Flinders Street Station, Melbourne, Victoria © Tourism Australia
Pat Nourse’s guide to Melbourne
Veteran food journalist Pat Nourse shares his tips for making the most of this multifaceted city.
Pat Nourse, Melbourne Food + Wine Creative Director
Interviewed by Dan F Stapleton
After 14 years at Australia’s premier food and travel magazine, Gourmet Traveller, in Sydney, Pat Nourse moved to Melbourne in early 2019 to become creative director at Food + Wine Victoria; responsible for the world-renowned Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. Pat says Melbourne’s culinary and cultural offerings are on par with the world’s best, and loves his new hometown’s abundance of greenery. Here are his insider tips for finding the best attractions and most exciting venues in the Victorian state capital.
Outdoor secret spot: Merri Creek
“I’m a relatively new citizen of Melbourne, having lived here for just a couple of years now, so ‘secret’ is a bit of a stretch, but the Merri Creek trail is a fantastic place to walk and ride, changing with each bend you turn and hill you crest, and you can step off along the way and visit the CERES environmental centre, the Abbotsford Convent arts precinct and Collingwood Children’s Farm. I’m here every week, strolling, riding, meeting friends, walking the dog; it’s a real haven. Having this thread of green winding right through the heart of the suburbs and industry of the inner north is quite remarkable.”
Lesser known suburb: Springvale
“Again, ‘lesser-known’ is in the eye of the beholder, but I hadn’t visited Springvale until I started living in Melbourne, and I’d strongly recommend it. It’s about a half-hour by train or car south-east from the city centre, and it’s rich in Cantonese and Vietnamese shops and eateries. But for me the Cambodian eateries, which are here in greater concentration than anywhere else in Victoria, are the big drawcard. Some of the local landmarks are clustered on Buckingham Avenue: Tasty Cambodian, for instance, which does Khmer breakfast and killer egg-drop noodles, and My Cambodia, which offers the likes of lemongrass soup alongside pipis in tamarind sauce.”
Eat street: Melbourne’s laneways
“Where do we start? If we’re talking CBD (‘central business district’, or the city centre), Flinders Lane is very hard to beat (try Denton Wine Bar, Kenzan, Cumulus Inc and Cumulus Up, Hazel, Chin Chin, Supernormal and an enormous variety of other landmark venues). But then so are Little Collins and Little Bourke streets. You could argue that Crossley Street is peak Melbourne laneway, with Pellegrini’s, Romeo Lane, Becco, Traveller, Gingerboy and Meyers Place all packed in cheek by jowl, but then there are strong cases to be made for Degraves Street (Pidapipó!), Centre Place (a ShanDong MaMa!) and Hosier Lane (MoVida!). Luckily, they’re all just a stroll apart, a tight-knit network of good times. I’d be hard-pressed to suggest a single dish, but the pan-fried mackerel dumplings at ShanDong MaMa are a very good place to kick off.”
Favourite bars: from A to Z
“How long have you got? And what are you looking for? The greatest all-rounder? Geralds Bar. For wine? Bar Liberty, City Wine Shop, Old Palm Liquor. Cocktails? The Everleigh, Black Pearl. Beer? Mr West, Beermash. Whisky? Whisky & Alement. Snacks? Gimlet, Byrdi, Capitano. Rock-and-roll good times? Heartbreaker. Piña coladas? Union Electric. Midnight spaghetti? Arlechin. Late-night conversations? Melbourne Supper Club. Getting down? Angel Music Bar.”
Destination shopping experience: Queen Victoria Market
“Melbourne’s fresh food markets are like nothing else. The Queen Victoria Market alone is like a kingdom, a city in miniature. Grab a coffee from one of two (two!) Market Lane cafés on site, then nip into Books for Cooks for a chat with Tim if you need a reference or inspiration. Load up on Koko Black chocolate (I’m all about the Darkness) in the deli hall, and then swing past the doughnut van for a hot, jam-filled taste of Melbourne history on your way out. And then you think the Queen Vic is the jewel in a crown made up of so many other markets: South Melbourne Market, Footscray Market, Dandenong Market, Prahran Market and Preston Market, all of them wonderful places to eat, drink and shop.”
Only in Melbourne: surprises and hidden gems
Melbourne's is well-known for its coffee culture. Many of the city's best coffee shops are tucked away in the city's laneways.
“Melbourne is one of the great cities for serendipity. Something about its geography, its layout and its people means you’re always making discoveries. A piece of art, a labyrinth, a tiny park, a bar, a café, a gallery, someone roasting chestnuts, someone singing opera. Start with the laneways in the heart of the city and work your way out. Hosier Lane blew my mind 20 years ago, and it wows me still. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been here for five minutes or five decades – around every turn, as they say, there’s a twist.”
Favourite hotel: Brae
“The most remarkable place I’ve stayed in Victoria lately isn’t a hotel; it’s the rooms on the property at Brae, in Birregurra, about a 90-minute drive south-west of Melbourne. There’s just a handful of them, and they’re only available to diners booked in for lunch or dinner at the restaurant, but they’re exquisite. They’re comfortable and very relaxed in a contemporary Australian-country way, with gumboots for guests hanging next to the robes. But the attention to detail is next level, whether it’s the selection of records or books (Courtney Barnett and St. Vincent hanging with Patti Smith and Grace Jones; Alain Passard mingling with Deborah Levy), or the way the mini-bar has been stocked, right down to the garnishes cut fresh for the martinis and negronis. Being attached to one of the best restaurants in the world, the food doesn’t suck, either. The only downside is not being able to stay longer.”