“Melbourne has, without a doubt, one of the world’s most exciting restaurant scenes,” says British celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal. It’s headlined as “THE CITY THAT KNOWS HOW TO EAT” in the edgy US food website Eater. “Melbourne has been, for some time, a phenomenal place to eat,” reports Conde Nast Traveler, which draws on “a broad mix of immigrant cultures, with every community bringing its culinary A-game.”
Melbourne’s dining scene is a vast array of cuisines and experiences that's constantly evolving, writes Fodors -- “the swankiest (and most expensive) restaurants all have five- to eight-course degustation menus (with the opportunity to wine-match each course), but newer restaurants are opting for tapas-style or grazing plates.”
What makes Melbourne a food haven? In two words, immigration and globalism. “Today, a typical Melbourne line cook might be a third-generation Greek who is trained in Cantonese technique, has staged in kitchens in Denmark and Spain, and dreams of opening a native-ingredient-driven pho joint,” write Maria Shollenbarger and David Prior in Conde Nast Traveler.
Melbourne has embraced all kinds of ethnic food because there’s clearly-defined Australian cuisine, explains Josie Delap in The Economist's 1843 magazine. “Australia has few national dishes to cling to, and so it has embraced those of its migrants, nowhere more enthusiastically than in Melbourne. Italian, Greek, Vietnamese, Afghan, Chinese – all have made their mark,” she writes. “The various groups have been cooking side by side for long enough that today they are influencing each other in intriguing ways.”
History lesson: a gold rush in the mid-1800s made Melbourne rich … and hungry. The discovery of gold near Melbourne made Australia "the richest country in the world” reported the now-defunct Argus newspaper. This gave the city refined taste -- “during those years Melbourne consumed more Champagne than any other city on Earth," writes Besha Rodell in Eater, and successive waves of immigration expanded its palate. "The city’s famous cafe culture springs from a well-timed Italian influx: After World War I, the US put policies in place that effectively halted the flow of Italians to America, and Australia became the favoured alternative,” she says. "Through a trick of timing and history, that switch from America to Australia coincided with the invention of the espresso machine. The Italian coffee culture that never quite made it to America blossomed in Melbourne."
And the city’s “look-after-your-mates ethos", the pubs and cafes, have created a food culture as charming as Europe’s, as exciting as America’s, "as varied as Asia’s,” writes Besha Rodell in Eater. “A place where the past and the future are often friends, where community feels tangible, where it’s okay to relax.”