It’s hard to pin one particular tag on the food in Melbourne; it’s too diverse. From cool coffee shops to classic Italian bistros, authentic Thai street food to and molecular gastronomy inspired eateries, Melbourne’s cuisine is bound to have something to satisfy your tastebuds.
Having access to excellent local produce helps keep costs down, so it’s easy to find surprisingly affordable restaurants in Melbourne run by world-class chefs. And there are a lot of them since the city of Melbourne is often referred to as the culinary capital of Australia. Many of the top chefs who have set up shop here have trained overseas in Michelin-starred restaurants, bringing their skill and culinary knowledge to this little corner of the world.
Of course, Melbourne was a leader in the food stakes long before celebrity chefs and their outlets became fashionable. The wineries scattered around the outlying regions of the city have been established since the 1800s. Queen Vic Market has been trading since the late 1800s, and immigrants to the city have left their own distinguished mark on its food culture.
Immigrant Effect on Melbourne Cuisine
An influx of immigrants to Melbourne in the 1950s brought with it European, Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines, which have influenced and enriched the city’s vibrant restaurant culture. It has made eating out in Victoria’s capital a truly global affair.
Although migrants landed all over Australia, the majority of Greek and Italian immigrants settled in Melbourne. The Europeans couldn’t help but infuse their love of food into the local cuisine. Many grew their own vegetables, made their own tomato sauces and wines, indeed many still do. Like many immigrants to any country they hold on to their old traditions fiercely, while in their homeland times have moved on. Still, these old traditions continue to infiltrate current cooking to the extent that certain dishes with an Italian, Spanish or Greek background are accepted as equally Australian. In fact, the dish Chicken Parmigiana – grilled chicken schnitzel topped with tomato, ham and grilled cheese – is now, without doubt, classed uniquely Australian.
The food and wine in Melbourne is greatly effected by where the immigrants originally settled and these neighborhoods have become synonymous with their corresponding cuisine. So, if you’re looking for Italian, head to Lygon Street; Greek and Turkish restaurants in Sydney Road, Spanish food in Fitzroy, Chinatown in the CBD and all types of Asian eats on Victoria Street.
Old and New Australian Food Culture
One of the highlights for many visiting Melbourne is a trip to the largest open air market in the southern hemisphere, the Queen Victoria Market. Established only six years after Melbourne was settled, the market has a rich and controversial history. It’s now a heritage listed building, and Melburnians protect it passionately.
Sitting on its original site on the corner of Elizabeth Street and Victoria Street, the market offers a variety of fruit, veg, meat, poultry and seafood, but it is equally renowned for its deli section. Gourmet foods – home-grown and imported – are especially tantalizing.
This easy access to good quality produce, mixed with the influence of European cooking traditions and a drive towards more sustainable practices has led to a new direction in Melbourne cuisine: nose-to-tail eating.
If you visit the market in the early hours of the morning you will see many Melbourne chefs picking their produce for the day, with the intention of using it all; leaving nothing to waste. It’s something that many cultures do intrinsically out of necessity, but, until recently, only a handful of restaurants in the city served dishes using the entire animal. The idea may not pander to everyone’s taste, but considering the excellent level of cuisine being served in Melbourne’s restaurants it would make many question why they’ve never done it before.
The European on Spring St is the granddaddy of nose-to-tail eating in Melbourne, and was for many years the only restaurant openly serving this particular type of cuisine. Now a new wave of young chefs are embracing the practice, offering mouth-watering dishes that look far from peasant platters.
If eating noses and tails appeals to your palate, then check out Josie Bones on Smith Street and The Aylesbury on Londsdale Street; both are giving The European a fair run for their money.
Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula Wineries and Produce
Long-time accompaniments to Melbourne’s dining scene are the outstanding, high-quality local wines. Grown mainly in the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula regions, Melbourne’s wines regularly win world-class awards.
In the Yarra Valley, around 70 wineries vie for space in a district that produces some of the best cool climate wines in the southern hemisphere. Neat rows of vines bearing round juicy berries snake across the rolling hills as far as the Great Dividing Range, which runs for 3,500kms from Victoria up to the tip of Queensland.
It’s not all about wine though; the Yarra Valley Regional Food Trail criss-crosses the glen leading to over 100 cafes, restaurants, shops and farms selling local produce, all signposted.
The Mornington Peninsula overlooking Port Philip Bay is also another excellent wine-making region of the state and holds a number of wine festivals over the year to celebrate its viticulture. Around 40 of the wineries have cellar doors open to the public – only a few are by appointment only – and many have fabulous adjoining restaurants where visitors can indulge their taste buds from all angles.
The best way to explore these wonderful wine regions is to take an organised tour. Visit four wineries and have a three-course lunch, with wine tasting, on the Yarra Valley wine and winery tour from Melbourne, or check out a few of the wineries on the Mornington Peninsula Hot Springs and Winery Tour and have lunch after a relaxing dip in the Hot Springs. Taking a tour means you can sit back, relax and experience some of the best food and wine Melbourne has to offer, while you are chauffeured around by your personal driver
Australia may have some amazing natural landscapes and wonderful landmarks worth visiting, but no trip to this exciting country would be complete without tasting what the land can produce. With its abundant local food and wines, varied ethnic influences and vibrant restaurant scene, it’s no wonder Melbourne is dubbed Australia’s culinary capital.