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Where to Celebrate Your Birthday in Melbourne (and Not Send Your Friends Broke)

Our top picks to celebrate another lap around the sun.
By Imogen Baker
October 07, 2017

Where to Celebrate Your Birthday in Melbourne (and Not Send Your Friends Broke)

Our top picks to celebrate another lap around the sun.
By Imogen Baker
October 07, 2017


in partnership with

Our top picks to celebrate another lap around the sun.

Birthdays are generally considered a mixed bag. While some of us luxuriate in celebrating our special day with week-long parties, some of us pretend like it isn't happening and plan a few quiet ones to observe the occasion in peace. But, no matter how you choose to celebrate the birthday bonanza, there's one thing you have to consider: moolah.

We've all been there, making the tricky choice between celebrating a birthday with the Attica tasting menu and not entering into poverty. But remember: happy, well-fed friends (who aren't selling their kidneys on the black market) make celebrations worthwhile, and you don't want to box anyone out because of price. But don't fret. We've done the research for you with our mates at American Express so that you can celebrate in style and not send your friends broke. Ideally, you want a venue with a broad menu, options for all different budgets and preferences, hearty servings and staff who won't judge your off-key caterwauling when it comes time to sing 'Happy Birthday'. Also, somewhere where you can use your American Express® Card wouldn't hurt either so you can stock up on those points.

Got yourself in another dining situation and need some guidance? Whatever it is, we know a place. Visit The Shortlist and we'll sort you out.

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    If you’re keen on a meatier, slightly more upmarket venue to celebrate your special day, but also want to make rent this month, head to Meatmaiden. The menu is broad and will cater to friends of all budgets and tastes. Although, fair warning: vegos might find themselves scouring the sides menu (but what do you expect from a venue with meat in the name?).

    For those after a royal experience on a pauper’s budget, get the whole table invested in the chef’s choice. The classic selection is $55 per person and serves up a whopping mix of hearty dishes. They also run really reasonable lunch and early dinner specials, if daytime celebrations are your bag.

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    We know Supernormal isn’t necessarily cheap, but its new offshoot – Supernormal Canteen in St Kilda — can be visited with less damage done to the wallet. The menu is smaller, the dishes aren’t so hefty and, most importantly, it’s a bit more casual — so you can get a few mates around a table for some beers, bao and skewers off the hibachi grill, and it’s all good. No need to commit to the banquet here (well, unless you have eight-plus people — it’s $65 a head).

    If your favourite meal is cup noodles (and you should have your favourite food on your birthday), try Supernormal’s take on them. But what arrives in a cute ceramic version of the classic Nissin ramen throwaway cup is unlike any soup noodles you’ve ever scoffed before — they’re full-bodied, fragrant and will no doubt reduce your table conversation to a chorus of slurps.

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    Dinner at Tokyo Tina is more like dinner with Tokyo Tina – she’s that fun, vivacious friend you have who somehow always knows where to go for good and cheap grub. If you’re there on the cheap, the bowls are big, hearty and filling. We recommend the pineapple snapper poke bowl, served with rice, wasabi, avocado, cucumber and onion ($16).

    Or, pass around a selection of dishes. Options include the open Californian rolls with Western Australian spanner crab ($15) (which expertly highlights the natural sweetness of crab meat without going overboard), and the Port Lincoln kingfish from the raw menu, served with wasabi and apple, and placed in a bite-sized charcoal cone offering beautiful crunch ($7). And, as some extra fun, don’t forget that Tina’s private booths are both very cool and karaoke-friendly. Book ahead.

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    Transformer isn’t just a haven for vegetarians these days. The big, airy venue is the perfect venue for celebrations for lots of reasons. You’ll actually be able to hear your friends’ chatter, for one thing. Also, their menu is designed for sharing. We know that everything is these days, but the hearty, wholesome (and actually genuinely healthy) food at Transformer deserves to be passed around the table.

    Try the native spiced beetroots dish, served with macadamia cream, finger limes, saltbush and samphire ($22) or the crispy chickpea panisse, truffle salt, parmesan ($7) as a starter. The ‘feed me’ chef’s selection is a great way to try the best of the best and avoid the bill quibble at the end. And if you want to lean into your birthday (and we recommend you do), they offer a tailored cake service. Just make sure you let them know when you book.

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    Los Hermanos in Brunswick is the perfect place for a low-key birthday celebration. If you’re one of those people who sit at the Venn diagram intersection of ‘hates attention’ and ‘loves tacos’, prepare for a good time.

    The menu is simple. What kind of taco do you want? Choose and enjoy — there’s seven to pick from and four specials. No sharing, and no group debate about what to order here. It’s cheap too (tacos are $5-6 and the most expensive thing on the menu is $12), which leaves you plenty of room to explore their extensive tequila selection. With friendly staff and mouth-watering food, you might actually come to enjoy your birthday if you celebrate it here. Good for small groups.

    Image: Leah Hulst.

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    Embla is an intimate venue on Russell Street that’s sure to impress your closest friends. If you have a small to medium group, this is your ideal venue for cosy chats, good wine and protein-heavy fare. They only take reservations for lunch, so if your heart is set on an Embla experience, pre-book a boozy birthday midday meal instead.

    Embla is run by the good folk behind The Town Mouse, so you know that you’re in good hands. Snack on oysters ($4.50), delicate anchovy toasts ($3.50) or pickled cucumber, which arrive dotted through a pool of feta and sprinkled with dill dust ($8). Or order the table a half roast chook ($37) and be done with it.

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    If you’re nervous about catering to your friends with dietary requirements, don’t be. Rice Paper Scissors in Fitzroy or the CBD is your saving grace. They take great care to accommodate all types of food restrictions and no one will miss out because of intolerances.

    For people like us who don’t just want one dish, but want all the food, there’s further reason to celebrate. The style here is all about sharing plates and mini meals. The friendly staff will explain how to get to grips, quite literally, with the perfectly presented food — you’re encouraged to eat with your hands for most dishes, and a lemon water basin is provided to refresh those sticky fingers between delicious bites. For groups of eight or more, make sure to email them beforehand and reserve your table, because this place gets busy you don’t want to miss out.

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    Hutong Peking Duck & Dumpling

    If dumplings are your thing, but you want to go slightly more upmarket for your big day, turn away from Empress of China and head down Market Lane. Just make sure that you book in advance because these dumplings are Melbourne’s worst kept secret. And, when you get there, ignore everything else and go straight for that dumpling menu — they’re best for sharing among a big group.

    Their specialty is the xiao long bao ($12.80 for eight). These little soup sacks, filled with steaming broth and tenderly boiled meat, will literally explode in your mouth (and in your heart), making them the perfect way to celebrate. For more merriment, despite being a little more upmarket than the usual dumpling canteen (hygiene levels are high), the traditional Chinese restaurant BYO ($4 per bottle) format is still honoured.

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    Yellow Bird boasts a broad all-day menu of stacked burgers and sandwiches, as well as tacos and lighter snackables that even your fussiest (and most broke) friends will appreciate. If you want to go hard on your special day, go for the Whole Lotta burger ($22.50) which comes with literally everything and triple cheese. Your friends might have to carry you out in a body bag, but you’ll have died doing what you love. Otherwise, order a few bowls of nachos — they’re always good.

    And if you’d like to treat yourself to a tipple, happy hour from 4pm to 7pm every day serves up $6 rum, $15 jugs and $6 house wines. If your party is under 12, there’s no need to book — just rock up, squeeze in and get cosy in the welcoming atmosphere.

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    Fonda is a low-risk choice because literally everyone loves Mexican food, and their grub is cheap and very cheerful. The peppy interior will put you in a mood to celebrate — it’s all blonde wood laced with pops of colour, plus a bouncy soundtrack turned up loud. And a round of frozen lychee and elderflower margaritas ($13) will help you live your best birthday life.

    On the menu, we recommend the DIY tostada board ($21) or a selection of six-inch tacos. You’ll find classic faves twisted with some modern additions, like crispy sweet potato, pomegranate, and jalapeño-basil aioli ($6.50-7.50). Your hungrier friends should flock straight to the trio of quesadillas ($15-16) or the burritos ($15-17), which are loaded up with black beans and quinoa for a cheap but filling feed. Just order a bunch and share it around — when it comes to split the bill, it won’t set you back too much.

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    Because it’s your birthday, and you are officially the centre of the known universe for 24 hours, it’s absolutely acceptable to demand pizza be shovelled into and around your face. But in the interest of not turning your closest pals destitute, head to Pizza Miene Liebe in Northcote. The beloved venue which strikes that perfect balance of being delicious and not forcing you to re-mortgage your avo smash to get a slice.

    They serve up classic Italian-style pizza with light, crusty house-made dough and simple, flavoursome ingredients. The Tessa Sopressa ($16/24), with tomato, buffalo mozzarella, basil and sopressa is so good. The vegetarian Greenpeace pizza ($15/22) with mozzarella, Taleggio, silverbeet, broccoli, lemon and parmesan is so, so good. Nothing more needs to be said, really. It’s just good pizza, and on your birthday you deserve good pizza.

    Image: Leah Hulst.

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    As well as being a venerable old establishment, The Rose offers two distinct but equally viable choices for birthday celebrations. Downstairs you’ve got the pub — the great equaliser. You’ll find a gourmet take on pub food, served in a familiar setting. The menu has options for people of all budgets and tastes, from light snacks to burgers to classic, heavy pub fare — chicken parmas and porterhouse steaks.

    Upstairs you’ll find The Rose’s latest addition, a demure wine bar serving up the finest grape drops and fancy charcuterie boards. No matter what type of friends you have, you’ll find a nook for them at The Rose.


    As you drink and dine with your American Express, reap all the sweet rewards of being a Card Member. Explore the many ways American Express has your back here.

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