I’ve just moved back to Sydney after eight years in Melbourne.
To be able to stomp into the sea at the end of a ratty day feels incredible after so many years in a city. (The spiders and frizz I could do without.) My god. A dream.
But back to Melbourne for a moment, and the services, places and things I became intensely fond of, and will miss dearly. I share it because it takes a longass time to build up Your Things in a city, your army of friends, parks, cafes, grocers, and of course, people who magically transform your hair and face.
I got it real wrong for a solid year I reckon. It was pre-Instagram so you had to, like, read newspapers or blogs to be in the know. ‘Where do you go for breakfast?’ I’d ask women I barely knew. ‘Where do you get nice cushions? Flowers? Hummus?’ I wondered what I wasn’t being told, why I couldn’t find a decent cobbler (here’s one!) cursed those who weren’t giving up the goods, and had some truly terrible haircuts before I worked it out.
I’d argue Melbourne is still the kind of city you need to know where the good stuff is, or you risk walking around St Kilda or Southgate wondering what everyone’s on about because: ?
Just on Melbourne.
She is an exceptional city. She is beautiful, innovative, interesting, and peppered with some of the best food, art, design, creativity and minds in the world. Anyone so vulgar as to pit Sydney against Melbourne is entirely missing the point: they’re both brilliant, in very different ways.
We went through something truly remarkable in Melbourne last year. I feel incredibly bonded to the city and its people after months and months of intense lockdown, it’s a kinship unlike any other I’ve felt to a place. The other states have heard this a lot, but “you don’t know what it was like.” This doesn’t mean it all stunk! I have happy memories of a pumping MCG and Fitzroy gardens, crisp and sunny, heaving with lockdown runners, rugged-up two-person picnics, and families laden with bikes and scooters and balls, reluctant to give up even a minute of their one-hour of outside time. I also have memories of a heavy police presence there every single day, and my kids going mute each time we were asked to move on cos we’d stopped to eat an orange, or stomp in the creek, but that’ll pass.
Locals feverishly supported locals, and everyone lead with kindness. Florists were overwhelmed with deliveries from March right through, as people from around the state and country strove to cheer each other up. Compassion was king. It gave me great comfort to see how humans lift in strange, scary times. I’m a 1980s baby born into a middle-class white Australian family. I’ve had the immense fortune of a deeply privileged and comfortable life. This year –from the bushfires to Black Lives Matter to Covid – has woken me up. I’ve never felt more connected, and more motivated to be a better human. I know I’m not alone in this.
Okay! Onto the good stuff.
Caveat: I am a creature of habit, and a slave to postcode. These recommendations are largely based around Richmond, Fitzroy and Melbourne city.
Another caveat: I am not a born-n-bred Melbourne local with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the city. This is just one woman’s cherry pickin’ of shit she likes.
It’s hard to get a bad meal in Melbourne. I use Broadsheet to stay updated, but I’m basic, short of memory and usually hangry by the time decision making time rolls around, so usually fall back to these classics:
Capitano is our favourite Melbourne restaurant. Simple, perfectly executed pasta and pizza. (And they do a Peanut Butter and Miso Old Fashioned.) Don’t overthink it. Go to Capitano.
I will miss their Vodka rigatoni a lot. Their sister restaurant, Bar Liberty, is also perfectly done, especially if you’re into incredible wines and your cacio e pepe (who isn’t?). Daughter in Law/Mrs Singhs has the most delicious, light, subtle Indian food I’ve ever had the good fortune of eating. I recommend the Prawn curry, Paneer masala and butter chicken. (Tonka and Horn Please are also excellent.) I love an efficient, Melbourne-institution minute steak and fries at France-Soir, or the more relaxed, Lillet-spritz version at Entrecôte in South Yarra.
My husband and I inadvertently wearing the same thing to Nobu, 2013. Cute.
Flowerdrum is five-star for a reason. Classic, never-fail, outstanding Chinese. Ditto Nobu at Crown. DOC, Ladro and Baby all do outstanding pizza. Marion Wine Bar is the place you book when you want to impress your date in an accidental-no-big-deal way fashion: delicious food (roast chicken, fish, pasta) and a wine list that will appease even the most educated wine monster. (Same could be said of Rosetta.) Poodle is nearby and offers what might be Melbourne’s only seafood platter…? Slick and fun. Supernormal (pan-Asian) and Kisume (Japanese) are a bit fancier/pricier but 100% guaranteed delicious. Attica by Ben Shewry is next level, and the one for a Special Occasion. (Or in lockdown, delivery lasagna! #PIVOT) Also good for special occasions: Donovans and Stokehouse, down St Kilda way. I also recommend booking out Pasta Club with a bunch of mates for a very fun, yummy, loose evening.
Also: Down on the Mornington Peninsula there are myriad great places and wineries. My standout meal is Rare Hare at Jackalope. It is WONDERFUL FOOD. Stunningly tasty vegetarian options abound! As do excellent wines and cocktails. And the view. Just all of it. Their fine dining dinner option, Doot Doot Doot is also exceptional. Degustations do my head in as a rule, but I went vego and it was interesting and delicious and innovative.
Special nod to The Lakehouse and Dairy Flat Farm in Daylesford for special occasions or fancy weekend getaways , and I love lunch and a run around the lavender gardens with the kids at Lavandula.
Marion excels at a simple vegetarian pasta.
In a city blessed with so many Italians, the gelato will not let you down. Pidapipo wears the crown: it serves all the extras I love in Italy (cream, hot Nutella sauce) and Piccolina does simple flavours, extremely well. As everyone knows, Lune make the best croissants in Australia. Never not worth the wait. Go.
I love the pancake (it’s singular, and the size of a cake) at Top Paddock, and there is fun to be had at Ned’s Bake and Darling Cafe (super-extra Instagram French Toast etc) in South Yarra. In Fitzroy, Archie’s All Day is a beloved breakfast stand-out, and the nearby Bentwood is also great. I maintain Fitzroy does the best coffee in Melbourne. *ducks*
Laikon Deli is a solid family favourite, as is the Rowena Milkbar, which we lived a few doors up from, and Pillar of Salt is always reliable and delicious.
Remnants of the pancake at Top Paddock. It feeds me + two kids. It is glorious.
As a certified cake beast, I’ve had the good fortune of sampling many cakes in Melbourne. Many will look great, but only a few taste good, too. If I’m ordering a cake, I go to Beatrix Bakes, Miss Trixie, (she does cakes and cookies), or Proof Bakehouse. If I need to pick up a cake en route to a party, I usually head to Babka in Fitzroy, or order ahead from the genius @tarts_anon in Richmond who just do tarts, and do them exceptionally well. Special nod to Burch and Purchese for their very extra, high-art offerings.
Miss Trixie serving up a sugary nostalgia pun bomb for Halloween.
The smaller, darker and more unambiguous, the better. If I am going to the effort of a babysitter and hangover, I want to feel like I can walk in and give the bartender a few notes, and he/she will create me a symphony. Bar Eveleigh is flawless, as is Siglo, which always makes me feel like I am in Italy with that rooftop view. Eau de vie, Byrdi, Bar Americano are also fantastic, and a Margarita at Gilson on a sunny afternoon is a delight.
I see Lauren MacKellar or Alex Newman at Meta hair in Armadale for my colour, and cuts too, though it’s colour that really sets these women apart. For styling and event hair I have a laugh with Hermiz Daniel at Joey Scandizzo. My son had his hair cut at Beef’s Barbers, and so did my daughter, often enough. Shaun and the gang are super friendly and cool, and you won’t end up with a naff ‘little boy’ haircut. (Kids sit on skateboards as they have their hair cut, which should give you a clue.)
In 2014, in Melbourne, someone ruined my brows. I was puffy and pregnant and mid-book tour and really didn’t need unflattering brows on top of all that, yknow? So I asked my Sydney brow expert, Lien Davies if she would consider making a trip down to Melbourne to save my face and probably many other faces. She did, and she still visits every 8 weeks or so. What a diamond. I also recommend Kylie Brown Beauty for brows, and the gang at Me Skin and Body do great brows and lash lifts, too. Lash extensions? For me there is only one: Thi (@lashes_by_thi). She does the most incredible, natural lashes.
I love and trust Jade Kisnorbo, Monica Gingold, and Yvonne Borland with my face and hair. (Git yourself a girl who can do both.) If I am in a bind and didn’t book them in time, I book at Mecca in South Yarra, or, um, just do it myself, which I got very used to doing during several lockdown press tours.
As someone who makes and sells skin care, I believe most of the heavy lifting when it comes to healthy skin comes from a simple but effective daily routine of cleansing, hydration, protection and gentle exfoliation. (And: SLEEP!) But professional treatments a few times a year? That’s the difference between having your car washed, and it being detailed. Over time, those professional treatments will make a difference, especially if you’re trying to maintain (not eliminate – impossible) hyper-pigmentation. I’ve been seeing Brooke at Me Skin and Body for years. She has an encyclopaedic knowledge of ingredients and I turn to her to look after my pigmentation and tone, and get my skin glowy before events. (Laser Genesis, needling, Dermafrac etc). I also love a facial at Melanie Grant when Mel is in town, (she also has a salon in Sydney and LA and is a special kind of magic.) Speaking of pigmentation, I started seeing Alicia at Bare Laser and Skin last year who has being doing Q-Switch laser on my pigmentation, and also zapping my veins and pregnancy-induced skin tags etc. The gang at The Little Company in Cremorne do a beautiful pampering facial, great for gifting. These women are all business owners and extremely passionate about skin. They’re informed, trustworthy, up to date on tech and products, and follow a less-is-more policy, which I prefer.
The zingy no-makeup glow that follows a blueberry peel + Laser Genesis with Brooke.
Spray Aus in South Yarra. They also make the best mousse in a bottle around, in my opinion: no splotchy fade out, and no orange. The technicians are very well trained, but more than that, they listen when I say I’d like a light spray cos I am doing a red carpet and wearing white.
Lacking! Gah! I always struggled finding a good masseuse cos I prefer sports therapist intensity over relaxey. The one I did find and LOVE is not on Instagram yet, and is in the middle of setting up her business, so I will post that when she’s ready. The AURORA Spa always has excellent therapists but it’s pricey for a regular fix. (Terrrrrific present if you wanna gift a friend in Melbourne.)
Something you don’t think about moving cities as you fall pregnant is that you don’t have that built-in network all your mates and sister etc used when they were pregnant. It sucked a doz. But, I found my people and now you can have them too. I swear by Dr Alice Gao. She is a Chinese herbalist and acupuncturist who specializes in fertility, miscarriage, labour induction etc. She is a very special woman. For pregnancy pain, find an osteo. I ended up with a fractured pubis and osteitis pubis in my first pregnancy, but neither were diagnosed accurately until post-birth. TLDR; I found Daniela Aiello who specializes in natal osteo and she fixed me, and kept me fixed for my a second, strong pregnancy. Also, lots of pilates: a killer combo for a strong core and birth. I went to Studio PP.
It took me ages to find “my shops” in Melbourne. I prefer local business and street shopping over malls, and frequent Filly’s Stable in Albert Park, Grace and Bassike in Hawksburn Village, The Standard Store in Fitzroy, and Incu in QV for fun, eclectic bits and pieces (Rixo, Ganni, Proenza, Nanushka, Anni Lui etc). I love a stomp around Armadale for Acne, Camilla and Marc, Viktoria + Woods etc. If I do a mall, I like Emporium or Chadstone. (How original!) I love getting fancy dress and also Real Life clothes at Global Vintage in Richmond.
We always end up at Cinema Nova in Carlton. You can have a great meal beforehand, then take a negroni into the film. *chef’s kiss* Also love Kino in the city, Lido in Hawthorn, and the glorious deco Rialto in Kew. (For a kids movie, Hoyts Victoria Gardens. Always a seat, always a park, and you can get some Ikea storage containers on your way out.)
I just drive straight to Gertrude St, Fitzroy. We lived there for years and I adore this little hood. I go to Third Drawer Down for unique, arty, witty gifts (stocking fillers and little thank you gifts for hosts etc), as well as The Standard Store, Le Labo and Mud, handily are both nearby. Modern Times is up Smith St, and has beautiful art, prints and objects (and furniture), and Happy Valley books is close by, also. My go-to gift in lockdown to struggling mates was a selection of ready-made cocktails from Blackhearts and Sparrows and some Hey Tiger chocolate. Both brilliant Melbourne businesses with excellent offerings.
Is there such a thing as a bad bookshop? I would argue not. My favourites are Avenue bookstore in Richmond and Albert Park, Readings and Readings Kids in Carlton, and Little Book Room in Carlton. Oh and the Collins St Dymocks in the city is PHENOMENAL, the sheer size of it!
I generally go Flowers Vassette when sending bouquets, I love Hattie Molloy for flowers as art, Brett Matthew John does beautiful, made-for-the-gram stuff, I’ve used Bloom Boy to do floral artistry for a party, and we supported our local, Glasshouse, in Richmond most weeks.
Lil’ bit of Hattie.
Church St, Richmond reigns. I buy a lot from Jardan, Signorino and Artedomus for tiles, and Space and Living Edge are full of wild pieces and ideas. Modern Times in Fitzroy does great vintage furniture (and art), and I’ve bought lots of second hand stuff from @curatedspaces. Some of my most-loved pieces at home I bought from Grazia and Co, a Melbourne company. The Family Love Tree has fun kids bedroom stuff and bedheads, too.
Just on home stuff, Simone Haag and Angela Harry both did remarkable things for our interior design, we have used LocBuild happily for every reno, fix and build we’ve ever done while living in Melbourne, and Will Gibson created some real planty-garden magic for us over the years.
There’s always an exhibition on for kids, and the grounds are great for a picnic and run around. Plus, you’re across the road from more gardens, the Botanic Gardens etc. An easy and fun way to fill half a day.
If you live here, get a membership (it’s tied into a Merlin Pass, which also includes a Sea Life Aquarium membership – score!) cos one-off entry is purrricey. There was a time when we would head there every Sunday: my pre-schooler loves the Duplo section, my kid loves the building and the 3D movies, and I hate exiting through the gift shop for obvious reasons.
What did we do with kids on rainy days before indoor trampoline joints? We had our son’s birthday party here. We are regulars. (Bonus: you get an incidental workout.)
Collingwood Children’s Farm
A sweet little (working) farm in the city with cows, roaming chooks, ducks, pigs, horses, tractors etc, surrounded by bushland. Has an excellent café, interactive animal activities, and can fill a solid two hours. It’s right next to the Abbotsford Convent, which has beautiful gardens, galleries, creative wares, food, and lots of things to snoop around. A destination all of its own, especially on a sunny weekend afternoon.
Royal Botanic Gardens/Ian Potter Playground
When I first moved here, I cringed hearing everyone call the Botanic Gardens ‘The Tan.’ Now I call it that too: omg cuuuute! (To be clear, the Tan is the track around the perimeter of the gardens, which is always packed with runners and walkers. It’s just under 4k a lap.) The gardens are majestic and I highly endorse an untimed stroll through them, with a packed picnic. There is a little gated garden at the top (Domain Rd), with a creek, and some water fountains and a gorgeous grassy area we love on hot days, though be warned the opening days/times are pretty confusing, so check online before you go. (Wed-Sundays in non-school terms from 10am, and the fountains are only on if the temp hits 25 degrees and the sparrow flies north etc etc.)
The Museum + Scienceworks
Museum is definitely worth a membership, Scienceworks is great too, but in Williamstown so not as close for us, and a few-times-a-year activity. Pre-lockdown we’d hit the museum weekly in this house. There is a full indoor playground, (+ an excellent park and playground in the gardens next to it, which is not part of the museum) and floor after floor of interesting, curious animals and exhibits for kids and adults alike. Also there is an IMAX here and the grounds between the exhibition hall next door and the museum is GREAT for little kids to scoot. It’s just bloody great.
I adore the Melbourne Zoo, it is very worth a membership. (Also includes Werribee Open Plains Zoo and Healesville Sanctuary, both worth a visit, but a fair whack out of the city.) It’s a large zoo, with a strong conservation message, and frequent updates. Butterfly house remains my favourite. Yes, I’m six.
Silly because there’s one on every block, but here are some Next Level playgrounds I love: Hay’s Paddock (Kew), Royal Park Nature Play (Parkville), St Kilda Adventure Playground, Maritime Cove Community Park (Port Melbourne) and Fitzroy Gardens which has a great creek and which really saved us in lockdown tbh.
Oh, there were many days spent doing this.
Bit lacking, sadly. I love Big Dreams in Northcote and Little Fenix in Carlton, and Frankie’s Story for clothes, which was at South Melb markets but now just online. I buy toys at Kids Stuff or Jasper Jones in Fitzroy, and books at The Little Book Room or Readings Kids in Carlton.
And if you want WONDERFUL, cool, non-cheesy, total-framers-forever photos of your children, or family, (or wedding!) there is only one choice, the magnificent and indelible Mrs White.
Okay, I’m spent. I will update this list as more comes to mind, and please comment any thing you love in Melbourne so newcomers and tourists can have a really non-sucky, delicious, fun time.
Off to the beach!
(JK I am off to Kmart to buy a clotheshorse.)
All typos are intentional except where unintentional.