At a time when there's no hotter commodity in the food world than authenticity, it pays to go back to the source and discover Melbourne's ethnic community clubs. Rolling out the greatest hits of the homeland, these restaurants are keeping culinary traditions alive. Season liberally with nostalgia and tuck in.
Polish House "Syrena"
Melbourne's Polish diaspora is to be found every Sunday between noon and 4pm at Under The Stag – the restaurant at Rowville Polish HQ graced with an authentically noble mounted stag head. The simple menu extends from dishes such as bigos (a bold hunter's-style stew with spicy Polish sausage and cabbage) through to a mighty slab of Eastern European-style cheesecake. And vodka. Yes, there is vodka.
1325 Stud Road, Rowville, 03 9795 0522, polishclubrowville.org.au
Antipasto at the Veneto Club. Photo: Richard Cornish
The regular traffic jams outside the sprawling Veneto Club are testament to the gravitational pull of this northern suburban cultural powerhouse. The bistro swings to the Venetian snacking tradition known as cicchetti (think mini brushetta with toppings such as grilled radicchio, balsamic pickled onion and parmesan, or marinated peppers and prosciutto), with a regional sub-major in soft polenta (add-ons: mushroom ragu or braised cabbage and boiled Venetian sausage). And of course no Venetian specialist would be complete without a classic rise e bisi (rice and peas). In a win for parents, the restaurant boasts an attached children's playground, and after lunch you can try out one of the club's bocce pistes.
191 Bulleen Road, Bulleen, 03 9850 7111, venetoclubmelbourne.com.au
A selection of sausages at German Club Tivoli in Windor. Photo: Supplied
German Club Tivoli
More German than an oompah band, Club Tivoli was convened way back in 1860 and has occupied its Windsor location since 1989, complete with a beer hall where Oktoberfest is celebrated in due style. Hit the restaurant for a schnitzelfest, or put hair on your chest with beef stroganoff or the signature pork knuckle (boiled or roasted) with spatzle (egg noodles) and vegetables. Around 30 types of schnapps round out the beer list, while entertainment can range from traditional German polka music (accordion alert!) to vintage rock 'n' roll on Saturday nights.
291 Dandenong Road, Windsor; 03 9529 5211 germanclubtivoli.com.au
Herring, apple and egg smorrebrod at Dansk restaurant (see recipe below). Photo: Eddie Jim
Those Danes sure have style. Their CBD digs are a mid-century wonderland of Danish design, from the chairs and tables (minimalist and sleek) to the cutlery in Restaurant Dansk. Hit it for lunch and be faced with a dizzying choice of smorrebrod – around 25 takes on the traditional open sandwich on organic ryebread, topped with everything from herring and pickles (don't be scared, neophytes: they even have a "beginners' herring") to duck breast and red cabbage. Dinners Wednesday to Friday are given over to three or five-course explorations of new Nordic cuisine, including desserts with names like Kærnemælkskoldskål.
428 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, 03 9600 4477, denmarkhouse.com.au
All you can eat and all you can dance at Korona Csarda. Photo: Zsolt Vigh
The phrase "all you can eat" is music to the ears of the diners gathering on weekends at this traditional buffet restaurant at the heart of the Hungarian Community Centre. Run by Zsolt Vigh for the past nine years, it's a big-hearted spread of goulash, stuffed cabbage (known as sarma), chicken paprikas with nokedli (egg dumpling) and crepes for dessert. "Hungarian food means hearty dishes," says Vigh, "but in summer we do a cold sour cherry soup." As for the name – a csarda is a traditional Hungarian-style pub.
760 Boronia Road, Wantirna, 03 9801 8887, koronacsarda.com.au
Cheese fondue is a Swiss Club constant. Photo: Gary Medlicott
Swiss Club of Victoria
Roger Moullet has been running the restaurant at the Swiss Club for 21 years. The other constant at this cowbell-decorated dining hall is fondue. "I try to take it off in summer but everyone complains," says the Swiss-German emigre. Made with emmental and gruyere, it's a delicious gloopfest in which to dip blanched vegetables, bread or pears. As for the rest of the menu, expect it to swing seasonally but pivot around the essential items of goulash – maybe venison, maybe beef, always with spatzle – and schnitzels, with a drinks list running to cans of Feldschlossen lager and Swiss wines. Want to ditch your neutrality and go the full Swiss? Members tend to congregate on Wednesday and Thursday night to eat dinner and play a card game known as jass, and there's live folk music on the first Thursday of every month.
89 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, 03 9650 1196, swissclubvictoria.com