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Beyond Clarendon Street: The Best South Melbourne Restaurants

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3 weeks ago

If you’re staying in Melbourne CBD, South Melbourne is one of Melbourne’s most accessible neighborhoods for foodies. From the buzzing cafes and lunch stands in the South Melbourne market to the boutiques and homeware shops of Clarendon Street, you can easily fill a few hours here on a lazy afternoon in Melbourne.

There is no shortage of things to do in Melbourne. However, ultimately, eating will be a major part of what makes visiting Melbourne so unique. Even the most passionate Sydney aficionados will admit defeat when it comes to Melbourne’s dining scene.

If you’re just looking to explore a new neighborhood and keen to try something delicious, or you’re popping down from the CBD in search of Melbourne’s best brunch, you’ll want to make sure South Melbourne gets your attention.

st ali cafe melbourne best brunch

With that, here are my favorite South Melbourne restaurants. I haven’t included any of the small stalls inside South Melbourne market because, quite frankly, you should probably explore and taste test as many as you can!

Best brunch in South Melbourne

Juniper

This small, South Melbourne brunch cafe offers a solid general selection of Melbourne brunch favorites: eggs on sourdough, fennel-cured trout and a world-class porridge. Juniper manages to create that perfect balance between professionalism and an intimate familiarity, with consistent smiles and friendly baristas.

But the real reason you come to Juniper is for one of Melbourne’s most unique brunch dishes: Juniper’s mushroom congee. I won’t stop talking about Melbourne’s unique Asian-Australian fusion cuisine and, in my opinion, this single brunch dish captures the best of it.

If you’ve spent anytime in Hong Kong or Taiwan, don’t come here expecting a sloppy bowl of cheap breakfast congee. Juniper’s mushroom congee is a work of art, replete with soft-boiled eggs, pickled mushrooms and Juniper’s homemade furikake. When traveling in Asia, I often avoid congee breakfasts (they’re a little too heavy for me), but Juniper’s congee is light, with subtle flavors and a kick of chilli oil. It may be a brunch cafe, but Juniper easily doubles as one of the best South Melbourne restaurants.

ST. Ali

One of the greatest contributions of South Melbourne to Australia’s dining scene, ST. ALi first opened in 2005, the beginning of what I like to call the great Melbourne brunch renaissance. Unquestionably one of the best brunch options in Melbourne (if not the world), ST. ALi’s approach to coffee and innovative brunch menu quickly spread through Melbourne.

ST. ALi’s brunch menu changes regularly, but you will certainly find great Melbourne classics like avo toast with grated egg (yes, you read that correctly) and an uber-creamy chilli scrambled eggs.

Local tip: The ST. ALi General Store (inside the cafe) is my favorite spot for the most unique and best souvenirs from Melbourne.

My current favorite order at ST. ALi is the Turkish Eggs, which has poached eggs set on herbed labneh and drizzled with ST. ALi’s in-house chilli oil alongside fresh Peshwari naan bread. Another crowd favorite is the My Mexican Cousin (a long-standing ST. ALi icon), with corn fritters, poached eggs and a hearty halloumi salad.

If the weather is nice (never a certainty in Melbourne), ST ALi’s will set up an outdoor dining terrace in the adjacent laneway, making ST. ALi’s also a great spot for outdoor dining in South Melbourne.

Best lunch or dinner South Melbourne restaurant

There is no shortage of excellent South Melbourne restaurants, from one of my favorite local Thai restaurants in Melbourne (Thai 29 Restaurant) to the ever-popular burgers at Smithburg. However, as we all know, sometimes a few restaurants stand out above the rest. With that, here are my favorite South Melbourne restaurants for lunch or dinner.

BAMBU Asian Eating House

The star attraction of South Melbourne is easily the South Melbourne market. With little stalls, cafes, flower-shops and more. BAMBU is set on the edge of the market and is one of our favorite Asian fusion restaurants in Melbourne (a big call).

The menu here is full of unique Asian-Australian dishes. While the noodle dishes are my go-to orders, I could come back to BAMBU for their spicy Thai papaya salad every day.

Thai purists may shudder, but BAMBU’s Melbourne-inspired papaya salad is filled with fresh avocado and topped with an overly generous handful of fresh peanuts.

Left Handed Chef

You can be hard pressed to find quality Middle Eastern cuisine south of the Yarra. The Left Handed Chef offers a Tel Aviv-style hummusiya (bowls of hummus with different toppings) in the heart of South Melbourne.

The menu here combines the best of Levantine shared plate dining with Israeli fast-food options (in soft, fluffy pita pockets). Keep an eye open for some innovative dishes you probably won’t find in the Middle East, like vegetarian mushroom kibbeh.

I love coming here with a big group of people so that you can order a few of their hummus bowls. Among the hummus bowl, I think their fried cauliflower bowl is the standout (I always order an extra serving). It’s a unique dish which will quickly transport you to Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market. The Left Handed Chef also offers perhaps the only menu in Australia with chraime, a unique North African Jewish spiced fish dish.

Tempura Hajime

This may well be South Melbourne’s most exclusive restaurant. With only 12 seats, you’ll want to ensure you reserve your space as soon as possible.

As you enter Tempura Hajime, you’ll quickly be drawn thousands of miles away to Japan. But the adventure doesn’t stop there. While I often hate the word ‘authentic’, there is simply not better way to describe Osaka-born Chef Shigeo Yoshihara’s masterful restaurant. With the dinner omakase tempura course starting at AUD$160 (US$106), this is one South Melbourne restaurant to save for a special occasion.

Best Dessert in South Melbourne

Dessertopia

Dessertopia has to be one of the quirkiest dessert bars in Melbourne. With one foot leaning into an Asian theme and the other just firmly set in a whole lot of fun.

I love sending visitors here as the ice cream flavors reflect some of the true highlights of Australian cuisine, including the flagship flavor dedicated to Australia’s national cake: the Lamington.

Although if I’m being honest, my favorite flavor is easily the Golden Gaytime (a classic Aussie ice cream). The ice cream consists of a rich toffee and vanilla ice cream filled with chunky biscuit crumbs.

For more of Melbourne’s unique desserts, don’t miss our ultimate guide to the best desserts in Melbourne.


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