Melbourne's best new places to eat and drink 2012

What a year Melbourne, what a year. Passion for the exhilarating, thrilling and sometimes heartbreaking hospitality industry is the lifeblood of this town. This is Epicure and Good Food’s inaugural, annual awards list for Melbourne’s Best New Places to Eat and Drink 2012, as chosen by an expert panel of our food commentators and critics.

These awards pay tribute to the chefs, waiters and entrepreneurs – innovators all – to the places that are cutting it right now and defining the year of eating and drinking to come.

Check out our winners and runners-up, and please post your nominations and suggestions as well, so that this becomes the very best of the bests for 2012.


Winner, Best new restaurant 2012

A throwback to European glamour, the grand tour and old New York, Neil Perry’s third Crown restaurant Rosetta is all gleaming mahogany tiles, marble floors and chandeliers. Expect a grand adventure in Italian, produce-driven cuisine: ricotta, made fresh each lunch, the simple perfection of a seafood grill, nutty farro and scorched green peppers. Rosetta is a brave gamble; high rollers will love it. Rosetta was Larissa Dubecki’s highest scoring restaurant of the year at 16/20.  
Where: Crown Complex, Southbank. Phone: 8648 1999.
Read more about Rosetta

Pei Modern
Runner-up, Best new restaurant 2012
“Have you been to Pei Modern yet?” were the words on everyone’s lips this year. Have you? You probably should. Mark Best and Matt Germanchis cemented their industry credentials in 2012 with Pei Modern. Its hallmarks are expert service, a cool Scandi-style dining room, and inventive food, from luxe, rich and creamy almond gazpacho dotted with blue swimmer crab, red grapes and parsley, to steamed hapuku with corn kernels and sea urchin butter sauce. Pei Modern was scored by Larissa Dubecki at 15/20.
Where 45 Collins Street, city. Phone: 9654 8545.
Read more about Pei Modern


Casa Ciuccio
Winner, Best on trend 2012
Casa was big news when it opened earlier this year - the second venture by crack team chef Matt McConnell, his wife Jo Gamvros and Simon Benjamin – and we weren’t disappointed. Hello, the sheer splendour of massive meaty hunks straight from the charcoal pit, and the joyous variety of the “para picar”, small bites inspired by Spain and Portugal. Informal fine-dining at its best – just prop up at the kitchen and watch as the spoils come your way.
Where: 15 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. Phone: 8488 8150.

Rockwell and Sons
Runner-up, Best on trend 2012
Burgers, surely ran the biggest race in 2012, emerging as the hero on menus everywhere, be it in mini slider form to bigger juicy US-style offerings using top-notch ingredients and sweet brioche buns, as in at Rockwell and Sons. The double-smash patty is a doosie - some bits charry, some bits rare, the buttermilk fried chicken is tops, as is the soft-shell crab version and pressed rib number with barbecue sauce, dill and fennel.
Where: 288 Smith Street, Collingwood. Phone: 8415 0700.

Read more about Rockwell and Sons


Radio Mexico
Winner, best new Under $30
Radio Mexico is a little cracker – fun, homely and with a canny menu based on regional Mexican street food. It hit the ground sprinting when it opened in April, and has been packed ever since with footpath queues and a no-bookings policy. Try sparkling fresh rockling ceviche; or chilaquiles, a smart, fresh take on nachos; or jicama salad, the crisp root vegetable cut into batons and tossed with salt, chilli and lime. Oh, and the tacos: soft and hot corn tortillas wrapped around slow-cooked organic saltbush lamb, Otway pork or black beans and pickled jalapeno.
Where: 11 Carlisle Street, St Kilda. Phone: 9534 9990.
Read more about Radio Mexico


Horn Please
Runner-up, best new Under $30
Jessi and Jennifer Singh don’t mind a challenge. Baby number two was born weeks after opening their first Melbourne restaurant Horn Please, a new breed of Indian diner, using top quality, local ingredients in a smart, modern setting. Rock up for fat, crisp-shelled samosas with house-made chutneys, “don’t tell my aunty gobi pakoras” (battered cauliflower with a chilli dipping sauce), or slow-cooked goat curry, a hand-me-down recipe and village staple. Sunday night is locals’ night with all-you-can-eat curries and rice for a bargain $20. Horn Please is always packed so you may need to wait a bit, or else, head to Kyneton and eat at the Singh’s original restaurant, Dhaba at the Mill, or try one of their roving food trucks.
Where: 167 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North. Phone: 9497 8101.

Read Nina Rousseau's reveiw of Horn Please

Read Larissa Dubecki's review of Horn Please


Small Victories
Winner, Best new cafe 2012
Best cafe in Melbourne? What a huge call. So what makes Small Victories victorious? Its on-song food is spectacularly good and it goes that extra mile, from the leek and cheddar croquettes at breakfast to the house-made pasta and posh bahn mi at lunch to the char-grilled wagyu and duck fat potatoes at dinner, with nearly everything made in-house. Its run by a dream cast of hospitality high-achievers, including Alric Hansen (ex-Crimean and Bar Lourinha) and Ben Farrant (ex-Gills Diner). And it looks good too.
Where 617 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North. Phone: 9347 4064.

Read more about Small Victories

Two Birds One Stone
Runner-up, Best new cafe 2012
South Yarra did well this year, scoring the opening of the slick Two Birds One Stone by the cafe brains trust that brought us Three Bags Full, APTE and Liar Liar. There’s a lot to like about this faux-industrial place in Elenberg Fraser’s Lilli Apartments, including its custom Five Senses blend coffee, its twice-cooked marmalade French toast and Black Angus steak sandwich. Add on professional service and a cool fitout with a treescape mural and you’re good to go.
Where 12 Claremont Street, South Yarra. Phone: 9827 1228.

Read more about Two Birds One Stone


Winner, Best new coffee roaster 2012
Paul Mathis has had a big year with umpteen openings in 2012. CoffeeHead was one of them, a roastery-cafe in a vast converted garage, complete with a foosball table and onsite roasters out back in the open kitchen. There are always five different blends in house plus an excellent showcase of beans from some of the best roasters about town, including Atomica, Four Rascal’s “Rapscillion” blend and Wide Open Road. If Camberwell’s not in your neck of the woods, you can buy online.
Where 8 Railway Parade, Camberwell. Phone: 9831 1400.

Clement Coffee Roasters
Runner-up, Best new coffee roaster 2012
Clement popped up in July, in the tiny electrical substation at South Melbourne Market, a first-time venture for Kris Wood, formerly head barista at South Melbourne’s St Ali, and more recently roaster at Proud Mary. Clement is small and cutting-edge with a cute fitout and an uncompromising approach to the purity of “the bean”. Excellent brews are made from small batches that Wood roasts offsite.
Where South Melbourne Market, Cecil Street, South Melbourne. Phone: 0410 377 813.


The Builders Arms
Winner, Best new pub 2012
It may be a very Gertrude Street Right Now kind of pub with its stark, clean-lined designer fitout (courtesy of Projects of Imagination), fashionably coiffed staff in designer aprons and mostly boutique brews on tap, but the Builders Arms Hotel (a collaboration between Andrew McConnell, Josh Murphy and Anthony Hammond) still gives off a distinctly pubby vibe, albeit with an English skew. There’s finer fare to be had in the dining room, Moon Under Water, but the menu in the bar and bistro runs to crowd pleasers like fish pie and pork schnitzel by way of quality oysters and a five-part steak menu. Fashionable, sure, but grounded enough to get away with a bit of poncing about.
Where: 211 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. Phone: 9417 7700.

Junction Beer Hall & Wine Room
Runner-up: Best new pub 2012

Pushing the boundaries westward, the Junction Beer Hall & Wine Room is a stylish, handsome art deco pub. Down one side is its Wine Room, with an upmarket menu, loungey looks, table service, lengthy wine list and dedicated cocktail list. On the other is the rowdy beer hall, with its immense beer list and beer-friendly food. It’s a modernised pub still in touch with its roots.
Where: 15 Hall Street, Newport. Phone: 9391 8188.


Ben Haines 2009 Syrah
Winner, Best new wine 2012

Senior winemaker at Mitchelton and the Wine Society’s Young Winemaker of the Year in 2008, Ben Haines has popped up from a new base in the Yarra Valley. Going solo and obviously having fun, he has produced a ’09 syrah, a ’10 roussanne and an ’11 marsanne under his Ben Haines Wine Co label, exciting many and creating a real buzz about his future. The 2009 syrah ($58) was so good, you could forgive him the use of the French moniker “syrah” instead of its good ol’ Aussie appellation, ‘shiraz.’

Levantine Hill Estate 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon
Runner-up, Best new wine 2012
For a wine industry feeling the financial strain, the arrival of the Yarra Valley’s multi-million dollar Levantine Hill Estate this year was to be welcomed. Here was a well-known Melbourne businessman investing in a grand wine design that included a not-your-average B&B at $5000 a night and an as-yet-to-come winery and boutique hotel promising some extraordinary architectural features. But what about the wines? The sav/sem was quietly addictive, a departure in style for the Valley but a winning one channelling a lean Bordeaux dry white. The sem promotes a clean, hay-mealy character that carries the mid-palate and gives some subtle sauvignon blanc herbals something to work with. The oak works particularly well providing texture. It’s a smart wine.


Winner, Best new bar 2012
Simon Denton and his Izakaya Den partners Takashi Omi and Miyuki Nakahara have transformed what was once the upstairs dining room at Denton’s restaurant Verge into a beautiful Tokyo-style bar complete with sculptural lighting, top grade sake and umeshu, superb Japanese influenced snacks (the lobster temaki roll, every time), unique cocktails and tranquil, leafy views of the Fitzroy Gardens through retractable glass walls. Service is lovely, emulating fine dining, and adds to the wonderful, slightly cinematic feeling of being transported somewhere else.
Where: First Floor, 1 Flinders Lane, City. Phone: 9654 5465.

Hannah’s Bar at Epocha
Runner-up, Best new bar 2012
Laid-back and Euro-inspired, Hannah’s is upstairs at Epocha – the sharp restaurant run by former Press Club manager and sommelier Angie Giannakodakis and Guy Holder – right opposite Carlton Gardens. Try and claim a seat on its balcony, complete with fancy iron lacework, or sit inside at custom-built tables that double as backgammon boards. Cocktails are well made and classic, and there are good snacks to be had here, too, including spiced chickpeas, crisp pigs’ ears and excellent duck liver pate.
Where: 49 Rathdowne Street, Carlton. Phone: 9036 4949.


Mr Burger
Winner, Best new food truck 2012
Inspired by the food truck culture during a trip to the States – Austin, Texas has around 4000 food trucks – Daragh Kan and Myles Munro decided to set up a burger fleet of their very own. One truck is based at Thierry Street near Queen Vic Market and trades on market days; other trucks rove around the inner suburbs.“They rustle up two kinds of burger: the classic Mr Burger”, a juicy beef patty with salad and mustard; and the richer “Mr Meat” with bacon, caramelised onions and barbecue sauce., Facebook and Instagram: @mrburgertruck

Gidget’s Beach Cantina
Runner-up, Best new food truck 2012
Southsiders, check out Gidget’s groovy 60s-themed, cheery and colourful caravan, run by fun-lovin’ gal Serena Cabello. She dispenses tacos filled with interesting ingredients, such as “corn truffle”, also known as “corn smut”, a truffle-like delicacy, and smokey, spice-rubbed beef. For pure passion and interest, Gidget’s has it in spades.
Gidget’s Beach Cantina: Twitter @GidgetsCantina


Winner, Best new global gem 2012
Based on the idea of Malaysian roadside “mamaks”, this Sydney player has exploded onto the Melbourne scene with an instantly loyal following and a near-constant queue. Expect made-to-order roti hot off the grill, perfect to dunk in a fishy gravy or lentil curry, plus fiery house-made sambals, satays, curries and hot pulled teh tarik (sweet tea made from condensed milk). Wear comfy shoes: there will be queuing.
Where: 366 Lonsdale Street, city. Phone: 9670 3137.

Read more about Mamak, Melbourne

Runner-up, Best new global gem 2012
Cute yet sophisticated Bayte is the new Lebanese sweetheart run by owner-chef Julie Touma. Lebanese brekkies include warm pearl barley porridge and Bayte’s banquet, for a minimum of six, is an outright bargain: garlicky broad bean dip with char-striped fluffy flatbread, zaatar pizza, fried lamb and pine nut pastries, barbecued lamb kofta skewers with house-made labna and a whole baked snapper slathered in a tahini-based sauce – big flavours, bold spicing and lots of heart.
Where: 56 Johnston Street, Collingwood. Phone: 9415 8818.


Dani Valent, Sunday Age Restaurant Critic
Jane Ormond, Freelance writer/editor and Epicure contributor
Janne Apelgren, National Print Editor Food & Wine and Editor, The Age Good Food Guide
Ralph Kyte-Powell, The Age Wine writer
Jeni Port, The Age Wine writer
Larissa Dubecki, The Age Restaurant Critic and chief reviewer for The Age Good Food Guide
Matt Holden, Editor of The Age Good Cafe Guide
Michael Harden, Editor of The Age Good Bar Guide
Nina Rousseau, Co-editor The Age Cheap Eats and Age Restaurant Critic Under $30
Simone Egger, Co-editor The Age Cheap Eats