For such a diverse city, there’s one thing that almost all Melbourne locals agree upon: pride in their food and drink. While other cities in Australia have the beaches, the weather, and the scenery, Melbourne has a nightlife and culinary scene that sets the place apart. When visiting for the 2017 World’s 50 Best restaurant awards, we met up with Richard Hargreave who has been a sommelier at Momofuku in NYC, Sydney and now Las Vegas, where he is the Beverage Manager. Suffice to say, Hargreave knows a lot about wine—especially natural wine, his long-lasting passion—so we decided to ask the British-born, US-based (via Australia) expert where he likes to drink when delving into the ever-evolving food and booze world in Melbourne.
With wine and food experts who previously worked at Attica (counted by many as the country’s best restaurant) and Rockwell + Sons, it makes sense that Fitzroy’s Bar Liberty is a natural wine enthusiast’s mecca. With lots of funky, new, biodynamic and low-intervention wines on the list; and a food menu focused on snacks and sharing plates, it’s easy to spend hours upon hours here. As the menu changes, from savory doughnuts to seafood, there’s bound to be plenty to nosh on. Located on Johnson Street, it’s an easy stroll through the north side, or from the city—but keep your eyes open because the tip-off is a tag-style scribble over the old restaurant’s existing sign.
Located in the city center, Embla is an unassuming treasure. With lots of timber, exposed brick, Art Deco lamps and chalkboard menus, this place is subtle and timeless—but the food and wine stands out. With a focus on local produce and natural wine, there’s lots of funky and fresh options on the menu, and if you’re unsure, the staff is approachable and equally knowledgable. Try the asparagus with goats milk and cheese; aged flounder with salted lemon, kale and navy beans; and wine by Victorian makers like Memento Mori or Patrick Sullivan. And, if you’re in town a while, it’s worth visiting their sister restaurant Town Mouse in Carlton.
Belle’s Hot Chicken
Perhaps an unlikely sounding name, but Belle’s Hot Chicken is renowned for more than their Nashville-inspired fare. Peter Jo selects up some of the best natural wines available, and the Fitzroy location is Hargreave’s choice for wine with chicken. Along with crinkle-cut fries, pickled veggies, chicken and fried fish, there are a few cocktails on offer, plus beer. The atmosphere is the opposite of stuffy; rather, it’s bright and cheery—diner-style with marquee lights, booth and bar seating, and food served in plastic baskets.
City Wine Shop
This one is Hargreave’s pick “for old time’s sake.” A charming bar-meets-wine-store at the top of the city, the City Wine Shop feels like it’s been there forever—with its old, stained timber, and bentwood chairs. With seating outside on the street, on the deck or inside at the bar or huge shared table at the back, there are plenty of places to enjoy your selected wine in-house—or you can take it home. There are counter meals on offer, but we suggest choosing a few items from the share menu (the Charcuterie with rillettes and terrine is hard to pass) and some cheese from the ever-changing options at next door’s Spring Street Grocer.
Images courtesy of respective venues, hero image by Cool Hunting