Hidden gems: Ten secret spots
Vintage neon and tin signs feature at Fat Bob's Bar and Grill. Photo: Harvard Wang
1. Fat Bob's Bar and Grill
80a Cochranes Road, Moorabbin, 9555 0909
Navigation tip Set the GPS; it's hidden in the backstreets of an industrial estate.
If there were prizes for most unlikely restaurant location, Fat Bob's would romp it in. The American-style diner is hidden behind a signwriting workshop and surrounded by tile showrooms, party suppliers and car detailers in a one-way street. If anything, the location has helped spread Fat Bob's reputation. In a dimly lit man cave kitted out with vintage signs, pedal cars and an old Golden Fleece petrol pump, families, couples and groups gather for mighty burgers named after some of the brand names on the walls, including the Simplex, with cheese and tomato sauce, and the Victa, with crumbed chicken, Asian slaw and Japanese mayo. The fridge is stocked with craft beers and nostalgic Oz rock provides the soundtrack.
Worth it just for ... the vintage neon and tin signs.
2. Bowery to Williamsburg
16 Oliver Lane, city, 9077 0162
Navigation tip Enter the lane from Flinders Street; downstairs on the right.
So you've done sliders and chilli dawgs, fried chicken and ribs? Stand by for a dalliance with New York delis. Making a virtue of its basement location to invoke the subway between Brooklyn and Manhattan, the duo behind Hardware Societe have another hit on their hands. As in the Big Apple, expect to queue as you scan the blackboard menu. At lunch, there's a range of sandwiches - bagel and lox; meatballs and mozzarella; a Reuben with corned beef brisket, sauerkraut and Swiss on rye - but upsize to $16.50 and you get a dill pickle, pretzels and a side such as German potato salad or pomegranate tabbouli. There's good Padre coffee and a cabinet filled with New York cheesecake, pecan pie and brownies, too.
Worth it just for ... a Manhattan moment.
7-11 Dawson Street, Brunswick, 9077 5572
Navigation tip Entry is at the rear of the car park opposite Brunswick City Baths.
Tall, dark and handsome, this huge indoor-outdoor former wool store is a combination of beer garden, live music venue, gallery, bar, nightclub and performance space, arranged over several angled rooms. Potted trees, rough timber and brick walls and welded metal sculptures that double as shelving add texture while hipper-than-thou staff deliver quality booze (boutique bourbon and beer, smart cocktails, Monteith's Pilsner on tap) and Asian-inspired snacks (tofu and kimchi dumplings, kangaroo and wattleseed spring rolls, prawn and lime mayo "bao pillows"). Very cool, very flexible, very Brunswick.
Worth it just for ... the live acts and performances.
144 Chapel Street, Windsor, 9521 2669
Navigation tip Head up the stairs at the back of Fonda Mexican in Windsor.
This snug bar has been tucked into the split-level attic space above a pumping Mexican dining hall. More gently lit than the diner, with timber floors, cushioned banquettes and exposed brick walls hung with mirrors and '50s-style abstract art, it delivers south-of-the-border-style snacks, cocktails and a solid range of tequilas to a Gen-Y crowd. Over rockling croquettes with pickled jalapenos and spiced popcorn, you can ponder the merits of blanco (white) tequila versus the barrel-aged anejo variety, guided by handy tasting notes. After something a little more indulgent? Try the Naughty Salted Caramel Tequila ($16), made with buttered Jose Cuervo tequila, agave nectar and spices.
Worth it just for ... an education in tequila.
20 Guildford Lane, city, 9043 8844
Navigation tip It's halfway down a narrow dead-end lane off Queen Street near La Trobe Street.
Taking industrial chic to the next level, this former cabinet-making workshop is a study in heavy timber, concrete and exposed bricks. The building's original goods lift and pulley system occupies the centre of the room, breaking up the vast space and providing a dinky private room for four. Breakfast might be avocado on toast with microherbs, orange blossom spelt waffles with blueberries and maple syrup, or a robust dish of baked eggs with chorizo, manchego cheese and salsa. At lunch, the kitchen lifts a notch with specials such as slow-cooked lamb shank and potato gratin and pork belly braised in master stock with cauliflower puree.
Worth it just for ... excellent Proud Mary coffee from a gleaming white La Marzocco machine.
6. La Petite Creperie
Corner Little Collins and Swanston streets, city, 0404 002 341
Navigation tip Look for the queue by the former news stand opposite the town hall.
How this little creperie manages to turn out sweet treats from a stainless-steel news stand little bigger than a phone booth is one of life's little mysteries. The front doors fling open to reveal two circular hotplates, on which are made thin, hot crepes spread with things such as Nutella, sugar and lemon, fig and ginger jam or the piece de resistance, orange marmalade with chocolate and Grand Marnier. The toppings are stored on shelves tucked around the French-accented crepe chef, who deftly flips, dresses, folds and slides the crepes into striped cardboard sleeves, using only two long, thin spatulas. If the aroma of the cooking crepes doesn't stop you in your tracks, the mesmerising cooking performance will.
Worth it just for ... hot crepes spread with sticky house-made salted caramel sauce ($5).
7. Neighbourhood Wine
1 Reid Street, Fitzroy North, 9486 8306
Navigation tip Above the pizza joint on Nicholson Street; enter off Reid Street.
There was no need to recreate a speakeasy vibe when Almay Jordaan and Simon and Matthew Denman moved in earlier this year - it came ready-made. An illegal casino in the 1950s and Alphonse Gangitano's Carlton Association gambling den in the '80s, the premises came complete with a hidden safe, card tables and even gambling chips, remnants of a raid 25 years ago. The new owners have ripped up the dusty carpet and added period furniture, an evolving Euro-focused wine list and a smart menu. It's the kind of place you can drop into for a glass of sherry and a plate of cheese straws or kick back with bavette steak, fat chips and a robust Italian red.
Worth it just for ... the competition-size billiard table, which broke two winches when the partners tried to move it to polish the floors.
8. Seoul Metro
380 Lonsdale Street, city, 9078 3778
Navigation tip It's near the car park pay station at ground level.
A chance meeting at Ballarat's Lake Wendouree between Korean-born widow Jung-Hee Kim and local Paul McDonald led to romance, marriage - and Seoul Metro. Neither had run restaurants before, so when slightly cheaper premises came up inside a city car park, it seemed a smart move. What Seoul Metro lacks in natural light it makes up for in good cheer. The menu delivers Korean classics such as bulgogi (beef in sweet soy marinade) and bibimbap (rice with meat and vegetables) along with adaptations such as budae tchigae (army base stew), a spicy ham, sausage and noodle hotpot using ingredients issued to US troops during the Korean War. Drinks include traditional corn tea and soju (grain spirit).
Worth it just for ... home-style Korean dishes you don't see everywhere.
9. La Tortilleria
72 Stubbs Street, Kensington, 9376 5577
Navigation tip You can't miss the brightly coloured tortilla shack amid the factories.
A cheery Frida Kahlo-inspired mural, turquoise picket fence and front yard planted with chillies transform a generic industrial estate food bar into a bustling, slightly chaotic Mexican tortilleria. Inside, masa dough made from stone-ground Australian corn is fed in one end of a shiny machine, and thin, fragrant tortillas appear out the other via a conveyor belt. In the open kitchen, the pale discs are transformed into soft tacos cradling pork and pineapple or grilled beef, or quesadillas sandwiching beans and ricotta or mushrooms. Diners are invited to doctor the flavours "like a proper Mexican" with house-made sauces. Jarritos soft drink, Mexican hot chocolate and spiced coffee are also available.
Worth it just for ... a slice of rich, dense custard flan with bitter caramel sauce ($6).
10. The Stables of Como
Corner Williams Road and Lechlade Avenue, South Yarra, 9827 6886
Navigation tip Enter through the double gates on Lechlade Avenue.
Location, location, location. The Stables of Como has it in spades. The team behind eastern suburbs cafes Friends of Mine, Mazzitelli, Porgie & Mr Jones and Snow Pony has give the former Como Historic House stables an English makeover, with glossy white bentwood chairs and lightshades in British racing green. Sure, you can order doorstop sandwiches. But the long counter groaning with house-made scones, marshmallow-filled wagon wheels and lamingtons is irresistible. Remember to put your name on the waiting list when you arrive.
Worth it just for ... a pre- or post-prandial stroll around the grounds.
This article first appeared in the October issue of The (Melbourne) Magazine.
What's your secret spot? Divulge your favourite hidden venue in the comments below.