>Gertrude Street Enoteca
My friend Noela introduced me to this charming, cramped little wine bar on bohemian Gertrude Street. It is owned by Brigitte Hafner (chef and food writer for The Age Epicure). The Italian tapas-style dishes come mainly from the Piedmont region, the server told me.
The wine list is enormous, with a decent number served by the glass. They also have an excellent selection of whiskies and whiskys. I spied such exotic (for Aus) bottles as Barbados’ Mount Gay Extra Old rum and Spain’s Cardenal Mendoza brandy on the shelves too.
I am told the highlight is the real Valrhona Hot Chocolate with rum. I will be back.
Guru da Dhaba, 240 Johnston Street
This local Indian has a friendly feel although the décor is more country house than Indian palace. Good street food is listed alongside the usual menu and a weekly specials list. The chef always comes out to ask if your food was OK. The vegetable vindalho is particularly good. BYO.
Sukho Thai, 234 Johnston Street
Sit in the front of the restaurant, and passers-by will think you are sitting cross-legged on traditional Thai mats at low tables. Actually, your feet are cunningly hidden in holes in the floor, so cramps are unlikely.
The satay has a good bite to it, and the pad thai filling and delicious. Everything else we saw served looked appetising and well presented. BYO.
Mario’s, 303 Brunswick Street
A Melbourne institution, Mario’s was set up twenty years ago by two Marios as the front for their catering business. Their breakfasts are legendary, their wines by the glass well-chosen (try the Black Chook shiraz) and the food traditional Italian for the most part. Sit and watch bohemian Melbourne stroll past, and listen to the jaded but droll waiters rule supreme.
Panama Dining Room, 3/231 Smith Street
Climb about six dimly-lit flights of stairs to reach this airy loft space filled with mis-matched furniture and quirkly light fittings. Shoot some pool or lounge near floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Fitzroy roofscape. The menu is limited, but well-selected and excellent value. Eating well here for under $20 is to be expected, and the wine list is interesting too.