Here’s how to do a romantic dinner in Melbourne. First step: book early. Especially around the dreaded V-Day. Most of the city’s swankier eateries fill up weeks in advance, and if you leave it too late the maître d’ will just laugh at you down the phone. Second: pick somewhere, small, cosy, intimate. Candlelight if you can get it. Avoid the trendy but frantic CBD hotspots where it’s too loud to deploy all that witty and seductive banter (that means you, sorry Chin Chin).
This list was tough because there are a lot of great restaurants in Melbourne who fit these criteria. But here are our favourites. Chuck on some Barry White and enjoy.
South Yarra is date town, there’s no getting around it. We could have composed this entire list without leaving the postcode. France Soir, Caffé e Cucina, Thirty Eight Chairs, Bar Carolina and Da Noi are all fantastic options, but Shadowboxer trumps them for my money. Perfect ambience, impeccable service and a tree full of fairy lights. Always match wines and always stay for dessert; the passionfruit curd tart with white chocolate ice cream is worth every calorie.
Ramblr would have been a shoe-in here if it wasn’t closing in March (RIP, you slinky thing). But Chapel St still has plenty of slam dunk date options, if you know where to look. Start the night with dinner at Ines, Matteo Bruno’s Italian ode to all things velvet. The lighting in here is so moody and crepuscular you can barely make out your date at all (it’s a well-known fact that romance increases as restaurant light decreases…up to a certain point anyway). Kick on with drinks at either Woods of Windsor or Jungle Boy.
Almost an impossible task, really—narrowing down the CBD to a few choice romantic restaurants. We could have easily gone with Tipo 00, EZARD, Cumulus Inc., Grossi Florentino or Bistrot d’Orsay. But people keep underestimating Hihou. It ticks a lot of Melbourne date night boxes: it’s hidden (just buzz the grey door on Flinders Lane), it’s cosy, the cocktails and whisky list are fantastic, and you get a view of Treasury Gardens. They’ve beefed out the menu in recent years, too (grab a couple of the fried eggplant and kingfish skewers).
I wouldn’t call Punch Lane trendy. You won’t find the city’s fickle ‘it’ crowd hanging here on a Friday night. But to be honest, that’s a good thing. Punch Lane is timeless. It’s one of the few venues in town for which I’ll bust out the word ‘Institution’. Exposed brick, the warm, honey-toned lighting, the 200-bottle wine cellar…it all adds up to romance. Pro tip: book a table for after 7:30pm. The theatre crowd will have mostly shuffled off by then, so you’ll have the place to yourself.
If we’re talking romance, Punch Lane is a slow-burning love affair; Restaurant Shik, tucked down cobblestoned Niagara Lane, is more like a South Korean one night stand. Owner Kimchi Pete has created, according to The New York Times, Melbourne’s most underrated restaurant, and we tend to agree. Settle into a cosy nook, order some makgeolli rice wine and prepare to have your world very gently rocked. There’s nowhere else in town doing Korean food like this, and the ambience screams Date Night.
Cutler & Co
For all of Andrew McConnell’s flair and pizazz (and there’s a lot of both), he knows how to create restaurants with soul. Cutler & Co might be his best. It’s been jumpstarting Melbourne romances since 2009. You can go a la carte here, but generally, it’s best to strap in for the Chef’s Selection menu (at an eye-watering $170pp) and get the full Cutler & Co experience. If you want to save some coin, dine in the bar instead. There’s a Prime Cheeseburger there that changes hearts and minds.
You really can’t go wrong with date night on Rathdowne St. Throw a brick and you’ll hit Capitano, Paris Go or Henry Sugar (and we haven’t even got to the obligatory vino at Gerald’s yet). But if we’re talking strictly romantic, zing-zing-of-your-heart-strings kind of vibes, Epocha wins hands down. You’ve got a beautifully restored 1884 terrace, that famous Greek/English/pan-Euro menu from head chef Alex Drobysz, and the snug Hannah’s Bar for a nightcap. The perfect Carlton evening right there.
If you really want to pull out all the romantic stops (or you’ve got a lot of apologising to do), there are a few restaurants that exist in a sort of low-oxygen culinary stratosphere. We’re basically talking IDES, Vue de Monde and Attica. But there’s one more restaurant that deserves to breathe the same rare air: a tiny, inconspicuous restaurant in Yarraville called Navi. Book well in advance (there’s often a three-month wait list), ask for a seat up at the pass, and get ready for one of the finest 8-course degustation menus in Australia.
Looking for something else to do? Check out our Things To Do section.
Image credit: Ines | Griffin Simm