An insider's guide to Melbourne

An insider's guide to Melbourne

Hidden gems

Text: Amelia Chia

Image: Photos courtesy of the respective establishments and Tim Grey

Sandwiched in between Melbourne’s hidden laneways are the best cafes, restaurants and shops the world has to offer

Blink and you'll miss it. Melbourne's finest almost requires a little hide-and-seek. You might even lose your bearings along the way, but to the locals, this is precisely why their storied city is that bit more charming.

Melburnians love their food, and have plenty of reason to. With the freshest produce and top talent baristas, Melbourne wins hands down when it comes to all things brunch and fusion fare, both practically a religion here. The most Instagrammed cafes are tucked away in a nondescript warehouse or chucked down obscure laneways, but inside, you'll find a stream of boisterous chatter and roasting coffee beans to keep up with an ever-growing coffee menu. There's no such thing as "I would like to order a coffee please," in Melbourne — you can expect blank stares. But there is a subtle nod of approval when you call for a soy latte, skinny flat white or chai latte, extra hot.

The Kettle Black

Chefs are the ultimate creative cats here. Forget the usual Eggs Benny and spoil your taste buds with the likes of chilli scrambled eggs mixed in with feta, or red velvet pancakes topped with a hunk of black sesame ice cream.

If Brooklyn, New York, is home to the ultimate hipster, Melbourne comes a very close second. The city is overpopulated with variations of black, denim, skinny jeans, tote bags and sneakers. While men sport several tattoos and a full beard, the ladies are all about bangs and burgundy lipstick. Both genders are undying fans of thick-rimmed spectacles and sunglasses.

So here are my top haunts to see and be seen — with of course, the promise of great food and fashion.

Chin Chin

Chin Chin, Melbourne CBD
125 Flinders Lane

This Southeast Asian fusion restaurant is practically an institution with a table wait time of anywhere between two and five hours. Is it worth the hype? Yes, if you're after rich, hearty flavours that you're likely to never forget. Try the caramelised sticky pork served with chilli vinegar and a sour herb salad, or the masaman curry filled with coconut-braised beef. If you're like me and want the best of everything, go for the inventive "Feed Me" menu, where Chin Chin's chefs whip up their top dishes for your table.

Top Paddock

Top Paddock, Richmond
658 Church Street

Proof that Melbourne does brunch best. Expect the finest coffee alongside sizeable and colourful food servings. My personal favourites include the Top Paddock, a medley of savoury breakfast delights, and their blueberry and ricotta hotcakes — drizzled with berries, organic maple syrup, seeds and double cream. 

Messina Melbourne

Brunswick & Smith Street, Fitzroy 

These parallel streets are a vibrant, quirky mix of local designer boutiques, multi-ethnic restaurants, florists, second hand shops, art galleries and cafés. You'll be all for people-watching here as the pedestrians traipsing along are a similarly eclectic mix. When you're done and dusted, don't forget to check in at my certified gelato heaven, Messina. 

The Kettle Black

The Kettle Black, South Melbourne
50 Albert Road

When a café is decked out in marble, gold and lots of natural light, it certainly draws a crowd. Add to that delicately plated food and flavours, and you'll find a line forming even on a Monday afternoon. Expect touches of luxury in your food with their usual sprinkling of edible flowers and leaves. 

Bul, Armadale

High Street, Armadale 

Known not only for its row of fancy bridal shops, High Street in Armadale wins hands down for the most gorgeous local designer stores in Melbourne. Typically spacious, it feels more like a fashion gallery where floor-to-ceiling windows let streams of sunlight in. My must-gos? Bul (pictured above), Josh Goot, Acne Studios and Scanlan & Theodore.

The Everleigh

The Everleigh, Fitzroy
156/150 Gertrude Street

This is arguably the swankiest cocktail bar in Melbourne. Designed like a speakeasy from the 1920s, gentlemen in suits and ladies in little black dresses are a dime a dozen here. Perfect for an after-dinner drink, simply tell the bartender your preferred fruits, flavours and spirits and let them concoct a dream for you.

Coda, Melbourne

Coda, Melbourne CBD
141 Flinders Lane 

Fresh ingredients and innovation come into play at Coda, a modern Australian restaurant hidden down the stylish end of Flinders Lane. Elegance and attention to detail are key to their plates here, be it scallop, quail or ocean trout. You'll be hankering for more. 


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