Chefs share their post-lockdown restaurant and bar hitlists in Melbourne (and beyond)

Myffy Rigby
Provenance owner-chef Michael Ryan is planing a Melbourne bar crawl.
Provenance owner-chef Michael Ryan is planing a Melbourne bar crawl. Photo: Richard Cornish

Break out the cocktails, pop the champagne, and butter the bread that you have not made yourself – the low-grade hum of happy diners in restaurants across the land is back.

No one is more excited than our hospitality industry, both to throw open their doors to customers again but also to eat and drink out themselves. Here's where a selection of them are busting to get back to.

Duck meatball yakitori served with egg yolk and tare vinegar at Mono-XO, Fitzroy.
Duck meatball yakitori served with egg yolk and tare vinegar at Mono-XO, Fitzroy. Photo: Chloe Dann

Michael Ryan, Provenance

The head chef/restaurateur of Provenance, jewel of Beechworth, is preparing to shake things up at his restaurant. "We'll be reopening but in a very different format, which I'm actually quite excited about. We're stealing a bit from the whole kaiseki idea of lots of little dishes. It's a whole new ballgame, really."

Ideally, Ryan would open a bar with fantastic food if he thought Beechworth could support it. Instead, he gets his kicks in some of Melbourne's best bars when he's in town, starting off at Smith Street craft beer bar Beermash.

His first cocktail of the night would be at Above Board, who he credits as precision specialists when it comes to their drinks. Mono XO is in the same area, so he'd stop in for a Manhattan. "It's an incredibly versatile drink. One of my favourite variations is the Brooklyn – rye, dry vermouth, maraschino and French bitters."

Nornie Bero enjoys oysters at the South Melbourne Market.
Nornie Bero enjoys oysters at the South Melbourne Market. Photo: Jason South

Then it's straight to Embla for the whipped cod roe dip. "It's the one place I've been thinking about during shutdown. It's rare that I'd go into Melbourne without popping in. I really miss it."

Good Luck Bar beneath Lee Ho Fook is Ryan's pick for the cocktails, "but also access to Victor Liong's food – it's pretty special. And then, because it's just around the corner, Bar Tini for something sherry-ish. I'd finish at one of Melbourne's best, The Everleigh, and then go home. Or more likely, kick on at Heartbreaker."

Nornie Bero, Mabu Mabu

She might be a longtime Melbourne resident, but Torres Strait is where Mabu Mabu Cafe (in Yarraville) owner Nornie Bero's heart is – especially when it comes to seafood.

Advertisement

"My cousin keeps posting pictures of fishing and I get jealous every single time," she says. He's just eating fish all day on a tropical island and I actually don't know the next time I'll be able to do that. That's been hard." She says she's never worked so little in her life as she is at the moment, and learning to take that chill pill has been really tough.

The thing she misses is echoed by a lot of people at the moment – a cold beer at the pub. She also cannot wait to go to the South Melbourne Market, where she first launched her business, and where she would often go for a huge seafood breakfast.

"I just go down there and get myself some oysters, some sea urchins, some prawns – you know, just go hell for leather and you're just ready to start the day," she says. She loves Oyster Bar by Aptus Seafood, South Melbourne Seafoods and The Fish Shoppe.

"It's very nostalgic for me as well because it reminds me a lot of my dad and having seafood breakfasts with him. It just takes me back home a little bit."

Anchovy on toast at Napier Quarter cafe and wine bar in Fitzroy.

Napier Quarter's signature snack of anchovy on toast. Photo: Eddie Jim

Eileen Horsnell, Napier Quarter

If there's one thing Napier Quarter's head chef is missing cooking right now, it's snacks. "I think we're moving back towards more of a wine bar," she says. "We want to move away from big main meals. My plan is to focus on really amazing small plates. We're starting with five and then as the restrictions lift we'll go to around 10. It's really exciting."

Elsewhere in Melbourne, Horsnell can't wait to get back to Anchovy. "I find [chef Thi Le's] food really interesting because we're polar opposite chefs in terms of style."

She's also excited to get back to Cutler and Co. "My sous chef is [Cutler head chef] Colin Mainds' partner, so we've been communicating through her about what's going on in the business. I'd love to go along and support him because I know he's so excited to get back in the kitchen."

And when it comes to some of her lesser-known favourites, Horsnell elects bar Paradise Alley, which is just down the road from Napier Quarter, and Little Latin Lucy for the fish tacos on a Saturday afternoon with a glass of wine. "I'm missing it so much I'm doing a Mexican feast on the weekend."

Khanh Nguyen, Sunda

A recent-ish Melbourne import, Nguyen has pretty much had his head down running modern Asian restaurant Sunda for the past two years.

But during the break (the restaurant is due to reopen in late June) he's had some time to think about where he wants to eat when all this is over. And most of it is outside the city limits.

"I think regional restaurants have been more affected than the ones in the city," says Nguyen, whose first stop will be three-hat Birregurra restaurant Brae as soon as he can land a booking.

"I actually haven't been, which is pretty bad because I've been looking up to Dan Hunter since his Royal Mail days."

Outer-Melbourne O.MY is high up on the list, and he's also keen to try Greasy Zoes, whose name belies an intricate tasting menu that changes constantly.

"A couple of my chefs went and they were raving about it. Apparently [chef Zoe Birch] wings it and it's amazing. If you ask for a menu the waiter says no, because the menu might change in the middle of the meal."

Vue de monde executive chef Hugh Allen talks to The Age about Valentine's Day dining habits/trends. Valentine's Day is one of the busiest days on the dining calendar but 30% of people leave it to the last minute and book within 24 hours. Photo by Jason South. 7th February 2020.

Vue de Monde head chef Hugh Allen is heading to the pub. Photo: Jason South

Hugh Allen, Vue de Monde

The young head chef of Vue de Monde may have travelled and worked all over the world but once the borders are down, he wants to hop in a car and drive across Australia. Broome, Alice Springs and Darwin are all on the hit list.

But until then, the North Melbourne local is looking forward to a pot and a parma at The Townie.

If he were to turn it into a pub crawl (remember those?), that would also include The Leveson, and then a pubbish bar called Prudence. "It's a really cool bar that burned down earlier this year but they rebuilt it," says Allen. "It's a good spot, North Melbourne."

On the fine-dining end of things, he's excited to get back to Matt Stone and Jo Barrett's Coldstream restaurant, Oakridge.

For something a little more intimate, he's keen for two-hat restaurant Amaru and to visit his friends at South Yarra bistro Omnia for the food and vibe. And, of, course, "anything by Andrew McConnell".

Ben Devlin, Pipit

Before the world paused, Ben Devlin from the two-hatted Pipit restaurant in Pottsville in northern NSW had been planning a road trip with his wife and child to visit some of the country's great restaurants.

"We always look enviously around us at the things that we'd like to do," says Devlin. "We had a plan – we were going to close for a week and we were going to take a road trip and drive down to Oakridge in Coldstream, Victoria, Provenance in Beechworth and Pilot in Canberra."

If he had to pick just one, it would be Provenance with the new kaiseki menu. "I haven't eaten in Michael Ryan's restaurant before but he always struck me as a really smart guy."

Lately Devlin's been eating around his beachside neighbourhoods, supporting the likes of La Casita, Fleet and Tyalgum Gelato.

But one of the things he misses from the restaurant experience is the element of surprise, whether it's from a drink, a dish, or when someone uses an ingredient in an unexpected way. "It's hard to come by at home or in takeaway."

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 02: The interior of Lee Ho Fook bar in the cbd on February 2, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Josh Robenstone/Fairfax Media)

Good Luck Bar below Lee Ho Fook in the CBD. Photo: Josh Robenstone

Chefs' street (food) directory for Melbourne and beyond

Above Board Level 1/306 Smith Street Chopper Lane, Collingwood, aboveboardbar.com

Amaru 1121 High Street, Armadale, 03 9822 0144, amarumelbourne.com.au

Anchovy 338 Bridge Road, Richmond, 03 9428 3526, anchovy.net.au

Bar Tini 3-5 Hosier Lane, Melbourne, movida.com.au/bar-tini

Beermash 306 Smith Street, Collingwood, beermash.com.au

Brae 4285 Cape Otway Road, Birregurra, 03 5236 2226, braerestaurant.com

Cutler and Co 55/57 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, 03 9419 4888, cutlerandco.com.au

Embla 122 Russell Street, Melbourne, embla.com.au

The Everleigh level 1/150-156 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, theeverleigh.com

Fleet 2/16 The Terrace, Brunswick Heads, fleet-restaurant.com.au

Good Luck Bar ground floor, 11/15 Duckboard Place, Melbourne, leehofook.com.au/good-luck

Greasy Zoes shop 3/850 Heidelberg-Kinglake Road, Hurstbridge, 03 9718 0324, greasyzoes.com.au

Heartbreaker 234a Russell Street, Melbourne, heartbreakerbar.com.au

La Casita 5/3 Fawcett Street, Brunswick Heads, lacasita.com.au

Lee Ho Fook 11-15 Duckboard Place, Melbourne, leehofook.com.au

The Leveson 46 Leveson Street, North Melbourne, 03 9328 1109, theleveson.melbourne

Mabu Mabu 13 Anderson Street, Yarraville, mabumabu.com.au

Mono XO rear 191a Smith Street, enter via Charles Street, Fitzroy, monoxo.com.au

Napier Quarter 359 Napier Street, Fitzroy, 03 9416 0666, napierquarter.com.au

Oakridge 864 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream, oakridgewines.com.au

Omnia 625 Chapel Street, South Yarra, 03 8080 8080, omniabistro.com.au

O.MY 19-21 Woods Street, Beaconsfield, 03 9769 9000, omyrestaurant.com.au

Paradise Alley and Little Latin Lucy 25 Easey Street, Collingwood, 03 9029 8484, paradisealley.com.au

Pilot 1 Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie, 02 6257 4334, pilotrestaurant.com

Provenance 86 Ford Street, Beechworth, theprovenance.com.au

Prudence 368 Victoria Street, North Melbourne, 03 9329 9267

South Melbourne Market 322-326 Coventry Street, South Melbourne, southmelbournemarket.com.au

The Townie 33 Errol Street, North Melbourne, 03 9328 1983, townhallhotelnorthmelbourne.com.au

Tyalgum Gelato 15 Coolman Street, Tyalgum