Doing anything in Melbourne right now feels like dodging eight lanes of Omicron traffic. It's close to impossible for restaurants, pubs and cafes to find enough staff to work day to day, with so many people COVID-positive or stuck in household isolation. If venues are able to piece together a workforce, they're likely juggling rosters, dealing with supply chain snafus and perhaps restricting their opening hours and offerings as a result.
It's hard for diners too. People are nervous and tentative in an ever-changing dayscape that comes on top of a gruelling couple of years. The restaurant you booked might just have called to apologetically cancel: they can't open tomorrow. When you do get out, maybe that day-making dish you were so looking forward to is off the menu. Or perhaps your dinner takes an hour to hit the table. You might just not experience the hospitality magic that you're craving.
In tough times, we need kindness, patience, perspective – and definitely some of the easygoing and super pleasurable food and fun I experienced at Orrong Hotel. This art deco treasure has just been sensitively updated and reopened for our fizzer of a hot vax summer.
But you can sit in the sheltered courtyard – or the nicely spacious front bar or retro dining room – for spicy another-napkin-please wings, a truly excellent and joyfully juicy Philly cheesesteak sandwich, extra-crunchy school prawns with ace aioli and some of the best, crisp, crumbed ham-and-cheese croquettes I've had for a while.
There's QR code ordering for food; head to the bar for drinks. Even though times are tricky, the staff were friendly and real and on top of the situation. It made it easy to feel the kind of solidarity that we need to navigate yet another period of tumult on the circuitous path to COVID-normal.
709 High Street, Armadale, 0416 610 389, orronghotel.com
Las Chicas brunch stalwart, the Bikini Blowout Benedict. Photo: Wayne Taylor
One of Balaclava's favourite cafes has a long courtyard out the back with a gate for direct access with dog or pram. The breakfast burrito is a classic, as is the Bikini Blowout Benedict with poached eggs and hollandaise over a bagel.
203 Carlisle Street, Balaclava, 03 9531 3699, laschicas.com.au
The coffee is brilliant here and so is the dog-friendly front courtyard with timbered seating bordering planter boxes. My favourite breakfast is the epic PB and Yam: fluffy shokupan bread is piled with peanut butter, taro coconut cream and grilled banana.
36-38 Sackville Street, Collingwood, everyday-coffee.com
The garden-girt piazza at Montalto. Photo: Karon Photography
The piazza at this beloved Mornington Peninsula winery is a good bet for easy, breezy daytime dining with seasonal eats emerging from the wood oven. Try the pizza with zucchini grown on the estate with raisins, onions and stracciatella.
33 Shoreham Road, Red Hill South, 03 5989 8412, montalto.com.au
- Review: Matt Wilkinson is in his element at Montalto
- Melbourne's best new restaurants, bars and pubs for outdoor dining