While some operators put their plans on hold until 2020 played itself out, plenty of new openings went ahead. Here are a few of our favourites.
Two years in the making, Fitzroy's luxurious new restaurant and bar by Emilio Scalzo and Zoe Rubino can finally serve its prawn cocktails, and Poodle cocktails. It's all about seafood platters on the terrace this summer, but expect chef Josh Fry's obsession with dry-ageing and updates on hotel classics like club sandwiches and vol au vents to make a big play. poodlefitzroy.com.au
Poodle's seafood platter. Photo: Emilio Scalzo
Four layers of velvet-trimmed rooms (including a Boom Boom Room available for exclusive parties), thali trays at lunch, curry chips and an astounding beer collection await at Jessi Singh's curry pub in South Melbourne. The rooftop will be a winner for summer. themrbrownie.com
Tres a Cinco
Mexican chef Sarai Castillo, part of Frank Camorra's MoVida stable, found a big audience for her home-style Mexican dishes during shutdown.
As a result, Camorra reopened Bar Tini in the CBD's Hosier Lane with a menu of tacos (cauliflower, fish and carne), molten queso fundido with green chorizo and refried beans, plus a local and international rotating craft beer selection. Summer fun. tresacinco.com.au
Chef Anna Quayle (formerly Fitzroy Town Hall's head chef) and business partner Jim Gridas hit the ground running at their long-delayed Yarraville restaurant. Quayle is using the French training gained while working under legend Pierre Koffmann to make beef Wellingtons, whole fish and meats sing with classical sauce work. barromanee.com
Andrew McConnell's Gimlet at Cavendish House. Photo: Sharyn Cairns
Every city needs a society restaurant that has the stature to land a knock-out punch as you slip into a velvet booth. Many have tried and failed to achieve anything more than a room in fancy dress, but the 1903-built Cavendish House has the backbone for the job. There are midnight martinis and cheeseburgers, Murano lights seafood salads, and a wine list to wage a steely war of wills with. gimlet.melbourne
Osteria Tedesca's kitchen hearth. Photo: James Broadway
Chef Brigitte Hafner's instinctive, farm driven, flame-licked menus have never been so at home as at this Red Hill paradise. The imposing kitchen hearth is a place of calm as Hafner plates a daily menu of pastas, meats roasted in those coals with her mother's German potatoes, and a perfect pie or pudding for dessert. From the hand-carved door to the antiques and sprays of wild flowers and views over the hills, it was an instant contender for regional restaurant of the year before the pandemic struck. tedesca.com.au
Combine the powers of chef Florian Ribul (Neighbourhood Wine), Owen Probert (ex-Marion) and Rory Kennedy (Sibling and Romantica) in a Westgarth shopfront and you get big, minimal-intervention wines, beers from breweries you could walk to and a wily menu in love with veg. That might be chewy chickpea panisse slicked with creme fraiche and trout roe; a smoky mussel broth with potato and mustard leaf, and ethereal elderflower mousse with cherries. Bright stuff. vexdining.com
Albert Park Hotel has reopened with a Chinese restaurant and cocktail bar. Photo: Simon Schiff
Don't forget Chibog in Footscray, a fiery new Filipino restaurant slinging pork knuckles with achatar and tortang talong (aka eggplant omelette and cucumber salad). chibog.com.au
Nor the Albert Park Hotel, which, after a multi-year run-up, revealed their multi-million dollar renovation and menu of kampot pepper wagyu, Peking duck and dumplings by chef Ken Yuen only to be shut down by a March COVID scare during their soft opening. thealbertpark.com.au
The timing was also rough for the Commune Group's new Firebird (pictured), which took flight with a fire-based Vietnamese menu of grilled banh mi spread with brown butter pâté and dried prawn kho quet, grilled pipis tossed in a tamarind and burnt tomato broth and broken rice claypots in February. firebird.hanoihannah.com.au
Plus, this just in:
Dakota, a seafood-focused grill with former Rockpool talent joins fellow beachside newcomer Elma (which has a rooftop pool and ceviche bar by Daniel Salcedo) in taking over the Port Melbourne foreshore.
The Mighty (Moonee Ponds) and Zymurgy (West Footscray) are both huge new brew bars with serious kitchen clout (a former Dinner by Heston Blumenthal sous, and Navi owner-chef Julian Hills respectively).
King William sandwich hut in the CBD serves seriously upstanding hand grenades, including a gravied, crackling-anointed chicken roll that can't be beat.