Words by Fran Tehan
For those in the know, Melbourne is recognised as a pioneering city in the foodie world. Back in the day when the rest of us were enthusing about the latest Frappuccino offering and tucking into a panini, the hip folk of this Antipodean seaside city were casually sipping their three-quarter (Bonsoy) flat whites and ordering a sharing plate of locally-sourced charcuterie.
Perhaps as the density of eateries grows by the day across the Melbourne map, so then does the collective voice of the locals who will always profess to know exactly where and what is hot right now on the gastronomic scene. The cultural diversity of the city's population is reflected through food, where enclaves such as Victoria Street (Vietnamese) have been offering cheap, authentic cuisine for decades. These stalwarts of the food scene form part of the fabric of suburban Melbourne, however over recent years there has been an explosion in progressive restaurant trends, particularly in the northern suburbs of Fitzroy and Collingwood where gourmet gentrification is fast replacing grunge, and men with beards serving your baked eggs are standard issue.
If this reminds you of certain pockets of London then you'd be right in making the connection; Shoreditch is easy to draw comparisons with when thinking about Melbourne's north side – both are littered with creative co-operatives working out of industrial warehouses,
interesting street-art adorns every brick-faced corner and independent bars and coffee shops lurk behind unmarked doors. Allpress Coffee, known for their hot air roastedbeans (based in Rupert Street, Collingwood) even have an outlet in Shoreditch now. However, whereas Shoreditch is fast becoming more tourist destination and less ironic moustache, Collingwood (and Fitzroy to a degree) still have the cool factor mainly due to their endlessly creative approach to food and drink. Collingwood is an old working class suburb in the process of gentrification (historically renowned for notorious killer Chopper Read rather than ceviche) however now the main drag of Smith Street is peppered with illustrious eateries spanning the gamut of global cuisine. The arty, upwardly mobile population are moving in and the area is noted for its artisanal approach to everything from fashion to food. However despite the demographic shift, this neighbourhood still manages to retain an element of edgy grunge chic.
A two day whistle-stop tour of Fitzroy and Collingwood provided a wealth of opportunity in which to explore some of the current foodie trends taking over the city. We're talking lots of affordable yet quality eats (often for sharing), charcuterie workshops, street vans (still going strong)....and gelati. Clearly these culinary corners in Melbourne's north are where it's at right now.
A food photographer's guide to Fitzroy and Collingwood
BREAKFAST & COFFEE
Hammer and Tong 412 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Tucked away on the corner of Westgarth and Brunswick streets you'll find this retro-inspired café attracting a hip morning crowd. You can get stuck into a rye and shallot bagel with smoked rainbow trout, kale, radish, poached egg and nori-hollandaise (delicious but a little pricey at $18) and wash it down with a flat white ($3.80 – standard cost in Melbourne for top quality coffee), all professionally served up by the cool cats of Fitzroy. A great spot for people watching. www.hammerandtong.com.au
Birdman Eating 238 Gertrude St, Fitzroy 3065
Situated on the achingly cool Gertrude Street, this small yet perfectly formed café is already an institution. Owner Tim Tehan champions the calories and understands how to combat a hangover, pairing brioche French Toast with marmalade-glazed bacon and delivers the king of all cures to jaded punters: a wasabi-infused Bloody Mary, guaranteed to pep you up again. Birdman is the ultimate go-to weekend breakfast destination (did we mention it's great for hangovers?), although is just as busy during the week. The street seating is perfect for people watching whilst sampling all sorts of culinary treats; how about black rice with coconut yoghurt and mango ($10.50) – earthy, crunchy and smooth all at once - or corn and zucchini (that's courgette to us) fritters with yoghurt, salmon gravadlax and avocado (the gravadlax is infused with earl grey, and a hint of chilli salt delivers a subtle kick).
At $15.50 it's well worth it. If you're in the keep it simple with carbs mindset, then try the Housemade Crumpets – perfectly soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside with hot melted butter and Leatherwood honey ($9). www.birdmaneating.com.au
Proud Mary: Warehouse-style café serving up kick-ass coffee and great food. 172 Oxford St, Collingwood 3066. www.proudmarycoffee.com.au
South of Johnston (SOJO): Urban meets country in this cool renovated valve-repackaging factory. 46 Oxford Street, Collingwood 3066. www.southofjohnston.com.au
Huxtaburger 106 Smith St, Collingwood 3066
Quite simply: fun in a bun. This quirky 50s diner-style burger joint epitomises the evolution of Smith Street as the culinary destination for those with their finger on the pulse. You'll find beards a plenty here, but the main drawcard is the Cosby Show tribute in the form of meat patties (wagyu only in this establishment). The 'Denise' is a particular favourite of our local friends (you guessed it, 'the hot one'). There's nothing fancy here, it's all about quality: the burgers are simple, served with all the trimmings and crinkle cut chips on the side, and if you're just wanting a taster they offer mini versions too. Staff are extremely friendly (and look the part) and prices are extremely reasonable. As is typical of Melbourne's drinking scene there's also an inconspicuous entrance at the end of the counter leading to a hidden watering hole (Bill's Bar, à la Cosby), if you're after something a little more fancy than a tinnie of Melbourne's finest, in a discreet setting. www.huxtaburger.com.au
Backstreet Eating 152 Kerr St, Fitzroy 3065
This hidden gem in the backstreets of Fitzroy offers house-cured charcuterie, an adventurous yet reasonably priced menu and is fully licensed to satisfy that mid-afternoon Pinot Grigio craving. The crowd are predominantly locals in the know and the vibe is modern bistro with a twist. Backstreet is a step ahead when it comes to food trends, running charcuterie workshops in the basement on how to cut down a beast as well as teaching people the art of smoking and curing their own meats. This is an emerging trend both in Melbourne, and in London too (see www.thegingerpig.co.uk). Shared plates are a main feature of their offer: try the charcuterie platter at $16.50. The more discerning palate should sample the snapper ceviche with hibiscus, blood orange, quinoa and scallop floss (a steal at $13) or the beef tartare, bone marrow cigar and egg yolk ($15) - a mouth-watering combination of flavour and texture. www.backstreeteating.com.au
Smith Street Alimentari 304 Smith St, Collingwood 3066
This stylish Smith Street venue features exposed brickwork, high ceilings and industrial light shades lending a cool contrast to the summer heat. The open kitchen to the side allows punters a view of the chefs doing mysterious things with a wood fired oven and conjuring up an endlessly delicious stream of Italian plates. Formerly Gorski & Jones, the venue has now partnered up with their next door outfit, Alimentari and continue to run an über slick operation. Pizza here is some of the best in Melbourne (and that's saying something, given its Italian population) but it would be a crime to visit without sampling the Antipasto menu:
try the burrata, roasted figs and prosciutto (a heavenly trio) and the crumbed zucchini flowers, smoked mozzarella and peperonata – each dish for under $20 which is a steal given the quality and presentation. Insider tip for summer: ask for a 'coffee for a hot day' and you'll get a cooling caffeine treat in a glass to take the edge off the heatwave outside. If you're looking for a gourmet one-stop shop then head next door – a slice of deli heaven offering delectable high-end Mediterranean produce to eat in or take out. www.alimentari.com.au.
Hell of the North 135 Greeves St, Fitzroy 3065
Despite its name there's nothing satanic about this pared back restaurant. Behind one of the most enticing front doors in Melbourne you'll find minimalist cool wooden décor and bluestone walls with comfy banquette leather seating. The walls are furnished with black and white photographs of the venues' namesake - the infamous Paris-Roubaix bike race held once a year in northern France - and indeed the menu pays a degree of homage to classic French cuisine. It's an upmarket joint offering late night bistro-style suppers and a grown up wine menu expertly crafted by charismatic co-owner and sommelier Mark Grixti who graced the floors of some of Melbourne's finest establishments prior to opening the doors to Hell. It attracts a foodie crowd who are not budget-driven, and it's definitely worth splashing out on. Try the cured salmon, pickled fennel, coconut and lime ($18) or the obligatory charcuterie platter, washed down with a Martini.. or if you're feeling bold go for the Absinthe-based Green Beast. www.hellofthenorth.com.au.
St Crispin: A new fave on the gentrified block offering mod-oz locally-sourced cuisine. 300 Smith Street, Collingwood 3066. www.stcrispin.com.au.
The Builders Arms Hotel: Recently taken over by restauranteur legend Andrew McConnell this simple boozer has been cleverly upgraded, still retaining its heritage and charm and housing the upmarket Moon Under Water out the back as well as the occasional pop-up. 211 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy 3065. www.buildersarmshotel.com.au.
Gelato Messina 237 Smith St, Fitzroy 3065
This new addition to Smith Street is a mecca for ice-cream lovers – many will travel from afar to hover outside the giant glass doors in anticipation of taste sensations unrivalled even by the gelati mafia of the northern suburbs. From dawn till dusk there will be queues round the block for this ever popular Sydney import which has taken Melbourne to another dimension with their extraordinary flavour combos – ever considered jackfruit and caramelised coconut? Everything is freshly made and super affordable – try the Nicky Glasses (salted caramel and coffee with whipped cream for $8).
A must for even the shortest whistle-stop tour of the city; this is gelati heaven. www.gelatomessina.com.
Monsieur Truffe: aka Monsieur Thibautl Thregoni - chocolatier extraordinaire. Only the finest ingredients prevail and the hot chocolate is to die for. 90 Smith Street, Collingwood 3066. www.monsieurtruffechocolate.com.
Tomboy: For the tastiest brownies in town (coeliac-friendly too). 356 Smith Street, Collingwood 3066. www.tomboymelbourne.com.au.
The Everleigh 150-156 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy 3065
Reminiscent of a New York speakeasy from the 'golden era' this intimate bar on Gertrude Street serves up the best cocktails in town, old-school style and with unrivalled panache. You can either choose off the menu or ask your knowledgeable waiter (it's booth service only) to whip you up something bespoke based on your specific tastes. Watch out though, they pack a punch! www.theeverleigh.com.
Black Pearl: A decade in and great cocktails are still rocking this upbeat venue. 304 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy 3065. www.blackpearlbar.com.au.
Mr Wow's Emporium: Cocktail hour on Smith starts here, with added fun in the form of indoor bocce, ping pong and pool. 97B Smith Street, Fitzroy 3065. www.mrwowsemporium.com.au.