Seafood with a view, dog-friendly bars, catered park feasts and more: Where to eat outside in Melbourne from Friday

Blakes Feast's pillowy finger sandwiches.
Blakes Feast's pillowy finger sandwiches. Photo: Dean Bradley

Does being the world's most locked down city also make us the world's keenest diners-in-waiting? If my personal desperation to eat out is anything to go by, definitely. There's not much I wouldn't do to have someone else pour my drink and make me a bowl of spaghetti. That includes rolling the dice with Melbourne's thrillingly unpredictable spring weather. And praise be, our collective prayers have been answered. 

By Friday, we could be sipping gin while floating on the Yarra at Arbory Afloat, scooping caviar at Scott Pickett's lush bistro Chancery Lane, or luxuriating in a bowl of duck pasta at Heidelberg's Little Black Pig and Sons

Start packing your puffer jackets, umbrellas and sunscreen,Melbourne. We're almost back, and damn it feels good. 

Stokehouse chef Jason Staudt's seafood platter.
Stokehouse chef Jason Staudt's seafood platter. Photo: Ain Raadik

But where to treat your cheeks to their first seat? The new density limits allow restaurants up to 20 customers inside as well as 50 outside.And while those indoor perches may appeal given the sodden weeks we've had, some aren't ready to jump into enclosed spaces with strangers just yet. Thankfully, dining out can mean just that if you want to ease back into society with a fresh air buffer.

In St Kilda, Stokehouse is using October 22 to November 5 to offer their terrace for exclusive use to groups. Summon a crew (minimum 9 people) and for $160 a head you will get canapes and three courses from the Stokehouse menu. Drinks are extra, and if you've been saving your pennies, drop them all on chef Jason Staudt's seafood platter dripping with dressed crab, citrusy cured fish and other jewels of the ocean.

If you've been pining for a beer with mates to introduce your lockdown puppy or baby, there's the dog-friendly Auburn Hotel in Hawthorn, or Hope Street Radio, the Collingwood recording space-slash-bar whose rabbit pappardelle, hyperlocal craft beers and vast, dog-friendly courtyard had already made it a hit for well-rugged-up drinks before lockdown. To the north, family shindigs are back on at Preston's theme park-like beer haven, Moon Dog World (the only brewery with its own lagoon!), and out west, try Zymurgy, where well-crafted barbecue from fine dining chef Julian Hills (chef-owner of Navi) meets a deliciously expansive gravel courtyard.;;

The terrace at Stokehouse.
The terrace at Stokehouse. Photo: Supplied

Craving that real restaurant touch? The fizz of mineral water, the expert whip of a fresh-pressed napkin and a dish you definitely did not try at home? Coskun Uysal, of Balaclava's modern-Turkish star Tulum, is coming out swinging with a short a la carte menu but also, praise be, a full seven-course degustation. Running two sittings on weekdays and three at weekends, your lips could be just two weeks away from Uysal's contemporary rendering of the season's fresh artichokes and tavuk gogsu, his riff on Turkey's mind-bending milk pudding dessert featuring finely shredded chicken breast. Does this mean the end of the lobster and pastirma kebabs Uysal has been serving from Tulum's Istanbul street food cart? At the restaurant, yes, but if you want to rent it for your own park party, get in touch.

Speaking of park parties, brace yourself for a spectacular loophole. While the easing of restrictions means that just 10 people can hold private gatherings, event companies are able to host soirees for up to 50. That means that if you have managed to maintain 49 friendships over lockdown, you can hire the likes of Blakes Feast to serve you a sit-down canape party or barbecue banquet in the park starting this weekend.

Blakes Feast has been serving star lockdown boxes, but this event company's bread and butter is in setting the scene. Cue the return of their picnic concierge service. With exclusive catering rights to the Royal Botanic Gardens from the 26th, you can book a space, where they set up either picnic rugs and throw cushions, of a full seated long table spread with pre-batched negronis and pillowy chicken sandwiches and lemon myrtle blini with cured ocean trout, or a barbecue cooked to order if you want to go premium. Packages start at $60-a-head for a minimum of 10 people, and everything from the wines and cheeses to the Bread Club baguettes is fiercely supportive of Victorian makers. Best of all, leave your trash and they clear it away. Heaven.

Blakes Feast is reintroducing its picnic concierge service, which can serve you a sit-down canape party or a barbecue ...
Blakes Feast is reintroducing its picnic concierge service, which can serve you a sit-down canape party or a barbecue banquet in the park. Photo: Dean Bradley

Yes, the pickings are suddenly rich. Perhaps you're full of angst about where to go or if you're ready to go out at all. My advice? Jump. As we say goodbye to this strange era, brilliant pivots will end. Case in salient point: on October 23 and 24, Hugh Allen's crack team from Vue de Monde is throwing a Vue-b-cue on Southern Cross Lawn at the Royal Botanic Gardens. The fact you can simply walk up and get a crafty crab sausage and wines matched by the master sommeliers of this three-hat restaurant is something we'll remember, and miss.

It may also be our last chance for some time to try Nabil Ansari's smoked garlic sourdough naan and mango lassi soft-serve. The young chef became a pandemic star for his contemporary Indian dishes, but he will soon be returning to active duty at Khanh Nguyen's Aru. For one shining week (October 28 to November 7), his duck samosas and paneer cheese made from St David Dairy milk will take centre stage at his Indian Bazaar, a pop-up restaurant outside the Windsor Hotel's Cricketers Bar.

I can't wait. And after so many weeks in lockdown, how incredible that we won't have to for much longer.