No Australian city cops as bad a rap for its winter weather as Melbourne. But arguably no city has learnt to cope with it better either. This year, a fleet of new Italian offerings, good-time bars with world-class sound systems, hot cheese shops and sizzling Sichuan joints makes being inside in Melbourne not just smart, but essential.
After a swift and not at all painful four-year renovation, Carlton's 100-year-old King and Godfree deli is complete and Agostino is the premium booze-soaked cherry on the torte. Upstairs, Johnny's Green Room awaits for polpetti and Aperol spritz; the deli is packed with smallgoods to buy or eat in a roll. But here, waiters clad in crisp whites from neck to ankle are dropping the genuinely seasonal northern Italian plates that King and Godfree's epic cellar collection needs, and deserves. Keep it simple with some culatello and salted persimmon or pouty tortellini filled with a luxurious mushroom goo and let those Gaja wines do the talking.
297 Lygon Street, Carlton, 03 9347 1619, agostinowine.com
The amaro old fashioned at Angel Music Bar. Photo: Christopher Hopkins
Angel Music Bar
Con Christopoulos has been showing late-night Melbourne a good time for years at The European, The Melbourne Supper Club, Siglo and, more recently, his 24-hour eatery Butchers Diner. Angel Music Bar adds another layer to that mix. It's not just about nightcaps and winding down. A brilliant, expensive sound system, constantly changing roster of DJs and music genres, open-air courtyard at the back and a compact hidden Dance Bar upstairs, give Angel a flexibility that can keep the night going against a backdrop of well-constructed cocktails and good-time bar food such as a classic prawn cocktail or a lobster mac and cheese.
12 Bourke Street, Melbourne, 03 9654 6249,?angelmelbourne.com
A negroni at Di Stasio Citta. Photo: Eddie Jim
Di Stasio Citta
The sequel to Ronnie Di Stasio's spaghetti-slinging, barolo-pouring St Kilda landmark has landed, and true to the nature of its art-loving provocateur owner, it's going to push buttons you didn't know you had. The raging red of its puffy chairs and rosary necklaces on smocked waitresses, plus the constant motion of video artworks heat the blood so you suddenly consider dropping crazy money on the biblical wine list. But then comes the soothe: the cool of the marble bar where Di Stasio's classic fluffy, buttery schnitzel sandwich in tin foil, twirls of lemony crab linguine, plush veal napped in silken tonnato sauce meet new essentials. Sage-wrapped anchovies in spindly batter fight for best bar snack around – ditto rainbow vegetables in a garlicky bagna cauda.
45 Spring Street, Melbourne, 03 9070 1177,?distasio.com.au/citta?
Pommes with black garlic and fried bread with fermented tomato and hapuka at Etta.?Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui
Check the butter with your malty bread: it's cacio e pepe flavoured. Fingers of that same loaf come fried and loaded with fermented tomato and gently smoked hapuka. Something's changed at this neighbourly Brunswick East wine bar. That something is new chef Charley Snadden-Wilson, whose love of ferments and raw firepower makes him the minimal intervention Clyde to wine gun Hannah Green's Bonnie. Savoy cabbage, salt-spritzed, steamed and roasted in nori butter, is an instant veg classic. For meat fiends it's the pork rack, finely crackled, deeply sweet from endless basting in fermented celeriac juice over coals. Etta has never been better.
60 Lygon Street, Brunswick East, 03 9448 8233, ettadining.com.au
The trio behind Fancy Free?have all done time at Black Pearl. Photo: Ryan Noreiks
The trio behind Fancy Free have all done time behind the stick at Melbourne's grand dame of bars, the heavily decorated Black Pearl. Matt Stirling, Ryan Noreiks and Rob Libecans (also ex-White Lyan in London) are slinging the cocktail greats, their own high-tech creations and, because they open at 11am and it's 2019, zero booze options like a coconut cold drip coffee with a pandan ice-cream float. Beers? Local brews from Stomping Ground. Wines? Coordinated by Sydney's P & V Merchants, so expect some wild times. Snacks? A few salty deli-inspired treats to keep you standing but watch out for their monthly events with guest chefs.
381 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, fancyfreebar.com.au.
Can Melbourne stand more Italian? Lagotto, the latest from the team that built potent Collingwood wine bar Congress, answers that question with mortadella sangers for lunch, meatballs to take home for dinner and cacio e pepe eggs for breakfast. It's the full European pitch, a slick place of marble and terrazzo floors where you can get both kinds of Americano – the coffee in the morning, or the campari, vermouth and soda cocktail at night.
1 York Street, Fitzroy North, 03 9005 1953, cafelagotto.com.au.
Mapo tofu and noodle bun at Liminal. Photo: Jason South
Mapo! Tofu! Rolls? That's right. The hottest thing put inside a jaffle in 2018 has made the leap into a bun at this new cafe, produce store and event space from the unstoppable creators of Kettle Black and Higher Ground. That bun is a dangerous walk, showered in crunchy noodles. Ditto its pals filled with chicken and gravy or pork and apple. Outside the bun chef Martin Webster confidently delivers toasty slabs of boudin noir with caramel brown sauce and fried egg, a fat ricotta hotcake like a delicious Sealy mattress or a socialite-thin omelette wrapped around chunks of citrusy prawn and charry cauliflower.
161 Collins Street, Melbourne, 03 9639 8264,?liminalmelbourne.com
Maker and Monger
Anthony Femia, maker of Melbourne's best cheese grills, raclette and flaming reubens is about to turbocharge his cheesy operation in time for the dead of winter. The cheese cart is making way for an all-encompassing cheese shop that highlights the entire process from milk to maturation to mouth. By the end of June there'll be fondue, a weekly bruschetta made with fresh cheese and produce from neighbouring market vendors, including a king hell Cubano sandwich filled with comte and roast pork shoulder and ham from Gary's Meats.
4 Market Street, South Yarra, 0413 900 490, makerandmonger.com.au
Take a crew to Rising Embers.?Photo: Joe Armao
The good people behind Dainty Sichuan, everyone's favourite messenger of what's hot in China's spiciest province, have broken into the DIY barbecue game. As with Korean barbecue, dinner starts with plates of pickles and the delivery of dipping sauces and cooking tools, but the platters of seafood, kobe beef, lamb or vegetables that you summon raw have the signature fizzing sting of Sichuan peppercorns,dried chilli and in the case of the lamb, cumin. Take a crew, get a bottle of baijiu and complement the grill with a hotpot so you can swish as well as sizzle your ingredients.
139 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, daintysichuanfood.com.au
Super Ling is a wine-focused,?mod-Chinese-ish restaurant. Photo: Simon Schluter
The mapo tofu toastie crowning the menu at Iain Ling's wine-focused, mod-Chinese-ish restaurant is the cult dish for good reason – the explosion of lava-like spiced pork mince with silky patches of tofu is a spicier, sexier answer to bolognese. But there's far more to the party chef Michael Li is throwing. Wide straps of chicken fat-licked noodles dressed with fragrant meats are just $12. Li's beef tartare, all ginger zip and Sichuan tickle with voluminous rice crackers, is electric. Freshness and good times abound at this bolt-hole, be it via the pet nat in your glass or broccoli stems with cloud fungus slipping through your chopsticks.
38 Queensberry Street, Carlton, 03 9347 5878, superling.com.au