Off the Course in Melbourne

Where to stay, what to do

BY T.J. OLWIG — Fall 2019


What Lyon is to France, Melbourne is to Australia — gastronomically speaking. Here, three new must-book reservations.

Lesa: Perched above Embla, its lively sister restaurant in the Central Business District (CBD), the latest creation from all-star duo Christian McCabe and Chef Dave Verheul is a culinary coup with the flavor and flair of a Chef’s Table episode. Lesa, Old Norse for “to gather,” serves small, Instagram-worthy dishes inspired by foraging, fermentation, and open-fire cooking. Think fermented potato flatbread with a shiitake mushroom oil and macadamia nut cream, or a lamb rump with hijiki seaweed, freekeh, and green tea. Lesa has an eclectic wine cellar, too. From vintage Burgundies to young and quirky wines, be sure to pair your meal with a glass of vino.

Matilda 159 Domain: Across the street from the Royal Botanic Gardens, on the ground floor of the new boutique United Places hotel in the upscale neighborhood of South Yarra, venerable chef Scott Pickett has opened this local eatery. With a mishmash of leather and timber, Matilda dresses elegantly but delivers a casual vibe and unfussy wood-grilled dishes. Wagyu bavette and Fraser Island spanner crab underscore its homegrown emphasis. For a can’t-miss dessert, the apple tarte tatin with smoked vanilla bean ice cream hits the palette’s bull’s-eye.

Sunda’s Chef Khanh Nguyen. PHOTO BY RYAN NOREIKS.

Sunda: After years working in Sydney’s top kitchens, Khanh Nguyen — a Vietnamese-Australian, and one of Melbourne’s hottest young chefs — is racking up best-new-everything awards at his sophisticated Southeast Asian joint on the CBD’s Punch Lane. The fun menu teems with native ingredients and features dishes designed to be shared, though one bite of the crab curry otak otak with finger lime and coconut might have you shielding your plate.


A trip to Melbourne isn’t official unless you’ve imbibed in one of its elusive speakeasies or cocktail bars. Turn the world away at these new establishments.

Above Board: Kiwi bartender Hayden Scott Lambert cut his teeth at the Merchant Hotel in Belfast and Melbourne’s famed Bar Americano before opening this sleek upstairs spot in the ultrahip Collingwood neighborhood, where he has perfected the classic cocktail. Enter through BeerMash, a street-level beer bar; if it’s closed, a graffiti-riddled alleyway — not listed on Google Maps — is the only way inside.

Beneath Driver Lane

Beneath Driver Lane: This old-bank-vault-turned-underground-watering hole casts a Prohibition-era spell, slinging small-batch whiskeys and rums in a tiny alleyway off Little Bourke Street in the CBD.


With hundreds of independently owned cafés, Melbourne is a world-renowned coffee destination. Give these two shops a try.

Bayano the Rebel: This newcomer in the South Yarra neighborhood offers a refuge from the buzz of nearby Chapel Street, and an Eden for the coffee purist. Serving natural and single-origin coffees, owner and barista Zak Openstein knows his Joe and will happily tell you where it came from in Brazil or Panama and the name of the farmer who grew it.

Patricia Coffee Brewers: In the heart of the CBD, tucked beneath a mass of office buildings, this standing-room-only spot feels like an Italian espresso bar with a contemporary Down Under twist. The line can be long, but the coffee (and experience) makes the wait worth it.


Shadow Play by Peppers: This just-opened luxe stay in a 46-story glass building in the Southbank arts and entertainment hub offers both one- and two-bedroom apartments. View the bay from the enclosed garden and dine at the upscale wine bar and cellar. From $148.

United Places Botanic Gardens. PHOTO BY EMILY WEAVING.

United Places Botanic Gardens: A stone’s throw from the Royal Botanic Gardens, this chic newcomer in leafy South Yarra is opulent but intimate with a central location near the designer shops of Toorak Road and Chapel Street. Each of this hotel’s 12 suites features a private terrace, Le Labo bath amenities, and round-the-clock butler service. For a discreet feel and first-name treatment, this quiet oasis awaits. From $440.


Microflite helicopter tour: If James Bond were a sightseer, his mode of transportation would be this red chopper parked on the Yarra River in the CBD. At Crown Towers hotel, the “Sky’s the Limit” package (from $1,077) comes with French Champagne, an Executive Suite, and a 30-minute city flight. Book separately and choose between a day trip to wine country ($445 per person with four passengers) or a flyover of the 12 Apostles, the Great Ocean Road’s jaw-dropping natural landmark ($895 per person with four passengers).

Microflite helicopter tour. PHOTO BY GEORGE APOSTOLIDIS.


Localing Private Experiences: As Australia’s arts, fashion, food, and sporting capital, Melbourne is a cultural playground for travelers. But it’s also a sprawling metropolis with its brightest gems buried off the beaten path. If you want to travel like a local and discover its lesser-known secrets, ditch the guidebook and schedule a private tour with Localing, which customizes half- and full-day outings to suit travelers’ interests. From café-hopping to mingling with street artists, its bespoke adventures (and insider access) will have you feeling like a Melbournian in no time.


Qantas launched a San Francisco to Melbourne route last September, flying four times per week on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. From LA, flights depart daily either on the Dreamliner or an Airbus A380. The latter, which will undergo a complete refurbishment in 2020, offers the only first-class service on this route. At Melbourne Airport, Qantas upgraded its Domestic Business Lounge in November with shower suites and menus by Chef Neil Perry.



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