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.
Poodle comes after an 18-month build and several pandemic-related delays. The menu takes a more playful approach with Chef Josh Fry (ex Marion and Cumulus Inc) looking to classic Euro-cuisine for inspiration. Highlights include the spanner crab crumpets, and those aqua pazza oysters to really get the vibe right. Bonus points for taking your date to a table in the intimate, upstairs cocktail bar.
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.
Chapel St 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.
430 Little Collins Street, Melbourne CBD
Step back in time at restaurateur Scott Pickett’s charmer, Chancery Lane. The 100-seat bistro is laden in romance with its antique-inspired interiors and classic European menu, set inside the historic walls of the Normanby Chambers building. Think luxurious gold and brass fittings, dark timber, checkerboard tiles, and hand-crafted finishing touches—classic European sophistication. On the menu? Plenty of caviar, oysters and a wine list that'll charm the socks off your date if you're having no luck.
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.
175 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD
From LUCAS Restaurants powerhouse comes Kisumé, the Japanese fine diner with the perfect balance of spunk and charm in everything they do. The wine list here matches up perfectly with the wagyu, sushi, sashimi and everything in between, but for a moody evening at one of Melbourne's most romantic restaurants, why not tap into the whisky menu?
The dimly lit, moody Everleigh is the quintessential date spot for anyone who likes a fine drop, and likes to charm their date with the same thing. The experts here have a repertoire of cocktails that are second to none, but there's something romantic about a well-made negroni, and we wouldn't stop you from ordering a round (or two for extra brownie points).
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.
A table for two, a white table cloth, pasta and a banging wine list. That's Capitano. The flavours are big and bold but the menu is refined. Opt for the vodka pasta for something easy and accessible, otherwise go all out on a grandma pie to share with your significant other.
49 Rathdowne Street, Carlton
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.
Andrew McConnell was always going to make the list at least a few times, with his fine-diner Gimlet being a shoe-in. The menu mirrors the refined—yet grand—aesthetic, covering off grandiose cocktails and oysters by the French marble bar, to signature McConnell style dishes in one of the leather-clad booths or clothed tables in the upper dining level.
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: Gimlet | Supplied