Food and Travel hand-picks some of the best hotspots you should bookmark in Melbourne’s CBD.
Sydney may have its beaches and impossibly photogenic vistas, but Melbourne is easily Australia’s buzzing, vibrant cultural capital. (Don’t get me wrong, I adore Sydney). Melbourne, though, with its rich heritage and neo-classical architecture, with its sense of insouciance and effortlessly cool vibe is the sort of city where you you’ll always find yourself returning from, inspired and enriched.
A busy calendar of events means there’s always something going on here – including some of Australia’s most prestigious events, from the annual horseracing shindig the Melbourne Cup that becomes a nationwide event, to acclaimed events such as comedy and food festivals – so finding seasonal things to do here is easy.
As is finding great coffee. Coffee is like a religion here, and there are so many places dedicated to the ultimate ‘long black’ or ‘flat white’ that I won’t get into that here (another time, perhaps). But what I will do is tell you where you should be going to eat, sleep, and sightsee on your next trip to the Victorian capital. The best bit is, it’s all within a few kilometres’ radius, in the heart of the city.
Because this is the sort of city where you want to feel like a local, so follow my insider guide to not stick out like a touristy sore thumb!
WHERE TO STAY
To make the most of a Melbourne visit, basing yourself in the Central Business District (CBD), is key. And Hotel Lindrum is positioned right within the beating heart of the city. This M Gallery by Sofitel property (part of the Accor Group) perfectly marries boutique chic with chain-hotel standards.
Steeped in history, the Romanesque Revival-style building has formerly housed a tea shop, a printing press, and most recently a snooker hall – which is what it owes it nomenclature to, the record-breaking billiards player Walter Lindrum.
The hotel’s design pays homage to its legacy in various subtle ways, including the billiards table that takes pride of place in the cosy library bar, and the naming of its sunlight-drenched breakfast room and restaurant, Felt (worth visiting for the Smashed avocado alone!). In the rooms, it is all contemporary classic elegance, with neutral colours and sumptuous beds providing the ideal haven to retreat into after a long day of culture vulture-ing. www.hotellindrum.com.au
Probably Melbourne’s most celebrated boutique hotel – and its only Design Hotel – the Adelphi, as it is affectionately known, oozes a stylish, sexy vibe that fits right in with its location within spitting distance of all the shopping, dining and cultural allures of the CBD.
Even though the building, a former warehouse, dates back to 1938, and the hotel itself has had a chequered history, its design, masterminded by Fady Hachem, is thoroughly bold and modern. With just 34 rooms, this is intimate luxury at its best. Luxe materials, striking art, and quirky touches come together to create a unique hotel experience – from the oversized wireframe horse greeting you at reception, to the free in-room snack bar.
The hotel is also home to Om Nom Kitchen & Dessert bar (see Where to eat) but its piece de resistance has to be its architecturally intriguing rooftop pool – part of it is cantilevered to float ‘mid-air’ over Flinders Lane. www.adelphi.com.au
WHERE TO EAT
Dinner by Heston
Melbourne’s rich, varied and innovative food scene has garnered gushing praise around the world, which is probably why it should come as no surprise that one of the world’s greatest chefs and food scientists should make this city a second home, and the spot for his first restaurant outside the UK. The world’s second Dinner by Heston is grounded in the same historic inspiration as the London venue, but also draws upon Anglo-Australian heritage for its innovative menu.
Tucked away in an unlikely corner of the Crown Resorts complex – the Fat Duck pop-up was located here too – the restaurant provides an elegant escape from the hustle and bustle outside, with views of the Yarra river to take your breath away as soon as you walk in through its dark wood doors. Inside too, clean, classical rich wood and leather interiors reference old-school gentility, with smooth, refined service to match. Heritage meets hi-tech here, with glass panels affording clear views of the working kitchen where, alongside new-age equipment and a well-oiled machine of a team, vintage pulley-operated spit roasts take centrestage; a mechanical moving art piece, a tribute to the watchmakers of Greenwich who created these spit roasts for the Royal Court, set right by the kitchen proves a mesmerising distraction.
Dining here is an interactive experience, and the staff is great at providing menu recommendations to suit individual preferences, and explaining the dishes – just as well, as the menu can read like an obscure history book, with the sources of origin of each dish, dated between the 1300s to the 1800s, explained on the reverse.
A dish such as the Salamagundy, for instance (succulent chicken oysters with braised radish, flavour-rich marrow bone, and horseradish cream providing a subtle kick), owes its origin to a cookery book from 1720. The Rice and flesh, on the other hand, features curried kangaroo tail, alongside saffron and amaranth, as a nod to Dinner’s Australian locale.
Not to be missed are his iconic dishes such as Meat fruit (inspired by a 15th century dish), a signature Heston creation where chicken liver parfait is conjured into something that looks exactly like a glossy mandarin picked straight from the tree, complete with stem and leaves – mopped up with their homemade bread, it is mouthwatering – and Tipsy cake, where the humble pineapple is spit-roasted, and served with a fluffy yet syrupy brioche.
Each dish, in fact, is a revelation of both history and flavours, with layer upon layer of intricate detail unraveling an artistry that can only come from a mind as creative as Heston’s – ably assisted by his executive chef Ashley Palmer-Watts of course.
Wash it all down with some bespoke cocktails that match the food step for step in creativity, and you’ll leave with a memorable meal that you can dine out on (pun intended) for a long time. www.dinnerbyheston.com.au
Om Nom Dessert Kitchen & Bar
Housed in the trendy Adelphi Hotel, this slice of paradise for sweet-philes takes desserts to the next level. Acclaimed pastry chef Joanne Ward creates molecular gastronomy concoctions with unexpected flavours and a healthy dose of whimsy – think Omnom Chocnut bomb, with peanut butter parfait, chocolate coated rice bubbles (yes, really!), raspberry fluid gel, dehydrated chocolate mousse; and Granny Smith’s pannacotta party, in which a wobbly vanilla pannacotta pairs perfectly with green apple jelly, sorbet, compressed green apple, lime and green tea meringue, and white chocolate aero.
While the quirky mind-bending desserts are definitely the highlight – where else can you indulge in a dessert degustation? – Om Nom also offers a delicious savoury menu, with lots of little bites ideal for grazing over some of their inspired cocktails. www.omnom.kitchen
Also located in Flinders Lane is this achingly hip Asian-inspired eatery from respected Melbourne restaurateur Andrew McConnell. The restaurant ticks all the trend boxes – slick, minimalist canteen-style décor with communal seating options alongside booths; open kitchen; and yes, hipster wait staff. There’s even a Japanese snack vending machine and a karaoke room downstairs for those inclined! Traditional Asian dishes and ingredients – mainly Japanese, Korean, with a hint of Chinese – are made unmistakably modern, with big, punchy flavours and a sharing-style concept. Clearly, it’s in its superlative food that Supernormal really lives up to its name. www.supernormal.net.au
WHERE TO GO
One of the easiest ways of getting around Melbourne’s main attractions is an experience in and of itself – the vintage Citycircle tram, which runs in a loop around the city centre and nearby areas (including City museum, Princess theatre, the Docklands, and the Etihad stadium). These well-preserved historic trams come with audio commentary on the main sights and landmarks, as well as full-of-character guides on-board, and best of all – it’s absolutely free to ride on its hop-on-hop-off network. Which is probably why, while clearly aimed at visitors, you are just as likely to bump into a newspaper-reading local as you are a camera-toting tourist on board. If you only hop off at any one destination, make it the historic Queen Victoria Market to discover fresh produce, food halls, and flea market finds.
Street art in the CBD
Melbourne’s CBD, with its convenient grid-like structure, is designed for walking around in, soaking up the vibe, exploring its many riches – from galleries and cafes to boutiques and ateliers, it’s all here. A good place to anchor yourself from is the bustling Federation Square – if there was ever a true heart of the city, this must be it – which plays host to a regular roster of cultural events and activations.
From here, start your explorations, taking in the varied historic architecture to discover another attraction in the city’s narrow, atmospheric laneways – awe-inspiring street art. Hosier Lane is now established as graffiti central, where a constantly changing colourful canvas now draws tour groups even. While it is definitely worth checking out, make an effort to walk around some of the quieter back streets to stumble upon new discoveries and ever more quirky art.
National Gallery of Victoria
The creative arts are a well-entrenched part of the fabric of this city. A movement rooted in the 1850s when the wealthy southern state attracted European artists in the droves, enhanced by support from a government with cultural ambitions, has bloomed into a city throbbing in culture today. While you’re never too far from getting an art fix in Melbourne, a visit to the NGV’s Ian Potter Centre in central Federation Square is essential. This, the younger sibling of the main NGV, located on St Kilda Road, is a striking modernist building that stands out as one of the city’s well-recognised landmarks. Here, not only can you discover the rich legacy of Australian art, including the vibrant indigenous art, but also an enviable collection of international artists and travelling exhibitions. Art lovers should also not miss the main NGV museum, which houses permanent as well as pop-up exhibits of leading international artists.
HOW TO GET THERE
Etihad Airways offers twice daily flights between Abu Dhabi and Melbourne, with convenient timing options.
Living up to its five-star reputation, the premium class cabins ensure the ultimate luxury on the long-haul route, with fully flat-bed seats (with plenty of room to stash away your things and feel right at home), on demand entertainment includes the latest movies, and gourmet dining. The layout is designed so that most seats afford complete privacy and direct aisle access.
Etihad’s thoughtful ‘Dine anytime’ menu allows guests to tailor their mealtimes according to their individual preferences – whether it’s fuelling up at the start of the flight for a work marathon, or waking up after a restful sleep to a hearty meal. The four-course a la carte menu can include chef-worthy delicacies like beef tenderloin with fondant potato, asparagus, tomatoes, peppercorn sauce; pappardelle pasta with tomatoes, basil, olive tapenade and Parmesan; as well as regional specialties such as Gulf prawn biryani, to cater to all tastes, rounded off with a cheese board, and desserts such as Black Forest tart with micro sponge and caramel cigar; then again, it is up to you how much or how little you want to eat.
A delicious selection of all-day bites –perfect for a pre-landing breakfast – can range from a spread such as chive omelette with beef Cumberland sausage, tomato and hash brown, to a quick steak sandwich or a fruit smoothie. Washed down with a well-curated drinks list and gourmet teas and coffees, it’s the sort of in-flight food that you actually look forward to!
Ticket prices start at approximately $5,100 for business class & $1,375 for economy www.etihad.com.
WORDS BY: SUDESHNA GHOSH
IMAGES TOURISM AUSTRALIA, FOOD & TRAVEL