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‘WHERE SHOULD I eat in Melbourne?’ is a bit like asking ‘Where should I shop in Paris?’ – the city is brimming with unforgettable venues, making your Friday or Saturday night dinner plans an arduous task. But as locals know, this is an excellent problem to have. Whether it’s a pokey Cantonese eatery with the best noodles you’ve ever slurped, a wine bar that specialises in Spanish drops or a glossy dining room overlooking the CBD — you name it, Melbourne has it. 

Yet, not all restaurants are created equal. And when selecting those that offer a truly essential experience, the editors of Esquire went deep on what it is that makes eating in Melbourne such a popular pastime: the spirit of experimentalism, the creative fusion of diverse cultures, the city’s unmistakable ambience, top-notch service and the belief that food is an art form and should be enjoyed as such. 

As you eat your way through this list, we’re certain you’ll come to agree. 


Gimlet

33 Russell St, Melbourne

Gimlet Burger
credit: Jo McCann

When Gimlet first opened its doors in between Melbourne’s lockdowns of 2020, it did so momentarily, until it was forced shut by the next round of lockdowns to come. And so was deprived Melbourne’s dining scene of a truly great culinary delight. Fast forward to 2023 and the staff at Gimlet will tell you they haven’t looked back since.

Bookings are hard to come by at this elegant bar and bistro, but with a little patience, you’ll soon find your seat at one of Melbourne’s great dining destinations. Owner Andrew McConnell (Cutler & Co; Marion; Supernormal) has done an exceptional job at sustaining what is a great restaurant without any signs of fatigue – its European-style fitout and ambiance is exceptional, but it has the menu to back up its Instagram-worthy aesthetics, too. On the topic of the menu, expect to find classics like house and Giaveri Beluga caviar, pipe rigate with blue swimmer crab, dry-aged club steak with fries and salad, or the famed half Southern rock lobster, wood-roasted in saffron rice. Looking for a late night feed? You’ll find Gimlet’s famed cheeseburger on the the supper menu, available after 10pm.   


Grossi Florentino

80 Bourke St, Melbourne

Grossi Florentino restaurant setting
credit: Kate Shanasy

We’re hard-pressed to name another Italian dining institution in Melbourne quite like Grossi Florentino. With an unprecedented history that dates back to the early 1900s, the site where Grossi Florentino resides today has been a symbol of romantic, old-world charm that is integral to the history of Melbourne; you only need to sit in one of Florentino’s historic rooms to feel such a resounding sense of history.

Like many great Italian dining establishments, it’s a family affair at Grossi Florentino. Helmed by Guy Grossi, you’ll often find the legendary chef and restaurateur guiding the kitchen or catching up with regular patrons in the dining room (where he’s likely to share with you a story or two). On the floor, son Carlo Grossi will host guests with that quintessential Italian charm and hospitality, as well as imparting his wine knowledge for every dish to come. On that matter of food…what can we say? Mouthwatering, delectable, succulent, comfortable are some of the adjectives that come to mind. Start with traditional antipasti dishes like coniglio agrodolce (braised rabbit with pastina and a saffron sauce) or polipo affettato (pressed octopus with potato and capers). Work your way towards the lobster risotto (or really any of the hand-made pasta dishes available, all equally delicious). And revel in one of the mains, like the succulent Maialino al Latte (suckling pig in milk).  


Di Stasio Carlton

224 Faraday St, Carlton

Mallory Wall and Ronnie Di Stasio at their new Carlton pizzeria
credit: Kristoffer Paulsen

What began as a lockdown obsession for owner and restaurateur Ronnie Di Stasio has now transformed into one of Melbourne’s hottest new eateries. For it’s here in the heart of Lygon Street, Carlton that Di Stasio serves what could possibly be the best pasta and pizza you’re likely to enjoy beyond the Italian border.

Keeping things lively, this non-typical “pizzeria” forms three separate spaces inside that resemble a futuristic-style pizza parlour, adorned by artwork by zeitgeisty Melbourne artists Reko Rennie and Shaun Gladwell. Out back, you’ll find an authentic courtyard bar that, on a sunny Melbourne day, is reminiscent of a Roman-style piazza.

Chef Federico Congiu is the man behind the epic menu, who makes his own jersey milk mozzarella fiore di latte for pizzas, grows his own San Marzano tomatoes for toppings and sources a special durum wheat flour milled in Tamworth. Beyond the authentic wood fired-style pizzas (the Finocchiona is our pick), you simply can’t go past one of its epic pasta dishes, like the homemade bombolotti carbonara.  


Grill Americano

112 Flinders Ln, Melbourne

Grill Americano restaurant interior
credit: Grill Americano

Located in Melbourne’s culinary heartland, this Flinders Lane establishment is not only one of Melbourne’s newest, but also one of its best. Acclaimed restaurateur Chris Lucas (Society; Kisume; Chin Chin) is behind Grill Americano, a restaurant that features classic Italian hospitality paired with the finest Australian produce. Here at Grill Americano, you’ll find tasty homemade pastas, impeccably fresh seafood and specially-procured beef that includes some of the rarest wagyu breeds around.

Whilst not exactly cheap, ordering a steak at Grill Americano will quite possibly be one of the finest you’ll have in Melbourne (or anywhere, for that matter). The secret? The hand-built wood oven and Josper Grill. Heat and flame work in harmony to create an unmistakable flavour profile that benefits both meats and seafood. The wine cellar is equally as impressive; it houses over 2000 bottles from all over the world. Ending the night with a piece of the Grill Americano tiramisu is not optional, but obligatory.


Flower Drum

17 Market Ln, Melbourne

Flower drum peking duck
credit: Flower Drum

On the topic of Melbourne institutions, it would be remiss of us not to include the first and only Chinese restaurant in Australia to be awarded three chefs hats. Established by the Lau family back in 1975, Flower Drum has been serving patrons new and old its famed authentic Cantonese cuisine for close to 50 years. What’s the secret to its success, you might ask? It most definitely has something to do with part owner and executive chef, Anthony Lui, who has been at the helm of its kitchen for close to three decades.

When dining at Flower Drum, sometimes the easiest route is to let the experts make the tough choices: the feed-me menu offers all the classics, like the Jade Tiger abalone with crystal noodles, the succulent eye fillet with superior soy, the special fried rice, and of course, the famed peking duck pancakes.  


Minamishima

4 Lord St, Richmond

Minamishima nigiri kohada
credit: Minamishima

Located on a quiet residential street in Richmond, Minamishima may be tucked away — but its reputation as one of Australia’s finest Japanese restaurants is anything but a secret. 

This quaint, three chef hats dining destination only offers 40 seats on any given night, so reservations can be hard to come by. At the helm of its tightly-run, almost synchronised kitchen is sushi master, Koichi Minamishima. With a special focus on sushi, each piece of nigiri shaped at the hands of Minamishima is a work of art, and a culinary moment you’re likely never to forget. 


Marion

53 Gertrude St, Fitzroy

Marion anchovies on toast
credit: Jo McCann

A local’s favourite that is busy every night of the week, Andrew McConnell’s less-serious (but equally delicious) Marion has now become a permanent fixture on the hustle and bustle of Fitzroy’s Gertrude Street. This quaint wine bar not only lays claim to one of the most comprehensive wine lists of the north, but its small yet thoughtful menu is equally impressive. Start with the obligatory grilled flatbread and fromage blanc as you sip on the best new local drop, and follow suit with the Ortiz anchovy gilda, the fennel salami and roast beetroot for good measure. For mains, the roast half chicken is a hearty treat, as are the side of fries you’ll order to go with it.  


Society

80 Collins St, Melbourne

Society boeuf wellington
credit: Society

Another Chris Lucas staple, Society is an elegant dining affair reserved for some of life’s most special occasions. A statement of modern Australian design and cuisine, Society offers an almost illusive dining experience that’s relaxed yet opulent, sexy yet refined – you’ll also find that no two dining visits are ever the same. At the heart of its menu is a formidable cellar offering, with over 10,000 bottles of local and international wine on offer, sourced from the most reputable producers. This list goes hand-in-hand with the delectable dishes on offer; Oscietra caviar with brioche rolls, fresh tuna with jamon and finger lime, lobster tortellini with tomato, sorrel, and Magra lamb.  


Brae

4285 Cape Otway Rd, Birregurra 

Brae grounds and restaurant exterior
credit: Kristoffer Paulsen

While technically not “in” Melbourne, if you drive 1.5 hours southwest of the city, you’ll come to find what is, perhaps, one of the very best restaurants in Australia: Brae.

Located in Victoria’s Otway hinterland in the township of Birregurra, Brae is a restaurant, yes, but it also comprises a guest house and working organic farm. Helmed by owner and head chef Dan Hunter, no two visits to this regional outpost will ever be the same; awarded three chefs hats, the ever-changing set menu incorporates seasonal produce harvested from Brae Farm, surrounding land and local, ethical, sustainable producers. 

The result is one of the most unique menus in Australia, famed for its respect for nature and seasonality. Word of advice: arrive hungry. The menu at Brae, while constantly evolving and changing, will often consist of a dozen or more delectable dishes. Truly exceptional.


ARU

268 Little Collins St, Melbourne

ARU restaurant interiors
credit: ARU

“Where native Australian ingredients and modern Asian flavours meet the wood fired hearth.” That’s what you you will come to find when dining at Melbourne’s ARU, the sister restaurant to the ever-popular Sunda.

ARU honours the ancient cooking techniques of seafarers who frequented the Sino-Indonesian-Australian route, so expect to find meat, vegetables and fish that are, in some shape or form, fermented, smoked, cured, preserved or fire-licked. With a menu that’s designed to be shared, we recommend ordering a few dishes from each presented section. Start with ARU’s “snacks” like smoked scallops or a duck sausage sanga, then navigate through to smaller plates in Kingfish collar and torched Ora King Salmon. Arrive last at larger plates like the Barramundi with buttermilk dashi, yuzu kosho, leek and blood Lime.