by Donna Wheeler and Destination expert, The Telegraph, June 5, 2019
Capital of culture, coffee and creativity
Along with its position at the very bottom of the continent – only Hobart beats it for southerly latitude and Southern Ocean chill – Melbourne might have been purpose built to challenge accepted notions of Australian city life. It can seem topographically bland, prone to capricious cold and hot snaps, and, if blessed by a sandy fringed bay, far from what you'd call a beach destination.
What Melbourne offers instead of sun and surf is a slowness and intent around everything culinary, plentiful museums and galleries, and a late night culture that’s definitely the country’s most varied and vibrant. It's fashion conscious and trendsetting, defiantly intellectual, and a champion of diversity and multiculturalism. Its city centre is a joy to traverse by foot or tram and just beyond lie some delightfully intact Victorian streetscapes. Outdoorsy action comes in the form of an enviable sporting calendar and miles of gorgeous parkland. It’s a subtle, intriguing and enveloping mix – Melburnians wouldn’t have it any other way.
Hot right now . . .
Donna Wheeler, our resident expert, offers her top tips on the hottest things to do and places to eat, drink and shop this season.
Ronnie di Stasio may well have invented the Instagram hashtag 'Italianality' and his new Spring Street all-day dining space, Di Stasio Cittá (45 Spring Street; 00 61 3 9070 1177), is an exhilarating encapsulation of the concept. Forget the soulful Italian south – this place could out glam Milan. An austere concrete bunker enlivened by red stools and edgy video art sets the stage for smart takes on Italian favourites, from a vitello tonnato (veal in fish sauce) topped with crispy capers to moreish sage-wrapped and deep-fried anchovies.
Nabbing a ticket for Lyon Housemuseum’s (217-219 Cotham Road, Kew; 0011 61 3 9817 2300) sporadic visiting days – it’s also a private home – was always a palaver. A new dedicated wing is now permanently open to the public; it’s a 30-minute tram trip into one of the most genteel of neighbourhoods but the artworks and architecture are everything but. Come for a smart, succinct survey of Australia’s most boundary-pushing contemporary artists, including Brook Andrew, Patricia Piccinini and Daniel Crooks.
Iconoclastic, brainy fashion has long had a high take-up in this often grey and always cool city. Brit vintage obsessives Byronesque and style icon Dazed magazine are long time fans of fashion collector Otto de Rosa’s dot Comme boutique; now his new dot COMME Collection (Curtin House, 252 Swanston Street; 00 61 0401 613 226) space displays his most collectable museum-quality pieces (Comme des Garçons and Walter Van Beirendonck are well represented) beside furniture from Italy’s impish design star, Gaetano Pesce.
The city’s hottest new drinking hole is, for once, not hidden down a street art laneway. Angel Music Bar (12 Bourke Street; 00 61 3 9654 6249) sits in plain sight on busy Bourke Street and takes the dark Melbourne bar back to glorious basics. Legendary restauranteur Con Christopoulos’ eclectic vinyl and an audiophile’s dream sound system are utterly the focus, whether you're here for a post-work Friulian Pinot Grigio and prawn cocktail or are hitting the eau di vies and upstairs dancefloor at 4am.
48 hours in . . .
This being Melbourne, you’ll have to wake up and smell the coffee, so grab a three-quarter flat white to-go at smart laneway hangout, Dukes (247 Flinders Lane; 00 61 3 9417 5578). If you're hungry, Fitzroy’s croissant phenomena Lune (161 Collins St, enter via Russell Street) now has a city outpost just up the road.
Now wander down the city's street art hub, the technicolour Hosier Lane – being first thing in the morning, you’ll miss the perpetual photoshoot – then head to the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia (Federation Square; 00 61 3 8620 2222). There’s everything from the sublime, mysterious colonial landscapes of John Glover and splendid works from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities to Australian Modernists from Grace Coddington Smith to John Brack, and highlights of Melbourne’s thriving contemporary scene.
Afterwards, browse the shops of Flinders Lane: Alpha60 (Level 2, 195 Flinders Lane; 00 61 3 9663 3002) does wearable Melbourne irony in an Anglican chapel, there’s a beautiful hometown Aesop (268 Flinders Lane; 00 61 3 9663 0862) and makers’ hub Craft (Watson Place; 00 61 3 9650 7775). This is also Melbourne’s prime gallery going zone, with contemporary dealers, Anna Schwartz (185 Flinders Lane; 00 61 3 9654 6131), Tolarno (Level 4, 104 Exhibition Street; 00 61 3 9654 6000) and Murray White (Sargood Lane; 00 61 3 9663 3204) all in close proximity.
You’ve not yet ventured far, but Movida (1 Hosier Lane; 00 61 3 9663 3038), will transport you far away, to Spain. This is Iberian eating that’s as innovative as it is earthy: think air-dried Wagyu with poached eggs and truffle foam and Milawa duck with local shitake.
The Victorian-era Fitzroy Gardens with its leafy avenues of European trees will lead you to the home of Australian Rules Football, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (Brunton Avenue; 00 61 3 9657 8888). Take a tour and clock the city skyline from one of the lofty terraces.
Before it gets dark, bus or Uber it to St Kilda; local singer-songwriter Paul Kelly once name-checked the Esplanade’s 'sweet promenade' and sunset from the historic pier, and it's a view certainly worth taking in yourself. At the very least, the Esplanade’s namesake pub, aka the Espy (11 The Esplanade; 00 61 3 9534 0211), is a sweet sight indeed. After, the smartly uniformed bar staff at Bar di Stasio (31 Fitzroy St, St Kilda; 00 61 3 9525 3999) will have aperitivo ready for you: snack on prawn or wild greens frittelle and savour what might be the city’s best Negroni.
Continuing the Italian culinary theme after a short tram ride back into the city to at Tipo 00 (Little Bourke Street; 00 61 3 9942 3946), have a late dinner of pappardelle with Gippsland rabbit, hazelnut & marjoram. Or, from May until August, feast on risotto or linguine with local truffles (it's best to book ahead, especially during winter truffle season).
For twinkling city lights, whatever the chill factor, head to Rooftop Bar & Cinema (Curtin House, 252 Swanston Street; 00 61 3 9654 5394), or if you’re craving cosy, but also with a view, elegant Siglo (161 Spring Street; 00 61 3 9654 6300) is open until very late.
Melbourne’s inner neighbourhoods are full of charm, but take a little to get to know. Down a quiet residential backstreet you’ll find Cibi (33-39 Keele St, Collingwood; 00 61 48 139 8686), an all-in-one café, produce store and Japanese homewares emporium. The coffee is faultless, and there’s matcha or yuzu pound cake, but it’s the delicate but grounding special breakfast – miso, grilled salmon, tamagoyaki (a rolled omelette), greens, rice and grains that you’ll remember.
From here Uber out to the Heide Museum of Modern Art (7 Templestowe Road, Bulleen; 00 61 3 9850 1500), set in a suburban bush valley. The Heide II gallery is a beautiful example of Australian mid-century architecture, plus until the end of August, you can explore a recreation of the home studio of late Mirka Mora, one of the city’s most loved artists, known for her lyrical and beguiling works.
Back in the Uber to Fitzroy and another backstreet beauty. Napier Quarter’s (359 Napier St, Fitzroy; 00 61 3 9416 0666) bluestone bones once housed a corner shop. You can now lunch on fig and goat curd tart or a bowl of kale and buffalo yoghurt soup and there’s excellent coffee, cakes and natural wine in lieu of meat pies and mixed sweets.
Take Fitzroy’s pretty back streets to Brunswick Street to browse at Brunswick Street Bookstore (305 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy; 00 61 3 9416 1030) and then stop for an espresso at Industry Beans (3/62 Rose Street, Fitzroy; 00 61 3 9417 1034).
In this area, you can take your pick of pubs for late afternoon craft brews on tap and a soundtrack of ironic psych rock or early hip hop. If you’re more inclined to wine chat and chill jazz, head to little Gertrude Street Enoteca (229 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy; 00 61 3 9415 8262), where they’ll have something special to pour for you and a plate of cheese or charcuterie. Take your time winding your way up shop-lined Gertrude Street: Spacecraft (at 225), Bruce (157), Megan Park (164) and Standard Store (159) are worth a long browse.
Cutler & Co (55-57 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy; 00 61 3 9419 4888) is considered one of Melbourne’s best restaurants. Book ahead and you can head out to the low-lit back room for some thoughtful, laid-back fine dining surrounded by contemporary art and a crowd of locals. But a casual bar stool is no second prize here, with a glass of Duval-Leroy Brut in hand and elegant snacking to be had (say an abalone katsu sandwich with bulldog sauce or kingfish crudo with Tasmanian wasabi and begonia).
Live music is alive and well in the southern capital so Uber or cycle over to Corner Hotel (57 Swan Street, Richmond; 00 61 3 9427 7300) for international indie acts in a suitably louche band room or up to Brunswick to Jazzlab (27 Leslie Street, Brunswick; 00 61 3 9080 4398) for serious improvised tunes. If you’d prefer a nightcap sans discernable soundtrack, intimate Everleigh (1/150-156 Gertrude Street; 00 61 3 9416 2229) is a short stroll, and they’re all about artisan booze and murmured conversation.
Where to stay . . .
The shimmering gold, 33-level Grand Hyatt luxuriates in an understated opulence befitting of its city. Facilities include an outdoor tennis court, half-court basketball court and golf practice cages. The hotel is located on central Melbourne’s most prestigious thoroughfare, flanked by luxury boutiques, heritage architecture and iconic skyscrapers.
Double rooms from AUD 355 (£217). 23 Collins Street; 00 61 3 9657 1234
United Places is a smart, sexy and stylish sanctuary. Guests are treated to luxury hotel essentials – bespoke service and a high attention to both aesthetic and experiential detail – while doing away with show pony overstatement. With only 12 suites, it’s calm and intimate. A nonchalant façade and striking contemporary architecture combine with décor that’s beautiful, tactile and practical.
One-bedroom suites from AUD 650 (£360). 157 Domain Road; 00 61 9522 2220
Perforated, blonde-wood wall panels and space-age edges set a millennial tone in The Larwill Studio's expansive lobby. Dramatic black text runs across mirrored wall panels, floor-to-ceiling windows frame the Melbourne skyline and the spaces are energised by original, soul-lifting artworks by the late Australian artist David Larwill – this is where Scandi-style aesthetics meet homegrown creativity.
Double rooms from AUD 159 (£87). 48 Flemington Road, Parkville; 00 61 3 9032 9111
What to bring home . . .
Instantly recognisable to savvy Melburnians around the globe, Brunswick’s Dejour Jeans(542 Sydney Road; 00 61 3 9939 0667) are not only cheap, they’re custom fitted for you on site, making this shop worth the tram ride.
A bag of magic beans you say? DIY Melbourne coffee with a pack from Market Lane (Queen Victoria Market, 83-85 Victoria Street; 00 61 3 9804 7434) or, for traditionalists, a smooth old school blend from veteran torrefazione Genovese (51 Moreland Road, Coburg; 00 61 3 9383 3300).
When to go . . .
Melbourne's jam-packed events calendar, and Victoria's geographic diversity, makes this corner of Australia a year-round destination.
Summer is the most popular season with visitors, with the longest days and good beach weather (especially from January to mid-March). The Australian Open (January) draws huge crowds to Melbourne, as does LGBT+ cultural festival Midsumma (January-February) and White Night (February).
Autumn is arguably the best season: days are warm to mild; blazing foliage graces Victoria's parks; and Melbourne's festival season revs up with the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival (February-March), International Flower and Garden Show (March), and International Comedy Festival (March-April).
Winters are grey and chilly, but always atmospheric. The AFL (Australian Rules Football) season is in full swing, the ski slopes are open for business, and the major cultural events continue, among them the Melbourne International Film Festival (July-August) and the National Gallery of Victoria's Winter Masterpieces exhibition (months vary).
Spring offers spring blooms and sporadic weather. Winter is over and there's a celebratory feeling in air, with big-scale events including the AFL Grand Final (September), Fringe Festival (September-October), Melbourne Festival (October), and all the millinery, glamour and galloping of the Melbourne Cup Carnival (November).
Know before you go . . .
British Consulate-General: 00 61 3 9652 1600; Level 17, 90 Collins Street, Melbourne, 3000.
Emergency services: Dial 000
Tourist office and information: The Melbourne Visitor Centre (00 61 3 9658 9658; visitmelbourne.com) is on Federation Square, right across from Flinders Street Station. Open daily, 9am-6pm. A smaller information booth is located in the Bourke Street Mall, between Swanston and Elizabeth Streets. Open daily, 9am-5pm. Tourist information is also available in the Arrivals Hall at Melbourne International Airport
Currency: Australian dollar. Prices are rounded off to the nearest 5c (1c and 2c coins are not used in Australia)
Time: +10 hours (+11 hours during daylight savings Oct-Mar)
Travel times: Flying time from London to Melbourne is around 21.5 to 23 hours. Flying time from Sydney to Melbourne is around 1 hour and 15 minutes
Local laws and etiquette
In the Central Business District (City Centre), many intersections require you to make a right turn from the left lane in order to keep tram tracks clear. This is called a hook turn, marked with a 'Right Turn From Left Only' sign, either overhead or to the side of the road. Approach and enter the intersection from the left lane and indicate that you are turning right. Move forward to the far left of the intersection, keeping clear of pedestrian crossings and remain stationary until the traffic lights on the road you are turning into have gone green, then turn right.
Tipping: As in the UK, tipping in restaurants and cafes is customary not compulsory. If you receive good service, 10 per cent of the bill would be reasonable. If you wish to tip your hotel porter, AU$2 (£1) to AU$5 (£3) per bag is a suitable amount. In taxis, you may choose to round up the payment to the nearest dollar
Donna Wheeler is Telegraph Travel’s Melbourne expert. She was lured south from Sydney by the city’s moody streets and booming arts scene over two decades ago. Donna lives in the inner north, where she’s never more than a block away from a strong flat white and a glass of small producer pink or orange.
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