Voted the world's most liveable city several times in a row, Melbourne is a relaxed metropolis with a sophisticated palate. Its European-style dining, drinking and café culture is not just flourishing, it's evolving. Quick to embrace trends such as grocery restaurants, gourmet food trucks and specialist pop-ups, this is a place where craft beer, small-batch coffee and organic, plant-based proteins are not just buzzwords, they're everyday ingredients of choice.
Become a coffee connoisseur
Melbourne is passionate about coffee. It's estimated that around 30 tonnes of coffee beans arrive daily to meet the city's demands. Standards are high, baristas are fiercely proud of their art, specialist brew bars abound and classic cafés like Pellegrini's Espresso Bar and the Hopetoun Tea Rooms are revered local landmarks.
Whether you're wandering the laneways or relaxing in the Botanic Gardens, everything is better with a Melbourne coffee in your hand. It doesn't matter whether you enjoy yours as a short black, long black, AeroPress, cold drip or nitro coffee – just as long as you enjoy it. There are over 2000 cafés dotted across this trendy city, so if in doubt, ask a local – they're sure to have a strong opinion on the best cup in the 'hood. To find out more about Melbourne's café culture, you could even join a coffee walking tour.
One spot that's particularly special is Ponyfish Island, tucked beneath the Southbank pedestrian bridge. Surrounded by water, its deck floats over the Yarra River and naturally, the team makes fantastic coffee. Otherwise, head to Brighton and see the iconic beach huts as you enjoy a macchiato, or stop at one of St Kilda's irresistible patisseries for a classic flat white.
Discover your inner gourmet
Melbourne's restaurant scene evolves so rapidly, even its slow food movement is constantly on the go. Australia's liveliest food fads such as dégustation menus, zero waste dining, seaweed and pansy garnishes, vegan burgers, steamed pork buns and modern Vietnamese flavours were popularised here, and new ideas pop up all the time.
One of the best things about gourmet dining in Melbourne is that it often comes with jaw-dropping views. Shannon Bennett's acclaimed Vue du Monde offers a panorama over Port Phillip Bay and the winding Yarra River from Level 55 of the Rialto Tower on Collins Street, while more intimate river and city vistas are on the menu at Fatto on St Kilda Road or Taxi Kitchen on Federation Square.
As you'd expect in this Europhile city, many of the best restaurants celebrate both Australian and European ingredients and wines. The multi-award-winning Cumulus Inc leads the way, with simple but superb dishes featuring seasonal salads, charcuterie, oysters and yabbies – crayfish-like crustaceans that are best torn apart with your fingers.
Explore the laneways and rooftops
Melbourne's laneway bar scene has been buzzing for so long, it's had the chance to reinvent itself several times over. Integral to the city centre's 19th century layout, a remarkable number of alleys survived the 20th century intact and many are now impromptu galleries of urban art, lined with edgy places to eat and drink.
Crowds flock to the noodle and sushi bars on Centre Place, hipsters perch on crates to sip craft beer at Section 8 on Tattersalls Lane and the wildly successful MoVida on Hosier Lane conjures up Barcelona's culinary vibe with moreish tapas and an impressive selection of imported wine, beer and sherry.
Recently, the action's reached new heights, with seemingly every spare rooftop in the city centre being converted into a cool cocktail bar with mellow music and top-volume chatter. Try Good Heavens on Bourke Street, which gives colourful cocktails like the Pina Colada and the Blue Lagoon a 21st-century tweak, or the Rooftop at QT on Russell Street, a courtyard garden bar in the sky with quirky, retro styling and sparkling city views.
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