1) Cumulus Inc.
It would be foolish to miss out on top-talent Andrew McConnell’s cooking skills while in Melbourne. It would be difficult, too, given that there are more than a week’s worth of outposts to pick from (Cumulus’ celebrated siblings include Supernormal, Cutler & Co., Ricky & Pinky and Luxembourg – all of which are totally tummy-wooing). Cumulus Inc., sitting pretty on arterial Flinders Lane, boasts an awards cabinet as well-stuffed as its pantry. Canter through small plates – pig’s head croquettes with tartare sauce; ricotta dumplings with onions and almond; merguez sausage with smoked pippies and green tomato – or sink your teeth into one of the toothsome mains: ocean trout with cucumber, avocado and crab, perhaps. The restaurant is bright and airy, with plenty of exposed brick and staff as sparkly as the cutlery.
Got a soft spot for pisco sours and a yen for alpaca? Pay a trip to Pastuso in the city centre – another jewel in Flinders Lane’s culinary crown – and take seats by the colour-pop street-art murals or nab a cosy booth at the back, where you can spy on the chefs shimmying around the open kitchen. The menu promises to take you on a journey through the Andean jungle and Peruvian coast (without the requisite air fares), so you can expect plenty of toothsome ceviches with liberal lashings of tiger’s milk (chilli-spiked coconut milk). Opt for the salmon number served with a sour orange dressing, Amazonian chillies and plantain chips, or the swordfish version, also starring cucumber tiger’s milk, Yarra Valley salmon roe and rocoto gel. Don’t miss the traditional Peruvian alpaca ragout with roasted celeriac and horseradish.
3) Long Chim
There’s a lot more to the Crown Casino in scenic Southbank than betting chips – Long Chim, for example, which is the latest venture from acclaimed Australian chef David Thompson (he who also gave the world Nahm at the swish-as-they-come Como Metropolitan Bangkok hotel, and other Long Chim outposts in Singapore, Sydney and Perth). Long Chim is more casual than nifty Nahm, championing Thai street-food culture via a menu of trend-setting shared plates, salads, noodles, curries and co. The city’s food critics have already thrown all their stars at Long Chim, crushing hard on the chilli-packed chicken larb and gingery mashed prawn curry. Thanks to the $45 set menu, everyone’s a winner, whatever the contents of their wallet.
4) Lee Ho Fook
Innovative, playful Chinese street-food, dark interiors and a pulsing hip hop soundtrack – what’s not to love about Lee Ho Fook? The original LHF occupied a suitably trendy space in arty Collingwood, but as its popularity grew, its dining room needed to follow suit – so these days it occupies a vast space on Duckboard Place in the central business district. The wizard behind the whizz-kid menus is supertalent Victor Liong, who masterfully combines classic Chinese influences with modish modern techniques. The menu is a blast: start with warm scallop, silken tofu and soy butter or scampi spring rolls with sweet corn custard; progress on to Fujian-style blue swimmer crab and scallop-fried rice, housemade XO sauce, and end on a sweet note with jasmine-tea infused custard and burnt caramel.
The Wellington-born wizards behind the Town Mouse in Carlton have scored another home-run with Embla, a wine bar with edible perks a-go-go on city-central Russell Street. Accomplished Kiwi chef Dave Verheul dishes up exactly the kind of snacks we want to team with wonderful wine: anchovy toast with a decadent dose of butter; soured cucumbers with dill and feta; raw veal with peas, tarragon and tonnata, and a glorious half-roast chook that shows chicken can play a star turn on a menu. The natural wine list isn’t intimidating and neither are the delightful staff: it’s relaxed, refined and totally ravishing.
Begin your Australian adventure in style with Singapore Airlines. Fly one stop to Melbourne from £660