The duo behind Society sort through the secrets of their adopted city for a list of their favourite places to shop, eat, drink and play.
Martin Benn and Vicki Wild did not anticipate spending quite this much free time digging into the heart and soul of Melbourne.
The former Sydneysiders thought their restaurant, Society, would open at 80 Collins Street early in 2020.
Instead, their multimillion-dollar dining vision with restaurateur Chris Lucas, a 300-seat, two-restaurant blockbuster, opens in July after more than three years of planning.
So chef Benn, and front-of-house Wild, have spent the past two years exploring the city and getting to know the locals while the pandemic played havoc with Society's opening date.
And they are blown away, not only by this city's strength and resilience displayed through lockdowns past and present, but also by what they have found in the cafes, restaurants, bars, bakeries, butchers and markets.
Here is their guide to Melbourne, a tribute to their adopted city.
After trialling everything from laminated milk bread to crusty sourdough to find the prefect bread to match Benn's slightly heartier Society dishes, he selected All Are Welcome to supply the restaurant.
"We don't want to bake at Society," Benn says. "Owner Boris Portnoy has a great background – get a painter to paint, a sparky to do your electrics, and Boris to bake your bread."
190 High Street, Northcote, all-are-welcome.com
Benn and Wild have been charmed by the village vibe of North Melbourne, and the newish bakery Bread Club is a highlight. "The Morning Bun is sensational, as is the Strawberry Melba, a croissant pastry filled with strawberries and whipped cream," says Wild.
558 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne, breadclub.com.au
Prahran Market has excellent artisanal produce, and cheese providore Maker and Monger (stall 98) is their pick for stand-out operator. Owner Anthony Femia welcomed the pair to town. "Anthony was one of the first people to say, 'I'm so glad you're here' and he's been so helpful," Wild says. And those cheese toasties? Simply the best.
163 Commercial Road, South Yarra, prahranmarket.com.au
Cibi in Collingwood. Photo: Mark Roper
Favourite off-the-radar shop
Japanese cafe and design space Cibi is an essential stop whenever Benn and Wild (both hugely influenced by Japan) are near Smith Street. "Every time I go, I find something new, from art books to yuzu, chilli pastes and striped Breton tops," Wild says.
33-39 Keele Street, Collingwood, cibi.com.au
Mushrooms Anonymous in the Macedon Ranges is a fascinating wholesaler, Benn says. "Owner Matt Donnelly had [The Commoner] restaurant for a long time and now forages mushrooms for clients,."
Find his bounty at Damian Pike's mushroom stall at the Prahran Market.
Favourite fresh produce
"We get all our fruit and veg from Toscano's," Benn says. They favour the Kew location over the Toorak and Richmond sites. "We can get everything we want there; it's a one-stop-shop," he says.
213-219 High Street, Kew, toscanos.com.au
Want to get dinner sorted in a single stop? Meatsmith is the go-to. "Meat, anchovies, sauces, it's got it all," Wild says.
They're also anticipating the arrival of Sydney butchery Victor Churchill, to open in High Street, Armadale, in July.
273 Smith Street, Fitzroy, meatsmith.com.au
Hector's Deli makes a worthy sandwich destination. Photo: Cheyne Toomey
Eat and drink
All great cities have a "destination sandwich" – the pastrami on rye at Katz's Deli in New York, for example. For Benn, Melbourne's version is the roast beef with mustard pickle spread, dill pickles and kraut at Hector's Deli.
Shop 1, 94 Buckingham Street, Richmond, hectorsdeli.com.au
Just like their football teams, everyone in Melbourne has a pizza place they say is "The Best", according to Wild. For their money, Lazerpig does a delicious red-sauce-heavy slice; SPQR is the favourite among their Italian friends; and Wolf & Swill offers a sparsely topped Italian-style pizza done brilliantly.
Benn and Wild were visiting Melbourne in 2014 when they heard a whisper about a new hole-in-the-wall pasta bar they had to try – it was Tipo 00. The now-legendary Italian knocked them out with its humble hospitality and delicious pasta. "What Andrea Papadakis produces from that small kitchen is incredible," Benn says. The place still ranks at the top of their list.
361 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, tipo00.com.au
Next door to Tipo 00, sister restaurant Osteria Ilaria is another favourite for Benn and Wild, who have a standing "favourite table" at the venue.
"I love nothing more than going out for a simple bowl of pasta," Wild says. "I'm not there to analyse the food – because restaurants are about more than just food. Funny that, I'm married to a chef."
367 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, osteriailaria.com
Favourite wine bar
Around the corner from Society, Embla has become a regular haunt for the pair, with recent stand-out dishes including ricotta gnocchi with parmesan and saltbush, and pine mushrooms cooked over flames. "When Embla opened it really changed Melbourne," Benn says. "Like Ester in Sydney, it just nails it."
122 Russell Street, Melbourne, embla.com.au
Favourite out-of-town spot
Brigitte Hafner's Tedesca Osteria is worth getting out of town for. "It's great food, in an intimate setting," Benn says.
Wild adds: "It feels like a little bit of Europe on our doorstep. It reminds me of making a pilgrimage to somewhere like Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York."
1175 Mornington-Flinders Road, Red Hill, tedesca.com.au/osteria-tedesca
Favourite north-side eat
Etta is a must-visit for the flounder alone, Wild says. "Hannah Green, who runs the place, is just fantastic. She casually filleted the whole fish at the table while she was talking to us. She is the queen of hospitality."
60 Lygon Street, Brunswick East, ettadining.com.au
Market Lane is the pair's top stop for a CBD caffeine hit. "They're consistently good," Wild says. "Which is so important."
8 Collins Street, city; also The Queen Victoria and Prahran markets, marketlane.com.au
Favourite football team
When a friend asked British-born Benn which footy team he supported, the answer was simple: English Premier League team Tottenham.
"He insisted I needed to follow an AFL team and signed me up as a member of the Melbourne Demons for my birthday!" Benn says.
Favourite late-night hang
When they're looking for a drink, the list is ever-growing. Above Board (level 1, 306 Smith Street, Collingwood), Arlechin (Mornane Place, city) and Siglo (L2/161 Spring Street, city) are all great.
Favourite scene to be seen
Bar Carolina, South Yarra, is the place to spot the real Real Housewives of Melbourne. "The food is pretty great, but the people watching is amazing," Wild says.
44 Toorak Road, South Yarra, barcarolina.com.au