Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2019 kicked off yesterday on Friday 8 March and will run for 17 days until Sunday 24 March. This year the programme features some 250 events, including not-to-be-missed chef lunches by Rosio Sanchez of Copenhagen’s Hija de Sanchez taqueria and Ryan Clift of Singapore’s Tippling Club.

But firstly, happy International Women’s Day for yesterday if you’re celebrating womanhood – or protesting lack of women’s rights – somewhere on this planet. International Women’s Day is an official public holiday here in Cambodia, as well as Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, China, Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar, Moldova, Mongolia, Nepal, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zambia.

While it isn’t a public holiday in the USA, the first Women’s Day was organised by the Socialist Party of America in New York in February 1909, and was then gradually adopted by socialist movements around the world. It wasn’t until 1914 in Germany that International Women’s Day was held on 8 March and then not until 1975 when the United Nations declared International Women’s Day, a global day of observance of the rights of women and celebration of womanhood.

In keeping with the spirit, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2019 launched with a World’s Longest Lunch in Victoria Gardens, where three Australian chefs, Karen Martini, Nicky Riemer and Lauren Eldridge cooked a feast for 1,600 diners. I would have loved to have been there and to be in Melbourne over the next weeks. Easily one of Australia’s most delicious food experiences, the festival has become a favourite of our’s for its delicious events showcasing Australia’s multicultural diversity as much as celebrating the food and wine of Victoria.

When we went to the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2017, which coincided with the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards, it was the festival’s 25th birthday with a 10-day programme of 200 events. This year the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2019 has expanded to add an extra 50 events, including lunches, dinners, parties, talks, master classes, food walks, wine tastings, and bar crawls.

Having kicked off with the lunch, the Festival will close with River Graze on the Yarra banks, an event we loved in 2017 which featured food trucks, riverside bars, and wine, beer and cider tasting areas. This year there’s also a new Regional Weekend with events across the state from 15 to 17 March.

Australia has been an expensive destination for foreign visitors, however, with the apparent onset of a recession and a low Aussie dollar, you should find Melbourne more affordable right now. Regardless, we have lots of tips for cheap and free things to do in our guide to Melbourne on a budget. And here’s our Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2019 guide.

Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2019 Guide – Where to Stay, Eat, Drink and More

Our Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2019 guide to help you best plan your next two and half weeks of eating.

Where to Buy Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Tickets

Set aside an hour and brew yourself a coffee or pour a glass of wine before you sit down to browse the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival programme. There are 241 listings! Good news: they’re well organised, categorised under ‘eat’, ‘drink’, ‘out of town’, ‘feed the mind’, ‘gatherings’, and ‘bring the family’. You can also search the programme and filter results by calendar, price, location, and dietary and access (eg. if you have an allergy, are vegan, or need wheelchair access). Ticket prices and booking info is on each event listing and tickets can be purchased online.

Where to Stay for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2019

Once you buy your tickets, you can book your accommodation. Many of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2019 events take place in the Melbourne CBD (central business district) and Melbourne inner-city suburbs, so consider staying in and around the city centre. Even when events are not in the city, the CBD is still a great base because it’s the location of the major transport hubs. Stay in one of Melbourne’s best city centre hotels, one of the best Melbourne boutique hotels or a Melbourne apartment rental or serviced apartment if you like to have a kitchen with a fridge, as we do.

Where to Stock Up on Supplies for Pre- and Post-Festival Events

With an apartment rental and a proper fridge in which you can fit some good bottles of Australian wine, some craft brews and some nibbles, we highly recommend your first point of call be one of Melbourne’s historic markets, such as Queen Victoria Market, dating to 1869; South Melbourne Market, established in 1867; and Prahran Market, Australia’s oldest single running market, which opened in 1864. You’ll find wonderful Australian olives, cheeses and charcuterie, beautiful Australian seafood, including luscious oysters (in season, of course), home-style dips of hummus and taramasalata, takeaway salads, and freshly baked sourdough and pastries. Note that the markets all offer excellent tours that include tastings and the chance to meet their finest providores. See our guide to the best Melbourne markets.

Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2019 Highlights

The House of Food and Wine

We had the best time at one of the events at the House of Food and Wine last time we attended the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, grazing on dishes from a handful of stalls by some of Australia’s finest chefs, from Neil Perry of Rockpool Group to Lennox Hastie of Firedoor.

This year the Malthouse Theatre will be transformed into the House of Food and Wine and events will include three days of chef masterclasses, hands-on workshops, discussion panels, and food and drinks from some of Australia’s best restaurants.

Expect to see cooking demos from everyone from Jordy Navarra from Toyo Eatery in Manila to Yunghyun Park from Atomix in New York and discussion panels with the likes of Dan Hunter of Brae, Peter Gilmore of Quay in Sydney, Alla Wolf-Tasker of the Lake House in Daylesford, and Shane Delia of Maha, Melbourne. Try to get tickets to the candlelight feast by the Canadian chefs of Joe Beef on 10 March.

Theatre of Ideas

The Theatre of Ideas was the most inspiring event of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival in 2012. Over a series of presentations we got to hear Massimo Bottura speak on The Future of Food, Ben Shewry reflect on Time and Place, René Redzepi explain Why Nordic Chefs Dig Nature, and David Chang chat about Discovering Australia (and MSG).

Bewilderingly, this year New York Times’ food editor Sam Sifton, a male American writer if you’re not familiar with his name, is moderating. At this particular juncture in time, we would have thought an Australian woman food editor of the calibre of Helen Greenwood would have been better suited. Or why not someone such as professor Marcia Langton, an anthropologist and geographer and chair of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne?

Still, there are some sessions we wish we were attending: Australian Asia, Asian Australia with Dan Hong and Jowett Yu, Peter Gilmore on The Secret Life of Plants, Martin Benn and Vicky Wild on Staying Creative in the Kitchen, Dan Hunter on Country, Community, Sustainability, and a panel on Is Sustainability Sustainable? with Alla Wolf Tasker, James Whetlor and Jill Dupleix.

Global Dining

Because we live abroad whenever we return to Australia we want to eat the food of Australian chefs and I’m sure if you’re visiting Australia for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2019 you will too. If you’re a local resident, you’ll probably be pretty excited about the Global Dining series, which consists of collaborative dinners between foreign and local chefs, which were some of the most exciting events we attended at the last festival. Don’t miss Ryan Clift of Singapore’s Tippling Club cooking lunch with the chefs at Osteria Ilaria and Rosio Sanchez of Hija de Sanchez taqueria in Copenhagen cooking with the Mamasita crew.

World’s Longest Lunches

I have to confess that we’ve never attended a ‘world’s longest lunch’ but I just love the idea of them and this year the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2019 has 16 regional longest lunches on its programme that will be held in wonderful locations in regional cities and towns such as Bendigo (where my mum and uncle live), Geelong, King Valley, Falls Creek, Inverloch, Echuca, Mansfield, Nagambie, Kangaroo Ground, Mount Dandenong, Port Fairy, and Coldstream.

The Village Feast

This year, in something of a first, Jindivick will host the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2019 for a weekend Village Feast that will transform the diminutive Gippsland town into a foodies paradise with a farmers market, collaborative food and wine events, and the option of a glamping-style sleepover for festival goers who want to settle in for the weekend. As the region has been affected by bushfires, 10% of ticket sales will be donated to the Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund.

Restaurant Express

Melbourne restaurants can be expensive, which is why Restaurant Express, which runs throughout the festival is so cool. For A$40 you get a two-course lunch with matching wines at 70 restaurants across Victoria, including some of Melbourne’s best restaurants, everywhere from chef Neil Perry’s Spice Temple and Rosetta to legendary St Kilda’s Café de Stasio in St Kilda and wine bar Punch Lane. 

5 Events We Really Really Wish We Could Attend

The Native Australian Pantry Cooking Class
This is a small group, hands-on cooking class at Charcoal Lane restaurant in Fitzroy with chef Greg Hampton which promises to teach you how to cook with indigenous Australian produce, including native fauna, fruits, herbs, and spices, followed by lunch. Charcoal Lane is Mission Australia’s social enterprise restaurant and hospitality training programme that provides supported training and employment to young Aboriginal people in need of a fresh start in life.

The Eel Dinner, 6500 Years in the Making
Feast to celebrate the Budj Bim cultural landscape at Lake Condah. For over 6,500 years the Gunditjmara people of Western Victoria have farmed eels in an intricate aquaculture system in the UNESCO World Heritage-nominated Budj Bim Cultural Landscape at Lake Condah. Celebrated chef David Moyle grew up at nearby Port Fairy and this unique evening is David’s response to meeting the Gunditjmara people and learning about their country and culture. Presented at the dinner will be eel from the lake and seafood from the shoreline matched with Henty region wines, a short film that takes the audience on a trip to Budj Bim, and a special presentation from the Gunditjmara people.

The Somali Experience
Gather your family and friends around a common table and experience eating a delicious meal the Somali way, with your hands, as you discover the flavours and stories behind Somali food at Abdo Sean’s New Somali Kitchen in Flemington. A passionate advocate of Somali cuisine in Melbourne, he’ll share stories about his childhood in Somalia and provide insight into popular Somalian dishes that you’ll get to try, such as a succulent spiced lamb and fragrant rice with sauteed vegetables, a lamb broth, Somali-style falafels, and cinnamon cake and halwa, a Somali sweet treat.

The Mornington Express Wine & Dine Train
A gourmet feast aboard the Mornington Express steam locomotive created by Marlene Hoff the ‘100 mile foodie’ sourcing only the best local, sustainable and ethically farmed produce available and wines sourced from local wineries. You’ll get to enjoy canapés and bubbles on the platform before your journey through the Mornington Peninsula hinterland in a vintage varnished timber compartment. Lunch will be served, with wine, en route and dessert at Moorooduc station platform with music and entertainment.

Palermo Gets Pickled
Argentinian steakhouse Palermo teams up with Daylesford’s The Fermentary to demystify the world of fermenting and celebrate all things raw, wild and live. Chef Ollie Gould and The Fermentary’s Sharon Flynn will take you on an educational journey, demystifying the world of fermenting before sending you straight to pickle heaven with juicy pickle sides accompanying delicious charcoal cooked meat from the Asado grill. Palermo’s traditional Argentine favourites will also be given a pickle twist with a kefir styled flan and fermented chimichurri.

Where to Eat When You’re Not at Festival Events

Melbourne has no shortage of restaurants, so these are just some of our favourites. For contemporary Australian cuisine, but you’ll need to book well ahead, there’s chef Ben Shewry’s Attica, Andrew McConnell’s Cutler & Co or Peter Gunn’s IDES. For European, both trad and modern, we love MoVida and MoVida Next Door, Bistro Guillaume and The European. For Asian food, Chin Chin, Dainty SizchuanFlower Drum, and Ginger Boy are all fantastic in the city. Take a tram or taxi to Elwood for wonderful Vietnamese at Dandelion or if you just need a bowl of noodles head for Richmond ‘Little Saigon’, home to our favourite Asian eat street in Melbourne. If you’re staying at Southbank, you have Spice TempleRockpool Bar & Grill, Bistro Guillaume, and Long Chim on your doorstep. You could also partake in Melbourne’s oldest afternoon tea at the grand old Windsor Hotel (reservations essential).

What to Do Before, After and In Between Festival Events

Obviously you can’t just spend 17 days eating and drinking. Well you probably could, but if you’re looking for things to do in Melbourne other than festival events, start with our guides to 48 Hours in Melbourne for food and wine lovers and our abbreviated Weekend in Melbourne itinerary. One of the best ways to work up an appetite is on a walking tour and some of the best Melbourne walks are offered by Fiona Sweetman’s Hidden Secrets. We love the original Lanes and Arcades Tour but the Melbourne Cafe Culture Walk is a must for coffee lovers. Melbourne also has some fabulous shopping, especially vintage shopping.

You could browse a museum or two and for insights into Australia’s rich cultural diversity and how the country’s unique contemporary Australian cuisine evolved, start at the Immigration Museum where exhibitions use historical documents, personal stories, mementoes, and interactive media to trace the journeys of refugees and immigrants who made Victoria home. Then drop into the Chinese Museum, which explores Australia’s Chinese heritage. Australia’s Chinese were some of the earliest immigrants, arriving during the Gold Rush, which explains why nearly every country town and suburb has a Chinese restaurant and every Aussie capital has a Chinatown. See our guide to Melbourne’s best museums.

How to Get to Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Events

From Melbourne Airport take the SkyBus to Southern Cross Station in the city. If you’re staying in Melbourne’s city centre you’ll probably be able to walk to many restaurants and other venues and if you can’t, the free City Circle Tram or Tourist Shuttle Bus should be able to get you close to where you want to go. The City Circle Tram runs around the CBD perimeter every 12 minutes, seven days a week, while the Tourist Shuttle runs every 30 minutes and covers a larger area, taking in Carlton, Docklands, Southbank, the Royal Botanic Gardens and Jolimont. Suburban trams and city and regional trains are your next best option and taxis for late night journeys back to your accommodation. You’ll need a MYKI pass for public transport.

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