New dining hotspot? Try Hurstbridge, at the end of the train line

Zoe Birch and Lachlan Gardner in their Hurstbridge restaurant Greasy Zoe's.
Zoe Birch and Lachlan Gardner in their Hurstbridge restaurant Greasy Zoe's. Photo: Simon Schluter

For a new dining hotspot, try Hurstbridge. Greasy Zoe's, which this week received its first hat in the Good Food Guide 2019, has put postcode 3099 on the restaurant map with its bewitching take on sustainability bedded in locavore principles. The 15-month-old restaurant is not only a bargain at $85 for eight courses, it's emblematic of shifting geographical patterns that see some of the most interesting cooking occurring in previously untapped locations.

It might be the end of the train line, but the choice of neighbourhood was a no-brainer for Zoe Birch and her partner Lachlan Gardner: "We're getting all of our produce from five kilometres up the road, which is impossible in the city," says Birch. "But it was also a lifestyle decision. City rents mean you have to open six or seven nights a week to make ends meet but here we can open four nights a week and actually enjoy our lives."

The success of their tiny 15-seater has also prompted a flow-on effect: a deli and cafe has joined the Hurstbridge party and a coffee roastery is set to open early next year. "We have hospitality people come to eat here and they finish their meal and say to us, you've cracked the code… you've figured out how to do it."

Scott Pickett says the trick is to judge the restaurant cycle. "You don't want to come in when an area has already boomed."
Scott Pickett says the trick is to judge the restaurant cycle. "You don't want to come in when an area has already boomed." Photo: Supplied

Released this week, the Good Food Guide 2019 puts the city's demographic change through a dining prism.

Rising rents and growing competition mean Melbourne's restaurateurs are becoming adept at finding untapped areas or suburbs on the comeback trail, says Scott Pickett, the pioneer of Collingwood cool at one-hatted Saint Crispin, who recently jumped south of the river to open two-hatted Matilda 159 Domain. "The challenge is to judge the cycle," he says. "You don't want to come in when an area has already boomed because you'll be paying top rent and there's too much competition."

He points to the city's west – in particular Seddon, Yarraville, Footscray and West Footscray – as an emerging food and drink hotspot thanks to gentrification, with the likes of Copper Pot Seddon and fine dining newcomer Navi, plus two bars in the Guide's top 20, speaking directly to cashed-up newcomers.

The Good Food Guide 2019.
The Good Food Guide 2019. Photo: Supplied

Pickett's crystal ball appears to be working well. South Yarra, with 11 entries, is another comeback kid in the 2019 Guide. The last time it was on the radar Kylie Minogue was holding hands with Michael Hutchence at Caffe e Cucina but the arrival of Matilda, along with Bar Carolina and Yagiz, has seen its stocks make like a bull market.

"South Yarra is locked and loaded," says Pickett. "I didn't know south of the river that well, but I do know Domain Road is an iconic location."

The south and west are on the rise, but the Guide's 149 Melbourne metropolitan entries reveal the city's dining epicentre remains just north of the city.

With 14 restaurants listed and six hats – two for Cutler & Co and one each for Bar Liberty, Marion, The Recreation and Ryne – Fitzroy and Fitzroy North are the front-runners. Neighbouring Carlton and Carlton North are also rallying thanks to newly resurrected Carlton Wine Room, home of sommelier of the year, Travis Howe, and newly hatted Scopri.

Too late for the Guide, Carlton has also seen the recent arrival of Capitano (from the Bar Liberty crew), modern Hakka Chinese restaurant Super Ling and Japanese Torissong​ create a flurry of interest in an area that had its last heyday during the Hawke administration.

The Good Food Guide 2019 is now on sale in newsagencies and bookstores or via thestore.com.au/gfg19 (delivery included), RRP $29.99.