Restaurants that steal the show
Melbourne is synonymous with outstanding dining. Chances are, you already know that. You might have even clocked the city's penchant for first-rate entertainment. If you feel as passionately about eating and playing as the city itself, then stitching the two together in a way that's both delicious and has you settled in the dress circle on time is a top priority.
By chance or by design, some of Melbourne's very best restaurants are peppered throughout its attractive East End Theatre District. Here are six theatre district restaurants that deserve a visit before – and in some cases after – the show.
Gimlet at Cavendish House
Andrew McConnell's immaculate 150-seater is the pièce de résistance in the Trader House restaurant stable. The fit-out hearkens back to mid-century Chicago, with slick, intuitive service to match. You'll need to book far ahead of time, but the reward is high-flying deliciousness such as roast corn-fed chicken with wood-roasted leek, walnut and thyme, and some serious, big-ticket cuts from the grill. Gimlet also runs a supper menu – the crowning glory of which is its cheeseburger – from 10pm, by which time it's generally easier to nab a walk-in table.
Gimlet at Cavendish House, 33 Russell Street, Melbourne
Snug, easy-going and with atmosphere to spare, newcomer No. 100 is the latest venue from the good folk who brought us coffee sensation Code Black – and it ticks a lot of pre-theatre boxes. Tasty European-inspired share plates like local squid noodles with silverbeet and 'nduja? Check. Excellent wine list? Check. Cool, casual service and handsome wood-panelled digs? Check, check. An excellent synergy between floor and kitchen staff will have you on your way to the show on time, sated, slaked and raring to go.
No. 100 Flinders Lane, 100 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Ah, Embla – the perfect restaurant: slender, moody, wood-fired, and led by one of the greats of modern Melbourne dining in Dave Verhuel. This is the spot that does it all – with maximum aplomb. Just ask Barack Obama, who's said to have thoroughly enjoyed his recent visit. The drinks – including Verhuel’s own vermouth imprint, Saison – are outstanding, but it's the dishes such as soured cucumbers with dill and feta, and fried globe artichoke with capers and gribiche that are unforgettable, and will set you up for a night at the opera. The kitchen's open late, too.
Embla, 112 Russell Street, Melbourne
Big Esso by Mabu Mabu
Fried crocodile before the matinee? Smoked emu before the ballet? Big Esso by Mabu Mabu is one of the excellent recent additions to Fed Square, and open from 11am for your pre-show needs. The menu by Torres Strait Islander chef Nornie Bero showcases Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flavours, making clever use of Indigenous ingredients, from the inventive cocktail list right through to the desserts: lemon myrtle cheesecake with hibiscus meringue, pepperberry, Davidson's plum compote and strawberry gum sablés, for example. Fun, bright, educational, delicious.
Big Esso by Mabu Mabu, Federation Square, Melbourne
Throw a shifty look over each shoulder and slink downstairs to a world of mid-century mischief at Bar Margaux, a Paris-via-New York bistro with a banging late-night menu, brought to you by the Made in the Shade Group (The Everleigh, Heartbreaker). The drinks here are some of the city’s best, but half-a-dozen oysters and a steak tartare at 2am is something else. Equally suited to a pre-show meal, Margaux’s dinner menu is full of French bistro classics, including a killer duck frites.
Bar Margaux, Basement, 111 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
Sometimes you simply need to graze on the cured flesh of your national faunal emblem, and where better to do so than at Gunditjmara and Yuin woman Niyoka Bundle’s exciting new venture, Pawa. By daytime Pawa is a cafe serving toasties and scones put together with native ingredients. By night, it's a bar, with one of the more interesting charcuterie boards in town, the centrepiece of which is a kangaroo salami. Perfect for an easy pre-show snack, particularly if that show is at Hamer Hall, located directly above.
Pawa Cafe & Bar, 100 St Kilda Road, Southbank