DAWN GIBSON EXPLORES THE COBBLED LANES, HIDDEN BARS AND VIBRANT ARTS SCENE OF AUSTRALIA’S MOST SOPHISTICATED CITY
Elegant and steeped in Victorian charm. Brash and edgy, bristling with feisty attitude. A warm glow and cool jazz spilling from a small bar, tucked into an almost forgotten back lane. An insistent bass beat reverberating through a converted warehouse, where heavily tattooed bar staff serve cocktails in tumblers. A tree-lined street of chic designer boutiques. Waterside restaurants with award-winning fusion cuisine. Melbourne is all of these things, and yet far more than the sum of its parts.
Referred to as Australia’s cultural capital and the most European metropolis of the antipodes, it is doing Melbourne a disservice to consider it merely as ‘Australia’s second city’. It may be less known and marginally less populous than Sydney, yet the capital of the state of Victoria is a unique and delightfully modern world city, complete with a genuinely kind, welcoming heart.
Melbourne combines all the elements that appeal to a seasoned traveller: intriguing streetscapes mixing contemporary design with handsome nineteenth-century terrace houses and glorious art deco landmarks; a world-renowned foodie scene that includes some of the best restaurants you could ever wish to raise a fork in; an established boutique bar culture and exciting nightlife; internationally revered art galleries and covetable designer fashion; shopping destinations which tug insistently on the purse strings; lush parks and sprawling gardens, and, last but by no means least, some of the best coffee shops on the planet. Hence, it was not hard to see why in 2017 Melbourne was named the most liveable city in the world for the seventh year running, beating Vienna and Vancouver. Melburnians know they are onto a good thing, and international travellers are now chomping to experience a piece of it.
The Cultured Traveller flew to Melbourne on SriLankan Airlines, the Indian Ocean nation’s award-winning flag carrier, which recently launched a daily non-stop service from Colombo as part of the airline’s on-going expansion of its international network. SriLankan’s Melbourne route not only provides travellers with a convenient new entry-point into Australia, but also affords those departing from the U.K., Oman, Qatar, U.A.E. and India the opportunity to stop off and explore the beautiful island of Sri Lanka en-route to ‘Straya, effectively providing two completely different country experiences in one trip.
I land in Melbourne on a weekday afternoon and buy a ticket for the SkyBus Melbourne City Express, a user-friendly service which runs 24/7 and departs MEL airport every 10 minutes. The journey takes about 30 minutes and costs AUD35 return, about the third of the price of a taxi (www.skybus.com.au). Alternatively, pre-book a chauffeur driven luxury German sedan via Omnicar, and arrive at your destination in style for AUD90 one-way (www.omnicar.com.au).
On my way into the city, I gaze out the window and spot a herd of wild kangaroos lazing on a hillock not far from the highway, a magical start to my Australian adventure. Green fields soon give way to suburbia, before the sleek steel and glass skyline of Melbourne’s cityscape appears. The SkyBus stops at the central Southern Cross Station, and from there, complimentary feeder buses take visitors to their lodgings.
Founded in 1835 on the north bank of the Yarra River, taking advantage of the natural bay of Port Phillip, Melbourne is made for exploration on foot, as the well-spaced streets are designed in an easily navigable grid. However, if you’re short of time, getting around by public transport or taxis is relatively stress-free. Melbourne has the largest urban tram network in the world, and tram rides within the centre of the city are completely free. For travel by train, tram and bus, visitors can buy a re-usable ‘myki’ smartcard at main train stations or online (www.ptv.vic.gov.au/tickets/myki). Also, Uber operates very efficiently in Melbourne, and provides a variety of different vehicle categories, including premium cars.
Contemporary Melbourne deftly achieves a harmonious balance between a glorious past and a thriving present. Just decades after it was founded, the fledgling community on Australia’s south-eastern coast became one of the biggest and richest cities in the world as a result of the gold rush of the 1850s. As hundreds of thousands of prospectors flocked to its shores, glorious Victorian architecture sprung up, much of which is still happily evident today. Following the federation of Australia in 1901, Melbourne served as the new nation’s temporary seat of Government until 1927. As a result of its pivotal role in national history, Melbourne is home to some of Australia’s oldest and most significant cultural landmarks, including the UNESCO World Heritage protected Royal Exhibition building, completed in 1880, and Melbourne’s famous cricket ground, opened in 1853.
For a first-time visitor, the best way to understand Melbourne is as a network of neighbourhoods radiating out from the Yarra River, each with its own style and ambience; and each worth setting aside at least half a day to investigate more fully, to wander and absorb the sights, sounds, tastes and smells, from the vibrancy of Southbank and the Docklands, to the upmarket boutiques, cafes and cocktail lounges of South Yarra and the relaxed, beachside ambience of St Kilda. But a meteorological word of warning: while Melbourne enjoys a temperate climate of warm summers and cool winters, the weather is notoriously fickle, so a bright sunny morning can easily turn into a raging thunderstorm in the space of an hour – the song ‘Four Seasons in One Day’ by Melbourne band Crowded House sums up the climate perfectly. Do check the forecast every time you head out, and don’t ignore the lead of locals who often wear layers!
The natural place to start your orientation is the city centre, where fabulous al fresco cafés and virtually hidden bars jostle for space along cobbled laneways amid antique emporiums, jewellery shops and boutiques showcasing Australian and international designers. Of course, there are the department stores and global chains you find everywhere, but it is the original and quirky which make Melbourne’s CBD such a fascinating place to explore.
I start in Flinders Lane, the hub of Melbourne’s rag trade in the mid-20th century, and today home to designer wares and vintage clothing stores. Heading towards Russell Street, I turn right into cobbled Hosier Lane, known for its colourful graffiti and street art. After taking some Instagram-worthy photos, I stroll back to Flinders Lane and find myself lured into a vintage boutique, where fifties and sixties style dresses in a variety of colours and prints line the walls. In the first of many such encounters, the sales woman is genuinely warm, chatty and helpful, without pushing me to buy. Next stop is Centre Place, one of Melbourne’s most famous and photographed laneways, a veritable bustling hive of activity. I sit down outside one of the buzzing cafés to enjoy a superbly creamy latté and a scrumptious ‘toastie’ of bacon, egg and smashed avocado.
Sufficiently refuelled, I walk to Collins Street, Melbourne’s luxury shopping enclave. In a city passionately obsessed with fashion – Melbourne Fashion Week every September is a huge event, and the world-famous Melbourne Cup each November is as much about the frocks as the fillies – Collins Street is where the well-heeled go for their fill of international designer togs. Prada, Gucci, Dior, Armani, Hermès and Burberry are all here. The east of Collins is known as the ‘Paris end’ due to its grand architecture, while the west of the street is referred to as the ‘New York end’, a nod to its modern buildings and financial institutions. Don’t miss The Block Arcade, between Collins and Elizabeth Streets, built in the 1890s and inspired by Milan’s Galleria Vittoria. A glorious tribute to the delights of shopping, the arcade features intricate mosaic floors, a glass canopy and carved stone finishes, as well as the traditional Hopetoun Tea Rooms, where the window groans with sinfully tempting cakes.
From Elizabeth Street, I turn right and walk past the junction with Little Collins, until I reach Royal Arcade on the right. Opened in 1870, this is the oldest surviving arcade in Australia, featuring a superb light-filled interior topped with arched windows similar to the famous Burlington Arcade in London’s Mayfair. After a fun half hour darting in and out of the little shops, browsing everything from hard-to-find French perfumes to quirky home-wares and delicate silk scarves, I emerge into the sunlight from the Victorian arcade onto the bustle of the Bourke Street Mall, a leading retail strip, bringing me abruptly back into the hum of the modern metropolis. Whilst I won’t go into detail about all of the fascinating nooks and crannies, Degraves Street and Hardware Lane are also well worth a visit for their bars, cafes, restaurants and shops.
Wherever you wander, you are bound to build up an appetite, and Melbourne is happily one of the finest places in the world to satisfy it. The city has for decades been known for its wonderfully diverse multicultural foodie scene, the legacy of waves of immigration since its Gold Rush days: Melburnians will proudly tell you their city has the largest Greek-speaking population outside of Europe and that the Vietnamese surname Nguyen is the second most common after Smith.
Venture to Chinatown at the eastern end of Little Bourke Street to be spoilt for choice in terms of contemporary and traditional Chinese cuisine, including scrumptious street food – don’t leave without tasting a steamed savoury dumpling with a piping hot centre of pork or bean curd. Go to Little Italy – a section of Lygon Street in the inner-city suburb of Carlton – to sip a cappuccino in the place where Melbourne’s café culture began, but beware the touts offering free glasses of vino to convince you to dine, as you will typically find better fare elsewhere.
The restaurant scene at large is fiercely innovative and staffed by some superbly talented, visionary chefs, all making excellent use of abundant local produce. Gourmands in the know are sure to have heard of Attica. Chef Ben Shewry’s clever use of native ingredients, and ability to deliver a dining experience many rave about for weeks, have resulted in the restaurant being listed among the world’s top 50. But you don’t need to spend a fortune to eat good food in Melbourne, and the city’s culinary diversity makes it possible to sample a wonderful variety of cuisines without blowing your holiday budget.
Similarly, Melbourne’s bar and nightlife scene is brilliantly varied, eclectic and ever-changing. The city is particularly known for its music – Nick Cave, The Avalanches, Jet, The Temper Trap, Missy Higgins and pop icon Kylie Minogue all hail from Melbourne – as well as its chic late-night wine and cocktail bars. Rooftop bars are an enduring favourite when the weather is fair, and a multitude can be found scattered throughout the inner-city.
One neighbourhood popular with foodies, night owls and fashionistas alike is the bohemian northern inner-city suburb of Fitzroy, known for its vibrant mix of hip bars, art galleries, cafés and home-grown designers. Start your exploration with a flat white on the Brunswick Street strip, where snippets of conversation on yoga, mindfulness and artists’ residences will swirl around as you drink your coffee. Pose for a picture on one of the mosaic-tiled couches, an enduring symbol of Fitzroy’s ubiquitous street art, before taking a stroll down the strip, where you will be hard pressed to decide where to dine, sip or shop. Many of the boutiques and cafés were hipster haunts before hipster was a thing, and the upbeat vibes in the air are positively contagious. Gorgeous twenty-somethings, wearing corduroy and flower-patterned shirts, canoodle over falafel wraps while seated on distressed benches painted bright orange, while couples with small children and giant dogs shop for succulents and Nepalese textiles.
Southbank is another locale worth dipping into, either for an afternoon or an evening. An urban renewal precinct on prime riverfront real estate, right next to the city centre, Southbank boasts a glitzy promenade bursting with stylish eateries and trendy bars. Most venues are unsurprisingly heavily tourist-orientated and priced accordingly, but this can easily be forgiven on one of those perfect but not too warm Melbourne days, when it would be a shame not to be sitting next to the river people-watching and sipping a glass of crisp white wine. Southbank is also the site of the Melbourne Arts Precinct, the home of Australia’s largest performing arts centre as well as The Australian Ballet, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, the Melbourne Theatre Company and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. The National Gallery of Victoria, Australia’s oldest and largest art museum, is worth devoting several hours to, and its superb permanent collection spans everything from Renoir and Monet to Warhol and Picasso, works by Australian Aboriginals to colonial Australian drawings, and Australian decorative arts to antiquities from around the globe. The inaugural NGV Triennial will be held from mid-December through mid-April, featuring more than 100 artists hailing from over 30 countries (www.ngv.vic.gov.au).
Given the plethora of happening locales and the seemingly constant array of cafés, bars, clubs, art spaces, exhibitions, retail and restaurants, Melbourne is a city where it is virtually impossible to be bored. There is always a new experience around the corner or down a lane. The creativity is almost tangible, bursting to the surface of the everyday in urban art and café culture, expressed in the tens of thousands who throng excitedly to gallery openings and first nights, as well as by the buskers playing to appreciative crowds in the open-air malls.
After four days of sampling what the city has to offer, I inherently know there is an awful lot more still to explore – more neighbourhoods, more restaurants and more galleries. Basically, more of everything. I take one final look at the captivating skyline as I travel towards the airport – it is an extremely bright, sunny day, and the buildings are back-lit by a warm fuzzy glow. I take that golden glow onto the plane with me, where I watch through the window as Australia’s green and gold vastness slips out of view in the almost ethereal late afternoon light, and vow to return soon to discover more of Australia’s cultural capital.
Southbank is one of Melbourne’s smartest locales, fronted by a vibrant riverside promenade of upmarket restaurants, trendy bars and tasteful boutiques. A 15-minute walk from the CBD, the precinct is well known as a chic and convenient place to rest your head during a city stay.
The five-star Crown Metropol – one of three award-winning Crown branded hotels in Southbank – is located on the corner of Whiteman and Clarendon streets, adjacent to the group’s giant entertainment complex featuring designer shops, about 30 restaurants, a casino and a cluster of nightlife venues. Opened in 2010, the Metropol has 658 rooms, making it one of Australia’s largest hotels. However, designers Bates Smart deliberately negated the sense of a vast, anonymous hotel, by using a wave design which creates a more boutique vibe – for instance, there are no endless corridors stretching Twilight Zone-esque into the distance.
The contemporary lobby is expansive, filled with light and welcoming. Large decorative wooden ball sculptures add a playful touch, while a ribbon staircase winds provocatively upwards in front of reception. After a swift check-in, I am whisked upstairs in an elevator featuring an unusually sultry female voice announcing each floor.
Rooms are all generously sized, starting from 38m2 for a luxe king through to 80m2 lofts. Those with cash to splash can book the 25th level New York-style apartment – a lavish 190m2 abode with its own lobby entrance, en-suite with spa bath, butler’s kitchen and separate lounge/dining room with sweeping city views.
The Cultured Traveller stayed in a spacious corner room with floor-to-ceiling streetscape views on two sides, most impressive at night when the lights of nearby skyscrapers twinkled attractively in the darkness. The furnishings and décor were modern, comfortable and functional: a cream-coloured modular day lounge set against one of the picture windows, a metal and wood desk set against the other, black wood panelling and warm earth-coloured carpets, plus an en-suite bathroom with plenty of counter space, all frosted in chrome and textured glass.
Given that the Crown entertainment complex is so close by – it is accessible from the Metropol by an undercover sky bridge – guests can easily walk to a wide range of venues for meals and drinks, including Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Nobu Melbourne and Australian chef Neil Perry’s well-regarded Rockpool Bar & Grill. For a lively night out, the Skybar Lounge on the hotel’s 28th floor serves hand-crafted cocktails and boutique beers in a glamorous setting complete with a full view of the beautiful Melbourne skyline.
Stunning views across the city are also to be had from the hotel’s 25-metre heated indoor infinity pool on the 27th floor, the star turn of the fitness and wellness facilities, which also encompass male and female steam rooms, a vitality spa pool with ergonomic lounges and the usual hotel gym equipment.
All in all, it’s the Metropol’s plum location and easy connections to Southbank’s many attractions which are its prime appeal. Its friendly and helpful staff, good design and generously-sized modern rooms make it a great choice in which to set up base camp for a Melbourne city break.
CITADINES ON BOURKE MELBOURNE
Melbourne’s distinctive grid design was carefully laid out by Robert Hoddle in 1837. Named for Sir Richard Bourke, the Governor of New South Wales in 1837 during the drafting of the Hoddle Grid, geographically, Bourke Street runs roughly from east to west, bisecting the city centre along its long axis. Running parallel between Little Collins street to the south, and Little Bourke street to the north, to stay anywhere along Bourke Street – one of the CBD’s main streets and a core feature of the Hoddle Grid – is to be immersed in the very centre of the throbbing financial and retail hub of Melbourne, and is the perfect location from which to explore the many facets of Australia’s most energetic and vibrant metropolis.
Traditionally the entertainment hub of the inner city, during the ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ era, Bourke Street was the location of many of the city’s theatres and cinemas. Today, whilst the area continues to be a fashion and theatrical hub, it is also now a major retail shopping precinct, with the Bourke Street Mall running between Elizabeth and Swanston Streets, numerous offices to the west end and restaurants to the east. Bourke Street’s liveliness and activity has often been contrasted with the sobering formality of nearby Collins Street. For this reason, you may very well hear “Busier than Bourke Street” used by locals, as a popular colloquialism, when chatting about a crowded place.
To base yourself at award-winning apart’hotel Citadines on Bourke Melbourne, is to quite literally have the bustling epicentre of Melbourne on your doorstep, be seconds away from the best bars, restaurants, nightlife and after-dark haunts the city has to offer, and have the space and privacy to live like a real Melburnian. Often living in a box within a hotel, where everyone knows your comings and goings, can get a bit claustrophobic. In Melbourne especially, where you really need to be immersed in the city to feel it’s extraordinary energy and creative depth, a serviced apartment, in the heart of the action, is just the ticket to really enjoy everything the city has to offer.
The 380 serviced apartments at Citadines on Bourke Melbourne have separate living and dining areas, fully-equipped kitchenettes and every conceivable modern amenity. The décor is slick, minimal and modern. Think clean lines, lots of natural light and cute touches of colour. The 20th floor one-bedroom executive apartment The Cultured Traveller occupied for a weekend, boasted floor-to-ceiling windows and spectacular sweeping vistas of the city’s CBD, with ample space to entertain, a half-kitchen complete with fridge/freezer and dishwasher, blackout curtains throughout, a good sound system in the lounge, and a huge walk-in shower. Not to mention superb wi-fi, incredibly friendly staff for whom nothing is too much trouble, and a dedicated guest relations line staffed by well-informed and friendly locals. Room service breakfasts are generous and less pricey than a five-star. There’s an excellent onsite Japanese restaurant, Heirloom. And a hidden key-card-operated back door allows guests to slip out the rear of the building, and be in Flinders Lane in less than a minute. Basically, Citadines on Bourke Melbourne is the ideal base for a first-time visitor to live like a local and get a true feel for the uniqueness of Australia’s cultural capital.
FOUR POINTS BY SHERATON MELBOURNE DOCKLANDS
Just west of the city on Victoria Harbour, the area now known as Docklands is part of the Lower Yarra Delta, a low-lying expanse that spreads from Princes Bridge to the sea. Originally a wetland area once known as the West Melbourne Swamp, containing low-lying vegetation, waterfowl and fish, for many thousands of years, this marshy land between the mouths of the Yarra and Maribyrnong rivers was used as a hunting ground and meeting place by several Aboriginal communities. Nowadays this harbourside suburb’s 200 hectares of land and water has morphed into an über-cool waterfront community, offering a slick mix of inner city living, shopping, business, parks, entertainment, dining, sporting events, arts and culture.
In the past ten years, since Docklands was officially included in the City of Melbourne in July 2007, and the size of Melbourne’s central city doubled overnight, the suburb has become a magnet for numerous business wanting to be located in the city’s trendy waterfront district. Excellent transport links have helped to fuel increased interest from the business community and new residents alike. Docklands is now home to the national headquarters of the National Australia Bank, AXA, Bendigo Bank, Medibank Private and the Bureau of Meteorology, amongst others, and with the arrival of these big businesses, so hospitality in the area has grown rapidly, signalling the arrival of cool bars, funky restaurants, nightclubs and even a giant Ferris wheel, the Melbourne Star.
In the heart of the district, 273-room Four Points by Sheraton Melbourne Docklands hotel opened earlier this year, offering smart yet simple and uncomplicated hotel accommodation, for visiting businessmen and tourists, at reasonable prices.
Designed by Melbourne-¬based dKO Architecture – one of Australia’s leading innovative design practices specialising in master planning and urban design – the four-star hotel’s contemporary aesthetic fuses a dark charcoal and aquamarine palette with blonde timber, bleached grey wood panelling, and an abundance of marble and glass juxtaposed with fresh greenery and notes of deep black and bronze. The overall effect is like that of a pared-down, unpretentious and welcoming W Hotel.
Rooms are modern, comfortable, well-designed and function perfectly. The hotel’s largest accommodation category, its 48m² studios, are akin to bijou suites, with a small separate lounge and bedroom (both with large flat screens) plus a very decent bathroom, complete with a deep soaking tub and a walk-in rainforest shower. The king size beds are supremely comfy. Studios look towards the city and Melbourne Star, or the Yarra River and Bolte Bridge, Docklands’ iconic landmark. A complimentary energising breakfast is served to guests every morning in Dock 18, the hotel’s relaxed all-day dining restaurant, which by night serves an excellent dinner menu of flavourful, fresh and seasonal dishes, punctuated by grain and grass-fed beef, and pork and lamb sourced from nearby farms.
The hotel’s sparkling centrepiece is a 7th floor Sky Lounge, complete with 25-metre heated outdoor pool, Jacuzzi and sprawling pool deck boasting impressive vistas. In fact, after a day of sightseeing in Melbourne’s CBD, there may be no better place to reward yourself with a cocktail, than in the warm waters of Four Points’ Docklands pool, gazing towards the Yarra.
Love it or loathe it, the bold and unapologetic presence of Federation Square in the very heart of the city has been at the centre of Melbourne events and gatherings since it opened in 2002 amid much controversy about its design and cost. Located on the corner of Swanston and Flinders streets, just across the road from the historic Flinders Street Station (which is currently under renovation), the public square with its polarising deconstructivist architecture hosts more than 2,000 events every year, including the food and wine festival in March and the comedy festival in April. The square is home to the Ian Potter Centre, NGV Australia – the world’s first major gallery dedicated purely to Australian art – the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), plus multiple restaurants, cafés and bars. The Cultured Traveller recommends the Japanese fare at Chocolate Buddha, and Pilgrim Bar for its waterfront location and superb selection of Australian wines.
Housed in a rust red steel façade that is impossible to miss, within the Melbourne Arts Precinct in Southbank, the AUSTRALIAN CENTRE FOR CONTEMPORARY ART (ACCA) is a cutting-edge artistic hub which exhibits the work of significant Australian and international artists, as well as hosting events and commissioning thought-provoking new works. The major exhibition Unfinished Business: Perspectives on Art and Feminism will run from 15th December 2017 until 25th March 2018 and showcase paintings, performance art, photographs, film, community engagement and cultural activism by feminist artists – as well as posing the question of what feminism means today, and asking why it is still relevant, necessary and critical. Admission to ACCA is free.
ST KILDA BEACH
There is nowhere better to be on a sunny day than St Kilda Esplanade, watching impossibly fit-looking Aussies whizz past on rollerblades, or lounging on the sand. The historic beachside locale, 6km from downtown Melbourne, has a rich and colourful past, which is celebrated in its beautiful art deco buildings, occasionally dodgy classic pubs and the iconic Luna Park, an amusement park opened in 1912 which houses the oldest continually operating rollercoaster in the world. St Kilda boasts a diverse and always entertaining street and cultural life, and is renowned as one of the traditional homes of Melbourne’s eclectic live music scene, as well as for its diverse culinary offerings. The 1920s-built National Theatre hosts everything from grand musicals to opera and ballet, while Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre is the place to see ground-breaking contemporary plays from Australia’s leading ensemble company.
SHRINE OF REMEMBRANCE
Well worth visiting and adjacent to the Royal Botanic Gardens is the Shrine of Remembrance. An imposing, large classically-styled granite monolith, the memorial was originally erected to honour Victorians who served in World War I, but is now dedicated to all Australians who have served in war. As well as being one of the largest war memorials in the country, it offers spectacular sweeping vistas of the city’s skyline from its continuous wraparound balcony, and entry is free.
ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS
Melbourne’s beautiful gardens and public parks are considered by many to be the best in Australia. The Royal Botanic Gardens are the bucolic emerald in the city’s green crown, established in 1846 on the south bank of the River Yarra and an ideal place to regain one’s equilibrium after a hectic day. Sprawling over 38 hectares, the gardens encompass lakes, lawns and some 50,000 individual plants grouped into 31 collections, including a cacti garden, rare and threatened species and an Australian forest walk. Keep your eye out for the graceful black swans.
OLD MELBOURNE GAOL
For an exploration of the grim side of Melbourne’s history, take a guided tour of the historic gaol on Russell Street, which was in use from the 1840s until the 1920s. Notorious prisoners include Australia’s most infamous bushranger, Ned Kelly, who was hung here at the age of just 25 in 1880 after being convicted of killing a police officer. The museum used to display his skull, alongside other memorabilia linked to the outlaw, before it was ironically stolen in 1978. Kelly was one of 133 people executed at the end of a rope within the gaol’s walls. Others include Elizabeth Scott, the first woman to be hung in Victoria, in 1863. Nightly ghost tours are regularly held for those with steely nerves, or explore the gaol guided by a real former hangman.
Get up close and personal with some of Australia’s unique and fascinating animal life at Healesville Sanctuary. Located about an hour’s drive from Melbourne, the sanctuary houses an abundance of native species in a natural bushland setting, from wallabies, wombats and kangaroos, to emus, echidnas, Tasmanian devils, dingoes and, of course, koalas. Make sure you visit the watery home of the sleek and surprisingly tiny platypus – Healesville has a reputation for breeding native animals, and is one of only two places in the world to have successfully bred the egg-laying mammals, considered so bizarre when they were discovered that the first scientists to examine a specimen thought they had been hoaxed. Healesville is also home to some amazing reptiles plus more than 200 native bird species, including the wedge-tailed eagle and the red-tailed black cockatoo.
With its cheeky neon cherry sign outside and Japanese snack vending machines inside, Supernormal on Flinders is a foodies’ playground that nevertheless takes flavour and quality ingredients very seriously. Take a seat at the long metal bar opposite the big open kitchen, and you will be treated to a master class in how to prepare and plate pan-Asian cuisine from tart kimchi to heavenly prawn and chicken dumplings, indulgent duck bao to slow-cooked Szechuan lamb with spring onion pancakes. The drinks list consists of 21 well-spaced pages, with, naturally, a tempting selection of sake and fine Australian wines. The restaurant draws on the Hong Kong and Shanghai experiences of multiple award-winning Melbourne chef and restaurateur Andrew McConnell, whose gastronomic empire in his home city encompasses a number of other notable eateries and bars, including Supernormal’s recently opened and more laidback sibling, Supernormal Canteen in St Kilda. DAWN GIBSON
RADII RESTAURANT & BAR
The farm-to-table concept typically works wonderfully well in Melbourne, due to the abundant, high quality local produce and gifted chefs capable of making the most of it. That is certainly the case in radii at the Park Hyatt, where contemporary Australian fare is presented with care and panache by Chef de Cuisine Craig Sung and his team, working the open kitchen in front of diners seated across artfully designed, cascading terraces. The sharing style menu gives the chefs plenty of rein. Choose either the ‘Feed Me a Little’ or ‘Feed Me a Lot’ option, AUD88 and AUD108 respectively, and prepare for a gastronomic romp through dishes such as creamy white onion risotto with hazelnuts and san tropea onions, slow roasted suckling lamb neck, and mango parfait with coconut sorbet. If available, request the barramundi, a north Australian sea bass known for its delightful, sweet flavour. There’s a private dining room overlooking the Tuscan style gardens, and one complimentary valet parking with each booking. DAWN GIBSON
PASCALE BAR & GRILL
Designed to pay homage to the ‘Paris-end’ of Collins Street, this stylish eatery-cum-bar successfully fuses bold industrial chic and high-fashion in one large dining room which wouldn’t be out of place in Manhattan. Being the flagship restaurant of painfully hip QT Melbourne hotel, located in the heart of the CBD, Pascale Bar & Grill is very much an all-day affair – a fancy breakfast room in the mornings, a chic dining room at lunchtime and a plush boudoir for fancy meals after dark, where guests are cosseted in velvet and retro chic and lured to indulge in an expansive, French-infused, Euro bistro-inspired menu. Equally perfect for ladies who lunch or a decadent soirée, food is prepared in a large and bustling open kitchen, thoughtfully designed to offer a glimpse into the creation of dishes, whilst delicate pastries are tantalisingly encased in glass. If you’re a carnivore hankering after a good piece of meat, order the aged 800g T-bone for two served with twice-cooked chips and you won’t be disappointed! NICHOLAS CHRISOSTOMOU
Since Gilbert Lau opened Flower Drum in Chinatown 42 years ago, it has built a golden reputation for Cantonese fine dining of the highest order served with superior attention to detail. And, indeed, from the moment you step into the elegant, red carpeted dining hall, you can sense you are about to enjoy a highly memorable gastronomic experience. The signature dish of Executive Chef Anthony Lui’s a la carte menu is naturally Peking Duck – the traditional crispy-skinned bird wrapped in pancake is presented with a theatrical flourish – but do try the pearl meat sautéed with spring onion, garlic chives and asparagus, as well as the renowned aromatic baked crab. The highlight of the rich soup selection is a Flinders Island wallaby tail broth with goji berries, wild yam, dried longan and ginger. The specials and banquet menus change regularly, in line with seasonal produce, and you may ask to order off the (unpublished) chef’s menu. DAWN GIBSON
FANCY HANK’S + GOOD HEAVENS
It’s not overly fancy, but if you have a hankering for slow-cooked American-style bbq served in a genial, relaxed atmosphere, this is the place to go. A spacious expanse of leather seating and rustic décor overlooking busy Bourke Street, Fancy Hank’s is a firm favourite with locals for its quality free range smoked meats, including racks of ribs, and pulled pork shoulder in a paprika and brown sugar rub. Visiting on a bustling Friday night, we tried the beautifully tender beef brisket with a side of baked mac ‘n’ cheese, and were left with no room for dessert – this is southern-influenced cooking at its comforting best. After dinner, head upstairs to Good Heavens rooftop bar, where friendly bartenders in Hawaiian shirts shake up eighties-inspired cocktails to heavily remixed hits from the same era. We were knocked slightly sideways by a Melbourne Made, a mix of Melbourne Moonshine with Starward malt whiskey, pineapple, lemon and Angostura Bitters. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. DAWN GIBSON
For an absolutely spectacular 360-degree view of Melbourne and the surrounding area, nothing surpasses Eureka SkyDeck on the 88th floor of the city’s tallest building, Eureka Tower. On a clear day, this extremely popular attraction offers breathtaking vistas across the CBD’s most famous landmarks, the expanse of Port Phillip Bay and out towards the Dandenong Ranges. Thrill seekers can take the experience to the next level by entering The Edge, a glass cube which moves out from the building, until the only thing separating you and the pavement hundreds of metres below is a pane of glass. Not for the faint hearted, The Edge is currently the only one of its kind in the world.
At 300 metres above sea level, situated at the very top of Eureka Tower, Eureka 89 is arguably Melbourne’s most spectacular dining venue. Here guests enjoy a veritable gastronomic adventure, where the magnificent views vie for diners’ attention with five and seven course degustation menus offering the likes of smoked Murray cod with onion emulsion, poached radicchio and nori, and quail with chestnut, roasted grapes and black rice, each course carefully paired with top notch Australian wines. The attentive service, exquisite food, superb wines and inimitable views understandably attract visitors from across Australia and all over the world to Eureka 89, so booking well in advance is an absolute must. The Cultured Traveller started its Melbourne visit in the rarefied confines of Eureka 89 and so can attest, from first-hand experience, that this is undoubtedly the most spectacular place to enjoy your first night in Australia’s cultural capital. NICHOLAS CHRISOSTOMOU
Whatever anyone says, we all eat with our eyes, but in Melbourne it doesn’t stop with the food, since Australia’s cultural capital is very much a city of thriving bar restaurant combos, all buzzing with life and atmosphere. Forget the stuffy Michelin-starred eateries of Europe; on the other side of the planet it’s all about drinking fine wine in stylish surroundings accompanied by tasty plates delivered by enthusiastic servers. Nowhere is this more evident than Cumulus Up, occupying the first floor of a historic turn of the century rag-trade building on bustling Flinders Lane. Skilfully balancing edgy luxeness with a warm and familiar European wine bar feel, the space is elegant and welcoming yet vibey and happening, and is the perfect place to graze through a selection of scrumptious small and large plates alongside a great bottle of vino. The menu has been designed to complement the vast and eclectic wine list, which focuses on the best examples of vintage, variety, style and region, hailing from both the new and old worlds, all stored within a large climate controlled cellar, ensuring they’re always ready to drink at the perfect temperature. NICHOLAS CHRISOSTOMOU
This small-but-perfectly-formed Iberian-Mediterranean bar-resto, located in the heart of the CBD, may be a little short on street frontage but is big on character, flavours and hospitality inside, where an exciting menu, swift service and a warm welcome stand out. Opened in 2006 by chef Matt McConnell and business partners Jo Gamvros and Simon Benjamin, Bar Lourinhã has remained at the top of Melbourne’s dynamic food scene for the past 11 years and it’s not hard to see why. Built around an ethos of eating and drinking all night long, McConnell gives restaurant-goers many a reason to do so, via a classic menu of beautifully executed Spanish/Portuguese-focused tapas style dishes, complemented by an array of different daily specials. McConnell’s energy and enthusiasm are not only evident in every moreish and flavoursome dish he sends out from the kitchen, but also in his friendly team of chatty staff, who ensure that everyone is happy until the last guest leaves, making Bar Lourinhã a must when visiting Melbourne. NICHOLAS CHRISOSTOMOU
THE MELBOURNE SUPPER CLUB
With its comfy old Chesterfields settled in to the décor of tobacco and claret, this is an old school European-styled late-night bar which practically begs you to stay for just one more drink. Staff are knowledgeable and friendly, without being pretentious, which is a fine thing since the wine menu is a red leather-bound tome filled with page after page of renowned Australian vintages, as well as classics from the world’s most feted wine regions. There are rare single malts, cognacs and ports for those seeking a satisfying night cap, while the culinary offering stretches from fresh oysters and caviar to duck salad and burgers. Arrive smartly dressed early in the evening and you may be seated with a view across to Parliament House through the wall-length arched window. DAWN GIBSON
Nestled amongst Melbourne’s city skyline, QT Rooftop is a destination watering hole for stylistas, media and music industry types, trendsetters and aspirational locals, and is an outwardly fashionable place to quench one’s thirst, whilst taking in the heart and soul of Melbourne from above. The location at the top of QT Melbourne hotel, in the heart of the city’s CBD near the exclusive Collins Street precinct, makes this glamorous rooftop the perfect place to pause and recharge during a day of shopping, or sip on a sundowner before a big night out. Designer décor, cutting-edge sound and staff who are pleasing on the eye add to the attraction of this highline bar, and an array of hand-crafted cocktails prepared by some of Melbourne’s best bartenders almost certainly ensures that you won’t stop at just the one! NICHOLAS CHRISOSTOMOU
NAKED FOR SATAN
Known for its combination of infused vodkas and Basque-style pintxos, the name is not the only thing that’s unusual about this bar. Situated on gorgeously hip Brunswick Street, Naked for Satan has an antique vodka still as a key feature and talking point, while bartenders use Absolut vodka as the base for infusions which include Alpine chocolate and sugarcane, opium & rose, espresso, fig, chilli, violet and cucumber, to be sipped while nibbling northern Spanish finger food. Naked also boasts one of the city’s finest roof-top venues, with superb views over the city and Brunswick Street. Naked in the Sky offers cocktails, craft beers, a gin menu and Basque-inspired fare such as a charcuterie board, cheese and walnut croquettes, and pan-seared scallops with golden beetroot and saffron puree. As for the bar’s catchy name, it was apparently inspired by a Russian émigré who used to distil vodka, while dressed only in his underpants, during sizzling Melbourne summers – but we’re not so sure. DAWN GIBSON
MARION WINE BAR
A trip to Melbourne without a night of quaffing and grazing at a little wine bar would be a wasted opportunity of the gravest kind. Even if your visit is busy, try to make the time to venture to this charmingly hip establishment in Fitzroy, where the pared back setting channels Scandi cool. The Marion is one of many ventures by Melbourne gourmet guru Andrew McConnell – his fine dining restaurant Cutler & Co is next door – and its drinks list will take you on a sommelier’s tour of small producers across Australia and the globe. It would be spurious not to try a Yarra Valley or a Gippsland pinot noir while in the neighbourhood, though The Cultured Traveller is more partial to some of the full-bodied West Australian reds on the 21-page wine list, including the Margaret River Voyager Estate Cabernet Merlot and the Porongorup Snake and Herring ‘Higher Ground’ Cabernet Sauvignon. There are seasonal morsels and substantial bites to accompany your tipple, from plump oysters to duck confit and whole rainbow trout. DAWN GIBSON
Housed in a former wool factory in the trendy locale of Brunswick, Howler is a grungy industrial find which crackles with energy as an arts concept space, entertainment venue and bar. An eclectic swathe of home-grown and international bands and DJs rotate through, along with theatre, pop-up events, cinema screenings and performance art, appealing to a clientele which can swing from boho chic to student and retro hipster. The Garden Bar is a re-imagination of the classic Australian pub beer garden, incorporating a split room DJ booth and illuminated box sculptures hanging from the roof. There’s a well-curated selection of craft beers, and some stiff, no nonsense cocktails – we favour the South Side, a gin-based take on a mojito. DAWN GIBSON
This is the hidden bar that you want to find: tucked down Presgrave Place, one of those intriguing Melbourne laneways, Bar Americano is so tiny it only fits 10 patrons at a time and is standing room only. Run by artist Matthew Bax, it is a purists’ delight, serving only classic cocktails, though with regular changes to the menu to add novelty. Named in the 2017 international guide, Where Bartenders Drink, which draws on the recommendations of 300 industry insiders, Bar Americano is best known for its namesake concoction of Italian bitters, house vermouths, citrus and soda, and its signature Negroni. The bar recently introduced a ‘pay it forward’ policy based on the Napoli tradition of caffe sospeso (suspended coffee), where a generous customer would pay for two coffees, drink one, and allow the café to offer the second to the next guest. Order a Negroni, Amaro Americano or Coffee Supreme Espresso and ask for it ‘suspended’ – they are available at a special price – and the next visitor to request that drink will receive your gift. Look for the blue TABACCHI sign. DAWN GIBSON
TEA AT THE LANGHAM
While several of Melbourne’s luxury hotels host a traditionally indulgent afternoon tea, the offering at The Langham is quite special. Upholding a tradition begun by English royalty in the eighteenth century, the elegant hotel on the Southbank Promenade serves fine specialty teas and a delectable array of fancies on the best Wedgwood china, the tailor-made ‘Langham Rose’ collection. A ‘tea sommelier’ will guide you through the extensive range of Wedgwood and Langham signature teas, while you are tempted with the likes of blue swimmer crab remoulade with fennel slaw, silver moon macaron filled with Earl Grey-infused Belgian chocolate, matcha green tea sponge, and, naturally, scrumptious buttermilk scones. Held weekdays from 10.30am until 8pm, afternoon tea with sparkling wine, tea and coffee is AUD59 per person, or AUD73 with free-flowing sparkling. Our favourite? With a glass of Perrier Jouet champagne (AUD83). DAWN GIBSON
QUEEN VICTORIA MARKET
The largest open-air market in the southern hemisphere, the ‘Queen Vic’ on the corner of Elizabeth and Victoria Streets is a favourite with locals and tourists for its lively ambience and tempting goodies. While there are a number of small jewellery and fashion designers plying their wares, as well as cheap souvenir shops, the market’s strongest appeal is in its diverse and mouth-watering range of foodstuffs, from artisan cheeses, meats and small goods to luscious hand-made chocolates, organic fruit and vegetables, and hard-to-find specialty products. Try Bill’s Farm for an extensive range of Aussie and European cheeses, including boutique French wash rinds, Holy Goat cheeses and Island Pure from Kangaroo Island; Land of Soy and Honey for Manuka, and Gewürzhaus for its full pantry of spices, herbs, salts, peppers, teas and blends – all three shops can be found in the Deli Hall.
Melbourne Central is a landmark development on the corner of La Trobe and Swanston Streets which incorporates the Melbourne Central railway station, an office tower and a shopping mall with more than 300 retailers over five levels, including a solid selection of mid-range boutique fashion, accessories, giftware and beauty. A huge glass cone at the centre of the complex creates a light and airy feel as well as forming a protective shelter over a handsome 1880s tower retained when the development was built in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Shops to make a beeline for include classic Australian boot-maker RM Williams, sophisticated women’s wear boutique Cue, heritage-inspired men’s label Benjamin Barker, leading Australian men’s and women’s fashion house Witchery, and Jurlique, a world-renowned Australian producer of skin care products from organic and biodynamic ingredients.
LITTLE COLLINS STREET
Once you have had your fill of Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Gucci and the rest at the Paris end of Collins Street, head around the corner to Little Collins for some more unusual fashion finds. Running parallel to its big sister, Little Collins is known for its Australian designer boutiques and especially its quality men’s outfitters. While many gems have sadly disappeared over the years, seek out
DÉCLIC, where Paris-trained founder Gilles Du Puy has been influencing Australian gents’ fashion for almost 30 years with designs that update classics through the use of colour, unusual detail and eye-catching prints. Aussie/Kiwi brand Joe Black is another stylish men’s label with a boutique on the street, while women should stop by for a browse of the beautifully crafted, elegant fashion, handbags and footwear by Melbourne’s Scanlan Theodore – a go-to designer for Australia’s fashion conscious for more than 25 years, the label recently opened a Soho boutique in New York.
Featuring more than 200 Australian and international brands, as well as the biggest Australian designer precinct on the continent, this is the place to go to stock up on the latest contemporary wear and accessories. Home-grown favourites here include Alannah Hill, Metalicus, Camilla and Marc, Morrison, Saba and Sass & Bide, which are joined by international labels like Coach, Furla, Karen Millen, Kate Spade New York and Ted Baker. There’s a good range of mostly Asian eateries for when you need sustenance. If you still have energy to spare, the Emporium complex links through to the Myer and David Jones department stores by way of pedestrian bridges and tunnels.
Chapel Street is where fashionistas come to play, shop, dine and party – it’s the ultimate luxury high street with a little bit of everything to cater to all tastes. The street runs from the Yarra River to Brighton Road, but it is the section north of Dandenong Road which is really interesting, with around 1000 boutiques, restaurants, bars, clubs, lounges and street cafés. Start your exploration at the expensive end – riverfront South Yarra – and keep walking south until you have had enough, or, alternatively, jump on and off the tram that runs the length of the street. Shops that will tempt you to break out the plastic include Country Road, on the corner of Toorak and Chapel, where you can pick up quality classic separates, Dinosaur Designs for handcrafted funky resin jewellery, the flagship store of Nique for its chic men’s and women’s designs, and Mimco for its fabulous jewellery and accessories. To keep your energy up, try Mr Miyagi for Japanese cuisine or the House of Hoi An for delicious Vietnamese.
BOURKE STREET MALL
Melbourne’s best-known retail strip, Bourke Street Mall is the downtown destination for department store shopping. Melbourne’s two premier department stores are based here – Myer has nine storeys to browse your way through, while rival David Jones is housed across three buildings. On the corner of the Mall and Elizabeth Street, the grand General Post Office building from 1864 has been refurbished and now houses a giant two-level H&M, the first outpost for the European fast fashion empire in Australia. The Mall is open to pedestrians and trams only, so it is a top spot for taking a break from the shopping, grabbing a coffee and watching the buskers ply their trade.