Melbourne’s love of food isn’t exactly a new thing – some of our favourite spots have been alive and kicking since the 1920’s. It sometimes feel as though Melbourne is all about the coolest or latest thing, with a new eatery opening every 26 seconds - so we thought we’d throw out a bit of appreciation for the stalwarts of Melbourne’s culinary scene; the true dining institutions.
Not necessarily the oldest or the grandest, just the ol’ faithfuls that are quintessentially ‘Melbourne’. Here are our favourite Melbourne institutions.
Jimmy Watson’s Wine Bar
Jimmy Watson’s has been treating Melburnians since the 20’s; It knows what it does well and has stuck to its guns. Oozing charm, Jimmy Watson’s dishes up wholesome, delicious European dishes. It’s not the flashiest of place you’ll find - but the service is excellent, it’s traditional, and it really is a cornerstone of Lygon Street’s dining scene. As if it couldn’t get any better, there’s also a courtyard and a roof top bar.
When you combine a family business, a love of Italian food, fine dining, and old-school chivalry, you’ve got yourself one helluva venue. There was no way we could compile a list of Melbourne institutions without including Grossi Florentino. The interior has been stunningly renovated, though you’ll still find dark woods and upholstered chairs. Food wise, they’re sticklers for using top-notch produce, and the result is a menu of decedent eats. Expect to have your coat stored and your chair prepared.
Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar
We can’t confirm it, but word on the street is that the first espresso machine to arrive in Melbourne was delivered straight to Pellegrini’s door. That was way back in the 50’s - but if it’s true, we can at least partly thank this old-world Italian café for Melbourne’s impressive coffee scene. Step back in time as you enter Pellegrini’s to be surrounded by aging Melbourne photography and some beautiful memories. The coffee is top-notch, but really it’s the traditional Italian charm that you go for.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Flower Drum is a relatively recent addition to Melbourne’s food scene; in fact it’s been dishing up excellent Chinese food since the 70’s. The menu has changed a bit over time, but as a destination dining venue it still remains right up there with the best of the best - particularly if you’re after some interesting Asian dishes served in a fine dining setting.
Hopetoun Tea Rooms
As far as high tea in Melbourne goes, Hopetoun Tea Rooms really takes the cake. Originally purchased in 1891, Hopetoun Tea Rooms is the very definition of a Melbourne dining institution. Whether or your treating your Nanna to an afternoon in the city, or a friend for a fancy birthday gathering, Hopetoun Tea Rooms has remained a firm favourite. It has miraculously managed to move with the times to update it’s menu offering and interior, while still maintaining the traditional, early 20th century grandiosity that it has become known for. The tea offering now offers a huge range of herbal and fusion blends as an addition to the more traditional blends, and the food has remained distinctly English – think small cucumber sandwiches and scones. Thinking of popping in? Make a booking or be prepared for a bit of a wait, particularly on weekends.
The brainchild of George Calombaris, Press Club has long been regarded as somewhere to grab a long lunch or an ‘occasion’ dinner. Undergoing a major refurb in 2013, the venue also significantly downsized (it now has just 10 tables). While the makeover was significant, Press Club has retained it’s strong Greek flairs – think leather, soft woods and plenty of mirrors. Each table is built as a booth, reminiscent of those you might find on a yacht. You can expect to pay a little more, but the small size and the experimental nature of the food that is sure to delight certainly makes it worth it.
Café Di Stasio
Treating patrons to fine Italian dining since 1989, it’s not hard to see why Café Di Stasio is routinely considered a Melbourne dining institution. Its namesake, Ronnie Di Stasio, is quite the character and ensures that there is Italian charm in spades. The venue is simple and cosy, though simultaneously possesses a strong Italian flair. Food-wise, you can expect to find plenty of hearty meat dishes, all cooked in traditional ways. Café Di Stasio is a stalwart of St Kilda’s Fitzroy Street and the wider Melbourne dining scene.
Another Italian favourite (it makes you realise what the Italians have done for Melbourne’s dining culture), Tiamo really is a traditional trattoria. Finding its home in amongst the action on Lygon Street, it’s been owned by the same family for almost 50 years. It can be tricky to discern whether Tiamo is old school or intentionally kitsch, though we think it’s probably a touch of both at this stage. The food is simple, traditional, and attracts all types. Two hot tips: the marinara is excellent. And they do takeaway.
Looking for something newer on Melbourne’s dining scene? Check out one of these 5 new openings.
Image credit: The Press Club and Grossi Florentino by Jenna Fahey-White for The Urban List