Melbourne's outdoor dining scene is getting bigger and better every summer. From food truck parks to Italian food on the footpath, here's where to slip, slop, snack this summer.
You could practically live at the European, with Siglo upstairs playing to the late-night crowd and this street level restaurant taking all back for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You're facing Parliament, glowing gold at night when theatregoers come for Euro classics like steak tartare. By day, you're shaded by trees when there's champagne and caviar available with your eggs.
161 Spring Street, Melbourne, 03 9654 0811, theeuropean.com.au
Fatto Bar and Cantina
A theatre-abutting restaurant on the touristy edge of the river is typically a recipe for mediocrity, but Fatto backs its Aperol Spritz with surprisingly sharp Italian by chef James Kummrow. Come dusk, the curving leafy terrace sees people fiercely guarding their tables and crab spaghetti, but once the theatres are in session, watching the city light up over mozzarella dressed with anchovies and broad beans can be done in relative peace.
River Terrace, Hamer Hall, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, 03 8698 8800, fatto.com.au
There are good summery times written all over the little courtyard at the upstairs part of Kirk's Wine Bar. Here's the thing: it's not opening formally until March when it will be all about steaks and oysters, but until then you've got the best party space in the city. The arthouse loft with vaulted ceilings and a marble bar has a terrace where you can get an eyeful of the Hardware Lane houses, all turquoise and terracotta with their old-school moving cranes jutting from the roofs.
Corner Hardware Lane & Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, 03 9600 4550, kirkswinebar.com
It's the perfect Melbourne cafe. There's an outdoor area replete with vintage Airstream caravan and stripy umbrellas, and a fake outdoors in the form of a greenhouse for shelter when the rain dumps down. Here you can smash a ping-pong ball into a tinkling fountain, read 50 back copies of The New Yorker and listen to radio series This American Life in the loos. Ploughman's lunches and cakes are a specialty, and coconut juices laced with vodka and grapefruit granita.
87-89 Moor Street, Fitzroy, 03 9419 8991, grubfoodvan.com.au
Move aside, icy poles and hot dogs. The Williamstown beach kiosk has had a Mediterranean makeover and now serves Italian street foods. Cotoletta (crumbed chicken) panini, pizza and gelati brioche have been moved in to the kiosk. Joining panini stuffed with cotoletta and peperonata are cones of battered fish and chips, and frittata. Pizza slices include tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil, and a bianco (white) number adorned with mozzarella and prosciutto.
Williamstown Beach, The Esplanade, Williamstown, 03 9397 6839
Paul Wilson's new Latin American party venue in Brunswick East has a reverse mullet set-up: it's business up the front where you'll order suckling pig and purple corn pavlovas, but for our money you want to be at the party out the back. Here in the evergreen courtyard, all Astroturf and banana palms, a separate bar slings Margaritas thick and fast while the kitchen brings all the food you wanted from the main menu anyway – alpaca burgers, citrusy ceviche and three kinds of guacamole.
175-177 Lygon Street, Brunswick East, 03 9381 0898, ladycarolina.com.au
The Bertoncello brothers grow their own veg, keep their own bees and run one of the most exciting restaurants outside of the city. And now they've branched out with a daytime operation in their kitchen garden. On weekdays only, you'll go in for heavily gussied-up toasties and a tight line-up of the wines currently getting them in a fizz, all while sitting among the geraniums and rocket. Score one for Beaconsfield.
23 Woods Street, Beaconsfield, 03 9769 9000, omyrestaurant.com.au
The courtyard at the back of Carlton's contemporary hero is small, but it comes with the added benefit of full seats (versus the stools inside). It's the place to be for anyone who wants to get their mitts around a glass of natural wine, and chef Dave Verhuel's button-pushing dishes dressed with salt bush, lemon myrtle and skill.
312 Drummond Street, Carlton, 03 9347 3312 thetownmouse.com.au
They've revamped the downstairs bar at Balaclava's mod-Viet bar and diner: good news for south-side drinkers. Upstairs, the light-filled dining room spills onto a stellar all-weather terrace with a rollicking '80s soundtrack. It's share-friendly food all the way – they even do tiny serves of the sparkling pho so that you don't have to limit your good times to one dish from the menu. How considerate is that?
188 Carlisle Street, St. Kilda 03 9041 2668, unclestkilda.com.au
It's a permanent food truck park in an ex-auto yard that's gone from car vendor to carb vendor. Each day up to six trucks drive in and cook up in a sprawling indoor-outdoor premises. Depending on the hour, you'll find Baby Bjorn-wearing new parents blinking in the headlights of Melbourne life, younger bar-hoppers wondering why all the babies are there, and cocktail jug-wielding school mums on a night off. As a concept, it's brilliant, delivering van-eating upside without most of the messy downside.
520 High Street, Northcote, welcometothornbury.com