I'm a freelance opinion and travel writer living in a little green van while traveling Australia and beyond. Visit my blog at www.thebearandthemaidenfair.com
Published November 24th 2016
Navigating the Mean Eats of Melbourne
Melbourne is host to some of the best and most diverse restaurants and eateries. Navigating the streets you are confronted with menu after menu boasting mouth-watering offerings designed specifically to intrigue the passerby.
There are a plethora of weekday themed meal deals throughout the city and eating on a budget is easy to do. Roving and eating my way through the various neighbourhoods over the course of a month I discovered many favourites and these are my top six.
6. Located a 30 minute tram ride from the CBD you will find Prahran. This less than central suburb is home to a number of restaurants, shops, and markets that cater to the fringe. Among many of the moderately priced restaurants you will find the cheeky Lucky Coq. This is a venue geared towards backpackers and university students. The main draw to this bar is the daily happy hour when every item on the food menu only costs four dollars.
This is not a place to expect top-notch service or to die for meals. It is, however, a go to for a pint, a snack, and a mingle. Check the events board or ask the occasionally attentive bartenders about the amateur comedy nights so you can pair your early nosh with some free entertainment. You will find yourself coming back again and again as well as visiting their sister bar, Bimbo Deluxe in Fitzroy with similar specials.
5. One block from Lucky Coq is Ghurka's Brasserie, part of a Nepalese restaurant group with multiple locations around the city. While not normally the most affordable, every Monday and Tuesday after 7pm they offer Sample Night. At a set price of $20 per person you are treated to an all you can eat supply of their top dishes. While you aren't given a choice in what you receive, beyond specifying any dietary constraints, they do not skimp on the portions.
Offering three full courses of traditional Nepalese fare you are sure to be satisfied without need of seconds though you are welcome to order as much as you like. I fell in love with their butternut pumpkin and goat curries as well as the rice pudding dessert and the smiles of the waitstaff. The window nook tables are great for a long slow meal lounging on floor cushions and sipping on your BYO wine bottle. Given enough time you can easily test out the sample nights at all of the Ghurka's locations and find your favorite.
4. No trip to Melbourne is complete without visiting the historic China Town district near the CBD. Turning onto Little Bourke Street you are immediately met with the scents of mingling asiatic spices and flavors. Overwhelmed by the options we took a gamble and jumped into the queue outside of Shanghai Street. Absolutely delicious.
You can order at the table, but I suggest ordering with the host before they seat you as your meals will arrive significantly faster. We ordered the fried chicken and prawn dumplings along with the beef soup with vermicelli and coriander. After devouring the first two dishes we decided to order pork and crab XiaoLongBao steamed dumplings. This restaurant gets top marks for the swiftness of their service and the perfection of their dishes. One visit won't be enough, be sure to get their early to avoid the dinner queue as it can stretch around the building.
3. Nestled in the heart of Fitzroy along Smith Street is the Stop 17 Cafe. The first level hosts a few small tables, a quaint kitchenette and the coffee counter. Upstairs you will find the aptly named Writer's Room the walls of which are decorated with hundreds of novels as well as portraits of some of the worlds most eminent authors.
The Writer's Room is far and above my favorite place to dine within the city. It is quiet and spacious with plenty of natural light. The menu is simple with breakfast and lunch dishes as well as daily specials suited to the season and phenomenal baked goods. The food, my friends, is utterly fantastic. The plates have healthy portions with perfectly balanced flavors and the plating is beautiful. It is a true foodie and aesthete haven. Whether you are hungry or just in the mood for a great cup of coffee, this is the number one place to go with moderate, by Melbourne standards, prices and an unparalleled ambiance.
2. The neighborhood of St. Kilda boasts spectacular architecture as well as a soft sea breeze that refreshes the senses. After playing frisbee in the seaside park or strolling along the pier you are ready to feed the beast. Turn inland along Fitzroy Street and you will find Banff located just across from the park. It earns its place in my top six due to its proximity to the shore as well as its hearty breakfast plates and daily pizza deals.
Lunch time is their busiest hour as the business crowds come rushing in to take advantage of $6 pizza specials, so expect a crowd if arriving during lunchtime. Despite the chaos most items come out within ten minutes giving you plenty of time to order a second…or third pizza without stretching out your lunch hour or breaking the bank. Mornings here offer relative solitude at full menu price. The breakfast plates are enormous, we loved the Big Breakfast ($17) and the Eggs Benedict ($14), and the coffee from 3 Green Bean is the best in town. Banff is consistent, delicious, and offers satisfaction at an affordable price.
1. Also in St. Kilda, along the more obscure Blessington Street, is the utterly phenomenal Lentil As Anything (multiple locations). This vegan restaurant has a mind-boggling price system, it is literally pay as you feel. That's right, pay as you feel. No set price. No restriction on the amount you can order. No time limit. The business model allows for those in need to get substantial meals at little to no cost. Supplemented by the kindness and generosity of those with the ability to pay and run completely on volunteer labor it stands as not only a source of high quality culinary delight but also as a testament to societal possibility.
The menu varies daily and never ceases to impress proving that vegan fare can be just as, if not more, scintillating as traditional protein based dishes. They offer full coffee and tea service along with their lunch and dinner menus which consist of four or five main dishes. The seating is small with only six interior tables and a small outdoor section so do be mindful of those waiting to sit and don't be afraid to share a table. Service is fast and friendly and all they ask is that before you leave you drop what you can spare into the donation box. General rule of thumb is at least $5 a plate and $1 per drink, but you are welcome to pay more or less as you can afford. This is an absolute must visit in Melbourne.