STEP AWAY FROM THAT SORRY-looking bunch of supermarket flowers… Just because you've missed out on dinner at one of Melbourne's top restaurants doesn't mean you have to let love wilt this Valentine's Day.
Ditch the dinner
If you've left it too late to score a table for dinner at your partner's favourite fine-diner, consider booking breakfast or lunch instead. Slip into the European (161 Spring Street, Melbourne, 9654 0811) for eggs Benedict or the breakfast bruschetta. If you're out to impress, plump for a side of caviar. Nearby, Cumulus Inc (45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, 9650 1445) has you covered with virtuous bircher muesli or the full English. Later in the day, lunch on the ever-popular express menu at Cafe Di Stasio (31 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, 9525 3999), or go all-out with a lavish six-course affair at Jacques Reymond (78 Williams Road, Prahran, 9525 2178), at $120 a head.
Take it away
When nothing but a restaurant-style dinner will do, why not opt for takeaway? Order the signature rotisserie Milawa chicken from PM24 (24 Russell Street, Melbourne, 9207 7424), served with sauteed potatoes and chicken jus, then round things out with a tossed salad and a bottle of chablis. For an at-home Asian banquet, collect lobster rolls, oysters and rustic pork dumplings from Golden Fields (shop 2, 157 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, 9525 4488), or dial up Peking duck and steamed coral trout from Flower Drum (17 Market Lane, Melbourne, 9662 3655). If money is no object, have the chef come to you - seek out a catering company that can prep and cook the meal in your own home.
Trawl South Melbourne or Prahran markets for sourdough, locals cheeses, cured meats and Victorian wine, then take your gourmet loot and your picnic blanket to the Royal Botanic Gardens. You'll score bonus points if you come bearing tickets to the Moonlight Cinema (moonlight.com.au/melbourne) screening of Breakfast at Tiffany's. With 48 hours' notice, Fitzrovia (155 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, 9537 0001) can whip you up a luxury picnic hamper, jam-packed with tarts, baguettes, salads, cheese and sweets. For spur-of-the-moment snacking, nab a lunchbox from Cafe Vue (401 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, 9866 8055) or newcomer Top Paddock (658 Church Street, Richmond, 9429 4332).
Fish 'n' chips on the beach
Make the most of the late-summer sun with a laid-back dinner of fish 'n' chips by the beach. At the Village Fish Store (11 Armstrong Street, Middle Park, 9686 8880), snap up a couple-friendly pack of flake, potato cakes, dim sims, chips and drinks for two, then wander down to the bay to watch the sun go down. Further south, stop by the kiosk at the Cerberus Beach House (212 Half Moon Bay, Black Rock, 9533 4028) for the catch of the day or herb-crusted dory, with a nostalgia-inducing side order of dim sims and pineapple fritters. Last orders are at sunset.
Order room service
For all-out indulgence, check into a hotel, change into that fluffy robe, flip the ''Do not disturb'' sign, and dial up a room-service feast. At boutique bolthole the Cullen (artserieshotels.com.au/cullen), get down and dirty with a Reuben sandwich, mac 'n' cauliflower cheese, and an ice-cream sundae from Gramercy Bistro.
Check into sister property the Blackman for veal saltimbocca and tiramisu from Italian eatery Classico. In Daylesford, live it up at Lake House (lakehouse.com.au), where pampering options include a two-hatted dinner delivered to your suite, a private meal for two in the restaurant's award-winning wine cellar, or a butler-serviced stay in the ultra-luxe Retreat.
For the food lover
Looking for the perfect gift for your food-mad mate? Take your pick of Melbourne Food and Wine Festival (melbournefoodandwine.com.au) events, spanning rickshaw tours in Footscray, winemaking sessions in Carlton and long lunches in the country. Team a Thermomix (thermomix.com.au) purchase with a series of cooking classes that will cover everything from basics to Easter baking. Or learn about traditional charcuterie at Piper Street Food Co. (89B Piper Street, Kyneton, 5422 3553), where Damian Sandercock spills the beans on pâté and terrines in hands-on workshops.