sit at the timber bar and engage the staff. In fact this is one of my favourite things to do in any restaurant. I settled in for lunch on a sun filled Melbourne day...
You are struck by the art on the walls, the funky lighting, intimate tables, large blackboard with menu choices, ambient music, open kitchen,and just the sheer business of the place. Watching the staff is a treat as they move quickly to satisfy the many guests. This restaurant fills quickly. And the staff are all engaging and professional. You are dealing with a level of dining sophistication.
MoVida has some famous standout dishes. Being a lover of tapas I was keen to taste several of their well known offerings. Check out this delicate sublime Hand-filleted Cantabrian Artisan Anchovy on Crouton with Smoked Tomato Sorbet. Too good. Close your eyes and hear a symphony. The balance was amazing. A hit of salt from the anchovy offset by the tomato sorbet, together with the crunch of the crouton. The MoVida website tells us this dish was inspired by the Basque Bar culture. Anchovies are big business on the northern coastline of Spain and this dish combines their saltiness with a hit of tangy salty tomato. The recipe is even on their website at http://movida.com.au/movida/
The Spanish are known for their croquettes and MoVida delivers with this Squid Ink Croquette wrapped in Cuttlefish, black salt and a delicate aoli. I was tempted to pick this up with my fingers but sanely opted for my fork... The Croquette had that crispness on the outside and super creamy in the middle.
Perhaps my favourite was the Spicy chicken above with a hit of Tabasco and a trace of carrot... And it looks great like all the tapas at MoVida... The chicken was creamy with the right amount of spice and superb with the thin crouton.
MoVida certainly excels when it comes to the visual. This dish of House Cold Smoked Spanish Mackerel with Pine Nut Gazpacho Sorbet came in a pot and when the lid was lifted there was a spectacular burst of vapour.
After four amazing tapas I chose the larger signature Cecina from the raciones selection - Air-dried Wagyu with Poached Organic Egg and Truffle Foam. This was again great theatre with sensational cuisine to back it up. The staff bring out this incredible looking dish then proceed to combine the egg and the foam before your eyes with a fork.
Then the wagyu is folded over the top...
Until it is completely folded as below - ready to enjoy with knife and fork...
How good was this? There was a lighness inside of egg and foam to contrast the fine and rich wagyu meat. Wow factor.
Even the bill at MoVida is presented well... As part of Bread For Change deal you pay an extra $1 for bread to help the homeless.
Movida is a place that offers fine dining but not in a stuffy way. It's an intimate space so it's more for singles, couples or small groups - but not for large groups. MoVida Aqui is a larger venue for that. In fact the dream has grown to include a stable of MoVida, MoVida Next Door, MoVida Aqui, MoVida Bakery, Paco's Tacos, Bar Pulpo at Tullermarine and MoVida Sydney.
Check out the artistic entrance...
MoVida is located in one of the greatest gems of Melbourne - Hosier Lane. MoVida impresses at every level from visual presentation, creativity, sophistication of the cuisine, great wine list (half are Spanish) and the engaging service... David Roberts is an incredible head chef. You can even purchase some great books and access the recipes yourself. Still one of Melbourne's best.
10. Attica - Ripponlea
What a place for a date! Attica is a stunning hub of creativity and is rated the 32nd restaurant in the world by San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best restaurants. The World Loves Melbourne enjoyed a Chef’s Table evening at Attica, having to respond to a late cancellation or risk waiting another few months to secure a table. In a city of hot tickets, this is the hottest ticket! Perfect for a date you will be surprised, inspired and impressed by the food, service and overall experience of Attica!
Ben Shewry, the inspiration behind Attica is a softly spoken genius whose ethos is to make the food and the fine dining experience centre stage. In an industry of large egos, Ben Shewry is refreshing as a focussed visionary who manages to keep evolving. The passion here is for sustainability, natural and native ingredients and modern food techniques.
Ben Shewry has had a perceived meteroric rise to fame, but his roots are humble on the farms of New Zealand where he cultivated a passion for cooking from an early age. After moving to Australia Ben took on the reins of Attica in the burbs with a vision for ground breaking cuisine but also a keen eye on the economics.
Attica soon received wide acclaim and jettisoned to number 21 in the World’s 50 Restaurants. According to Ben Shewry this was not through fad or fortune but through “brutal hard work” and famous signature dishes gained traction such as “Snow crab” and the “Potato cooked in the earth it has grown”.
Ben Shewry and his team inspire the creative side of us all by the kitchen process and formation of dishes. The World Loves Melbourne was taken to the Attica testing kitchen out the back by one of the chefs Matthew, who told us how the team arrives early on Tuesdays to hear the new ideas from Ben. The Attica team then spends hours making the dishes that are in Ben’s imagination. Ben asks the chef sto create the new dishes; then sends them back to the chefs with corrections and additions until they get it right.
It’s like a band meeting where Keith Richards gets a riff and Mick adds the lyric. (Or translate to say Dave Guetta and dance beats). The chefs have only a matter of hours before the Chef’s Table dinner service to perfect dishes they’ve never seen before. Even hearing about this causes The World Loves Melbourne to identify with the sweat and pressure of the process. But this process keeps the restaurant constantly evolving.