It has been one hell of a rollercoaster year for us all! With one-third of the Natch Essentials team based in Melbourne, it is safe to say now that Victoria is opening up again, excitement might be the biggest understatement of twenty-twenty.
Melbourne is once again coming alive, albeit in a different outfit but in true Australian fashion, it has adapted into a slightly reimagined entertainment mecca for which it is famous. Bars have commandeered local streets as fresh beer gardens. Restaurants have claimed whole laneways to serve alfresco grub in any weather. Cafes are serving coffee in ways we have never seen before.
To mark the phoenix, that is Melbourne, rising from the pandemic ashes and winding down the long year that was, we thought it only fitting to put together a list of just a few our favourite places to eat and drink, new, old and reinvigorated, in this magnificent bastard of a city.
This is the Natch Social Club.
This place is a true Melbourne institution. If you live in Melbourne and have never been, well, you might not be able to say you are Melburnian. The best word to describe Pellegrini’s is with ‘Character’ and it has a ton of it. The old school vinyl stools, checkerboard floor and rich timber bar throws you back to the day it first opened in the 50's.
The menu only has a few choices with classics like Spaghetti Bolognese, a mind blowing lasagne and a gnocchi option served on Friday’s and sweet granita in summer time. The few menu items they do are so good you wouldn’t want anything else. This place is truly Melbourne with a diverse range of regulars from suits to tradies, theatre goers and cash-strapped students frequenting for cheap, homemade food entertainment that comes from a newby asking for a menu tweak. Think 1950’s Italy, grab a stool next to a stranger and tuck into the city’s best true Italian.
Sitting smack bang in the middle of the Yarra River, Ponyfish boasts one of the most spectacular back drops in the city. This is the perfect all-rounder and now the festive season has finally shown up, this is the place to get a sun drenched drink. To mark the revival of Melbourne, the boys have given it a seriously sophisticated facelift.
What used to be the perfect spot for a quick Melbourne Bitter long neck or citrus’y post work cocktail is now post-pandemic fancy but with these casual roots still at its core. Secure yourself a terrazzo table, grab a cold drink, some great snacks and prop underneath a Natch Green umbrella to soak one of Melbourne’s best angles. The cocktail list is bullshit good and there’s enough beers on tap for the boys to stay all day!
I am now thirsty.
ALBERT PARK HOTEL
The AP has had a renaissance post a bumpy few years. After closing 3 or 4 years ago when sold and earmarked for a facelift, this local stalwart for a long time didn’t look like reopening - to the locals dismay. Finally the finishing touches on the huge revamp were complete and she was relaunched as a premium boozer with a crazy-good Chinese restaurant called Happy Valley (after the Hong Kong race track)... enter pandemic stage left. After what seemed like a lifetime, the AP is open and back at its rightful home of a cracking place to eat and drink.
Great for all occasions - sit outside for a casual drink, head inside to watch the footy or celebrate your new found liberties over a looooong lunch or dinner. We recommend the Espresso Martini with Sichuan bitters, Negroni or just keep it classic with Champagne and Oysters. It is too hard to pick a standout from the menu of classic / modern Chinese fare so hang the expense and do a little of everything.
If you come down to the AP, there’s a huge chance you’ll see Lewie down there - say hola!
Since discovering this gem, it has become a favourite Melbourne restaurant. Bar Liberty boasts some serious industry heavyweights, producing ridic food and pouring some of the best wines that your discerning little palette can handle. The dynamic menu its centred around sharing plates and features some little known ingredients that are cleverly paired with the classics to bring you food in the exceptional category - their flat bread is in my dreams regularly. Another reason to keep coming back is the frequency of menu updates meaning you will rarely have the same meal twice.
The award winning wine list features everything from new, classic, pet-nat and biodynamic just to keep you on your toes. The laidback vibe, done unbelievably well is what makes Bar Liberty so special. It’s the perfect place to impress your new squeeze for your first date, even better for a long Sunday lunch or drinks and a snack in the sunny courtyard over summer. You can thank me later…
THE PRINCE OF WALES: PUBLIC BAR
A Melbourne beer drinking icon has been revamped and it is now the perfect place for a cold drink in the sun, by the beach, watching the world go by this summer. Some might say, unfortunately, but gone are the days of the $1 pots, the back dive bar, walls plastered in 80’s rock posters and carpet your thongs would get stuck to. In its place is a refreshed and sophisticated boozer that does the iconic art-deco building more than justice.
We suggest checking the weather forecast early and heading down for a coldie in the sun on one of the most prominent corners in St Kilda - the people watching alone is worth it. The new skin of the Public Bar goes deeper and includes great food, loads of fancy tap beers and wine to suit all occasions.
Oh, and it’s dog friendly!
Think classic neighbourhood vibes and good times in the most relaxed of settings. This wine-bar-come-restaurant dishes up deliciousness to both super local Clifton Hill-ians and those that have been drawn into Spensley’s from as far as south of the river (yep, southside). Another great place to sit outside and indulge in some progressive wines and cocktails with mates or head for date night, it is an all-rounder.
We might be a little biased because our great friend and crazy-good chef Jake McWilliams (formerly of Pope Joan fame) doesn’t miss with his Euro/Aussie style menu packed with local and seasonal ingredients. It’s a guaranteed good time. Good vibes and great food!
This was always going to make our first list. If you are from Melbourne and don’t know about The Espy, perhaps it’s time to lift that rock and crawl on out. The old live music venue has had a renovation on the scale unseen before. What was a sticky carpet band hall is now a fancy-pants collection of bars, restaurants, band rooms and sneaky little cocktail bars.
Although everything here is noteworthy, we enjoy nothing more than grabbing a stool in the front bar that overlooks St Kilda beach and settling in for a simple arvo session. Formula is simple: drink, snacks and enjoy watching the diverse range of people roll in all day. It still has some of the old Espy flavour and plays host to some awesome live gigs in the band room also.
Situated in the coolest building in the city, Curtin House, Cookie has become famous for serving some of the most delicious modern Thai food and cocktails in town. As you make your way up the historic stairwell (or your game enough to try the rickety lift) and you enter this beer hall slash cocktail bar slash Thai restaurant, your sensory overload is real. Every detail is so well considered from the insanely cool design-driven fit out to the somehow dark but perfectly balanced tinge of the lighting and superbly dressed cocktail aficionados behind the jump.
We suggest arriving way too early for dinner and slipping into the tuck-away cocktail bar before you indulge on Thai food that will transport you to Bangkok, with a Melbourne twist here or there. Nothing says the perfect date night like dinner at Cookie before heading upstairs to continue at the rooftop bar and cinema - browny points jar will be full.
Go and get Social!
Hospitality is the backbone of this town. Get out, have fun and support our food and beverage warriors!