The Melbourne Supremacy
Sydney may win the beauty contest, but Victoria’s capital is Australia’s undisputed culinary champ. Here’s where to drink and dine when Down Under.
Where to Graze
There are two must-visit markets to pick over in Melbourne: The traditional and ginormous Queen Victoria Market and the quaint The Slow Food Farmer’s Market located on the grounds of the bucolic Abbotsford Convent. Bonus: Before you go, be sure to pick up The Field Guide to Victorian Produce, by Ewan McEoin (Quirk Books, 2004). It’ll tip you off on what’s in season and offers easy-to-whip-up-in-a-hotel-kitchen recipes from locavore chefs.
Where to Eat
At The Aylesbury, both menu and atmosphere encourage sharing, with dishes like beet-and-melon salad with fromage blanc, pickled baby grapes and crunchy wild rice. The barnlike timbers and rustic stone walls at Hare & Grace don’t prepare you for the über-modern presentations, like roasted king mushrooms with a luscious parmesan jam on a cushion of finely ground almonds and coffee. Fitzrovia speaks a sunny Mediterranean argot. Be sure to order the citrus-cured snapper panzanella. The fresh-caught fish comes with delectable slivers of asparagus, fennel and pepper, sauced with a tongue-tingling gazpacho. At pricey Cutler & Co., mind-bending texture and flavor mash ups rule the day, like the popular smoked and fried duck with morcilla, carrot and—wait for it—gingerbread. Sunday’s $120 brunch is the bargain here. It includes wines, five small courses plus a main dish and dessert, all with crisply expert service. Culinary seriousness and fierce localism belie the boho feel of The Commoner. The order: Grilled barramundi and roasted octopus—its juices reduced for sauce—with foraged beach greens.
Where to Drink
The Everleigh, which exudes old Manhattan swank, has bartenders with encyclopedic knowledge. Darkly glamorous Eau de Vie (eaudevie.com.au) passionately reinterprets classics. The hardbound menu at 1806 tells the history of cocktails with corresponding drinks. City Wine Shop has extensive by-the-glass choices, sidewalk tables, intimate indoor seating and inspired bistro fare. Unpretentious Gerald’s Bar (no Web site, it’s truly a local secret), with its packrat-meets-country pub aesthetic, captures Melbourne’s serendipity. Opening-hour patrons pick which wine to pour. Whenever the bottle empties, the next guest gets to choose a new one: Exploration, Australian-style.