2016 was a pretty big year looking back. We came to the realisation that Kanye 2020 is not such a bizarre reality, said farewell to some absolute legends from our screens and airwaves, and pretty much had a good old moan at the state of the world (even if it was justifiably so).
But one thing we can’t complain about? Food, glorious food.
Especially not in a city like Melbourne. Ranked number one for world’s most liveable city by the Economist Intelligence Unit, and even getting a mention at number 4 of Monocle Magazines ‘Quality of Life’ survey, Melbourne is touted as a brilliant place to live for food, art, coffee, fashion, even sport (notice how we put food first. It’s not like we’re bias or anything).
So rather than dwell on what could have perhaps gone a little better,
a little more progressive, and a little more positive this year, let’s focus on what did. Melbourne’s ever changing, growing, competitive, innovative, and quite simply awesome food culture.
Here’s a list of twelve of the dishes that stood out in 2016. From ones that took social media by storm due to their ‘Instagram-worthy’ quality—which we get, we do. Because let’s be honest to all of you saying ‘it’s all about the looks these days, I just want food that tastes nice’. Here’s a fun fact: If you can cook a great dish, you can darn well make it look good, too—to the slightly more hidden gems, that we found memorable nonetheless. Why twelve you say? We could say we were trying to be smart and having one a month… sure, let’s roll with that.
So have a gander. Agree to disagree on some of them (that’s what makes Melbourne’s diverse offering so great, in our opinion). But most importantly, try some you haven’t heard of, or haven’t been game to.
Pig in Shit | Royal Mail Hotel Dunkeld
Taking out the prize for the best dish of Taste of Melbourne, 2016, was Royal Mail Hotel’s Pig in Shit. Head Chef Robin Wickens has devised a mouth-watering cube of gelatinous, melt in your mouth Greenvale pork hangis, covered in edible flowers. While an odd spectacle to look at, eating this dish just once will not be enough. Cross your fingers, toes and any other extremities you can, that if you visit the Royal Mail Hotel in the new year Wickens just might treat you to an experience that will make you happy as a pig in shit.
Caramelised Cheese | IDES Collingwood
Peter Gunn (pre Attica, Royal Mail, Ezard) opened up IDES in Smith Street Collingwood after a three year monthly dinner concept. The six-course degustation restaurant has a constantly changing menu, allowing Gunn and his team to explore their creative side. This dish of cararmelised cheese features Gjetost grated over crushed mango, pistachio nuts, cacao nibs, elderflower syrup and truffle honey. It’s simple to make, Gunn tells us, but phenomenal to eat. The Gjetost appears like delicate melt-in-your-mouth pasta ribbons, and the creamy richness of the dairy smooths out the acidic and sweet tang of the mango. If you’re going to try this dish though, you better be quick, as the menu is quite literally constantly changing at IDES.
Vegan Eggs | Matcha Mylkbar St Kilda
Brought to you by the plant-fueled-genius team behind Matcha Maiden, the opening of Matcha Mylkbar garnered a lot of hype in 2016. Hype can be good, and it can be bad, but with a cafe that promotes the benefits of plant-based nutrition—like longevity of life and sustainability—we’re struggling to see the bad in this one.
Owner Sarah Holloway tells us that the thought process behind Matcha Mylkbar is all about what’s called the ‘Blue Zones’. ‘The areas of the world where people live the longest,’ she says. ‘The main thing they have in common is a majority plant based diet.’ While we find that impressive, we’re also quite amazed that the team at Matcha Mylkbar have managed to replicate the look and taste of an egg out of coconut, turmeric and sweet potato. ‘The one thing that often lacks in vegan breakfast menu is eggs, so we figured why not just replace them with plant based versions?’ says Holloway. Why not indeed. This blushing beauties has been a favourite for many vegans and non-vegans alike, particularly awesome because you can choose what brekkie accompaniments you want to go with it
Stone Salsa and Sizzling Steak | El Atino & Co Richmond
Head chef Martin Zozoya from El Atino & Co on Bridge Road is bringing fun and tasty Latin American cooking to Richmond. While you sip on a glass of smooth Malbec, try the Stone Salsa and Steak. Sous vide steak strips come out served on smoking hot coals, accompanied with a rough and ready mortar and pestle packed with coriander, habanero chilli, tomato and more. The more you grind it, the spicier it gets. This steak looks so impressive, people will ask what you ordered, due to some serious FOMO, but the important thing is it tastes great. It’s a slightly chewy cut of meat, but as any steak aficionados will tell you, that means it is PACKED full of flavour. While you’re there make sure you try some of the golden crunchy croquettes, or the fresh and zingy zucchini ceviche!
Swordfish Skewers | Pastuso Melbourne
Swordfish is pretty great full stop, but when a dish converts a non-fish eater, you know you’re talking business. The swordfish skewers at Pastuso in the heart of Melbourne are served with huacatay and aji amarillo sauce. They’re blackened on the edges with char, encasing soft, silky swordfish. Vibrant red, you’d expect the flavour to be drowned out by the tang of the spices, but the subtleness of the swordfish is still discernible. Make sure you nab yourself a Pisco Sour while you’re snacking on your Peruvian style street food.
Sticky Lamb Ribs | Saigon Sally Windsor
Saigon Sally is the place to go for your up-market—but not stuffy—Vietnamese food. Modern (and absolutely scrumptious) dining brings in the hoards, and they’re hard pressed not to order one of the swanky cocktails on offer, too. While the quail is exceptional, and the sizzling scotch is a dish that Head Chef Adrian Li tells us; ‘Will blow your head off’, we will always save room for the Sticky Lamb Ribs with shaved fennel, oyster sauce, orange, star anise and lemongrass. Finger food at its finest, even if you’re stuffed by the time this dish comes around, you will go in for seconds. Perfect to share, the sweet ribs are sticky but not covered in goop like so many slow cooked meat dishes these days. Crisp and crunchy on the outside (because how awesome is lamb fat?) and soft, tender and very juicy on the inside. The meat is infused, rather than smothered, and it works perfectly!
The Reuben | Lune Croissanterie Fitzroy
The humble little bakery that was, Lune went from a teeny tiny shop in Elwood, to a massive warehouse in Fitzroy. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the lines out the door. We are sad to say that the dish we’re nominating from Lune as one of the dishes that made 2016, is finishing up rotation. We’ll be sad to see The Reuben croissant move on, but will always fondly remember the flaky pastry that held the gourmet gift of pastrami, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and don’t forget the pickled cornichon. We’ll still gladly pay a visit to Lune though, and are looking forward to new and exiting menu additions in the new year!
Hangar Steak | Pei Modern Windsor
Ever have one of those nights where you want great quality food, but you can’t be bothered a) taking off your track pants, and b) paying a fortune. Endulj is quite literally, your saviour. Order dishes from Movida, Le Ho Fook, Saigon Sally, Tokyo Tina, 38 Chairs and Pei Modern, delivered to your door. Our pick is the Pei Modern Hangar steak with caramelised yoghurt. Have you ever tried caramelised yoghurt? Didn’t think so. You must try it to believe it. You also have to be within a 3km radius of the Windsor kitchen to order from Endulj, so make sure you check your map before you, well, indulge! Alternatively, you could rock up to Pei Modern in your trackies, but there’s no guarantee you’ll get in.
Soft Shell Crab Croissant Burger | White Mojo Balwyn
This is one you’re sure to have seen on Instagram, as it’s definitely made the rounds. From a first-hand (IRL) tasting experience, it lives up to the hype. The combination of egg, crunch, oily, battered soft shell crab, and a fluffy croissant is one that’s not common, or reminiscent of, well anything. For that reason ALONE it’s worth a try, but it’s definitely winning in the flavour department, too. Head to White Mojo in Balwyn to also try their black Sesame latte with Soy. Picture a mix between a creamy soy latte, and decadent black sesame ice cream. Keep up the creativity White Mojo!
Umami Mushrooms | Monk Bodhi Dharma Balaclava
When one asks; ‘Have you been to Monk Bodhi Dharma?’ One expects the response; ‘Yes, how good are the mushrooms!’ When someone chimes in; ‘Oh I’ve never tried the mushrooms,’ queue scandalised looks and gasps of horror. They are that good. Monk Bodhi Dharma prides itself on being packed full of vegan and gluten free options, with not a piece of meat in sight. For all you meat lovers, you definitely don’t miss out when visiting this cosy little cafe. The Umami Mushrooms include roasted king oyster, shiitake, oyster and swiss brown mushrooms, all on a bed of house made pumpkin polenta bread with goats cheese, thyme and red chilli oil. It’s salty, it’s creamy, it has a kick, and it will leave you wanting to lick the plate.
A take on the original Meringue Monster by Luxbite—which features a green tea sponge, pistachio, watermelon yoghurt and sour strawberry mousse covered in meringue, topped with freeze dried raspberry and macarons— this version with a ‘Cool Cool’ in front of it, is essentially exactly that, frozen and massively chill. The glossy meringue outside stays the same, but the inside feature three layers; a watermelon and strawberry sorbet and a yoghurt gelato sitting on top of a green tea cake. It is totally cool, and will hit all your sweet spots this summer.
Seasonal Menu | Brae Birregura
It’s not only hard for us to pick a best dish of Brae, it’s also near impossible to guarantee you’ll still be able to eat it due to the menu being at the mercy of daily growth and seasonality. Even if we did pick one dish, given that it’s degustation dining, what’s the point? You have to eat it all anyway (poor you). We decided to rather recommend the entire experience, of one we couldn’t go past in 2016 (and likely won’t be able to in 2017, either). The wonderful thing about Dan Hunter’s spectacular serving at Brae, is his immense respect for produce as he endeavours to bring peak flavour and artful creations to your plate. ‘There’s amazing fruit that we might pick at 6 o’clock in the evening, and someone’s eating it at 6:30 to 7pm, it’s still full of sunshine.’ Says Hunter. We don’t know what sunshine tastes like, but if it’s anything like what we consumed at Brae, we will sunbathe to our hearts are content.