It wasn’t long ago that Swan St was known for The Corner, sketchy characters in big coats, and not a whole lot else. How the times have changed...
These days the west end of Swan St can lay claim to the title of Richmond’s premier foodie strip (soz Victoria St—we’ll still visit you for pho and obscure Asian groceries). Swan St’s east end isn’t too bad either, especially if you enjoy KFC and ogling Ferraris you’ll never be able to afford. Want to know where to go and what to do on Swan St? Here’s our Pick of the Precinct.
Let’s start with the classic hits. Rustica’s Richmond store is under new management, but the quality of the bread, brunch and coffee is still shit-hot as ever. This is the place you come at 8am for bircher with Hibiscus pear and strawberries, or at 2pm for a bona fide hunger-buster (we’re partial to the peppered brisket sandwich with house pickles, Swiss gruyere and Russian dressing—phwoar). You know a place is good when the morning coffee queue features Cremorne PR reps and local tradies, standing impatiently side by side. Pro tip: never leave without picking up at least one almond croissant for later.
It’s not the flashiest place on Swan St, but Almost French does a stealthy local trade. It has a loyal cadre of regulars who go day in, day out, and try to keep the place from becoming too popular. As it is the almond croissants sell out before midday. You have to get in quick to nab a slice of baked cheesecake too. Like Gontran Cherrier and Baker di Chirico, this place nails the whole bread and pastry game. Swan St lunch-seekers should swing by for the roast beef roll (served hot with seeded mustard, tasty cheese, onion and lettuce) or a chunky steak pie. Bring cash though, they have an EFTPOS minimum.
A Lennox St newbie, just down the road from Big Dog’s Deli (see below). But while Big Dog is all about the sandwiches, Black Gold set its sights on creating Melbourne’s fanciest brunch menu. Gold-dusted macarons, Wagyu eggs benedict, green polenta with green olives and pistachios—this place doesn’t do things by halves. The bread comes from Cobb Lane, the organic sugar cane from Panela (trust us, it makes a difference), and there’s a special raspberry candy roast from ONA Coffee being cooked up on the espresso machine. YUM.
Friends of Mine
An oldie, but a goodie, and one of the few cafes pumping out decent brunch on Swan St’s Yarra end. There’s a reason Friends of Mine still packs out every Sunday morning—it just does the basics bloody well. Golden folded scrambled eggs, glistening with butter and happiness, a zingy Shakshuka with roast eggplant and spices, and (still) our hands-down favourite hangover cure in the entire city: the Hung Over. Two perfectly poached eggs with a generous pile of fried bacon, avocado and cheesy herb bread. Get them to chuck some chilli sauce on there if you’re really feeling rough. Works every time.
Cheeky Monkey is one lucky café. Why? Because it’s smack bang next-door to Glasshaus Florist, aka the most fragrant place in Melbourne. It’s not a bad feeling to be chowing down on poached eggs, accompanied by the scent of hibiscus and lavender. Glasshaus is one of those florists you pass and mentally clock for a special occasion. Anniversary, Mum’s birthday, birth of first child etc. The bouquets and arrangements are stunning (and reasonably priced, considering the quality), and the space is easy on the eye too: all exposed brick and vaulted arches. Classy AF.
A sister store to its Albert Park twin, Avenue is built pretty much along the same lines. A big selection across multiple genres, bookish window displays, and cosy mood lighting that’ll make you want to set up camp and never return to the real world. It’s a chilled spot for a lunchtime browse, and there’s a good range of cards and gifts too. Avenue hosts regular book readings, signing and Book Club events too. You can check out the upcoming schedule on their website.
Melbourne’s first hip hop yoga studio has settled into its new home on Swan St...and what a home it is. Climb up the stairs and suddenly you’re standing in a light-filled loft space that resembles like an ‘apartment porn’ Pinterest board. It’s no big surprise that Yoga 213 is building a solid fan-base: they’re the first ones to swap the meditation tapes for some Kanye. Choose from classes like Chill Yoga (a smooth reggae, vinyasa flow) and Yin Yoga (soothing tunes from Bon Iver and Helios, combo’d with some deep, mat-based positions), or just sit up the back and jam. Whatever floats your boat.
Big Dog’s Deli
Big Dog’s is technically on Lennox St, but who cares—it’s close enough. It’s a Portland-inspired sandwich bar that opened up early this year and is getting a Richmond rep for INSANE meat and bread combos. We make a point of dropping in at least once every couple of weeks. Go and get The Big Dog: an insane combo of 36-month aged Prosciutto di Parma, salami, pickled peppers, shaved pecorino, spicy nduja, shredded lettuce and aioli, kept in check by two slices of crusty ciabatta. One of the Top 5 things we’ve ever put in our mouths.
Belle’s Hot Chicken
Just writing about Belle’s is enough to get us salivating. It’s that sort of place. Nashville-style wings by the basketful, paired with sides like mac n’ cheese, Old Bay fries or (if you’re a kill joy) coleslaw and salad. The meat comes in tender, drumstick or wing form, and ranges from mild all the way up to Emergency Room hot (they call it “really f*cking hot”). Chilli novices, don’t be a hero. Stick to medium and enjoy the burn. If you’re not feeling wings, we can recommend the chicken sandwich: same principle, just add two fluffy white buns, cheese and slaw.
Maholo Poke was one of a few restaurants riding Melbourne’s big kahuna poke wave, and all thing’s considered, it’s probably the best of the bunch (Poke Me in South Yarra gives it a good shake). It’s a venture from the team behind south-east Asian haven, Botherambo, but Maholo comes in a Barbie-pastel colour scheme, with big bowls like the Breakfast Poke: served with a poached egg, raw Atlantic salmon, broccolini, kale and flaked raw almonds. You can customize your own flavours, but we’re pretty partial to the crispy soft shell crab with corn, kimchi, ka’ukama, red onion, carrot and jalapeno Sriracha cream.
Chingón began with two brothers who wanted to recreate that wood-smoked, street corner, Mexico City tortilla vibe in Melbourne. Mission accomplished. This place is all about the fresh tacos and homemade salsa, a chilli-spiked cantina kick that’s a world away from the high-brow Mexican you find in the CBD. You’re given damn good soft corn torilla tacos (usually stuffed with grilled Achiote pork and capsicum salsa, or orange-charred chicken and singy pickled slaw) a couple of napkins, and not much else. Eat it fast, eat it well. That’s Chingón’s motto.
The Beer & Burger Bar
The clue’s in the title. This place doesn’t look like much when you’re wandering past during the day, but it’s got a massive range of craft beers and ciders (bottle and on-tap), plus some of the city’s best burgers. For our money, you can’t go past the classic beef, which comes with smoked bacon, beetroot relish and a generous lug of garlicky aioli. If you’re up the the challenge, The Beer and Burger Bar also serve a monster called The Don: a 700g brioche bun (that’s nearly a kilo of bread right there), TWO 600g beef patties, cheese, tomato, lettuce, aioli, mustard and ketchup, plus SIXTEEN rashers of Don bacon. Sweet Jesus...
Continuing the trend of big name chefs getting their hands greasy, Shannon Bennet is launching Melbourne’s first Benny Burger on Swan St in the next week. The Vue de Monde maestro saw a gap in the market for ethical fast food, sustainably sourced and deliciously cooked, and that’s the ethos behind ever bun at Benny’s. We’re talking sugar-free buns from Sydney’s Bread & Butter Project, fries made from nothing but Yukon gold potatoes, grown in Gembrook, and loaded shakes made from pure, organic milk. Watch this space.
Keen-eyed Richmond locals will have spotted the discreet Doughnut Time signage outside 174 Swan St, that familiar turquoise colour that heralds good times and sugary sweets in the not too distant future. Doughnut Time started as a hole-in-the-wall in Brisbane only two years ago. Now it’s got 23 stores around the country (you probably know the one in Emporium’s Top Shop best). The Swan St store is the newest to be welcomed into the empire. We’ll be checking it out once the doors open.
More of a northside fixie-rider? Check out our Collingwood Pick of the Precinct.
Image credit: Michelle Jarni | Big Dog's Deli