There's a special art to crafting a restaurant that feels like it's been trucking on for decades and Ercolano, on site for a year, has it nailed. It's the timber beams and family photos, the hanging salami and mantelpiece knickknacks, the Italian menu which makes a virtue of tradition and – probably above all – the warm welcome which suggests that there's always another seat at the family table.
How do you feel about nachos for breakfast? I feel great about it, especially if they're the chilaquiles at Hotel Jesus which, praise the lord, has finally brought Mexican breakfast to Melbourne.
It's a long, long way to Santorini but it's not far to McCrae where a passionate evocation of Greek island life is drawing diners for mezze and feasts, christenings and work parties and, above all, easy, breezy vibes served with professional poise.
The usual yum cha narrative goes something like this. You wake on a Sunday morning feeling shabby, perhaps unaccountably, possibly for sins well remembered. Dumplings call and fried calamari and, if you’ve grown up with them, chicken’s feet, too.
Some dumplings make me happy and some dumplings make me glum. The upsetting ones are pedestrian parcels filled with who-knows-what, careless production-line bundles of stodge and sadness. The joyous ones are jewel boxes, precise, poised and perfectly crafted. Oriental Teahouse trades in the latter: it’s happy dumplings all the way.
‘Dear Abby’ is a US advice column known since the 1950s for its crisp wit and no-nonsense wisdom. It’s also a tortured John Prine ballad from the 1970s (“Dear Abby, Dear Abby, My fountain pen leaks, My wife hollers at me and my kids are all freaks…”) And, since late 2016, it’s also a magnetically appealing cafe opposite the Moonee Ponds Woolworths carpark.
Finally, it’s opened! For a year, Elsternwickians have been watching the long empty Caulfield Rifle Club and adjacent plaza transform into an indoor-outdoor space for all-day eating and meeting. They could not have dared hope it would be this good.
Just 10 paces from one of Melbourne’s most trodden (and waited upon) stairways – the narrow steps leading to no-bookings Mexican phenomenon Mamasita – is a new staircase you need to know about. This three-cornered climb leads up to Uncle, the new city iteration of the bright and buzzing restaurant that brought modern Vietnamese to St Kilda three years ago. The CBD Uncle has taken over premises once inhabited by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. It’s doubtful the ladies would appreciate the smashing cocktails (I love the crisp, tart Uncle Tom’s Collins with ginger liqueur and smoked beetroot syrup) but surely they’d rock out for the lively food.
Not all Melbourne hangouts feel like they’re built for all Melbourne people so it’s exciting to come upon a place that’s as democratic as Flinders Street Station, which Arbory happens to abut. This 100-metre long dining and drinking terrace runs between platform 10 and the riverbank. It’s completely outdoors, though well sheltered by umbrellas and cosied by heaters. I’ve been there on a bitterly cold, sideways rainy night and even shrugged my coat off to eat my burger.