We first met Jessica Ho aka That Jess Ho, girl-in-the-know, food blogger, and face of Melbourne Asian restaurant Chin Chin, when we were photographing the funky eatery for our Mouthwatering Melbourne story. If you know Jess Ho, enough said. If you don’t, here’s one of the most local guides you’re going to get to eating and drinking in Melbourne.
GT: What sets Melbourne’s food scene apart from other Australian cities?
JH: The fact that we are willing to pay for quality and you can have an amazing dining or drinking experience at any price point.
Does Melbourne have a quintessential dish?
I don’t think there is a quintessential dish as Melbourne is into shared eating and communal dining due to its casual nature, though, I would probably say a seat at the bar of Cumulus Inc. with a martini followed by their boudin noir is an experience I keep going back to.
Best eating experiences in Melbourne?
Probably going to the Queen Victoria Market and the farmers markets every weekend, talking to producers and sampling and cooking products that you know the provenance and history of.
What about breakfast?
This really depends on the level of of my hangover, because on the weekdays I go straight from the gym to work. One of my favourite places is Cibi as they serve a traditional Japanese breakfast which is only available on the weekends. That involves some brown rice with togarashi, Japanese potato salad, tamago, grilled salmon, pickles, and a small bowl of miso.
If I’m willing to walk for a while, I can’t go past a bowl of pho on Victoria St at Chu The. The only do pho and I usually go for a bowl of the special combination beef (I love offal) tricked up with fresh chillies, chilli jam, lemon, and basil.
If I’m in town, I can’t go past Hardware Societe. I am trying to eat my way through the menu and I have never been disappointed by a meal here. I’ll usually wash it down with a beer or a glass of wine, I don’t care if it is breakfast.
Proud Mary in Collingwood is a good default as it is my local. They serve single origins, cold drip and cold brew here so it generally helps me wake up on the weekend. I am a sucker for cold drip.
After the gym, I’m known to wander to Bar Americano for a double espresso out of their Slayer washed down with a martini if I’m not working. I can get my coffee hit here and an expertly made cocktail whenever they’re open.
Melbourne’s best market and other foodie shopping experiences?
I love the Queen Victoria Market and the Slow Food Market at the Abbotsford convent for convenience. The Slow Food Market is a great one because you get to talk to the people growing and producing everything, and understand the product more, as well as the processes behind the food. In terms of specialty food stores, I love hitting up the Mediterranean Wholesalers on Sydney Rd, Brunswick, the Asian supermarkets in Box Hill and Victoria St, as well as Casa Iberica on Johnston St, Fitzroy.
What should someone settling into Melbourne for a while learn to cook?
The thing about Melbourne is that it is diverse and people like to try new things all the time. The best thing would be to learn how to make your own traditional cuisine really well (and I’m not talking the food you generally feed to tourists), and inviting a whole lot of Melbournians over to eat with you.
Melbourne’s best foodie souvenir?
I’d say a bottle of the West Winds Gin as it’s a gin that is distinctly Australian, being spiked with notes of bush tomato and produced with triple filtered water from the Margaret River. Get it from the boys themselves or a boutique booze shop like City Wine Shop.
Melbourne’s must-do restaurants?
Culter & Co – Amazing food and booze, a bit of a luxury when you’re in Melbourne without the pretention.
Dainty Sichuan – It’s a little bit of a competition as to how much chilli one can stand here, but it is also one of the greatest convivial, communal dining experiences that makes Melbourne so Melbourne, plus, it’s addictive.
Gertrude St Enoteca – A little wine bar which is pretty much my second home. Their food is designed to eat around wine and to be shared. They do one hot meal an evening, and usually sell all the portions be seven-thirty. This isn’t just for the food, it’s the whole atmosphere of the enoteca.
Best street food?
Bahn Mi – I generally get this from N Lee Bakery on Smith St or Nu Lan on Victoria St. For the spare change in your pocket, you get a Vietnamese roll with butter, pate, mayonnaise, coriander, chili and various cuts of pork.
Sushi – There’s a shop selling hand-rolls on every corner, and they’re surprisingly not that bad.
Bratwurst – They may not be everywhere, but it’s not hard to find a good one. Generally with lashings of mustard and sauerkraut is how I go.
Melbourne’s best bars?
Black Pearl – my local on Brunswick Street, Fitzroy – they can mix a mean drink and turn the most traditional of classics. The staff also haven’t changed since I was allowed to drink, so I also like to support people who can take care of their staff.
Bar Americano – 10-person standing bar that is based on espresso, aperitivo and a damn fine classic.
The Everleigh – Melbourne’s version of Milk and Honey in NY. Enough said.
Best source of local info on eating and drinking in Melbourne?
Sit at a bar, make friends with a staff member from the restaurant, and convince them to show you around. There is nothing better than knowing what is what from a local who has an industry perspective.