If it's been a few years between daiquiris in secret Melbourne laneways, know this: there's a lot to chew on right now.
Even between hitting the town and writing this story, several things have opened that deserve a mention. Chris Lucas' Grill Americano is making waves on Flinders Lane with his retro ode to the classic brasserie.
It's spaghetti at 50 paces thanks to the Madrusans (boozing legends behind Heartbreaker and the Everleigh) – they've just swung the doors open on family-friendly, 100-seat red sauce joint, Connie's.
Meatball sub enthusiasts may consider throwing their hands in the air like they just don't care with Rocco's Bologna Discoteca setting up a permanent shop in Fitzroy. The list goes on. It's good to be back.
Mallory Wall and Ronnie Di Stasio at their new Carlton pizzeria in Faraday Street. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen
Di Stasio Pizzeria
There is no Italian travertine paver left unturned at Ronnie Di Stasio's Carlton pizzeria, where even the fountain was brought in stone by stone from a 17th century Roman farmhouse. As trite as it may sound, there's nowhere quite like this in Melbourne – the filtered sun coming through the olive trees, the sound of the tinkling fountain, the crunch of stones underfoot, the bite of the Negroni in your hand – it feels properly Italian. It's the little things that make it a big deal. The chilli sauce comes in a specially made glass swan. Extra basil – the big-leafed Genovese kind – comes resting on a perfect dish of crushed ice. The lobster pizza is soft, yielding and so light. Consider this the ultimate date venue for one – order yourself cocktail, a margherita pizza, sit in the courtyard and meditate.
224 Faraday Street, Carlton, distasio.com.au
Gimlet is the newest jewel in the crown for Andrew McConnell's Trader House group. Photo: Earl Carter
What a time to be a big swinging bistro. Just when Melbourne needed a bit of the old razzle dazzle to cure its lockdown blues, Gimlet arrived, the newest jewel in the crown for Andrew McConnell's Trader House group (Supernormal, Cutler & Co, Cumulus Inc., Morning Market). There are oysters to start and steak to share – straight up deliciousness that errs on the conservative side of cooking (for McConnell, anyway). But you can also make a meal from the smaller parts of the menu. Take crunchy breakfast radishes with zucchini cream, gnocchi fritti draped in wisps of bresaola or fresh-made casarecce enriched with buttery spanner crab. And order a gimlet – it'd be rude not to.
33 Russell Street, Melbourne, gimlet.melbourne
A slice of 10-layered honey cake from Gray and Gray. Photo: Jason South
Gray and Gray Bread and Wine
Ever heard of Black Sea cuisine? No? Maybe it's time to take yourself over to Northcote for a slice of 10-layered honey cake that's driving the internet wild, a few Georgian wines and a plate of cold cuts, pickles and mustards. Possibly not in that order, but hey – who says you shouldn't start dinner with layers of firm, biscuity medovik? Here, chef Boris Portnoy applies his fine-dining pedigree to share plates such as fresh figs showered in shavings of aged cheese, tiny toasts schmeared with duck liver and dressed with stroganoff sauce, and the ultra-comforting semolina pasta sheets filled with cabbage, pureed potato and currants.
188 High Street, Northcote, breadandwine.com.au
Caretaker's Cottage combines the charm of a small pub with the razor-sharp skills of a cocktail bar. Photo: Supplied
Missing the fine work of Rob Libecans, Ryan Noreiks and Matt Sterling when you visit the southern city (you might remember them from such excellent bars as the Black Pearl and Fancy Free)? Well, fret no more. Their new place, a 1914 cottage behind a church in the heart of the city, combines all the charm of a small pub (some are calling it Victoria's smallest) with the razor-sharp skills of a craft cocktail bar. Try the Black Rock Chiller for some real chest-thumping firepower – tequila reposado, branca menta, and Suze gentiane. Don't breathe. Don't move a muscle.
139-141 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, caretakerscottage.bar
Dining with a focus on wining at Public Wine Shop. Photo: Eddie Jim
Public Wine Shop
It's the wine bar that Melburnians love to love, and one you should consider falling for it too. A partnership between Campbell Burton (ex-Builders Arms/Moon Under Water) and Ali Currey-Voumard (ex-Agrarian Kitchen in Tasmania, last seen tending bar at Hobart pub, Tom McHugo's), it's dining with a focus on wining. Come for the crisps and salami, but stay for the flounder bathing in lemon and butter, with a chilled cherry tart for dessert. Or simply hold your glass out for a little more of whatever Burton is pouring.
179 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North, publicwineshop.com.au
Could Hope St Radio be the most Melbourne thing ever? Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui
Hope St Radio
Well, this is cool. An alt-internet radio station is now a permanent resident at this Collingwood canteen – part of the arts and community hub Collingwood Yards. They broadcast from a communal corner table while all around them, crudites, focaccia, burrata and glasses of pet nat fly by. Probably the most Melbourne thing ever, and stands to reason we'd never have anything this cool in Sydney.
35 Johnston Street, Collingwood, hopestradio.community
Buffalo mozzarella en croute tartufo at Lollo @ W Hotel Melbourne. Photo: Josh Robenstone
An all-new hotel for an all-new Melbourne, the W goes beyond the brief, delivering next-level comfort, down to the Japanese loos in the bathroom (heated seats!) and the mini bar stocked with local Melbourne treats. An enclosed 25-metre rooftop pool means you can get a swim in year round and the central location makes it highly accessible to many city-centric eats. Don't want to leave the clutches of the hotel? Try the excellent Japanese restaurant Warabi, or Adam D'Sylva's flagship hotel restaurant, Lollo, which offers a duck lasagne and the stretchiest cheese pie seen this side of Campania. Keen to continue the party? Wander down to the hotel's underground bar, Curious – an updated, lavish ode to the grand hotel cocktail bars of days gone by.
408 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, marriott.com
An ideal place to stop, drop and nap before another day of Melbourne adventuring, you'll find all the comfy trappings Hilton hotels reliably offer, with a breakfast buffet you can really settle in with. Plush, quiet rooms, and the gorgeous, art deco-inspired cocktail bar downstairs, Douglas Club, make this a perfect resting place between meals.
18 Little Queen Street, Melbourne, hilton.com
Myffy Rigby was a guest of Visit Victoria and Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.