Getting a $5 meal around Melbourne Central is no mean feat, but good $5 feeds do exist, and I've gone out to prove it. There are two great venues in and around Melbourne Central offering a $5 dining experience, and not just for lunch – dinners too. We'll start with the well-known option: Asian Beer Café, located on level 3, overlooking the State Library.
These are available from 11am to 11pm, making them perfect for a light lunch or dinner. If you're the lucky kind of person who can eat gluten, you may be more tempted by the $5 pizzas also available from 11 to 11. I imagine they're more filling than the salad bowl, however I find these salads very satisfying. They're plastered with toppings, and have a good mixture of Asian cabbage and other greens. And, each come with guacamole, and a few corn chips. YES!
Your $5 salad bowl comes with your choice of any of the pizza toppings. I recommend 'Aladdin'.
Now to the lesser known $5 feed I recently discovered, which has since become a favourite: RedLove. You'll find the red door just north of Little Latrobe Street, about 70 metres away from the Swanston Street entrance to Melbourne Central.
Head upstairs into the elegant dimness above. It's a nightmare to get a photo of this place, because the lighting is kept low, and the décor is all black and deep red. So I'm sorry, no pictures here – you'll have to go check it out yourself.
The RedLove kitchen (called Brewhouse Kitchen) opens at 4pm from Tuesdays to Saturdays. I imagine the food specials are designed to bring in the after-work crowd to spend money on drinks. The only thing is, the drinks are cheap too! On Tuesday and Thursday you can get $5 pints of anything on tap, and $5 wines. Personally, getting a steak, burger or fish and chips with a pint of cider for a total of $10 is high up on my 'winning at life' list. I definitely have my priorities straight.
There is a normal menu too, with most items around $14, however there's a $5 deal on every day:
Doing my due diligence, I've been on a Tuesday and a Thursday now (and maybe on a Friday for the 2 for 1 drinks…)
The pressing question – how good can a $5 meal be? The answer is: very good. Unless you're a big eater, in which case, you might need two. But on a Thursday that means you can get a steak AND some fish and chips, for $10. I always find it hard to choose between steak and fish, so I happily ordered both and stuffed myself a little silly.
I was delighted to find that the fish was gluten free – grilled, not deep fried, and really nicely cooked. The meat portions were the right size for a serving, which means to our typically over-eating sensibilities, they looked a little small. But by the time I was tucking into my second meal, I was feeling rather full. The next time I went, I only ordered ONE, and I felt very healthy. (Well, healthy-ish. The side salad makes up for the chips, right?)
The quality is also good. It's nothing amazing, but for $5 I'd say it's excellent. The chips are lovely, the salads are fresh, and the meat has always been good quality and well-cooked.
On another visit, I took a friend for burgers, and she enjoyed her real burger option (by that I mean, she ate the bun). Me, I had a bun-less burger, and it was a fantastic way to go.
And, because we were spending $5 on the meal, we felt like a $5 cider and wine were an acceptable splurge. I took this photo in an attempt to show how huge the pints of cider are. It's the Brewhouse's own apple cider; enjoyed with some lime, it was a fresh, medium-sweet cider that I'll definitely drink again. The house red was of unknown origin, and I enjoyed it – but I'm a cheap red drinker. It's kind of my thing.
So, next time your wallet is feeling thin, and your stomach is calling for a decent meal, remember Red Love from Tuesday-Thursday after 4pm, and ABC all day, every day, 11am-11pm for pizzas and filling salads.
It's probably no surprise to you that these are now my second homes. Though, truth be told, the money I save on food by eating here gets spent on the $14 espresso martini at ABC. But hey, what's the point of saving money unless you spend it on something fun?