We're just about over our crippled bank account-induced hibernation post-party season, and thought it was time to round up some of the best food and drink spots, either newly opened or on the horizon, so you can get excited about what 2014 has to offer. Here's our pick of the city's best new restaurants and bars, for your dining and drinking pleasure. Dig in. (Editor's note: Pssst - check out our updated story on 2015's best new Melbourne restaurants and openings!)
Not only will one of our fave spots for cheap and cheerful, hawker-style Vietnamese grub be expanding, with Hannoi Hannah adding Hanoi Hannah Express Lane, but the brainiacs behind this little hot spot and its nearby sister restaurant Saigon Sally – Paul Nguyen, Simon Blacher, Will Newton and Nick Coulter – are adding a third lovely lady to the Chapel end of Windsor in Tokyo Tina. Re-envisioning Japanese bar food with a Korean infusion, it's already got us salivating for a projected mid-year opening.
We were sad to see the perfect date night spot go in French fancy Jacques Reymond, following the retirement of the eponymous chef, one of Melbourne's finest, but fear not, his protégés Thomas Woods and Hayden McFarland have taken over, reinventing the joint as Woodland House. Taking things back to basics, they're showing off some traditional European flair. "We're focusing more on the core ingredients and paring back the garnish," McFarland says. "We're sourcing small producers who are passionate about what they're doing."
While the jump from chef to co-owner has brought its fair share of back-of-house headaches, MacFarland is passionate about the endeavour and says there's been plenty of positive feedback from the Reymond regulars too. "Lots came in final week and then booked in or our first week, and have been back since. Woodland House consumes most of my life now and probably will for the next years as we build the brand."
Charlie Dumpling on High Street is the place to head for some seriously yum pan-Asian cuisine in funky surrounds, with former Cutler & Co and Claremont Tonic chef, Dylan Roberts, offering finger-licking morsels like water spinach, cuttlefish, shrimp and curry leaf kewpie dumplings, and five spice honey chicken ribs, too. The chocolate, chilli and raspberry sorbet dumplings are just plain wicked.
Babu Ji has us hanging for the middle of this month (hopefully) when this contemporary take on Indian cuisine moves into the iconic George Building. Chef owners Jessi and Jennifer Singh are swinging southside, after proving themselves with Fitzroy North's Horn Please. Expect Babu Ji to kill it.
The Italian Cappodocio sisters, Sabrina and Katia, have been rocking their cheese expertise at Il Fornaio, but plans are afoot for spin off joint, La Formaggeria – focusing on the curds and weigh stuff – opening by the end of the month. Co-owner Luca Calcatera says, "Were trying to do something that St Kilda's been missing for a long time, a proper deli, nonna-style. You'll be able to buy cheese, have it freshly cut in a panini and there will prosciutto hanging from the roof."
The cheese "micro laboratory," will have a window onto the street so passers by can watch the sisters at work.
With Andrew McConnell's Golden Fields decamping to the city and transforming into Supernormal Canteen (more on that later), the original venue will be transformed into an as yet unnamed wine bar, presumably with tasty bar treat to match the vino. ETA is April-ish.
With the short-lived Mama Baba already gone, Le Grand Cirque will take its place, offering Manu Fiedel's finest French cuisine in circus-themed surrounds, hopefully minus the scary clowns.
Hellenic Republic in Brunswick East is already a hero of Greek foodies, but now they've headed east, opening a second joint in Kew at the end of last year, keeping the focus on the sharing's caring banquet menu. Kewsiders with a sweet tooth will be excited at the news they'll also open a traditional Greek pastry shop called Sweet Hellenic mid-year, plus there's a third Hellenic Republic set for Williamstown.
Supernormal transplants McConnell's Golden Fields vibe to the top end of town with a Collins Street address with a Flinders Lane entrance, via a wildly successful pop-up stint as Supernormal Canteen in Fitzroy that's still rocking it. A private dining room will double as a karaoke booth. You have been warned. Expected any minute now.
Philippa Sibley has cut loose from Albert St Food And Wine and is heading for the bright lights of the city to open Prix Fixe, which has one of the funkiest new concepts we've heard so far. The Alfred Place joint will have a monthly rotating menu based on theatrical shows and literary endeavours, with diners having to buy set price tickets online at $49 for lunch and $79 for dinner. First service at Prix Fixe is on 21st February – tickets are already selling fast, so get booking!
Touché Hombre will have some stiff competition in the city as Fonda moves into the doomed Mercy Bar/Virginia Plain spot next to Cumulus Inc. We love the tasty cheap thrills of the original Richmond outpost and its Windsor cousin, so this is getting a big calendar cross for its mooted March opening.
And just when you thought this town wasn't big enough for another Mexican restaurant, along comes La Chinesca (now known as Harley House) with this year's barmiest fusion. The funky basement spot in Harley House will be a late night bar with good music and nibbles that splice Mexican faves like grilled corn with the best Chinatown has to offer.
Co-owner Andrew Lewis recently returned from a few years spent in Asia where he helped open private members clubs in both Hong Kong and Shanghai. Lewis loves dumpling and dim sum more than anything, but was clued into Melbourne's Mexican fascination on his return and smelled a tasty idea.
"There are so many flavours going on, which is perfect for tapas-style bar food," he says. "We have a 3am license, so it's more of a bar aspect with a good food option. We want to bring the sophistication of the Asian nightclub scene to the to Paris end of town."
Cookie stalwart, Michael Roszbach, opened one of our newest faves late last year in Hardware Street's Nieuw Amsterdam, a late night bar and eatery that takes its vibe from the Big Apple. The clam chowder is a corker, as are the random-sounding chicken waffles blending moreish chicken skin with pâté and orange caramel.
Nant Whisky Bar is a fab spot to have a wee nip for the road, bringing Hobart's finest whisky to the CBD's Driver Lane after a few interstate jaunts. There's some fine Tassie fare to chomp on too.
Chin Chin king, Chris Lucas, is heading east of the CBD to bring Kong to Richmond on the site that formerly hosted Pearl Cafe. BBQ and smoky flavours is the name of the game, with big US-style heart with an Asian twist. Kong's set to be a relaxed affair, kicking off in March.
Opening mid Feb, Stagger Lee is the second offering from Proud Mary owner, Nolan Hirte, that takes the just-off Smith wonder to bustling Brunswick Street. We're sure Nick Cave would approve.
The dynamic duo of Richmond's dedicated craft beer store, Slowbeer, Chris Menichelli and Stewart Went are teaming up with beer loving guru Tiffany Waldron for Two Row, a brand new bar for Smith Street that promises to put the fun into know-it-all. Should be getting boozy next month, with five taps featuring rotating beers, which will be paired with cheese. Waldron brings a US love for bourbon and whisky, as well as grilled cheese sandwiches, "because I'm American and hate calling them toasties."
And last but most definitely not least, Collingwood is set to welcome Le Bon Ton. Promising plenty of smokey New Orleans sauciness on the site of the former Glasshouse Hotel, brothers Michael and Will Balleau, the brains behind Chingon, have hired another bro co, Texans Jeremy and Christopher Sutphin, to work their magic in the kitchen.
Editor's Note: Some of these, plus many more, have since opened! Check out Melbourne's best new restaurants & bars opened and opening around town during July, August and September 2014!
Main Image Credit: Toronto Life