Melbourne Money is back for a third time and, in case you missed the memo, the state and local governments are essentially paying you to eat out in the CBD and its surrounding suburbs.
To get in on it, just visit a restaurant or other eatery in the City of Melbourne municipality between Monday and Thursday from March 7 onwards. If you spend between $40 and $500, you can claim a 25 per cent rebate on your bill. The catch is that you can't claim Melbourne Money on a bill that's only drinks - you must order some food.
But there's $10 million available and you can even claim it on food and drink from sporting venues, arts precincts or the theatre. How about lunch by Guy Grossi in the Committee Room at the MCG, then?
Oldies but goodies
It's easy to get dazzled by the new, but let's not forget the solid operators that have provided us with years of happy memories. Il Bacaro (168 Little Collins Street) celebrated 25 years of polished Italian hospitality last year - go in and wish them well if you haven't already. Jetting from Venice to Emilia-Romagna is easy - just keep walking down Little Collins until you find the old Gills Diner site, home to the cosy Trattoria Emilia (360 Little Collins Street) since 2015. Kenzan (45 Collins Street) is sure to fix any cravings for shabu shabu, chirashizushi or sashimi, while MoVida (1 Hosier Lane) is always a good idea for lots of small plates that keep groups happy.
Trattoria Emilia makes a great option for an Italian meal in the city. Photo: Wayne Taylor
Good for groups
Speaking of crowds, you can't do better than Ling Nan (207 Lonsdale Street) for a crowd-pleasing feast that will fit on the lazy susan. It's been a while between XO pippies, but the Chinatown stalwart is back in a new location. New Indonesian restaurant Kata Kita (266 La Trobe Street) from the Sanusi family who opened Yoi, operates at a different pitch to their other restaurant. Larger format dishes, fun cocktails and more plush surrounds are designed for big, languid banquets. Inside Garden State Hotel is hidden a fun-loving Italian restaurant, Tippy Tay (101 Flinders Lane, Melbourne). The menu is full of familiar favourites plus fun surprises like a dessert trolley and negroni fountain.
We tip that plenty of people will be booking tables at the big end of town to spend their Melbourne Money - which is a smart move. You might have trouble finding your preferred time, but it's worth a shot to experience the pleasures of the innovative Sunda (18 Punch Lane) or sumptuous Flower Drum (17 Market Lane), Grossi Florentino's (80 Bourke Street) old world luxury and Gimlet's (33 Russell Street) classic glamour.
Longsong restaurant and bar is back open, along with happy hour from 5pm-7pm. Photo: Simon Schluter
Extra bang for your buck
Many restaurants are further sweetening the deal with their own discounts and deals. Longsong (upstairs, 44 Little Bourke Street), the bar in former horse stables above Longrain, is back open. Start the night with happy hour, 5pm-7pm daily, involving a pot of beer and a prawn betel leaf for $10. Chancery Lane (430 Little Collins Street) is also offering drink specials from Wednesday onwards each week. Laurent-Perrier for $15 a glass, $6 Moon Dog lagers and $3 oysters sound like a great start to the night. Thursdays at Hemingway's Wine Room (150 Wellington Parade, East Melbourne) are a wine-lover's delight, with the entire wine list available at 50 per cent off. Take your pick of Arnaud Baillot grand cru chardonnay, Mount Mary cabernet or premier cru Volnay. There are also mid-week oyster and champagne specials. And Chris Lucas's venues are offering everything from free parking to happy hours until March 15 as part of the Lucas Loves Melbourne initiative to lure diners mid-week. Head to Chin Chin (125 Flinders Lane), Kisume (175 Flinders Lane) or Yakimono, Lillian Terrace or Society (80 Collins Street).
Make the most of your Melbourne Money with a meal at Gimlet. Photo: Earl Carter
If you need a little push to get out of your comfort zone, why not use a 25 per cent discount to get into one of these venues? Miss Mi (cnr Godfrey & Bourke Streets) is an exciting new restaurant that's straddling the line between fine-dining and fun-dining, Asia and Australia, but in the best possible way. It's led by a Malaysian-born chef with fine-dining experience. At Farmer's Daughters (95 Exhibition Street), Peruvian chef Alejandro Saravia has zeroed in on Gippsland, working only with farmers and produce from that region for wine lists, cocktails and food. It's an incredible way to celebrate local. Do you hot pot? Maybe now is your time to take the plunge, so to speak, as you dip fish, prawns, wagyu, pork, tofu and anything else you fancy into bubbling cauldrons of broth of your choice. Panda Hot Pot (100 Victoria Street, Carlton) leans Sichuanese, Nana Thai (169 Bourke Street) combines hot pot and grill for double the fun, and Dainty Sichuan (149 Lonsdale Street) is all fire.
The dessert trolley at Tippy Tay, a new Italian restaurant inside Garden State Hotel. Photo: Pete Dillon
Not the city
There are places to spend Melbourne Money that aren't in the CBD, of course, with suburbs like Carlton, Kensington, North Melbourne and Southbank all part of the City of Melbourne. Big flavours and generous feasts are the MO at The Abyssinian (277 Racecourse Road, Kensington), serving dishes from the Horn of Africa. Pick and choose from pulses, Berbere fish and more – or let the kitchen decide with a chef's platter. In Carlton, see what happens when Japanese flavours meet the Aussie cafe at Ima Project (169 Elgin Street, Carlton). The menu includes rice bowls, soba salad and set meals with miso soup, rice, pickles and a main dish, with Proud Mary coffee and specialty tea on offer. Or head to Sosta (12 Errol Street, North Melbourne) for the culinary equivalent of a big warm hug, whether it's spanner crab and pangrattato spaghettini or crumbed lamb cutlets.
Find out more about Melbourne Money and how to claim at melbourne.vic.gov.au