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Melbourne's Most Impressive Spots for When You Finally Meet the Parents

Respectable restaurants that'll set the tone and put you in their good books.
By Hudson Brown
September 28, 2017

Melbourne's Most Impressive Spots for When You Finally Meet the Parents

Respectable restaurants that'll set the tone and put you in their good books.
By Hudson Brown
September 28, 2017


in partnership with

Respectable restaurants that'll set the tone and put you in their good books.

While making a good first impression when you finally meet the parents isn't always easy, finding somewhere perfect to share a meal for the first time should be a breeze — Melbourne has an abundance of great dinner spots that'll set the tone and have you in their good books in no time. From world-class fine dining to contemporary gastropubs and casual eateries that still pack a punch, there's bound to be somewhere in Melbourne that suits whatever taste or table you're after.

To make discovering these joints even easier, we've enlisted the help of American Express to create what we're calling The Shortlist. To do so, we've done a deep-dive on our directory and come up with a selection of the best dining spots that aren't too loud, show you're a respectable candidate for the love of their child and also accept your Amex. Now, worry less about where you're taking the 'rents, and start preparing your responses to those landmine questions. You know they're coming.

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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    Cecconi’s is the grandaddy of Italian restaurants, and it looms over Melbourne gleaming with an unmissable sense of maturity and accomplishment. Olimpia Bortolotto is the matriarch at the helm of Cecconi’s — and has been since 1998 when the restaurant initially opened at Crown. Moving to Flinders Lane eight years later, the Bortolotto family have continued to keep the Italian restaurant at an incredibly high calibre.

    This may be white tablecloth stuff, but it’s anything but stuffy. Each dish — from the pappardelle to the pancetta-wrapped quail to the tiramisu — is basically faultless. These guys have been doing this for a long time now, and nothing could be more brilliantly obvious. A classy experience to share with your partner’s parents, you can be certain that everyone’ll head home feeling elated. This is what dining out ought to be.

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    Copper Pot Seddon is a self-described road trip across Europe, a true celebration of the unusual and unexpected in cuisine, technique and style. Executive chef Ashley Davis is at the helm, with him and his team showing a real dedication and belief in their cause. If the produce is not ready to come out of the ground, then they won’t use it. The techniques used to prepare the dishes — originating from France to Spain to Italy, and occasionally the more obscure — are all applied with absolute precision.

    At Copper Pot, it doesn’t seem unusual, nor out of place, to enjoy squid ink linguini, followed by wild mushrooms and ricotta gnudi dumplings. The inner west location is delightfully unpretentious and ideal for easy, getting-to-know-you conversation. The feeling throughout is cosy and the passionate staff help complete the rousing experience.

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    You know those places you wish you knew about earlier? Syracuse Restaurant and Wine Bar is one of them. Neatly tucked away in stunning Bank Place at the bottom end of the city, this venue transports you straight to the streets of Europe. Dark, red lighting, intimate tables and attentive staff all come together to make it quite easy to think you’d stepped off the beaten track in Rome.

    Led nowadays by one of Australia’s finest and most respected dessert chefs Philippa Sibley, Syracuse takes its cues from the Mediterranean with a selection of pastas and seafood dishes that match the restaurant’s grandiose interior. The wine list is extensive and diverse, with an expert sommelier on hand to help you pick out the perfect bottle from the 500-plus to choose from.

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    Despite being the only pub in Melbourne awarded eleven of the coveted chef’s hat accolade handed out by The Age Good Food Guide, The Grand Hotel Dining Room is still somewhat of a word-of-mouth secret. Featuring an elegant Italian fare that has earned a swathe of praise over the years, the restaurant’s dedication to honest and hearty produce has been a resounding success. The menu thrives off Italian classics, which are handled with an appreciation and willingness to explore flavour diversities.  

    For dessert, a visit to The Grand Hotel isn’t complete without its famous bombolini — possibly the best you’ll find anywhere in the city. Once you step inside, you’ll hardly remember you’re in the middle of suburban Richmond, such is the atmosphere full of passion and excitement. Great for Sunday lunch. 

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    There are few places that instantly make you feel special — Tonka is one of them. Hidden down Duckboard Place in the CBD, follow the flashing neon sign off Flinders Lane and you’ll soon be met with something beyond expectation. From the moment you walk in, you can tell that this place is pushing boundaries.

    Just like executive chef Adam D’Sylva’s heritage, the food at Tonka is Indian, which the highly experienced kitchen team have been showing the fine dining potential of since Tonka’s opening in 2013. To match, there’s an award-winning wine list that’s put together to complement the strong flavours. You won’t find any ghee butter here — in its place is a highly approachable fine dining restaurant that will undoubtedly change what you (or your partner’s parents) knew about the cuisine. A great one for parents who love Indian but want to take it up a notch for the night. 

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    If you think you know the meaning of hospitality, a visit to Epocha may force you to reconsider. Located on the city fringe on Carlton’s Rathdowne Street, Epocha is unassuming and brilliant. From the Victorian terrace façade to the dim and demure dining room, there’s something stately about this restaurant. Its high, homely ceilings, the elegantly mismatched glassware and cosy capacity has sentiments in European dinner parties, but, from both the service and the offering, this is no novice operation.

    Owners Angie Giannakodakis and Guy Holder, are hospo old hands, and are fixtures of the dining room. The loveable duo is always on-hand to offer a back-story to any dish, divulge the preparation process and effortlessly mingle with gleeful diners. The menu is Mediterranean-inspired with generous servings that are made to share, making it an ideal spot for an intimate, but comfortable night out with the folks. Plus, there’s a dessert trolley.

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    At the heart of Japanese hospitality there seems to be something so culturally inherent that, when you come face to face with it, you just can’t grasp what ‘it’ is. Whatever it might be, it’s meticulous, considered and downright beautiful. And Ocha is one of the best examples you’ll find in Melbourne.

    A multi-award winner and critic favourite for the past 20 years, the Hawthorn-based restaurant presents traditional Japanese food with a contemporary twist. A homage to shared dining, don’t be surprised if your sushi arrives at your table like it’s been turned inside out or upside down.

    This aesthetic sensibility is what separates Ocha from the crowd; handled with absolute ease of control but nowhere close to resting on its laurels, Ocha will impress with its finesse and modernity. Elegant Japanese fare never looked so good — and your dinner party won’t likely forget it anytime soon.

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    Melding elegant food with a casual pub buzz was Jacques Reymond’s vision for L’Hotel Gitan. Accessible and appealing, L’Hotel is the epitome of the modern gastropub — it’s refined dining in a smart, casual setting. And the setting is certainly beautiful. The art deco bones of this stunning Prahran building have been primped and preened to produce a marble, brass, mirrored and tiled thing of beauty.

    Head chef Adam Smith and his team execute a menu that encourages sharing through three increasing serving sizes to choose from: petite, moyen and plat principal. There’s a whole host of wines to peruse, with many local bottles presented but an even greater variety of European labels on offer. Making the perfect impression is made easy with the smartly dressed waitstaff on-hand to expertly make recommendations and suggest the best flavour combinations. If nothing else, it will be a supremely tasty night out. 


    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.

    Top image: Brook James. 

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