Port Melbourne’s a strange suburb. If you don’t live there, there’s a good chance you’ve never even been down Bay St. Port Melbourne...isn’t that where they keep the docks and barges and stuff? For most of its life, Port Melbourne was rough as guts. Wharfies bought the terrace houses for $50K back in the day, and the neighbourhood was home to hard-drinking pubs and local communist chapters. Well, those terrace houses are now worth $2.5m, and most of the wharfies have sold up. A new crowd runs Bay St these days, and they love a good feed.
Here are 7 of the best restaurants in Port Melbourne.
A Port Melbourne staple, although they’ve recently upgraded to new digs. You’ll find Ciao Cielo in the heritage building on the corner of Grahram St (the old Corte site, if you remember that one). Owner Kate Dickins and chef Bryan Nelson have kept the menu pretty much the same, except now there’s a fairy-light Cucina in the courtyard, doing wood-fired pizzas and Aperol spritzes all day long. Inside it’s high ceilings, good wine and Sardinian-style goat leg with wild olives and fennel. Euro classics and a few modern twists, and probs still the best date night venue on the Bay Street strip.
Good Port Melbourne grub doesn’t end with Bay St. Keep going round the corner, down toward the Spirit Of Tasmania, and you’ll find Mr Lawrence, one of Melbourne’s best Middle Eastern restaurants. Mr Lawrence moved in 2017 (into the digs of its sister restaurant, Tenpin). The new space is pretty awesome, overhung with silks and lanterns and other Lawrence of Arabia props. Head upstairs for epic views over the Bay, then order up a plate of the Basturma: cured beef with saffron pickles and marinated feta that will change you in deep and profound ways. Just make sure you save a second stomach for the Moroccan Mess dessert...
When Chef Ashley Richey left Chin Chin to set up Tenpin in Port Melbourne, the city was buzzing. Now we could get cutting-edge Thai food without queueing for 45mins in Flinders Lane. Tenpin has also moved into a new venue, but they brought the old 12-ft Tenpin bowling pin (it’s still standing in the corner—the world’s heaviest restaurant prop). Tenpin specialises in South East Asian shared plates: chargrilled Wagyu beef with eggplant jaew, kingfish sashimi, crispy chicken wings with 5-spice salt and sticky braised beef ribs that get everywhere. Load up the plates, load up the cocktails. Good night guaranteed.
Look, technically The Hack is a pub (or possibly a bar), but they’ve got a full-service kitchen and some of the best BBQ in the city, so we’re getting them in here. Don’t @ us. This cracked and peeling heritage building was pulling pints during the American Civil War—and you can’t fake that kind of history. Co-owner Chris Nicholls and the guys from Hack Brewing took it over in 2018 and turned it into a light-filled, multi-purpose brewpub. Wait for a sunny arvo, then sit yourself outside with a pint of Hack lager and a Classic Limp Brisket: layered with tender, smoked brisket, spiked with McClure's pickles, mustard and BBQ sauce.
An old-school Port Melbourne classic. Dalmatino has been dishing up meaty Croatian food on Bay St for yonks (they were winning awards back in 2005 when ‘good food’ in Melbourne meant a sun-dried tomato Panini). The famous red brick façade hasn’t changed much, and neither have the flavours. The skinless cevapi sausages are still the best thing on the menu, served with chips, salad, capsicum relish and kajmak cheese (and a steal at $18.50). By night it’s a little more sophisticated (the $58pp set menu is excellent value). You’ll probably have to book on Friday and Saturday nights—even after all these years, Dalmatino still packs ‘em in.
Komeyui Japanese Restaurant
The top end of Bay St might not have the sea views, but it’s arguably got the best food. Case in point: Komeyui, a minimalist Japanese restaurant that specialises in delicate sashimi, chef’s choice omakase and an absolutely cracking sake brûlée (it’s been on the menu for years). Melbourne’s got a bunch of these sort of places: they’re not trying to be fancy, they just do really, really good food, without flourish or fanfare. The omakase 7-course is a little pricey at $150pp, but it really is worth it. If the wallet’s a little light this month, just rock up and get a selection of sushi rolls, buta gyoza and Wagyu tataki. Happy days.
A relative newcomer on Bay St, Stella Deluxe opened its pizza oven in early 2018. It’s from Raoul Symons, who was the brains behind Motorina in Elsternwick (not to mention working at France Soir in South Yarra). The menu is broken down into Magnifico (pizzas), Dolce (desserts) and Speciale (hearty Italian mains like veal and pork sausage calzones or Penne Agnello with minced lamb and parmesan). Our pick? The mushroom pizza with thyme, ricotta, onions and garlic, washed down with Italian wine and a dessert calzone. You can get your grub to-go, but the seats out on the street are quite nice on a quiet, Port Melbourne evening.
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Image credit: Griffin Simm