When I first moved here from Sydney, my most regular whinge (after the weather, natch) was the serious lack of fab mod-Asian restaurants in Melbourne. Almost four years on, I have to bite my tongue on the food front: when it comes to cutting-edge regional Chinese, innovative Indian fare and tempting Thai snacks, Melbourne has well and truly hit its stride.
For the freshest renditions, hightail it to Flinders Lane and its surrounding maze of alleyways. Within just a few hundred metres there are six damn-hot eateries pedalling contemporary Asian fare. Most of these don’t take bookings, so make like your nanna and arrive by 5pm, or turn it into a progressive dinner of sorts, grabbing a betel leaf here and a dumpling there.
Michael Lambie’s seductive new diner offers a broad sweep of Asia in dishes such as plump barramundi and scampi dumplings, shredded beef piled into pillowy bau, and betel leaves topped with kingfish sashimi and crunchy-chewy peanut sambal. Plus, there are fab cocktails, spice-friendly wines and they take bookings (hurrah!). 23 Oliver Lane, Melbourne, lucylius.com.au
Almost too good to share, this sexy little slip of a bar is hidden in plain site on Flinders Lane. Push the buzzer and you’ll be ushered upstairs to a seriously swank sake bar. Book ahead to secure one of the booths on the upper level – leave your shoes at the door and slip your feet into the softest carpet you ever did tread. And the food? Delicate tuna cigars, haute hotdogs and fried sweet potato with tamari caramel are the ultimate bar snacks. First floor, 1 Flinders Lane, hihou.com.au
Andrew McConnell can do no wrong, as he proves with his latest pitch-perfect offering. Many of my favourites from the Golden Fields menu have made the trip into the city, including the crisp duck leg, which you shred and pile into pillowy buns, the worth-every-penny lobster roll, and the deliriously decadent peanut butter parfait. The Japanese-leaning raw bar and larger share plates (perhaps fall-apart lamb in a lip-smacking Sichuan sauce) are also worth a nudge. Come with a crowd so you can have it all. 180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, supernormal.net.au
On the corner of Oliver Lane, this sultry basement den is ideal for a hot date or propping yourself at the bar for a cheeky after-work snack and a cocktail. Adam D’Sylva’s menu is a poster child for multiculturalism, as lamb cutlets with tapenade and preserved lemon happily share space with aromatic duck curries, tempura bugs and quail sang choi bau. 141 Flinders Lane, codarestaurant.com.au
Coda’s kid-sister, Tonka, is tucked away on nearby Duckboard Place. This industrial-chic eatery tries its hand at inventive Indian fare, such as tuna tartare piled onto pappadums or a creamy orb of burrata served with coriander pesto and curls of roti. Deeply flavoured curries and tandoori salmon will appeal to the purists. 20 Duckboard Place, tonkarestaurant.com.au
And then, of course, there’s Chin Chin. While you’ll find better food at the five listed above, there’s no denying the draw of this queue-flaunting restaurant. Arrive by 5pm or be prepared to wait. Come for the chicken wings (yes, more fried chicken), beef short rib with nam jim and the soft-shell crab dry curry. 125 Flinders Lane, chinchinrestaurant.com.au