Sometimes it’s not all about a sit down dinner – this week, why not grab a glass of wine and try one of our favourite spots for bar food in Melbourne? They’re a far cry from paltry peanuts and fatty nachos – nowadays, we’re talking wagyu, carpaccio and XO pippies. Dig in.
At Hihou you’ll find lobster and shitake tempura, raw scampi temaki rolls, and coffee cured salmon sashimi to go with your shochu, sake and Japanese beer. Nestled behind dark windows at the very top of Flinders Lane, find the obscure door and wander through a maze of small eating rooms to the top bar overlooking the old Treasury Building. If ever Melbourne could feel like Tokyo, however momentarily, this is the spot that could convince you.
Mr and Mrs P, Brighton
Brighton’s Mr and Mrs P, so named for it’s owners, is a carefully judged exercise in balance and discretion. The cosy local bar has combined here with ambitions for serious food and a concise but broad and interesting wine list. We also love their inventive cocktails. Highlights include spicy tuna – the rich meatiness of the fish enhanced by the dark sweetness of the Unagi Sauce and the fire of chilli – and Robbins Island wagyu on risoni – delicious simplicity in 3 ingredients, each given the care and attention to bring out their best. Why is risoni so underused? Not to be forgotten are the excellent charcuterie boards, which, along with a 2015 Gamay, could be a good night on their own.
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Bar Liberty, Fitzroy
Minimalism is difficult. It takes real attention and effort to distil something like the experience of a good meal down to a few essential components, but this is what Bar Liberty achieves. The Fitzroy bar is an escape to a simpler, calmer place where produce and seasons matter. Not many bars could survive the removal from the menu of a dish as buzzworthy (and delicious) as the G.L.T. (crispy chicken skin, tomato and lettuce), but Bar Liberty is focused on what works now – which for us is rich XO pippies, a delicate scallop in a fermented buttermilk that demands bread, and bucatini alla cacio e pepe, the pasta outrageously at the edge of al dente.
The little sister of Carlton’s the Town Mouse is Melbourne’s champion of natural and biodynamic wines, a list (and a method) designed to challenge the assumption that drinking wine is solely about comfort. Embla‘s menu takes a similar approach, often erring on the side of interesting rather than purely delicious, and tending towards bitter and sour notes. Snapper carpaccio is brought alive with a thin smear of bitter, powerful sour peppers, while a flavourful Black Angus bavette is best dredged through a sharp watercress puree.
White Oaks Saloon, Prahran
There are many examples of bars serving southern American food, often in its most common guise as fast food, dominated by big flavours and little subtlety. But the Melbourne bar that feels most like it’s in Austin or New Orleans is Prahran’s White Oaks, which recognises that the multi layered, historied and culturally complex food of the American south can move from smoke pit to fine dining. Here the fried green tomatoes are the closest we’ve eaten to the amazing Yardbrid in Miami (seriously, go there), with the right amount of sour bite and spice. The plump, juicy Creole crab cakes also take us back to NOLA, as does the excellent jambalaya, here served with two shots of spicy, refreshing Bloody Mary. I now demand a Bloody Mary with every jambalaya.
More bar food to try…
- Fargo & Co, Richmond: Opening this month, the menu has already got us drooling. Plus, they’re doing bottomless prosecco brunches – get amongst it.
- Pizza Pizza Pizza, CBD: Hidden behind a take away pizza joint, here you can combine the two best things in the world – pizza and alcohol.
- POW Kitchen, St Kilda: If you’re headed to a gig at the Prince, this South East Asian eatery delivers quick and delicious bites accompanied by exotic cocktails.
- Cellar Bar, CBD: One of our favourites in the CBD, where you can grab a Grossi Florentino-quality pasta and a glass of Italian red in a much more casual setting.
- Long Play, North Fitzroy: About as under the radar as you can get, this tiny bar on St Georges Rd delivers modern bar food with a side of film.
- Hot Sauce, CBD: QT’s laneway bar is part Korean, part Japanese, and all fun. Try all of the bao, then wash it down with a cocktail.