Hey lovers, take a note. It's a jungle out there but we've got you covered for thorough romancing whether it's your first date or your weekly/monthly/yearly (you can do better than yearly) refresher.
Share some food, wine and conversation at Embla. Photo: Supplied
122 Russell Street, Melbourne 03 9654 5923 embla.com.au
Caveat – you'll want to get in early because everyone's had the same idea. What could be more romantic than splitting a chicken and a bunch of conversation-starting funky wines? If all fails, the crew here is worth staring at.
Epocha owner Angie Giannakodakis aims to create a relaxing atmosphere. Photo: Wayne Taylor
49 Rathdowne Street, Carlton 03 9036 4949 epocha.com.au
Honestly, if you can't make it work at this old world-styled terrace serving smart Mediterranean and great wines, all while facing Carlton Gardens and with hospitality titan Angie Giannakodakis keeping things moving in awkward lulls, you are dead in the water. Special mention for Wednesday nights when they serve pasta straight from a wheel of cheese.
French Saloon - the perfect place on a warm evening. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen
46 Hardware Lane, Melbourne 03 9600 2142 frenchsaloon.com
Take your date up to the geranium-lined terrace in summer/winter/lunch - anytime it's open - and let it do all the work for you. Here at the European Group's latest venture you're getting French food only lighter, brighter (less bloating!) with access to wines both old world and skin contact-y, so either way, you win.
386 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North 03 9349 4748 geraldsbar.com.au
Motown on vinyl, and a lifetime's worth of ephemera create enough talking points if you get into trouble. Otherwise, it's just really good food – anchovies and dark bread; maybe a pork chop, plus great wines and servers with a sixth sense for when to fill your glass and when to leave you be. Gerald's is the ultimate wingman, in bar form.
Nothing says romance like a dubious trek through the backstreets to Kaprica Photo: Timothy Grey
19 Lincoln Square Square, Carlton 03 9347 1138
It's half about the mystery of leading someone to Pietro Barbagallo's pizzeria in a converted garage on a quiet Carlton street, half about the greatness of the pizze and fluffy clouds of gnocchi when you get there. It's the ultimate ace up your sleeve as far as great, hidden gems go.
Chef Carmine Costantini's passion runs out of the kitchen and onto the table. Photo: Supplied
486 Bridge Road, Richmond 03 9428 2558 osterialapassione.com.au
Chef Carmine Costantini is from Emilia-Romagna and every bit of the passion of his people ripples through his menu and right across the table. Don't underestimate the power a rustic ribollita in this gently lit restaurant to get the job done.
Melting moments: Shifty Chevre is a lovely spot for sharing food and conversation. Photo: Joe Armao
375 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy 0423 694 763 shiftychevre.com
Everything about this French cheese shop and cafe is built for wooing. Case in point: buckets of fondue and the soft-lit couches for afterwards where you can play French versions of Connect Four or Guess Who.
Smalls wine bar in South Melbourne. Photo: Vince Caligiuri
20–22 Yarra Place, South Melbourne smallsbar.com.au
It's everything you need – in a laneway (cool), dark (helpful), full of groundbreaking wines, beers and sakes (also helpful). Sink into a shadowy booth with some scotch eggs and let the magic happen.
Tempura prawn, $68 as part of a multi-course set menu, from Tempura Hajime. Photo: Marina Oliphant
60 Park Street, South Melbourne 03 9696 0051 tempurahajime.com.au
Minamishima may have stolen the spotlight, but in a South Melbourne office block you'll find this 12-seat restaurant where you'll drink from custom-made sake cups and watch as pieces of tempura are cooked to order before you. Guaranteed closer.
Keep it simple at The Waiters Restaurant in the CBD. Photo: Rebecca Hallas
20 Meyers Place, Melbourne 03 9650 1508
The specials board may not have been updated since 1975. But there's no better way to get the measure of a date than taking them to the pioneering hidden laneway spot also known as the Italian Waiters' Club for lamb's fry, avocado vinaigrette and pasta with brimming tumblers of wine.
The Age Good Food Guide 2017 will be available for purchase for $24.99 (with free access to the new Good Food app) from all newsagents and major bookstores from Tuesday, September 13 2016. Or pick up your Age Good Food Guide 2017 for $14.99 with The Age on Saturday, September 17.