Double jabbed? Then it's time to pack a picnic, pals. We've now missed so many social occasions that rocking up with a wedge of supermarket cheddar and a bunch of grapes feels a little underwhelming. Well, fret not. The options for turning a picnic platter into a party are many.
Sushi and kimbap
Tochi Deli is a pocket rocket in a Brunswick plaza turning out incredibly high-grade nigiri and sashimi. Daily specials run from creamy lobes of sea urchin (uni), otoro (fatty tuna belly), to yuzu-scented scallops and steamed conger eel dressed in a sauce of its own gelatin. Summon a platter, add some salmon onigiri and agedashi tofu don and rock up to the park with some serious swagger. Buy before noon – they close as soon as they sell out.
655 Sydney Road, Brunswick, follow on Instagram @tochideli
Also try: Song Bap makes beautiful boxes of kimbap – Korean sushi hand rolls. The team has been on hiatus for the past two months, but the platters of hand rolls, heavily filled with pickles, sesame rice, maybe bulgogi, wrapped with egg or tofu skins are making a comeback. Follow on Instagram @_song_bap
Lona Misa, the plant-based Latin American restaurant headed up by vegan chef Shannon Martinez and Ian Curley at South Yarra's newish Ovolo Hotel is properly equipped for the season. As well as hampers featuring some of the more portable and popular dishes from the restaurant – oyster mushroom "ceviche" in a coconut and poblano pepper dressing; scoops of house guacamole and salt-baked pumpkin with frijoles (beans), you can rent blankets, baskets, plates and glassware (for your prosecco or NON's caramelised pear sparkling).
234 Toorak Road, South Yarra, ovolohotels.com
Also try: It's hard not to love Free to Feed's boxes. They're largely vegan, with plenty of dairy- and gluten-free dips, dolma and falafels, plus focaccias, olives, goat's cheese balls and pickles, and they come with the knowledge that the funds support asylum seekers. This year, they're also doing build-your-own falafel wrap boxes for just $40, serving four.
539 High Street, Northcote, freetofeed.org.au
Brazilian empadao pies from Sambas Empadas. Photo: Chloe Dann
It's pie time we saw the return of Samba Empadas, Thiago Mateus' Brazilian empadao side hustle. The gloriously tall 1.6kg pies, encased in a golden-brown crust and filled with caramelised leeks and palm hearts (the veg option and possibly best flavour), spicy shredded chicken and corn, or moqueca (Brazilian seafood stew), are the ultimate plus-size party pie.
And after Mateus made a sea change, they have a new home at Ocean Beach Pavilion in Sorrento, where you can pick them up along with the venue's own sashimi, bento boxes and Japanese cocktails. Mateus also delivers to Portsea and Blairgowrie, and drops pre-ordered empadao to Harry and Larry's General Store in Footscray.
154-164 Ocean Beach Road, Sorrento, oceanbeachpavilion.com.
Blakeaway's build-your-own bao kit. Photo: Dean Bradley
Also try: Blakeaway is the Portsea-based pivot from couture caterer Blake's Feast, serving up everything from chia parfaits (if you want a beachy brunch) to Bannockburn chicken finger sandwiches, leek and manchego quiche, bao kits and rhubarb margaritas.
Shop 2, 3770 Point Nepean Road, Portsea, blakeaway.com.au
His Indian feasts featuring steamed lamb biriyani and duck samosas were a highlight of last year's lockdown. And from now until reopening, Sunda chef Nabil Ansari is making handheld magic, serving puffy, charred sourdough naan filled with the likes of chicken tikka dressed in his vibrant coriander chutney and pickled onions, or shredded lamb with bitter leaves and smoked yoghurt (above). Pick them up from the Cricketer's Bar at the Hotel Windsor on weekends for a Treasury Gardens party.
111 Spring Street, Melbourne, thehotelwindsor.com.au
Crayfish and prawn roll fom The Fishmonger's Son. Photo: Parker Blain
Roll out the lobster
Put the words hot, lobster and rolls together and you are guaranteed a frenzy. So it is at Melbourne's beloved French institution France-Soir, anyway, where on Sundays they add a limited number of brioche buns filled with hot, chopped buttery lobster and sell out in a flash. Add Bloody Marys, oysters shucked to order, terrines and a Nicoise salad for the best party you can have on the ground.
11 Toorak Road, South Yarra, france-soir.com.au
Also try: Northside? Seafood deli The Fishmonger's Son, which fills what used to be Carlton North's 100-year-old icon Canals, does a Saturday special of crayfish and prawn, bound with mayo, and finely sliced red onion in a crunchy white baguette. They do a very tidy sashimi pack, too.
703 Nicholson Street, Carlton North, thefishmongersson.com
Hummus is the hottest thing on the internet courtesy of Tom Sarafian's newly jarred dip (right).
But if you want a more well-rounded banquet, Tahini Neri, the nutty sesame paste made in Melbourne using premium Ethiopian seeds, has recently opened a Fridays-only shopfront, Neri's Hummus Bar, in Bentleigh East, where you can pick up hummus bowls loaded with pickles, fresh falafel and warm spiced chickpeas for $10, along with their green and spicy tahinis.
937 Centre Road, Bentleigh East, tahinineri.com.au
Also try: Golda in Prahran has you covered for Israeli feasts, whether it's park weather or if Melbourne pulls out a surprise deluge. Packs are stuffed with fresh baked pita, beetroot hummus, and your choice of shawarma (either mushroom or lamb), cous cous salads and roast potatoes. Add wines and pomegranate cocktails (but follow the outdoor drinking rules).
162 Commercial Road, Prahran, goldarestaurant.com.au