Seven Reasons to Love Melbourne


Pat Nourse just wrote an article in Gourmet, singing the praises of Sydney restaurants (“Upping the Ante Down Under”), but that doesn’t mean this dedicated Sydneysider doesn’t appreciate the many virtues of his home town’s main rival.

1. Sydney might have the lock on three star dining, but Melbourne’s Vue de Monde has now won the national Restaurant of the Year prize two years running, and the likes of Nobu and Sydney big-guns Neil Perry and onetime Robuchon lieutenant Guillaume Brahimi have set up their own camps by the Yarra.

2. Melbourne actually does middle-tier dining better than Sydney, and good eating is spread more evenly around the city. Low-key design, idiosyncratic touches, and casual dining that over-delivers on care is dubbed “very Melbourne” in Sydney (well, that and thrift-store furniture), while anything brash and heavily designed or velvet-roped in Melbourne (that and anywhere charging more than $30 a main course or $15 a drink) is termed “very Sydney.” Only one is said as a compliment.

3. Bars. I get to Melbourne at least four times a year, and each visit brings a fresh crop of great new places to go and hear yourself drink. A liberalization of liquor licensing laws and a relaxed attitude to basement, rooftop and back-alley real estate have seen great drinking holes spring up everywhere there’s room to set up a bottle and two glasses. While Sydney is still stuck in reverse gear (the city’s poker-machine and beer-barn barons have an interest in keeping its liquor laws backward and the hurdles to opening bars high), Melbourne’s nightlife bubbles with diversity and vigor. From Gerald’s, a peanut shell-strewn sleeper where the Stooges on vinyl meet Bindi pinot and Restanques de Pibarnon Bandol, to Der Raum, a room so filled with bottles from around the world that half the stock dangles from straps above the bar, they’ve got it all.

4. Ditto the live music and theater scenes. If Sydney is all super-clubs, stadium rawk, and blockbuster musicals, Melbourne is two turntables and a microphone, the White Stripes playing The Corner Hotel for ten bucks, and performance art everywhere from speakeasies to pubs.

5. Modern Middle Eastern food: In Sydney, a fleeting fantasy, in Melbourne a bona-fide subgenre of eating out.

6. Melbourne has no Sydney Harbour. But the absence of raw physical beauty has seen the rise of a built environment like no other in Australia, taking in pleasures from inspired sculpture and large public works to superbly baroque subterranean dives and hidden restaurants.

7. Melbourne people don’t spend all their time at the gym and the beach. Nobody knows what they look like under their clothes, but pretty much everyone cuts such a bella figura that no one cares. To put this in context, note that well-dressed straight men are so much of an anomaly in Sydney that women fly down to Melbourne on weekend raiding parties. Every second person dresses like a modern art curator, mind you—chunky specs for the ladies, manbags for the fellas—but them’s the breaks. Being Veronica to Sydney’s Betty, figure the Melburnians, ain’t such a bad thing.

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