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Where to Take Out-of-Towners to Eat When You Want to Show Off Your City

Treat yourself and your newcomer to a food-tour of the city.
By Imogen Baker
April 11, 2018

Where to Take Out-of-Towners to Eat When You Want to Show Off Your City

Treat yourself and your newcomer to a food-tour of the city.
By Imogen Baker
April 11, 2018


in partnership with

Treat yourself and your newcomer to a food-tour of the city.

Melburnians are some of the best humblebraggers in the world. Sure, we have pride — but we don't like to jump up and down about it. In fact, in this city, downplaying is almost an art form. You'll hear us say stuff like: "Oh, this old thing? It's just a bespoke spangled jumpsuit by a local, but internationally renowned, designer — I just threw it on," and "My local deli is actually pretty good...all the chefs are ex-Vue de Monde and they only use produce that has brought transformational joy to a child. But that's just standard, I guess". And don't even start us humble-bragging about coffee or we'll be here all day.

But, still, it can be challenging when visitors come a-knocking asking for the very best Melbourne has to offer. The instinct to humblebrag is tough to quash, but there are ways around it. Our city has culinary delights down every alleyway, in every abandoned warehouse and on every rooftop, so really you can just pick any direction and walk until you run into a hatted venue.

In tandem with American Express, we've pinpointed Melbourne's best eateries for impressing out-of-towners. Just act casual, make a resi, flash your American Express® Card and let the food speak for itself. No humblebragging needed.

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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    Melbourne’s snaky beloved Yarra River is definitely worth showing off to visitors, and Arbory is the best place to do so. The 150-metre-long venue is a magical pocket of non-stuffy goodness along the river. It’s the perfect spot for people-watching, which is sometimes just as good as gazing out over the river.

    Arbory is open from 7.30am for breakfast and coffee and runs right through until late. It’s a great choice for either nibbles or drinks (or both) with a concise and well-chosen menu that covers all the good stuff. There are healthy options aplenty but the fried chicken burger ($17), served with iceberg lettuce, pickles, chipotle and crinkle cut chips, is a winner in our books and pairs well with a frosty beer. If you’re just after a light snack, don’t go past the indulgent truffled cauliflower croquette served with aioli ($4 each).

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    There are few places that instantly make you feel special. Tonka is one of them. The moment you walk in, you know this place is different. The staff are warm yet professional and the decor is almost sculptural. If they were just selling a good feeling, you’d leave satisfied every time. But they also serve contemporary Indian food and it is just as goddamn joyful.

    The menu is divided into smaller, in-between and bigger dishes and we recommend grabbing a few to share with your guests. From the smaller menu, a snack of pani puri ($4.50 each) always goes down a treat. It’s a crispy parcel filled with spiced potato, mung beans, date and tamarind chutney. And, because we can never resist cheese and neither should you, we recommend the palak paneer dumplings with pine nuts and lemon pickle ($28) for a bigger bite.

    Image: Brook James.

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    If you want to really show off, suggest a casual jaunt to St Kilda beach to tan and grab some fish and chips. If your guests are expecting an RSL-type meal, they’ll be blown away by Pontoon. The eatery and bar sits on the old site of the iconic Stokehouse which burned down in 2014. After a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, it was renovated and the new venue is schmick, to say the least.

    And the menu ain’t bad either. There’s a separate kiosk for truly kick-ass fish and chips and the formal 400-seat Stokehouse fine diner upstairs. The Pontoon menu, however, is a little more casual and designed to be enjoyed without emptying your bank account. We recommend anything from the sea — you’re at the beach, after all. The swordfish burger, served with fennel slaw, mayo and green chilli relish ($18) is a winner and every Sunday it does a spit roast that tastes as good as it smells. 

    With beach views, pretty interiors, a relaxed but interesting atmosphere, and plenty of space to chill, it’s the perfect way to end a day at the beach. We’d just be cautious about taking any Sydneysiders here — they may not be as humble in bragging about their beaches.

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    If you’ve heard of Tipo 00, Melbourne’s famous pasta restaurant on Little Bourke Street, you may have heard of Osteria Ilaria. It opened up next door and is run by the same team, a perfect example of same-same but different. Same attention to detail, same great service, same fresh produce, but a totally different menu. At Ilaria, you’ll have a more pan-European experience in a cosy, welcoming environment that feels like a warm hug from your doting (and very fashionable) grandmother.

    Try the beef carpaccio, red currant, and parmesan starter ($19) and the charcoal gnocchi with carrot and taleggio cheese ($21) for a taste of Osteria with Tipo’s pasta mastery mixed in.

    Image: Kristoffer Paulsen.

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    Cumulus Inc. is a bit of a no-brainer. It’s an award-winning sensory dream — and it’s smack-bang in the middle of Melbourne’s busiest high-end food strip: Flinders Lane. It’s a seamless mix of outstanding food and beautiful design — and, most importantly for this exercise — elegant restraint.

    The menu is a mix of the known (modern Australian cuisine) with unexpected pairings that somehow work. The dishes themselves are unembellished, executed effortlessly and use only the finest of local produce. Start with something a little safe like the haloumi served with burnt honey and fennel pollen ($9) before jumping into the weirder mains like the barramundi with sweet corn, shellfish butter and basil ($37) with a side of cos lettuce and nashi pear dressing ($9). Weird, wonderful and definitely memorable.

    Image: Kristoffer Paulsen.

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    Cafe Di Stasio has a reputation that precedes it, and it’s well-earned. The longstanding Italian eatery is a little bit fancy and, with its white jacket-clad serving staff, linen and classic dishes, it has an air of old-school romance about it. Your guests will be transported back a few decades and then some.

    The menu is broad and a little bit complicated. Keep things simple with the popular lunch set menu so you can focus on catching up with your company. The $40 lunch special includes two courses, a glass of wine and a coffee. It’s great value to go with the great food and service. There’s no wondering why this place has been trading for over 26 years. Grab a table out the front and watch the world go by on Fitzroy Street — this is another quintessential Melbourne activity.

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    Chances are your guests are already champing at the bit to get to Chris Lucas’ renowned Chin Chin — and modern etiquette dictates hosts must always be accommodating of their desires. You’ll no doubt encounter a wait as the restaurant doesn’t take reservations for groups under ten, but, these days, that’s about 50 percent of the experience.

    The atmosphere is always buzzing at Chin Chin and, once you’ve finally secured a table, the next hurdle will be deciding what to eat. You’ll want to sample broadly so do the share thing and order a few dishes from each tier, taking staff recommendations on board. And if you really want to do it right, go all in with the chef’s ‘feed me’ selection ($69.50 per person). Waitstaff will keep bringing out food until you tell them to stop.

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    When people are visiting from out of town, you want to go a bit more upmarket than the cheap all-you-can-eat dumplings and BYO goon sack routine. Flower Drum is an internationally renowned and lavish Chinese restaurant that’s been doing its thing since 1975. It’s the kind of place you get dressed up for so you won’t look out of place in its interior: lush red carpet, delicate wood carvings in every corner and attentive, smartly dressed waiters. 

    All the Cantonese classics are there, from silky wontons to steamed tofu and delicate pieces of crab. Oh, and exceptional Peking duck, too. 

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    If you can’t get into Chin Chin, stroll down Flinders Lane and try Chris Lucas’ other venue: Kisumé. Taking guests here will make you feel like a total baller — it’s like The Matrix crossed with the early 2000s social scene. The simplest way to describe it is three levels of considered grandeur. Attention to detail travels throughout the three tiers, from the menu down to the nifty coin-sized refreshment towels that entertainingly expand when you open them.

    Depending on your budget — and taste — there are a few options. Upstairs is focused on more intimate dining options including an omakase but downstairs has the buzz that will get your guests excited. Spread over the ground floor and basement are a sushi bar and the main restaurant, and both hold their own in both the luxe setting and food stakes. Kisumé is known for quality, restraint and elegance, with raw fish dishes a notable standout. You can’t go wrong.

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    Although it’s changed hands several times in its expansive tenure, Grossi Florentino has remained a Melbourne mainstay in the culinary scene since 1928. Its current state is undeniably alluring: three levels of classic Italian experiences and a great al fresco seating situation.

    The hard part will be agreeing on the path to go down. There’s the Cellar Bar, where you can grab a coffee, pastry, light antipasti bite, or a drink any time of the day. Then there’s Grill, a Tuscan-inspired wood-fired menu with a warm atmosphere. And then upstairs you have Florentino, the traditional, luxurious dining experience. Everything that comes out of the Grossi Florentino kitchen is exceptional, which won’t help you in choosing — but might mean your guests have to plan a return trip.

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    Peter Gunn’s restaurant Ides in Collingwood is the embodiment of the humblebrag. Gunn spent years working under Attica’s Ben Shrewry and when — after much media buzz and sold-out-in-advance pop-up dinners — he came to open his own permanent restaurant, it was solidly booked for months. But Gunn hasn’t expanded to meet demand — he’s kept it small but perfectly formed.

    If you can get a booking, we recommend you lock it in. Gunn’s menu and venue are worth it. It’s a tiny, intimate place and the food is simple, seasonal, fresh, and flavoursome. There’s no flashy antics here, just beautiful world-class food tucked away on Smith Street.


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.

Header image: Brook James.

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