An insider’s guide to Melbourne dining inner banner

An insider’s guide to Melbourne dining

Melbourne offers visitors an almost unending choice of culinary experiences to tuck into. Not sure where to begin? Book a spot on the popular Foodies Bucket List Tour. Adam Ford caught up with owner/operator Martina Jennings to get the inside word on great places to eat...
Insider’s guide to Melbourne dining
Insider’s guide to Melbourne dining: Lucy Liu. Image: Adam Ford
5 stars

Foodies Bucket List Tour with This Is Melbourne

What’s on your Melbourne culinary bucket list? Explore the city’s iconic food scene on this relaxed small group Melbourne Foodie Walking Tour. You’ll sample the signature dishes of five fabulous eateries across the CBD, and get the lowdown from a local foodie on the culinary hotspots and history of this delicious city. The optional beverage pairing package is a nice add-on! Duration: 3.5 hours (approx.)

Best price guarantee: If you find this tour elsewhere at a cheaper price, we will beat it by 10%. Some conditions apply. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book this tour with The Big Bus tour and travel guide.

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When visiting a city like Melbourne for the first time, it’s not what you know, but who you know that can make all the difference.

There’s no substitute for a local’s knowledge of their city and what makes it tick. Take Melbourne’s dining scene for example. According to The Age, there’s an estimated 1,600 restaurants operating in the Victorian capital. That’s a lot of options for dinner on the three or four nights you may be in town. Where do you start? Yes, you could spend hours sifting through online reviews, or you could just cut to the chase and ask a local.

Martina Jennings at This Is Melbourne is one lady you need to have on your team. Not only is she a dedicated foodie and fabulously good fun to boot, but she also operates one of the city’s most popular food walking tours. What Martina can’t tell you about dining in Melbs probably isn’t worth knowing/tasting. I tagged along on the Foodies Bucket List Tour and caught up with Martina for a chat afterwards.

Melbourne travel guide

Insider’s guide to Melbourne dining
Insider’s guide to Melbourne dining: Supernormal. Image courtesy of Visit Victoria

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you become interested in sharing Melbourne’s food scene with visitors?

I was born and raised in Melbourne. It’s in my blood, along with a love for food, people and travel. I have a career background in tourism, but it was an experiential ‘gap year’ in 2016 with my husband that led to the launch of This Is Melbourne. We tasted, sipped and savoured our way around India, Europe and the USA, and I decided there and then to start a culinary tour for hungry foodies visiting Melbourne — or Melburnians themselves yearning to connect with the diverse tastes of their hometown.

Insider’s guide to Melbourne dining
Insider’s guide to Melbourne dining. Image: Adam Ford

How would you describe Melbourne’s culinary scene?

Melbourne’s food scene is energetic, vibrant, diverse and constantly evolving. Locals and visitors are truly spoilt for choice. We have an eclectic mix of cultures that influences Melbourne’s unique ‘take’ on cuisines from around the world. The city is literally bursting at the seams with exceptional restaurants, cafes and bars.

Your tour takes guests to a selection of restaurants and providores for tastings. How do you select the stops?

A great food tour is about exploring the landscape, history and fabric of a city or town through the lens of great cuisine, and often through dishes that guests might not usually choose for themselves. All our stops are carefully chosen to feed into that experience, and most importantly they all share their own individual ‘Melbourne story’ of passion and influence. Sometimes it’s the chef’s story; sometimes it’s the venue itself and how it appeals to all five senses; sometimes it’s the venue’s quirky or historic location. Often, it’s a combination of them all, which is really exciting.

Insider’s guide to Melbourne dining
Insider’s guide to Melbourne dining: Pastuso. Image courtesy of Visit Victoria

What are your five top tips for a first-time visitor to Melbourne looking to get a real taste of the city’s culinary scene?

Join our Foodies Bucket List Tour of course, but beyond that, here are some suggestions to get you started.

Explore the Queen Victoria Market. It’s been operating since 1878 and is a ‘must visit’ for foodies and anyone wanting to immerse themselves in the cultural and culinary history of Melbourne. You’ll get to taste the finest fresh produce from Victoria’s farmers and meet the producers at the coal face of the city’s dining scene. The best time to visit is early in the morning from Thursday to Sunday. Have brekky there.

Insider’s guide to Melbourne dining
Insider’s guide to Melbourne dining: Queen Victoria Market. Image courtesy of Visit Victoria

Lose yourself in the city’s fabulous laneways and arcades. This is where the magic happens. From Degraves Street and Centre Place, to the exquisite Block Arcade, Royal Arcade, Presgrave Place and so many more, wander where you will, stopping to sample delicious delights along the way. Just try small servings of lots of different things. You don’t necessarily have to settle in for a big meal. The best time to explore is lunchtime on any day of the week. Follow your nose!

Pastry lovers, you have to try Agathé Patisserie’s canelé. It’s better than in Bordeaux! Their main bakery is located in the South Melbourne Market, but they also have a tiny store tucked away in the Royal Arcade. Their pastries sell, well, literally like hot cakes, so get in early Tuesday to Friday. If you miss out, hop on a tram to the market. It’s open Wednesday to Sunday.

Insider’s guide to Melbourne dining
Insider’s guide to Melbourne dining: Agathé Patisserie. Image courtesy of Visit Victoria

Also add the Spring Street Grocer to your foodie to-do list. It’s home to Australia’s first underground cheese maturation cellar — an Aladdin’s cave for cheese lovers! The very passionate cheesemongers will inspire and educate you. Visit anytime from Monday to Saturday.

Insider’s guide to Melbourne dining
Insider’s guide to Melbourne dining: Spring Street Grocer. Image: Adam Ford

Melbourne has an incredibly rich Chinese heritage and if I had to single out one must-not-miss Asian-style bite, it would be Lucy Liu’s jianbing pancake roll. This is traditionally eaten for breakfast in China, but hey, any time of the day works. In Lucy Liu’s case, it’s a soft-shell crab pancake, topped with their own spicy house-made hoisin sauce. Lucy Liu is open daily from 11am and yes, they often feature on our tour!

Adam travelled as a guest of This Is Melbourne.

Do you have any tips to add to this insider’s guide to Melbourne dining? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

Adam Ford

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.

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