Top 3 Hangouts in North Melbourne

  1. Auction Rooms


Auction Rooms is arguably one of the pioneers that helped shape the Melbourne ‘café scene’ that we’ve now come to expect in every neighbourhood. Opened nearly 10 years ago, this now well-established cafe was one of the first to transform an old disused warehouse into an industrial-chic dining space.  With a focus on good coffee and creative all-day breakfasts, it quickly built a reputation as one of Melbourne’s best places for brunch. This might even be the café I first discovered smashed avocado? The menu is small, but all the favourites are present with some dishes inspired by Mexican and Middle Eastern flavours. True to its beginning, Auction Rooms continues to deliver and is still a favourite for the locals and beyond.

Errol Street

2. Beatrix


Tucked away in a small corner shop, you may find yourself queuing for a seat. The place is small but oozing with temptation. A cake lover’s haven, your biggest dilemma will be choosing which cake to order alongside your Allpress coffee. It is clear that everything on display is made with love and definitely worth the calories. There’s a small selection of carefully thought out savoury options too, which makes Beatrix a perfect place for breakfast and lunch, or perhaps just a treat. The locals adore this little gem, so if you’re in the area, at the very least grab a take-away taster!

Queensberry Street


3. Mörk – Chocolate Brew House


Melbourne, it’s not always about good coffee!...... Mörk takes chocolate to another level, so for all you hot chocolate drinkers out there, this is your place to brag about – and better still, there is no coffee on site.

Inspired by the same approach taken by specialty coffee-makers, Mörk chocolate is ethically sourced, traceable and from unique origins - let’s just say they take their chocolate very seriously. The café shares the space with the on-site cacao roasting warehouse. 

Variations in the house-made hot chocolate are not only based on the different percentages of cacao but also on how’s it’s blended. You have a choice of cow’s milk, house-made oat milk, almond milk, Shaw River buffalo milk, and if you’re feeling like a little something extra, you can add a toasted vanilla bean marshmallow. There is also a selection of creative signature hot chocolate beverages with some…… you guessed it, chocolate treats to indulge in.

Errol Street

While you are in the hood, be sure to book a wellness massage at Milk & Honey
One of our favourite places to unwind and escape the world.

Matilda 159

A fan of both Saint Crispin and Estelle, I was curious to discover what Scott Pickett had been up to in his latest Melbourne venture, Matilda 159, located on Domain Road in South Yarra. Endearingly named after his daughter, Matilda 159 promises – “open flames, hot coals, and incredible local produce.”


From the moment you walk in, you’ll smell the smoke from the flames in the open kitchen. The interior design is contemporary, with rich earthy tones reminiscent of the central Australian landscape and locally sourced, custom-made timber tables. The mood was instantly warm and relaxed, true to its Australian vibe – even though it’s a fine dining restaurant.

The detailed components of every dish are what makes this a special dining experience. The focus is on local produce, but with Scott’s magic, the meals are transformed into something quite incredible; this is not your traditional steak restaurant. We shared the 21-day dry aged grass-fed 1kg Hopkins River rib eye, accompanied by delicate and simple side dishes: it was a melt-in-your-mouth moment. My only criticism would be the lack of hot chips on the menu. Don’t get me wrong: the broccolini with Shaw River aged cheddar and the marble potatoes cooked in hay were both impressive, but with a steak so deliciously tender, I’d say it’s un-Australian not to serve hot chips! Or maybe I’m just obsessed with these deep-fried potato sticks of heaven – they’re definitely my weakness.

I always find that entrees are the most creative and interesting items on fine dining menus. The serves were generous and presented beautifully, perfect for sharing. We enjoyed: the tartlet of salmon roe with bonito cream; kingfish ceviche with granny smith and celery; and the smoked spanner crab with prawn butter and flat bread. The most entertaining part of the night was having our Irish waiter explain all the dishes as they arrived. Although detailed and passionate, he brought a down-to-earth approach to what could have been a very ‘wanky’ experience.


We finished on a tangy high, with our hero dessert: Imperial mandarin, caramelised buttermilk and kaffir lime. You’ll also find an impressive wine, craft beer and drinks list – and if you’re early for your reservation, head to the bar downstairs.

This new venue is a special-occasion restaurant, and the quality and attention to detail doesn’t go unnoticed – even down to the Le Labo handwash and cream in the bathroom. So, if you have something to celebrate, make Matilda 159 your destination.

Flatiron Side Door, Kew

I just wish this place was walking distance from my house, because I have a feeling it would become my second home – you know, like a modern-day version of “Cheers” - a place where everybody knows your name. Of course, Flatiron Side Door is nothing like the pub ‘Cheers’ though – it is far too elegant and designer savvy. After all, the ever-so-cool wife and husband duo Emma and Ben Bangay are the people behind this little gem.

Owners Ben & Emma Bangay

Owners Ben & Emma Bangay

Flatiron is located in Kew, an area that has changed so much over the last decade. A plethora of young families now reside in 3101 and they desperately seek local businesses that can relate to them. Like many other inner-city suburbs, cafés in Kew were quick to the game. You’ll find many local places that offer smashed avo and a good coffee, but the team at Flatiron has brought something truly unique and beautiful to the local ‘hood.


There are two parts to this corner wonderland. The first half of the business was launched over a year ago where Emma’s sisters run a successful fashion and homeware boutique. HINT:  Dads – with Mother’s Day around the corner, it’s a safe bet that any gift from Flatiron is sure to be a winner.

The second half, with entry via the ‘Side Door,’ is the magical wine bar. The attention to the fit out and decor cannot go unnoticed. Beautiful textures, colours and artwork make the space both inside and out, a warm, welcoming chic place to hang. Carmen and I visited on a warm Sunday afternoon and sat outside absorbing the autumn sunshine in the beautiful leafy garden; enjoying a lovely pinot gris from the Adelaide Hills, some carefully selected cheese and homemade pizza. If you are struggling to get a babysitter, children are welcome with toys and books to keep them busy, or better still, leave them at home with dad, grab a few girlfriends and make a night of it by hitting the cocktail list.


Flatiron Side Door is open from: Thur- Sun 3pm until late and is available for private functions, from 40th birthday parties through to school social nights. It also hosts women’s workshops and events. Recently, sub-urban was invited to meet the founder of the skin-care brand Rationale, Richard Parker for a Q & A. It was truly an inspiring afternoon.

For more information visit

Photography: Mandy Couzens








A guide to coffee in WeFo

Welcome to West Footscray – or WeFo – an emerging suburb in Melbourne’s inner west.  Less famous and more suburban than our notoriously gritty neighbour Footscray, our evolving little pocket is home to a thriving number of young families renovating their 1950s homes, gorgeous cafés and a Melbourne’s best Indian food scene.

A hub for Melbourne’s Indian community, WeFo is well worth visiting during the festivals of Holi (March) when revellers bomb Barkly St in vivid coloured powder (kids love it) and Diwali, the festival of lights (November 2018).

The community feel in WeFo is like the way I grew up in the 1980s. My street has its own lively Facebook page and since recently having twins I’ve been inundated with lasagne and other kindnesses.

WeFo’s charms are not laid out but need to be discovered, so don’t expect to pull up mid-week and just mosey about. Barkly St is a world away from the nearby shopping strips of Seddon and Yarraville and can feel shabby and weirdly quiet during the day. Criticise it at your peril: many locals staunchly defend its authenticity, bristling at the suggestion it is just a matter of time before the shops reflect the skyrocketing house prices.

But good or bad, where little Allegra’s and Iggy’s scoot around packed playgrounds gentrification is well and truly afoot, parents need their coffee (this one in particular) and there are some gorgeous treats worth exploring hidden up suburban streets.  So armed with that Pinnacle of Perambulators, the Blunderbuss of Bugaboos, the newborn double, here we go!

DUMBO– 11 Argyle St

When sub-urban’s Helen braved it across town for a visit we decided to check this place out. Even she was just a little impressed. We got the pram in with some good natured jiggling and jostling by staff and diners alike (thank you). The food here is excellent - classic café menu fare with intelligent interpretations that keep it interesting. Anything pastry be it stuffed sweet or savoury will not disappoint. A clever take away coffee window helps the small space work efficiently.


WEST48–48 Essex St and Sims Supermarket

The Allpress coffee here is consistently excellent and the menu is an eclectic mix of Asian and Middle Eastern influences. It all works seamlessly, with organised and professional service. Their little salmon brioche thingies sit in one hand with perfection. Popular with staff from nearby Footscray hospital means parking can be tricky however these guys are on it and there is an alternative coffee machine in the Sims* supermarket (511 Barkly St).



BROTHER NANCY – 182 Essex St

The service here feels like being in a friend’s living room – warm and familiar.  Owner and local dad Lee serves up Proud Mary coffee and always has something a little quirky on the specials board – think Guatemalan black beans for breakfast. The real drawcard is the drip filter coffee.  Lee is informed to the point of fanaticism and will talk you through what’s available that day.


Pod Café @ Post Industrial Design – 638 Barkly St

Childcare rebate just hit your bank account? Head to Pod. It shares its space with Post Industrial Design, a shop immaculately curated with all sorts of wonderful curios from old-school children’s toys to hand-painted ceramics and tights, jewellery and bags and original art and metal work. Visit in December and check out the alternativeme chanised Christmas window produced by local artist Jos Van Hulsen. The café is worth a visit in its own right – excellent coffee, notable shakshouka eggs and I always grab a home made jam on the way out (strawberry and rosewater this week).


TIWARI TEA HOUSE – 1/578 Barkly St

Bahrat Traders has been established on Barkly Street for over two decades and daughter Prati has branched out next door with this quirky little tea house complete with tones of the British Raj decor. I’ve not bothered to try the coffee given the extensive tea options and the classic masala chai is excellent. A great daytime option for those wanting Indian food, my older kids love the paneerparatha and samosas – this is proper Indian street food, freshly prepared.


Should you be looking for an evening meal, Barkly St is lively and fun come sundown. Aangan is the classic Indian restaurant on this strip (559 Barkly St) and it’s hard to go past it – I’ve never had a bad meal here and as far as authenticity goes there are plenty of Indian faces at tables. If Indian isn’t your thing the fabulous South American Nuevo Latino Los Rodruiguez (553 Barkly St) deserves its own entry. Bookings absolutely essential at both.

*The supermarket, Sims, is the heart of WeFo and recently went into receivership sparking calls for a community buy out to keep it just the way it is, which is like walking into 1988. Check out this very funny spoof FB page out to understand a little more about this affectionate, and somewhat contradictory, community:

Review by proud WeFo resident Caitlin MacLeod



Methodist Coffee, Hawthorn

Looking for somewhere new to grab a coffee? Try Methodist on Burwood Road - and indulge in a spot of breakfast or lunch while you're there.

I recently organised a catch up with a couple of local friends, and the only prerequisite was to try somewhere new. Driving down Burwood Road a thousand times a week, I noticed a big black and white coffee sign out the front of a heritage retail space. It’s a pretty straightforward and direct message....there is coffee here! I never managed to catch the name of this place until we visited. So when I messaged my friends to meet at what I assumed was a cafe with a big coffee sign opposite Swinburne University, I knew at least we'd get coffee.


Well, at Methodist (we quickly worked out the name of the cafe), they do take their coffee seriously. The owner is a second-generation coffee roaster, national barista champion and the former head roaster at Industry Beans. Coffee is their religion. They are not Methodists - rather, it's purely a play on words showcasing their ‘method’ to roasting coffee.


The bright modern space is big enough to house the cafe at the front, with the roastery in an open space at the back. We sat in a booth, and although it wasn't quite lunch time, we couldn’t resist ordering a bite to eat. Their menu is creative and offers both healthy and decadent options. For something lighter, try the blackened cauliflower and ancient grains salad, or if you're after some indulgence then give the buttermilk fried chicken and rosemary cheddar waffles a go. The chef here is Andrew Grantham, former head chef at Bistro d’Orsay. His culinary creations were not only pretty to look at, but bursting with flavour and texture. In fact, we all stopped mid-conversation to comment on how delicious our meals were.

Citrus cured ocean trout and green pea fritters

Citrus cured ocean trout and green pea fritters

Blackened cauliflower and ancient grains

Blackened cauliflower and ancient grains

It's clear that the team at Methodist is passionate about what they're doing. With an equal focus on good food and coffee, I think they're on to a winner. Welcome to the hood.

Richmond Club Hotel, Richmond

With this month's book, Nine Days, taking us on a journey through the streets of Richmond, it was an obvious choice that our book club get together would be somewhere in Richmond.

For our fellow book clubber, the Richmond Club Hotel is a local favourite before heading to the 'G to watch the footy. With it being so close to Melbourne's sporting arenas, it is not unusual to drive by and see people spilling out the front when there is an event on in Melbourne.

Although deceiving from the outside, this hotel has a slick interior over three levels: public bar, dining room, beer garden, a bar, and balcony on the first level - with DJ decks and a dance floor for some fun later in the week. There's also a roof-top space that overlooks the train tracks, with views of Richmond and its surrounds. It would be a perfect place to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon, catching up with friends in the warmer months over a few jugs of cocktails, beers or wine...


It isn't trying to be anything else other then a good honest pub, which is refreshing, as the pub culture has definitely shifted over the last few years. You'll find all your pub classics here. We had our dinner in the dining area in a round booth, a perfect setting for a book discussion - although we did have to ask the barman to turn the music down a bit. We were there for a late dinner on a Wednesday night, when it was relatively quiet, so we weren't being the old nanas in the corner ruining the atmosphere.

Most of us took advantage of the Wednesday night $16 parma special. I find it hard to resist a good parma when ordering at a pub. The serves were massive, but we all managed a pretty good effort, which suggest they were good parmas.


It wouldn't be a pub without a happy hour. Every Friday night from 4-6pm you'll find  $4 pots, $7 pints, $7 house spirits and $7 wines. So why not make this your next Friday night catch-up after work? Stick around for a meal and maybe even a dance upstairs. 


Butcher's Diner, CBD

Butcher's Diner, located at the top end of Bourke Street, is the newest venture from The European Group. As a 24-hour venue, it will bring a unique hum and energy to a part of Melbourne that will never sleep.

This is not 'another burger joint' - although the burgers are pretty darn good. The in-house butcher showcases an impressive display of his work - being carcasses - on site behind a glassed boning room, which actually services all the group's restaurants.


Meat is the obvious focus, and you can be confident that it is 'butcher's grade'; however, in true diner style, there are lots of options on the menu to suit: the carnivores, lovers of comfort food, some innovative options for the health conscious, and even some traditional favourite sweet treats. So, whatever you're in the mood for, at any time of the day or night, the Butcher's Diner has got you sorted.


We attended a pre-launch menu tasting, and it really was no surprise that the food was spot on. Our favourites include: the Classic Greek Pork Skewers from the charcoal grill; Japanese Fried Chicken; Old school Cheeseburger; Crispy Tofu with Vermicelli Slaw Roll, and the Diner Salad with Fresh Falafel. If you love offal, there's a fair selection cooked 'yakitori' style on the charcoal grill, along with a Daily Butcher's Cut Steak

Diner Salad with Falafel

Diner Salad with Falafel

There's also a daily specials menu that allows the butcher to showcase his finest work: from homemade sausages, beef brisket, and crispy duck, to a slow roast lamb shoulder, which of course is on a Sunday. 

In terms of bevvies, you'll find a quirky craft beer list, all in tins. One that stood out for me was the 'Arrogant Bastard.' There is a short and sharp half bottle wine list, plus all your traditional soft drinks and European sodas.

From the moment you step inside Butcher's Diner, you get a real sense that it belongs to The European Group - it's like meeting a new member of their family. Charm and design is a common thread with all their establishments, and Butcher's Diner fits right in. Although there's a strong focus on takeaway, there's also a bespoke custom-made communal table in the centre of the diner and outdoor seating. A feature staircase leads to a beautiful upstairs function room, with original artists' drawings on the solid plaster walls, and a double lead-light door that opens up onto an outdoor balcony. In fact, this private room is my favourite part of the diner - and I'm now looking for an excuse to host a dinner party. 


I'm sure Butcher's Diner will slot right in to Melbourne's buzzing food scene - and in a few months time, we'll question how we ever survived without this 24-hour dining offer. 


Kenzan, CBD

"A good rule to remember for life is that when it comes to plastic surgery and sushi, never be attracted by a bargain." – Graham Norton

When Kenzan first opened in Melbourne in the early 80s, it was way ahead of its time: this was well before our high streets and shopping centres became inundated with sushi fast food chains.

For many, Kenzan’s authentic, high quality Japanese food was our first introduction to this new and exotic cuisine; after all, 20 years ago, Melbourne only had a handful of Japanese restaurants. How lucky for us, that our love affair with ‘all things Japanese’ began with this restaurant, which was dedicated to bringing the highest grade of sushi and sashimi to our city. Sitting at the sushi bar, you’ll experience the art of the sushi chef (who is most likely from Japan, working their magic with their very own imported Japanese knives).

Sushi Bar at Kenzan

Sushi Bar at Kenzan

Not much has changed since Kenzan opened its doors. Situated in Collins Place, tucked away at the entrance of the food court, the restaurant is decked out in traditional furnishings. No fancy pants, trendy gimmicks here. Having recently been to Japan, I feel that it oozes authenticity. A fantastic and fun experience is the private dining room at the back of the restaurant. Here, you’re expected to take off your shoes, and are seated in sunken chairs behind a screen door, ‘Kill Bill' style.


The menu is concise and simple, with the focus on premium quality.  In order to really appreciate the A-grade quality of produce, you must try the sashimi and sushi: soft, velvety fish that is so fresh and vibrant in colour. It’s simply not comparable to the 'chain variety' we’ve become so familiar with; and so, here lies the realisation – as Graham Norton observes – that sushi and a bargain do not co-exist. 


Other favourites of mine are always the entrees: Agedasi Tofu, deep-fried bean curd topped with vegetable and mushroom sauce; Ebi Shumai, steamed prawn dumplings; Negi Gyunikumaki, grilled thin slices of beef rolled with spring onion in teriyaki sauce.

For an interactive main course, why not try the Naby Ryori: Sukiyaki or Shabu Shabu? This is a ‘cook-it-yourself’ option, at your dining table. If noodles are your thing, then be sure to ask for the 'noodle menu', which includes options for both soba and udon noodles.

Kenzan has become an institution in Melbourne and I’ve been coming for years; judging by how busy it was on a week night, I’m not the only one who thinks this place is pretty special. It's not a bargain, but once you experience the Kenzan quality, you’ll appreciate why. Trust me, you don't want your sushi to be cheap. 

F.O.G (Fresh Organic Goods), Richmond

“EVERYTHING in our cafe is organic” ...replied the lovely lady behind the counter, when I asked about their amazing selection of daily salads and cakes on display.

I discovered the F.O.G brand during my almond milk phase; it's stocked by my local organic grocer, and it's definitely one of the better tasting almond milks around. So, it seemed appropriate to order a house-made almond milk latte when I visited F.O.G cafe in Richmond – and it didn't disappoint.

This organic cafe is modern, with recycled timber furnishings; and you're struck by the warm and welcoming atmosphere as soon as you step through the door. It's like visiting your best friend’s house.

I decided to order from the menu, despite being spoiled for choice with the lunch options in the display cabinet.  Never one to resist a fritter, I ordered the sweet corn fritter with tomato, avocado and coriander salsa with a poached egg.  It was presented so beautifully and tasted delicious.

Corn Fritter with Poached Egg

Corn Fritter with Poached Egg

The menu boasts lots of healthy options with a creative spin. It’s filled with food that I'd love to cook and eat every day; but, when you're trying to prepare meals the whole family will eat, sadly this type of food doesn't feature very often! For example, next time I visit, I'd love to try: HHH Healthy, Happy & Hungry. House made cornbread with cashew cream, sautéed kale, roasted seasonal veg, pickled beetroot relish and fresh avocado.

The healthy options continue when it comes to drinks: a selection of healthy smoothies; daily squeezed juices; the good seed kefir; raw vegan hot chocolate; cardamom cashew chai; matcha latte; and a selection of organic're getting the idea!

Treats include raw slices – mint, caramel or snickers; and my favourite thing about this dark chocolate scorched almonds, presented in the most impressive oversized glass jar. I could never work at this place, as they'd be all gone.

This cafe talks to my soul and it really brings to life the idea of creative, healthy and tasty organic eating.

Mr Miyagi, Windsor

Wax on, wax off! That's the first thing that comes to mind when I hear ‘Mr Miyagi’..... well, it was, until our book club dined at Mr Miyagi in Windsor. Now all I can think about is 'Salmon Nori Tacos'. I want to go back and eat twelve of them all to myself. They are sooooo good: the crispy seaweed taco shell, combined with lightly grilled salmon, rice, spicy cabbage and Japanese sauces, is absolute heaven. 

We dined here midweek on a cold Melbourne winter's night. To be honest, I struggled to step out of my Uggboots  and venture outside my warm cosy home, but we’re committed book clubbers and rarely miss our monthly catch-ups. Driving down Chapel St approaching Windsor, I quickly realised that there’s life and a hum in Melbourne no matter how cold and wet the weather is. Melburnians are a restless bunch and we thrive on eating out.  

Mr Miyagi was busy. It's deceptively big, which is a good thing, given they only take walk-ins for groups of five or less. The vibe is young and groovy, with a modern interior and loud current music beating in the background. I began to question if it was appropriate for a book discussion; but luckily our group of six could book a private booth, tucked away up the back.  On the way to our table, we passed happy diners enjoying their meals, lots of colourful cocktails being made at the bar, and a bustling open kitchen. With energetic and happy staff, it's hard not to get wrapped up in the fun atmosphere. In fact, everything about this place is playful. Even their wording on the menu shows they don’t take themselves too seriously: the cocktail list is referred to as COCKY T'S;  sides as LONERS; and my favourite, right at the top of the menu, #MRMSAYS Decision not so important. All tastes good @mrmiyagimelbourne ... and so it does. There was not one disappointing dish: they were all creative and absolutely delicious. 

private booth

private booth

Expect quality Japanese food with some experimentation. When you read the menu, it doesn't appear that unusual, but don't be fooled: every dish has an innovative twist – even the tempura broccoli, which was a staff recommendation. I never thought I’d be this excited about broccoli, but the crunchy tempura with kim chi seasoning and salted buffalo ricotta was out of this world. The crispy beef salad was another stand-out, with five spice fried beef that just melts in your mouth, together with fragrant pickled Japanese cucumber, Thai eggplant, peppery leaves and coconut rice cracker. If you find the options too overwhelming, choose the 'feed me' option. Or to keep things authentically Japanese, opt for sashimi and hand rolls.

The Famous Tacos

The Famous Tacos

I do find the walk-in policy a little annoying, especially on weekends when it’s busiest. If you find yourself waiting for a table, Mr Miyagi suggests a drink with the mistress at Yukie's Snack Bar down the back; or try The Woods of Windsor across the road, which is a dark cosy bar with an impressive cocktail and whiskey list.

I can’t wait to return....


The Kilburn, Hawthorn

Meeting for a drink in Hawthorn can be slightly challenging: there are the uni bars, the traditional pubs, or those intimate neighbourhood wine bars, but if you fancy a martini, or perhaps a good drop of whiskey, you can be hard pressed to find a place to go – until now.

Situated on the busy corner of Glenferrie and Burwood Roads, in the heart of Hawthorn, the charming heritage building that originally housed the Hawthorn Commercial Bank of Australia has reopened as The Kilburn, a cocktail and whiskey bar. Having driven past this building more than one thousand times, I was curious to discover what it was like inside.  

It’s newly refurbished, although the space still retains much of its original character, which dates from 1887. Stepping through the front double doors, the interior is grand and opulent, with a combination of colourful velvet and leather lounges, gold chandeliers and stained glass windows. Despite the grandeur, it doesn’t feel heavy; the high ceilings help to create a light and airy feel.

Continuing the white and gold theme of the interior, the bar is topped with white marble and has a bronze tiled base. It’s long and very well stocked, and appears to have every spirit on offer, including over 600 whiskies and a substantial cocktail list.  The staff is experienced and happy to guide you through your options.

Feeling peckish? Pizza is available from Santoni Pizza across the road. Alternatively, a house ploughman’s platter or charcuterie board is available.

I met a few friends for a drink before dinner and there was a private function on the same night, so it was very busy. I did think that the background music was a little loud, and perhaps not a perfect match for the ambience and crowd. But according to a local retail owner (who overheard me discussing my evening plans), the loud music doesn’t seem to be a deterrence – apparently there was a group of school mums there until 3am the previous weekend! Drumroll…I think we have discovered a Hawthorn venue that doesn’t kick us out at 10:30pm.

Great new places are popping up all over our neighbourhood, and the lively Kilburn is no different. Hallelujah, there is life in Hawthorn after dark!

Piquancy, Hawthorn

Piquancy: a pleasantly sharp and appetizing flavour and spiciness

True to its name, Piquancy delivers experimental Indian dishes bursting with flavour – don’t worry if you can’t handle spicy food though, as the dishes we tried were very mild.

From the team behind St Kilda’s Babu Ji, this modern Indian restaurant brings a welcome energy to the otherwise quiet strip-shop area of Auburn Road, Hawthorn. With a light-box image of an impressively moustached turban-clad man as their street sign, and rolling Bollywood videos projected onto the wall, there’s a hint that once you step inside, you’ll be faced with something quite unexpected.

When we visited on a Thursday night, the cosy downstairs dining space was full. So, we were taken upstairs to a much larger open area, which featured the same clean white walls and modern furniture, but it didn’t match the downstairs ambience. Although – looking on the bright side – I was out to dinner with a bunch of girls, so it was actually perfect for our chit chat.

The menu is split into two sections: ‘from the street’ and ‘from the pot’, and for those who want to remove the decision-making angst, there’s also a ‘tasting menu’ option. You can imagine the excitement of my gluten-free friend when she discovered that pretty much the entire menu is gluten-free. That even includes the naan, made with psyllium husk, quinoa, chickpea, lentil and corn flours.

Highlights from ‘the street’ were: sunehri prawn, tandoor roasted prawns marinated with saffron and corn puree; and chloe tikki, a chickpea croquette with ginger, avocado salsa, and served with roasted tomato sauce. And from ‘the pot’, we couldn’t pass on the more familiar dishes of butter chicken and the fish curry. The food was a little slow being served, but it looked impressive and tasted clean, light and aromatic.

If you’re after a feast, go along one Sunday and sample the ‘special nights’ all-you-can-eat for $28, offering traditional curries that highlight India’s culinary diversity.

There’s a GYO (grab your own) fridge containing 40 beers, and the wine list is short yet sharp, with a lovely selection of local wines.

It seems the locals in Hawthorn were crying out for a new modern Indian restaurant, as this place is buzzing. Bookings can be made online, and walk-ins are also welcome. Plus, there’s a take-away menu for those lazy winter nights at home.


Rustica, Hawthorn

It’s no secret that I love my little West Hawthorn village and all it has to offer. For the last few years, I’ve watched as the site on the corner of Power St and Burwood Rd has evolved from a late night jazz club, to a pop-up bar, to a busy construction site, and now, in the blink of an eye, it’s re-opened as a luxury apartment block, Maple. And then, in the last few weeks, we’ve witnessed the unveiling of cafe Rustica at the base of this complex.

If you think the name sounds familiar, you’re not wrong. In fact, this is the fourth Rustica establishment to hit our Melbourne streets. Following the initial  Rustica Sourdough – a bakery in Fitzroy – Rustica Canteens have opened in the CBD, Richmond and now Hawthorn, and they all feature their very own breads, pastries and cakes. The menu offers an all-day breakfast, and lunch from 11am.

With a bakery at its core, it’s no surprise that sandwiches feature prominently on the lunch menu. But if you’re looking for something lighter and healthier, there’s also a salad selection.  Its founders have strong links with some notable new-wave Melbourne cafes (Touchwood and Coin Laundry, to name a couple) and the menu at Rustica reflects this history.

My ‘breakfast salad’ was delicious: fresh, crunchy and full of flavour.  With a list of superfood ingredients, it also packs in the nutrients: tri-coloured quinoa, wild rice, kale, rocket, baby spinach, smoked almonds, currants, and goats curd with a sesame dressing, served with a poached egg. A close runner-up on the breakfast menu was the Baba ganoush with grilled haloumi and roma tomatoes, accompanied by poached eggs, greens and sumac salt…and served with a quinoa, soy and linseed sourdough. If these options sound a little too complicated and contemporary for you, then stick to eggs ‘anyway you like’, with a choice of traditional sides – or, perhaps enjoy a pastry from their bakery. If you’re short of time, there’s a good range of takeaway breads, pastries and sandwiches.

Breakfast Salad

Breakfast Salad

Rumble Coffee Roasters supplies the coffee. Personally, I prefer a more traditional espresso, but if you like the flavour of the coffee at these contemporary Melbourne cafes, then this won't disappoint.

With friendly staff and attentive service, Rustica should do well with the locals. There was a great buzz to the place, and I'm looking forward to coming back and sampling some of their bakery items. 

Welcome to the neighbourhood, Rustica.

Uncle, Collins St CBD

When a restaurant takes over the first floor of a former CBD office space, with only a small discreet sign and staircase leading up to the dining area, it suggests the owner is confident their unique offer will pull a crowd. Welcome to Uncle in Collins Street, CBD – a modern Vietnamese restaurant with a very impressive cocktail list. It’s actually the second Uncle establishment in Melbourne, following its initial success in St Kilda.

Here is a welcome oasis in the midst of the city’s hustle and bustle. As soon as you step through the door, you’ll feel like you’re holidaying on a tropical island. Pastel colours, cane chairs and light wooden furniture creates a bright and cheerful atmosphere. The tree top views over Collins Street are pretty impressive, too.

Their extensive menu is split into sections to make it easier to navigate: Little Guys, Banhi Mi & Bao, Pho, Big Guys, Sides and Desserts. The staff are happy to guide you, so that you don’t order too much or too little; and if you’re dining with a group, opt for the ‘Uncle Knows Best’ menu for $59pp, which offers a selection of all the best items on the menu.

The food was fresh and fragrant and delivered lots of zesty flavours. My favourites were: lime cured hapuka, coconut, pommegranate and chilli on betal leaf; and my stand-out ‘little guy’ option was the Clarence river school prawns, silken tofu, white fungus, garlic shoots and cured egg yolk, which had the perfect combination of crunch and silky-smooth textures. The Master stock crispy pork hock with banh hoi, lettuce wraps was also cooked beautifully.

Uncle would be a fun restaurant if you were dining in a group, with the chance to sample lots of different dishes – and of course, to work your way through the cocktail list! There’s also a wine and beer list, sourced predominantly from Victoria. So, take if from me… go and hang out with Uncle next time you’re in the CBD.

Peko Peko, Fitzroy

This is where I 'do lunch' with one of my dearest friends, Ms Caroline. It was Caroline's idea to meet here for the first time a few months ago, after a stint of furniture shopping down Smith St. And since then, it’s become a regular haunt. To give you some background on my friendship with this darling girl, we bonded over food when we worked together in advertising over ten years ago. We’re both the type of people who get 'hangry' if we’re running on empty, and share this crazy obsession with food, glorious food. So when Caroline suggested we meet at Peko Peko, I knew it would be good. And it was.

Peko Peko is a casual, affordable Japanese eatery that’s open for lunch and dinner. As soon as you enter, you’ll embrace its chilled-out vibe. There’s an eclectic mix of recycled furniture, and an open kitchen where you can see the masters at work. On our first visit, the Japanese chefs were busy making sweet potato gyozas, so their bench space was jam-packed with these must-eat delicacies. Lightly fried on the base, then steamed and served with a light soy – they’re delightful. The waitress was super relaxed and friendly. I love how the menu is divided into ‘small food’, ‘medium food’ and ‘big food’, along with some lunch specials. It's an uncomplicated menu with all the Japanese favourites, including sushi and sashimi, along with some more creative, less traditional dishes. Rest assured if you have dietary requirements, as there are lots of gluten free and vegetarian options available.

We shared a variety of tasty dishes, but the stand-outs were: agedashi tofu in the dashi broth with ginger and sesame; chicken currydon (a Japanese curry); and the most warming and delicious niku udon – beef, capsicum, spinach and udon noodles served in a spicy soy soup. You’ll definitely be back for more.

Agedashi Tofu

Agedashi Tofu

Sweet Potato Gyoza

Sweet Potato Gyoza

Niku Udon

Niku Udon

A meal at Peko Peko leaves you feeling well-nourished and satisfied. Although, if you have room for dessert, Messina gelato is just down the street!

Baby, Richmond

This month's book club dinner was at 'Baby' in Richmond. There was a very direct link to the book 'The Couple Next Door', where a baby mysteriously goes missing. Loved the connection, well done Steph! Not only was your restaurant choice perfectly themed to the book, but it was so refreshing to head out for one of my all-time favourite meals: pizza and hot chips. 

Baby, baby, baby oh......... I forgot how good your pizzas are. The Melbourne dining scene is forever evolving and there’s always a new place popping up on my 'must try' list.  But coming to Baby reinforced that all this fusion, fancy, creative dining has become a little.....well, too much. Sometimes you just want to go out and eat a really good pizza. And that's exactly what tonight's meal delivered. We shared about 3-4 different pizzas and the selection ranged from traditional ones like the funghi and salumi to more creative ones like the carbonara. Hello!! My favourite pasta dish on a pizza? Yes, that’s correct. With fior di latte, cured Italian bacon, free range egg, pecorino and black pepper, this pizza did not disappoint. The bases are thin and well-cooked, and with fresh, good quality ingredients for the toppings, it's hard to go wrong. 

The pizzas were not the only highlight. We also ordered a couple of side salads, with the stand-out being the insalata di fagiolini - green bean, shallot and salted ricotta. It was also impossibly hard to resist a side of hot chips with aioli. 

If pizza is not really your thing, the menu offers some pasta dishes along with other Italian modern classics. In true book club style, we finished off our meal with a few desserts to share. Let's just say I would've been happier with another piece of pizza. 

It was a relaxed night with good food, wine, conversation and a great book discussion. No baby pizzas went missing so I think it's safe to call it…a perfect night out.


Long Chim, Southbank

Melbourne’s food scene is constantly evolving, introducing our taste buds to new flavours and unconventional combinations. David Thompson's Long Chim is doing just that – Thai street food, but with a little finesse, and some Chinese influence.

I must confess that I don't often dine out at Crown (for many reasons that I won't go into); but when I read that Long Chim was opening at the former No. 8 site on the banks of the Yarra, it very quickly made it to my 'must visit' list – and became a reason for me to visit Crown, other than a day spa booking at Towers. 

Thompson has spent the past 15 years opening Thai restaurants worldwide, following initial acclaim in Sydney. Melbourne’s Long Chim (which means ‘come and try’) is his third Australian restaurant, with another successful branch in Perth.

Arriving on a hot balmy night for a girls’ birthday dinner, it was the perfect evening for a celebratory round of refreshing Pomelo Spritzes (pomelo, aperol, vodka and bubbles). They definitely hit the spot. With an extensive cocktail and drinks list, I’d certainly recommend that you meet earlier for a pre-dinner beverage on the terrace overlooking the river.

When it came time to eat, we opted for air-conditioned comfort inside. After all, the heat would only intensify once we started on the spicy chilli dishes. Familiar menu items such as fish cakes, green and red curries, satays and pad thai feature here, but they’re far from predictable. You’ll need to adjust your expectations, as Thompson's interpretation of these classics will take you on an eclectic journey of spice, aroma, colour and unexpected texture – for example, the red curry steamed Barramundi is served with a red curry mousse, which is...different, to say the least!

The crunchy prawns and the charred rice noddles were our favourite dishes, and in both cases, it was clear that high quality, authentic ingredients are the focus. 

crunchy prawns

crunchy prawns

The restaurant is modern and spacious, with an upstairs dining area. It’s a fun, energetic place to eat, with a great buzz in the air: from the attentive waiters with a sense of fun; to the theatrical bar staff mixing cocktails; to the chefs in the open kitchen, working their culinary magic over the sizzling hot woks. There’s plenty of action, if you’re stuck for conversation!

Our only regret was ordering dessert. This is often problematic in Asian restaurants. With no chocolate options, we crazily ordered the durian ice-cream…what were we thinking?! The durian fruit has a bad reputation in terms of flavour, so turning it into ice-cream just made this dessert taste...funky! (Instead, we suggest that you pop next door for dessert at Bistro Guillaume, to be guaranteed a worthy end to your meal).

So, overall, it's a unique, fun and delicious Thai restaurant experience, especially for a group, as it’s well-suited to sampling a range of mouth-watering dishes. Long Chim – you’re a great reason to visit Crown.

Reviewed by Helen



Ate One Ate, Hawthorn

Guess where? 818 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn, of course...... on the ground floor of the new development that previously housed the Jellis Craig office. It's a big restaurant space that caters for everyone and every occasion. If you're just popping by for a drink and nibbles, then take a seat at the separate spacious bar area. Otherwise, head through to the dining space, which has a combination of booths, tables and communal dining.  For a larger group booking, there's also a private function room next door. The whole space has a very modern, clean fit out, with attractive decor - white tiles, copper, marble and vibrant artwork scattered throughout. The menu, just like the restaurant, is expansive. At first glance, the substantial pizza and pasta section suggests an Italian restaurant, but our waiter confirmed the cuisine is more generally described as Mediterranean.

I've been a few times now, and this place gets better with every visit. Our first experience definitely had some bizarre moments: staff not really understanding the menu; forgotten food; odd flavours and clunky dishes; and a very expensive bill at the end. The last couple of times have been better - we kept things really simple from our end, ordering pizza, pasta, salads and desserts... and there really wasn't much to fault.

The chrome pizza oven is featured prominently in the open kitchen, tossing out classics such as Margherita and Prosciutto, right through to more innovative options, such as Alla'nduja - spicy 'nduja, San Marzano tomatoes, black cabbage & fennel pollen. Similarly with the pasta dishes: my all-time favourite Spaghetti Carbonara is on the menu, along with Rabbit Ragout Pappardelle. For dessert, it's hard to resist the Chocolate Ganache Ball with cinnamon ice cream - described as a Greek loukoumada (donut) with an oozing warm chocolate centre, this was a decadent choice. Otherwise, opt for the traditional crowd pleasers: Crema Catalana and Tiramisu.

So, our overall verdict: the food was delicious; service has improved; the staff are friendly, happy and eager to please, and even had a bit of fun with us. The kitchen and dining space is all brand spanking new, so it feels really clean and fresh. But...the bill. It's not cheap, and I think it's a little overpriced for what you get, given we are in 'The Suburbs.' I would assume they're relying on local repeat clientele, and at their price point, it's not really a place you'd consider for a spontaneous, casual Friday night family dinner (even though they offer kids' portions with some of the dishes). However, I do hope the locals support this business, and that the
owners respond to customer expectations. Let's watch this space.

Reviewed by Helen

Ate One Ate