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FOOD & DRINK

Five Melbourne Restaurants Perfect for a Date Night (and Every Budget)

Make your bank account one less thing to worry about on your next big date night with these affordable options.
By Eleanor Scott
August 18, 2019
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Five Melbourne Restaurants Perfect for a Date Night (and Every Budget)

Make your bank account one less thing to worry about on your next big date night with these affordable options.
By Eleanor Scott
August 18, 2019
  shares

FIVE MELBOURNE RESTAURANTS PERFECT FOR A DATE NIGHT (AND EVERY BUDGET)

in partnership with

Make your bank account one less thing to worry about on your next big date night with these affordable options.

Asking someone out is hard. Sometimes it can take weeks (perhaps even months) to tuck your sweaty hands behind your back, make your best attempt at flirting and pop the question. But contrary to popular belief, that's not the toughest part — figuring out where to go is. If it's something new, chances are you don't want to drop a load of cash just yet. Not that it gets any easier if you've been together a long time, either — new haunts are hard to come by when you're five years in and trying to balance both romance and a budget.

To help you out, we've partnered with Melbourne's ridesharing platform DiDi to find five fresh spots that'll have you and your date seeing stars in your eyes — and not because of the menu prices. Just like you, DiDi is committed to keeping costs down, too, so what you save on transport, you can spend on dates, dinners and good ol' debauchery. Stop fearing your wallet, pick one of these affordable spots and get ready to have fun night.

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    Dim, moody lighting? Check. Freshly rolled pasta every day? Double check. Not going to break the bank? Hold on a second, heaven must have been rebranded and its new name is Lupo. This gorgeous restaurant by acclaimed chef Scott Pickett — the genius mind behind Estelle, Pickett’s Deli and Matilda — is a celebration of all the Italian flavours you know and love, but with a few contemporary twists. Think lasagne stuffed with spanner crab or tender fried gnocchi at $10 a pop (and by pop, we mean five decadent pieces). Drinks-wise there’s an extensive wine list, although the fruity nero d’avola from Ciello in Sicily goes perfectly with the clouds you’ll be floating on all night. Hot tip: if you or your date are gluten-free, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Almost all of the pasta on the menu can be made with a chickpea flour-based rigatoni, which also happens to be vegan.

    Image: Peter Dillon.

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    It’s hard not to notice Chotto Motto. The vibrant Japanese joint’s bold black and white facade immediately draws the eye, while inside a soft red glow illuminates a quirky space with funky touches including a giant box of Pocky biscuit sticks, a few purple maneki-neko (beckoning cat) talismans and a slot machine. There’s even a refurbished beer vending machine stocked with local brews from Stomping Ground and Temple Brewing, as well as a matcha IPA or a miso lager if you’re feeling game. There are plenty of bites to choose from, including crispy katsu sandwiches and a rotating selection of vegan soft serve, but its specialty is Hamamatsu-style gyoza. Fillings like shiitake, cabbage and ginger or chicken and coriander are served up in rings of 10 or 20 via a pizza box. Oh, and you can also top them with gooey melted cheese for an extra $5 — it’s worth the splurge.

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    Balagan is a Yiddish word. It means chaos or mess, but the lively kind found at loud family gatherings and birthday celebrations. That pleasant furore is exactly what Luca Lorusso has brought to the table at his Middle Eastern restaurant Balagan Kitchen, which was inspired by a two-week trip to Israel. Reasonably priced share platters are the name of the game and most nights they cover almost every table. Spicy half chicken with paprika and couscous ($30), punchy fish shakshuka ($33) —a vibrant upgrade to the traditional breakfast version — and beef brisket with pickled peppers ($28). Head chef Akad Al-Guepa is an expert in making dishes to dig in to. The joy isn’t limited to savoury foods either. Covered in Persian-style fairy floss, pistachios and date syrup, the halva semifreddo (halva is a fudge-like Middle Eastern dessert) is a dangerous way to end your meal, because you may never want to leave.

    Image: Julia Sansone.

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    If tacos and tequila sound like your idea of a good time, then Carlton’s new Mexican haunt is a must-visit. Taquito’s Drummond Street location in Carlton is small and intimate, with most of the available space taken up by indoor cacti and a fantastic selection of chillies and herbs that you’ll find gracing the inside of the handmade tortillas. Originally from Mexico City, Alex Villareal knows exactly what fillings to pair with his maize flour-based corn flatbreads. If we had to pick favourites, either the tri-tip steak with spicy salsa or the fire-roasted pumpkin with avo would come out on top. With all that fiery goodness on offer, you’ll also be needing a drink, which is where a long list of tequilas and mezcals come in — try the charred jalapeño-spiked tommy’s margarita. You won’t be sorry, but, then again, you might not remember.

    Image: Julia Sansone.

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    Collingwood’s literal hole-in-the-wall pasta joint is the takeaway window you had no idea you needed. Owner James Eddy mans the place with a cheesy and efficient fist, handing out $15 servings of gnocchi accompanied by one of four simple sauces: a vegan walnut and basil pesto, a rich bolognese, a butter sage or a slow-cooked tomato number. Extra cheese is available on request, as is toasty garlic bread. Still hungry? Try the parmesan- and bolognese-stacked banh mi or the crispy gnoquettes — that’s a cheesy deep-fried gnocchi ball in case you’re wondering. Date on the go? Come through.

    Image: Kate Shanasy.

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Switch to DiDi and save heaps of cash that you’d rather spend on the fun stuff — like a sweet date night with someone special. To start riding, download the app here and use the code CONCRETE to score up to $50 in vouchers.

Image: Julia Sansone.

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