Gills Alley Melbourne, VIC 3000
The entrance to Gills Diner is up a 'where the heck are we going?' city laneway. Once a garage, formerly and still a bakery, it's a wonderfully atmospheric bolthole, with communal bare old timber tables, recycled schoolroom chairs, joint-jumping music on the turntable, and a blackboard menu. Professional, jeans-clad staff set you up from the stellar drinks list with French and Italian aperitifs, boutique beers, ciders and wines. In a group? Try the bargain antipasto trio (choose three from perhaps heirloom carrots, octopus and school prawns with salsa verde, quail with freekeh, chunky farmhouse terrine or plump zucchini flowers stuffed with quinoa, manchego cheese and tomato on romesco sauce). Full-flavoured pastas (perhaps mushroom pappardelle) are a menu mainstay but specials excel, like rich rabbit risotto or pan-fried and roasted poussin with harissa, confit fennel and potatoes, raisins, eggplant, and chorizo. To finish there's creamy goat's cheese from Gippsland, cow's milk cheese from Jura, Switzerland, or Gills' much-loved churros to plunge into chocolate sauce.