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By Concrete Playground
January 07, 2020

Melbourne's Best New Restaurants of 2019

These are the places that you need to try — or revisit — as soon as you can.
By Concrete Playground
January 07, 2020


These are the places that you need to try — or revisit — as soon as you can.

It feels like it whipped past quicker than you can pick up a pair of chopsticks, but 2019 is done and dusted. Thankfully, while it was here, it brought a huge collection of worthy new restaurants and culinary hotspots. We saw a lot of ground covered throughout the last 12 months — an unconventional Indian diner, a traditional Macedonian restaurant and even a debut Aussie outpost for one of China's most over-the-top sichuan hot pot brand were among the venues that opened their doors.

Here's our wrap-up of all the best new Melbourne restaurants that impressed us in 2019. Make sure you tick them off before 2020's list starts shaping up.

  • 10

    The team responsible for southside favourites Leonard’s House of Love and the now-closed Ramblr this year took over the former site of Da Salvatore Pizza By the Metre to open Leonardo’s Pizza Palace. They’ve kept the bones and décor from a pizza institution dating back to 1954, with a kitchen dedicated entirely to woodfired pizza and 70s-style brick archways dotted throughout the venue.

    The pizza getting a lot of airtime here is topped with Chinese bolognese — taken from Ramblr’s menu — teamed with white sauce, fior de latte and chopped scallions. Other hits include a pepperoni and mortadalla, and with a side serve of ranch dressing for dipping, there’s no excuse not to eat your crusts. You’ll spy a rich spag bol, a decadent broccolini salad starring macadamia cream and a nostalgic dessert offering, with a choice of either creamy tiramisu or carrot and cream cheese ice cream cake. To match, there’s a good range of Italian and local wines, four tap beers and a tight selection of bottles and cans.

    The team also opened Leo’s by the Slice in the old Ramblr space in Prahran this year, if you’re feeling like a snack while southside.

    Image: Kate Shanasy.

  • 9
    Le Lee

    Stepping through Lé Léé’s door is like entering someone’s dining room, in a home across the other side of the world. Wooden tables and whitewashed walls lend a cosy, familial feel, and traditional Macedonian woven rugs are draped on the walls. The authentic Macedonian diner is the brainchild of brothers Miki and Igor Dodevski, while mother, Vera — an experienced chef who cooked for years in Macedonia — heads up the kitchen.

    Here, home-style Macedonian food is the star of the show, starting with bites like crispy tikvichki (fried zucchini), banica (hand-rolled leek and cheese pastry) and shopska salata (tomato, cucumber, onion salad topped with grated feta). Grape rakia makes for a sweetly warming accompaniment, though there’s also a good mix of Australian, New Zealand and Macedonian wines available.

    You’ll also find mains like kebapi (skinless beef sausages) and selsko meso, a dish of meatballs with pork, chicken and mushrooms, baked and served in a handmade clay pot. All of this is paired with live guitar and Macedonian flute on Friday nights.

    Image: Parker Blain.

  • 8
    Lagoon Dining

    Lygon Street and its surrounds might once have been wall-to-wall, old-school Italian joints — and famously so. But a new wave of residents are slowly but surely shaking up the demographic, including the aforementioned Taquito and this opening: modern east Asian diner Lagoon.

    This one’s the debut joint venture from a trio of hospitality young guns and Ezard alumni – Chris Lerch, Ned Trumble and Keat Lee – along with business partner Susan Wyles. The menu is grounded in traditional Chinese sensibilities, though you’ll also spy plenty of other Asian influences, as well a few clever riffs on Chinese food concepts plucked from further abroad.

    Pull up a seat at the bar and snack your way through options like popcorn chicken teamed with white pepper togarashi and curry leaf, pork and cabbage dumplings, and xinjiang-spiced lamb ribs. Raw dishes might include the likes of a ‘hot and numbing’ beef tartare, while a wok selection stars combinations like mapo tofu knots with mustard greens and shiitake. Larger offerings come in the form of charcoal-roasted char siu pork matched with tare sauce and spring onion relish, and steamed market fish paired with Hunan-style salted chilli. A banquet menu clocks in at $70 per person.

  • 7

    From Tex-Mex eateries to underground mezcal bars, Melbourne has no shortage of Mexican spots. This temple of tacos and tequila, however, opened in a historically Italian area: Carlton. While Taquito’s name and space are small, its food is big on flavour.

    Most menu elements are prepared in-house, including the tortillas, which is a bit of a rarity in Australia. Here, the corn flatbreads are hand-pressed and cooked on a custom charcoal grill, then topped with the likes of grilled ox tongue and roasted sweet potato with avo cream. You can match them with corn chips (also made in-house) drizzled in hot cheddar, chilli and peppers and radish, sorrel and whipped tofu dip.

    Alongside a selection of wines and craft beers, Taquito has a lengthy lineup of tequila and mezcal, which feature in all five of its signature cocktails. Order the High Ball — with Trombo tequila, ginger, lemon and plum — if you’re looking for something refreshing, or the charred jalapeño-spiked tommy’s margarita if you want something with more of a kick.

    Images: Julia Sansone.

  • 6
    Sister of Soul Richmond

    Opening five years after its St Kilda outpost, Sister of Soul opened in Richmond in early 2019. The new Swan Street venue embraces plant-based eating even more so than its sibling, with an offering that’s all vegan, all the time. The relaxed, intimate space is the work of architects Pierce Widera, and features bright, minimalist interiors and cheery al fresco seating beneath a sprawling tree.

    You’ll spy a few old favourites within the menu, including hits like the green gyoza dumplings, the gnocchi with house-made almond feta and roasted capsicum sauce, the polenta ‘Jenga’ and that decadent chocolate tart. There are new dishes, too, such as a slow-cooked jackfruit burger rocking Asian slaw and a charcoal bun, a massaman curry and a burrito bowl loaded with chipotle, black beans and charred corn.

    Meanwhile, the drinks offering is an impressive one, headlined by a selection of (once again, all-vegan) classic cocktails, like the G&T crafted on orange marmalade, rosemary and dry gin. As with the St Kilda venue, Sister of Soul Richmond has teamed up with local community gardens to repurpose its food waste and used coffee grinds, helping to grow herbs, fruit and vegetables.

    Images: Kate Shanasy.

  • 5

    It might be hard to find, though once through the door, Di Stasio Citta is a study in modernist grandeur. The high-ceilinged concrete space is all white tablecloths and red leather chairs, while cinematic Italian music is the soundtrack to mesmerising video projections on the walls.

    Hit the food offering and you’ll know you’re in for a great Italian meal. Snacks include the likes of moreish bolognese arancini, and entrees the moscardini affogati (that is, red wine and chilli octopus). Meanwhile, the pezzetti d’anitra allows you two, three or four bits of roasted duck breast under a rich, sticky glaze.

    Among the many possibilities of Di Stasio main plate favourites — which include the veal saltimbocca gnocchi and the “after-school” schnitzel sandwich — the call of house-made pasta is strong. Try the bacon bucatini or the prawn linguine for something classic and always good.

    Image: Kate Shanasy.

  • 4
    Panda Hot Pot

    Whether you ever got to venture inside, or just heard tales about the goings on, Carlton’s long-standing theatre restaurant Dracula’s was one of the city’s true institutions. But now, the sprawling corner building at 100 Victoria Street has enjoyed a complete about-face, reborn as the first Aussie outpost for China’s famed Panda Hot Pot. The chain — known for its sichuan-style hot pot — already has 400 international outlets under its belt in China, Malaysia, Japan and the US. But this is its Down Under debut.

    The palatial 228-seat Carlton site is now decked out like a scene from ancient China; it’s a fitting backdrop for Panda’s sichuan hot pot offering, where big groups congregate over giant bowls of bubbling soup. For the uninitiated, the cuisine sees diners choose a soup base and various additions, then cook it all DIY-style in a large pot in the middle of the the table by dunking ingredients into the simmering stock.

    At Panda Hot Pot, you’ll choose from soup base options like a rich tomato broth, or the signature Sichuan spicy soup, crafted on spices imported from China and simmered together for over 12 hours. Pick a spice level, then make it your own, ordering add-ins from a hefty selection of meat cuts, seafood, offal, fresh veggies and noodles, each item listed on the menu with its own suggested cooking time. A self-serve dipping sauce station allows you to add another level of flavour to your bowl.

  • 3
    Pepe's Italian & Liquor

    After an impressive 12-year stint as Trunk Bar & Restaurant, the site at 275 Exhibition Street has had a big makeover. Off the back of a month-long research trip to the Big Apple, owner Nick Kutcher transformed the space into Italo-American hot-spot, Pepe’s Italian & Liquor. Taking its cues from New York in the 1930s and 1940s (think, The Godfather), the reimagined venue has burgundy banquettes, red-and-white chequered floors and a sprawling 13-metre-long zinc-topped bar. A mural splashed across the back wall comes courtesy of Belgian artist Jan Van Der Veken.

    Pull up a seat and trip back in time, digging into time-honoured favourites prepared by Head Chef Orazio Cutuli. Expect baked buffalo ricotta matched with a pesto crostino, pork and veal polpette in napoli sauce, and Casino Clams done with garlic butter, guanciale and pangrattato. A solid spread of pasta features the likes of a mushroom fettuccini with parmesan, garlic and thyme, and a spicy vodka rigatoni, as well as a cheesy baked gnocchi.

    There’s also a lineup of pizza (of course) — with pies topped with the likes of meatballs, eggplant, ‘nduja and prosciutto — along with a veal parmigiana and a 12-hour lamb shoulder. For dessert, we suggest the extravagant two-person sundae, toped with Nutella, nougat, black cherry wafer and chocolate fudge.

    Image: Gareth Sobey.

  • 2
    Chotto Motto

    If you’ve ventured down Collingwood’s Wellington Street since March 2019, you probably would have been intrigued by a certain eye-catching corner building, decked out with a bold black and white façade. That would be Chotto Motto. The lively Japanese haunt is a joint effort from Dylan Jones and Tomoya Kawasaki, the latter who is behind fellow mod-Japanese hits Wabi Sabi Salon and Neko Neko. Kawasaki is also the voice behind Jones’ affirmation-slinging Instagram pooch, Tofu.

    At Chotto Motto, it’s the humble gyoza that reigns supreme, specifically crisp-based Hamamatsu-style dumplings that are served as a group, flipped upside down. Grab a ten or 20-piece feed, in flavours like spicy kimchi miso pork, free-range chicken and coriander, or the vegan-friendly tofu and oatmeal.

    Small plates might include the likes of fires with miso mayo, taco-style wagyu teriyaki roll-ups, or crisp cauliflower karaage matched to a green curry mayo. A Japanese vending machine comes stocked with a hefty range of imported craft beers, and the cocktail lineup rocks a distinct Japanese twist — and features an interesting matcha sour. There’s soft serve to finish, too, with a new flavour rotating each month.

  • 1
    Daughter In Law

    With its Bollywood soundtrack, pink-lit bathroom and plush peacock velour banquettes, Jessi Singh’s Daughter in Law delivers a whole lot of fun. It’s got all the colours and sounds of a Punjabi disco, with the DJ tunes and old-school films projected onto the back wall.

    To eat, classic Indian dishes have all been given an ‘inauthentic’ twist. There are naan pizzas — think, chilli margarita, masala paneer, tandoori chicken and blue cheese— and the Colonel Tso’s cauliflower is a spicy, crunchy must. Singh’s butter chicken is done without butter or cream, while the comforting Aunty Dhal makes a great vegetarian option, with slow simmered black lentils, ginger and garlic. Or, sit back and relax with the $55 tasting menu.

    You’ll find $10 cocktails on offer from 4–6pm, though any time is the right time for a Don’t tell Aunty: an earthy margarita riff made with mezcal and beetroot juice. Signature sips are backed by an extensive list of wine and even a self-serve beer fridge.


Top image: Di Stasio Citta by Kate Shanasy.

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