Melbourne never ceases to amaze my gorgeous friend Carla, a writer originally from Sydney who suffers from chronic FoMO in addition to being a total theatre nut. For the past 11 years, she has called Victoria’s capital home and written for local culture online magazines such as Broadsheet, Milkbar Mag, Theatre Alive and Picture Skew, as well as creating the popular vegan food blog Easy as Vegan Pie.
She lives in Parkville, just 1km from Brunswick, which she readily admits she rarely leaves. “It has everything we need, from dive bars to cocktail bars, great food, heaps of live music venues, shopping malls… a strong Middle Eastern and Mediterranean community with ridiculous (and I mean ridiculous) Lebanese food. The waft of za’atar, pizza and apple tobacco the further up Sydney road you go is intoxicating.”
In a city renowned for its incredible coffee, Carla heads for Wide Open Road in Brunswick. “As with everywhere these days, they roast their own beans but sans the eye-watering attitude like most other places in Melbourne.” For brunch, she opts for iconic Stagger Lees in Fitzroy or True North in Coburg, who do an incredible vegan Reuben sandwich.
Melbourne is enjoying an Americana food revival, like most major cities, but Carla thinks Footscray’s 8bit tops the lot. “Their veggie burger gives you this hallucinatory childhood experience, it’s like every burger you ate as a child rolled into one. Completely amazing.” Fittingly with their name, all mains are named after video games, “my boyfriend almost passed out when we went there the first time.”
Unlike Sydney, Carla notes that it is still hard to get good Asian food “cheap and abundantly” in Melbourne. Ying Thai and Chinatown’s Yamato go some way to helping to ease this craving, with the latter being “one of those magical Melbourne adventures – right down the end of an alleyway, past a bunch of bins is this tiny door to a TINY authentic Japanese café that probably sits about 20 people.”
For something fancy, Carla goes for one of Andrew McConnell’s many restaurants: Supernormal, Moon Under Water, Cutler and Co and Cumulus. She also gives MoVida off Flinders St a special mention, alongside Chapel St’s Borsch, Vodka and Tears for “out of control Polish food and over 100 different types of vodka.” With an abundance of great bars that do food, East Brunswick establishment Atticus Finch gets an honourable mention, (“such a great atmosphere, huge cheese plate servings, excellent wine, the guy who runs it is just so awesome… spinning funk and soul records all night. It’s like drinking wine in his lounge room”) in addition to barge bar Ponyfish, which serves great burgers. For something more upmarket, deco cocktail bar Amelia Shaw, above the live music venue Retreat Hotel in Brunswick, is a fave.
Berlin Bar, off Little Bourke St, is where Carla takes friends when they visit. “It’s a total Melbourne wank but fun to take tourists. Find the door, climb the black stairwell up three flights of stairs to the top, ring the doorbell and a host slides the slit across to view you. Then they let you in and you can choose to sit in East Berlin (graffiti and decaying) or West Berlin (pearls and chandeliers). Great cocktail list. Great mix of people – all walks of life young and old. It’s a bit of a novelty but I like going there from time to time… and besides, they have bunk beds in East Berlin you can roll around in.”
When she wants to really escape, Carla heads to Von Haus, a formerly derelict building that was once the residence of famous landscape painter Eugene Von Guerad. “There’s no website so you kind of have to know it’s there…. Really quiet and magical, absolutely amazing wine list and they do a couple of dishes seasonal on the day. It’s probably my absolute favourite place in Melbourne. Sit in the window and sip wine under the red glow of the Pellegrini’s sign and watch the world go by. They also have killer taste in music.”
In terms of Melbourne’s beautiful architecture, Carla will go and see anything on at the Forum simply because it is “such an amazing classic gothic building, and stunning inside” as well as the Heide Museum of Modern Art, located out in Bulleen. “I think it’s actually my favourite modernist building of all time – read about the history the place, it is off the hook… after you’ve wandered the galleries you can take a picnic down onto the lawns and drink some champagne.”
Check out my full city guide, including Carla’s tips, here.