Restaurants

Melbourne’s Best Date Nights

By James Shackell - 25 Oct 2017

willows-wine-melbourne


With so many awesome Melbourne restaurants and bars at your fingertips, you’d think choosing first-date venues would be a snap. Wrong, Listers. First dates are a peculiar, precarious beast, so don’t underestimate the advantage of some thoughtful consideration.

We’ve kept it relatively central, ‘cause you wouldn’t want to travel out of your way for a crappy date, right? So without further ado, here are the best date restaurants, bars, activities and cinemas in Melbourne. Remember: use this list for good, not evil.

Restaurants

Some call it safe, we prefer classic. But picking the perfect first date restaurant isn’t always easy. Our tip? Wear black and avoid the spaghetti.

Tipo00

CBD

Pasta on a first date may be a cliché. But Tipo 00 place doesn’t do pasta. It does some sort of alchemical fusion that looks like pasta, but tastes like a thunderbolt from Zeus. You’ll come off looking classy and sophisticated (and potentially rich). This is good if you’re really a secret-eater who likes cheese from the fridge at 11pm and clips toenails on the couch.

Supernormal Canteen 

St Kilda 

Man we love this place. Supernormal Canteen just nails the whole Japanese yakitori bar experience, from the minute you walk through the door. Sit up at the bar and watch the chefs do their thing, or hire out the private dining space out back (for a little more intimacy). Whatever you do, order the kakigori to share. It's out of control. 

Lello

CBD

The city’s new pasta kingpin (and a direct competitor to Tipo 00). Equally classy, and with a low-gluten dough that might be a more considerate choice for delicate dating stomachs. Lello has a beautiful low-key fit-out, and it’s right around the corner from Eau De Vie. Score.

Leonards House Of Love

South Yarra

Sometimes you just want a relaxed date. Where it doesn’t matter if you get cheese on your face. Somewhere you can shoot pool and the sh*t in equal measure. Leonards is that place. It gets busy here after dark. If you can drop by mid-afternoon, though, you’ll have it mostly to yourself.

Hana

CBD

One of our favourite openings of 2017. Hana is a Blade Runner-esque Hawaiian cocktail and seafood bar, the latest venture from the guys behind Meatball & Wine Co. It would make one classy-ass date: all slick neon, moody lighting, indoor jungle plants and huge ‘volcano cocktails’. Order the Sharknado—thank us later.

Panama Dining Room

Fitzroy

Definitely one of the city’s hidden gems. And a guaranteed lock for First Date Restaurant, if you’re hunting Northside. Panama has beautiful views of the CBD, a refined French menu (classy AF right there), even a Sunday Roast if you’re looking for something more low key. Add it to your list. 

IDES

CBD

Better prep your wallet, this level of date doesn’t come cheap. The dinners at IDES are running more regularly these days, but it’s still one of the hottest tickets in town. You’re gonna need to book ahead. Expect a rotating seasonal menu...and a lot of brownie points.

Izakaya Den

CBD

It’s easy to forget about Izakaya Den, tucked down those concrete stairs. But it’s still one of the best date nights going around. Mostly this is down to atmosphere—the lighting in here is uber flattering, very contemporary. Go the tuna tataki and a big bottle of sake. Date night sorted.

Cumulus Inc.

CBD

An oldie but a goodie. You know you’re going to get some of the best food in town at Cumulus Inc., and the atmosphere is quiet and romantic. Perfect for easy-flowing first date convo. Stick to food that isn’t gonna splatter—the slow-roasted lamb shoulder (if it’s on the board) is a dead-set winner. Kick on with drinks at Cumulus Up, just upstairs.

Archie’s All Day

Fitzroy

Saaaaa chill. You could kick back at Archie’s on a Sunday afternoon and just drink the day away. Solid burgers, good coffee, and a well-stocked wine cellar. An off-beat day date venue that’ll catch them by surprise. Good if you’re feeling a little nervous.

Dutchess

CBD

DIY cocktails, need we say more? Mixing your spirits and squirting vodka in big plastic syringes is a good ice-breaker when the conversation starts to lag, and the Dutchess steaks are crazy good too. Try to get in for cocktail happy hour, which runs from Tuesday to Saturday, 5pm – 7pm. $11 Negronis—now that’s a good first date.

The Town Mouse

Carlton

The Town Mouse is fine dining without the wankery (or the price tag). There’s a reason this place is still packed out most nights. Head chef Head Chef Dave Verheul has put together a classy little menu, and it’s open till late if you want to catch a Nova flick first.

Chin Chin

CBD

Still the hottest ticket in town, even if you have to queue 20 mins to get through the door. Still, kicking back at Chin Chin with a Thai Iced Tea and a big plate of chilli salt chicken wings...it’s amazing how quickly the memories of queue boredom fade. A good one if you’re trying to impress an out-of-towner.

Thirty Eight Chairs

South Yarra

A cute as a button Italian joint, tucked just off Chapel St in South Yarra. As the name suggests, this place has just Thirty Eight chairs (count them, we know you will). The waiters are uniformly lovely, and the atmosphere is like something out of a 90s rom com. Order the gnocchi or you’re doing it wrong.

Pastuso

CBD

If you’re looking for more of a bustling atmosphere (not to mention a wicked pisco sour), Pastuso is your best bet. The flavours are clean, and the odds of food-in-teeth unlikely. If you’re not afraid to get a lil’ messy, try the alpaca short ribs. Out of this world.

Transformer

Fitzroy

One for the veggos! (We wouldn’t forget you guys). Transformer’s industrial aesthetic looks wicked after dark, and the food is some of the best going around. The kitchen runs from early morning till 10pm too, so a cheeky lunch date isn’t out of the question. A quality spot from the team behind Vegie Bar and Panama Dining Room. 

Smith & Daughters

Fitzroy

Historic bluestone and kickass food. What’s not to like? Smith & Daughters would make an excellent second date. Relaxed, low pressure, with plenty of kitsch art on the walls. Order up a few plates of tapas (the fried artichokes are excellent) and a couple of Pimms cups. Happy days. 

Rice Paper Sister

CBD

A new Asian fusion bar from the guys behind Rice Paper Scissors (also a solid date night option), and the restaurant that’s actually making Hardware Lane not sh*t. Run the gauntlet between Little Bourke and Lonsdale, then settle in here for tempura ‘q.l.d’ lobster rolls with chrysanthemum leaves, nori mayo and mustard pickles (good thing they come in pairs).

Pole Pole

CBD

A consistently underrated little spot, Pole Pole is still one of all time favourites. One of those venues you just can’t have a bad night if you try. Most first dates won’t expect African food, so this’ll catch them unawares (order the camel, it’s surprisingly good). Afterwards, you can head upstairs to Glamp for a drink in your very own tent. Top that, Tinder. 

Oriental Teahouse

South Yarra

We agonised over which dumpling house to recommend, and the truth is there’s nothing wrong with down and dirty dumps at Shanghai Street, Hutong or Aunties. Oriental is a little classier though, and comes with better cocktails. A Shanghai-style bar upstairs is the clincher.

Rock Sugar

South Yarra

Pure fun. That’s what you’ll get here. Fairy floss martinis that melt in front of your eyes. Massaman curry spring rolls that have to be tasted to be believed. Everything’s lit-up neon pink, and the service is top notch. If you want to avoid the fussy white tablecloths, give Rock Sugar a go.

Bars

Whether as a knock-on or a date in its own right, a romantic cocktail or wine bar can make or break a first date. Avoid the pit-falls—these are the classiest boozers in town.

Hihou

CBD

Just think how smooth you’ll look when you knock on the innocuous door on Flinders Lane and introduce your date to one of the city’s best-kept whisky secrets. Hihou has a smashing Japanese bar menu, but it’s the single malts that’ll score you the big brownie points. Views over Parliament aren’t bad either.

Queen Of Spades

Collingwood

Board game date. Need we say more? Collingwood’s new gamer bar is a cute way to ease the tension, and a good litmus test for whether or not your date is a potential psycho (a couple of games of Uno can be VERY revealing of character). Burgers and beers round out the night nicely.

Provincial Hotel

Fitzroy

The Provincial? Yep. But not downstairs. Take your date up to the new rooftop for some of the best views north of the Yarra. The Provincial are doing burgers, craft beers and a range of alco-soaking bar bites up there too. The perfect Sunday session date. Don’t forget the SPF 30+.

The Palm Royal

Richmond

Richmond new Cuban-themed cigar and rum bar. Tropicana with a side of flaming awesome. The flamingoes and palm trees make for a cute, kitschy vibe, and the Red Stripe beer tastes pretty good after the fourth tinnie. Yep, The Palm Royal ticks all the first date boxes.

Jungle Boy

Windsor

Walking your date into a bar hidden inside a vintage fridge is a guaranteed slam dunk. It almost doesn’t matter what Narnia-type world is on the other side, but Jungle Boy is a cosy space—it doesn’t just rely on a gimmicky entrance. Lots of foliage, good beers on tap, and mood lighting for days. What more do you need?

Cookie

CBD

Loud without being crazy, Cookie is lively enough to cover those awkward silences with a festive atmosphere. Start at Cookie’s bar space, which has some of the best micro-brews on offer. Pair that with a wine list presented in a binder, and we figure you’ll be pretty set for the night. If things are going well (fingers crossed!), you can relocate to Cookie’s cosier cocktail space, or dine on some of Melbourne’s best Thai food without leaving the building.     

Gin Palace

CBD

The perfect first-date accessory—other than a living, breathing, preferably attractive human—is the beloved cocktail. And boy, do the Gin Palace team know how to shake up a good one. With an entire page just for martinis and another two for gin-inspired cocktails, you could very well have a solo date at Gin Palace with some of the finest cocktails in Melbourne.

Mamasita 

CBD

A golden oldie (man how the time flies), Mamasita is still one of the city’s best Mexican restaurants. Margaritas and all things mescal are the order of the night, and really, when you put together honest Mexican street-food and lots (and lots) of cocktails, nothing will stop this ultimate first-date. Order a jug to share, or individual drinks if you’re not the first-date-sharing kind of person.

City Wine Shop

CBD

Part wine shop, part wine bar, all class. What else would you expect from the guys behind Siglo and Supper Club? City Wine Shop is one of the CBD’s best late night date venues. Our tip? Order a big bottle or Riesling and two serves of the chicken Schnitz with Italian coleslaw. The stuff of great romance.

1806

Melbourne CBD

Laid-back and mellow, if you’re feeling confident about your first-date, swing by Melbourne CBD cocktail bar, 1806. Don’t be too anxious—with some of the craziest cocktails in Melbourne, the conversation practically writes itself. Their menu is split into decades and even the history-haters will find some of these titbits fascinating enough to remember. Pop quiz at the end of the night.

Gerald's Bar 

Carlton North

One of our fav wine bars of ALL TIME, this is the ideal bar pick if you want to keep things casual and light. The atmosphere here just rocks. Choose from a well-stocked wine list and a selection of imported beers to kick-start the conversation. Don’t worry about those pesky first-date jitters, the Gerald's Bar staff are more than happy to have a chat (but also know when to leave lovebirds alone). There’s also a secret chess set behind the bar if you wanna get all competitive.

Howler

Brunswick

For northside’s newly-dating folk, Brunswick’s Howler is a perfect first-date hotspot. With two massive bar spaces plus an attractive, flora-filled outdoor area, you’ll be spoilt for choice. There’s an extensive drinks menu, live music and screenings, plus some of the best hawker-style food in Melbourne. Grab a frothie and settle in. Whether you’re after a post-work bite or decide to sneakily extend your night out into a full-blown dinner, choose from fluffy baos, sticky pork ribs, and a range of traditional and upmarket seafood burgers.

The Everleigh 

Fitzroy

The cream of the crop, the Crème de la crème, the standard of cocktail-making in Melbourne, The Everleigh is one of the best bars in Fitzroy, and a classy AF first date choice. You might wanna meet outside the bar—tucked away above other restaurants on Gertrude Street, it can be a little tricky to find. Easily worth the effort, start at the stretched marble bar bench and grab a cocktail. You can hustle over to one of Everleigh’s lavish leather booths if the romance is progressing nicely.

St Hotel

St Kilda

Set between bare brick and pale timber, St Kilda’s St Hotel’s handpicked menu of locally-sourced beers, ciders and bubbles will keep the night going. There’s also a snug list of modern and classic cocktails just in case you’re keen to cover all your bases (you’re welcome). After you’ve run out of smooth-talk, grab a plate of their to-die-for dry red curry with crispy pork hock. Or, if you’re not a confident chopstick-weaver, you can order a range of grazing plates to share. Remember not to drool.

Rufus

Prahran

Prahran’s new Winston Churchill-themed cocktail bar, Rufus just screams classy date. Chandeliers up top, leather club chairs, a dedicated cigar terrace and some of the world’s best boutique spirits, all without coming across as wanky. Bonus points if your order the strawberries and cream. Try not to eat them too suggestively...

Smithward

Collingwood

A cosy Collingwood wine bar, intimate, moody, a little classy jazz oozing out of the walls—it’s a lay down misere as far as first dates go. Smithward’s wine list tends to champion the local vineyards, and they do a smashing rac n’ mac night (molten raclette, oozing onto fresh-baked mac n’ cheese). Nuff said, really.

Siglo

Collingwood

As summer rounds the corner, Siglo starts to come into its own. The anti-smoking laws have slowed it down, but the old girl is still a fantastic date choice. You get silver service from the staff, some of the best cocktails going around, and a romantic view over St Patrick’s Cathedral. Score.

Chuckle Park

CBD

You might have walked down Little Collins one day and thought ‘I wonder what that place is. It’s going off.’ Good chance that place was Chuckle Park, a button-cute little beer garden and bar space. Definitely a solid choice for the low-key, beer-and-tapas sort of date. Fairy lights are an easy win, too. 

Ponyfish

Southbank

Possibly the ultimate chilled summer date venue. Ponyfish’s menu isn’t huge, so you’ll probably want to head for Fatto for an early dinner, then kick on here for a Sangria, craft beer or cheeky wine as the sun goes down. The staff are always in a good mood too—must be all that working outdoors.

Kirk’s Wine Bar

CBD

Tucked into an historic corner building, Kirk’s is a bit of a city institution. Laid-back, a little retro, with warm staff and a well-stocked wine cellar. You could while away a whole afternoon here, chatting of a cheese board and sipping Yarra Valley savvy b’s. A good choice if you’re looking for low-pressure vibes.

Moon Dog’s Craft Brewery

CBD

A brew bar date says ‘I’m on-trend, quietly confident, and don’t need no $150 bottle of wine to put the moves on.’ There are plenty of good breweries around town, but Moon Dog’s the only one with a Sunday Night roller disco. Check and mate.

The Royston

Richmond

A gastro pub can be a risky move on a first date, but The Royston has a retro feel that makes it a quirky choice. Head on down for a Tuesday night trivia date (not to mention $17 parma specials). Try to keep that competitive Monopoly-tantrum side of your self well hidden though. At least until after the wedding.  

Om Nom

CBD

Stuck for small talk? Om Nom’s OTT cocktail list will break the ice nicely. No-one’s gonna call this a boring date, not when you have drinkable ladies’ perfume and rubber duck bubble bath cocktails coming out to the table. A good choice if you know your date’s big on the ‘gram.

Activities

Dead cute if you get them right, activity dates are guaranteed to earn you maximum kudos with your date’s friends. No pasta and tablecloths here, no sir.

Holey Moley Minigolf

CBD

Not to be confused with Holy Moly (which is also a killer venue), this place is mini golf on steroids. Holey Moley started up in Brisbane, landing in Melbourne in 2017, and it’s quickly become one of the best date night in Melbourne. Photo opps on an Iron Throne and Simpsons Couch, cocktails while you putt, even a spooky haunted graveyard. Fun with a capital F.

Painting...With Wine

Collingwood

Picture it: glass of wine in one hand, paint brush in the other. Cheekily dabbing paint on your date’s nose...then realising your date has no sense of humour about that sh*t and you just totally misplayed it. Yep, Cork & Chroma wine and painting classes have got it all: beautify, fun, drama, tears. Not your run-of-the-mill Tinder night.

A Paella Masterclass

South Melbourne

South Melbourne’s underground paella club. Mix up your date plans with a Sunday morning Spanish cooking class, led by the awesome Lola herself. You’ll wander the markets, pick up some ingredients, learn a little Spanish, and cook one hell of a paella. Also includes jugs of DIY sangria. No date can go badly when sangria is involved.

Life Drawing

Various

There are a few classes around town, but the guys that run the ones in the Nicholson Building are great. It’s definitely a high-risk/high-reward date strategy, depending on a) your artistic talent, and b) how willing your date is to see genitals on the first date (that aren’t yours). Either way, you should have some laughs.

Escape Rooms

Various

Lame? Amazing? Everyone’s got an opinion when it comes to escape rooms. They kind of followed that typical Melbourne parabola where everybody HAD to try one, then they instantly were considered super passé. If you’re pro-escape, we’ve rounded up the best in town.

Ninja Warriors At BounceINC

Glen Iris  

You probably know BouncINC as ‘that place with the trampolines’. But did you hear they’ve installed a brand new Ninja Warrior obstacle course at their Tooronga digs? Good for dates that want to show off their trapezius muscles, whatever they are. Fair warning though: it’s tougher than it looks.

Punting At Fairfield Boathouse

Fairfield

This one always takes them by surprise. It’s like something out of Jane Austin...or Bridget Jones. Pick a beautiful day, hire a punt at Fairfield Boatshed, bring some snacks and a book of poetry (slash a Bluetooth speak and some banging tunes), and spend the afternoon messing around in boats on the rive.

Wander The NGV

Southbank

An oldie, but there’s a reason the classics never die. Go check out the latest NGV exhibition, stare thoughtfully, use words like ‘chiaroscuro’, then go lie down on the floor of the Great Hall and stare up at the biggest stained glass ceiling in the southern hemisphere. It’s basically a montage from 500 Days Of Summer.

Cinemas

Some people knock cinema dates, but where else are you going to get that physical almost-touching tension, bottomless popcorn and boysenberry choc tops? Presenting the cutest boutique cinemas in town.

The Astor

Carlton

If someone rang us up and said our first date as a back-to-back-to-back Back To The Future marathon at The Astor, we might just propose there and then. This place has nostalgia out the whazoo (plus a few new release screenings, if that’s more your thing). The old-school art deco vibes are dead cute, and you can kick on with a drink at Overlook after the show. Bonus.

Lido

Hawthorn

Hawthorn’s fancy new boutique cinema, with a summer rooftop to boot. Keep an eye out for the new Lido rooftop program—there’s an amazing mix of retro 80s and 90s classics. Throw in a Melbourne sunset and a Large Coke (with two straws) and you’ve got the most ‘grammable date in town.

Rooftop Cinema

CBD

Rooftop is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Just pick a night when the weather is good, and remember to rock up a little early (you can snag the best seats, drink wine, and plan your movie snacks). The summer sessions are always legendary—we recommend Pulp Fiction or Breakfast At Tiffany’s, but a little pre-date research wouldn’t go astray.  

Coburg Drive-In

Coburg

Nobody ever expects Coburg Drive-In, but as soon as you drop the magic words, watch peoples’ eyes light up. This one’s all in the planning. Fill the car with chips, lollies, chocs, chilled champagne (or goon bags, if that’s more your speed), and prepare for the retro date that never fails. Pick something romantic and snuggle up over the gear stick. Not a euphemism.

Moonlight Cinema

South Yarra

Two words: Golden Grass. That’s the difference between a comfy night under the stars, and smooshing around uncomfortably on a picnic rug. Take it from us, it’s worth the extra few bucks. Load up on blankets, hoodies, movie snacks and a thermos of hot choc and go nuts – there’s a reason Moonlight’s been running for decades.

Cinema Nova

Carlton

A dead cute Carlton date. You can load up on carbs at Tiamo (or a cheese board at Milk The Cow), browse Readings and wow your beau with your knowledge of post-modernist literature (please don’t actually do this), then head over to Nova for a boutique choc tops and some cinema vibes. Classic.

Como

South Yarra

Not the wildest date in the world (the average age of a Como patron is about 65), but the fit-out is beautiful (one of the classiest cinema lobbies going around). Book in an afternoon sesh, then head across the road to Shadowboxer for dinner and tipple. Pro tip: go the beef short rib.

Rivoli

Camberwell

The classics never die, do they? Rivoli has been hosting first dates for a VERY long time. The décor is art deco to the max, and you’ve got all the restaurants and bars on Bourke Rd. for afters. Here’s an idea though: mix it up with a movie at The Rivoli, then a pool session at Players Snooker Room, just across the road.

Image credit: Griffin Simm | Willows & Wine 

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