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.
Uncle is a new-school Vietnamese restaurant that opened with a queue at the door a month ago and hasn’t drawn breath since. It’s a cool, fun place with tasty eats and great drinks, and it’s easy to see why there’s an hour’s wait for dinner (reservations are available for groups), especially when you consider Carlisle Street is amazing for bagels and sorted for coffee but wouldn’t know pho if it fell into a large lake of it.
I’m all for the ‘I always dreamt of opening a cafe’ passion project but it’s a pleasurable relief to walk into a place that’s professional and poised from day one. That’s the water-glass-half-full vibe at Hannah, a new hangout from Jason Bates, the guy who ran Middle Park’s Mart 130 and St Kilda’s Grocery Bar in its grousest days. The corner cafe is at the base of an apartment development near Carlisle Street – this notch on the latte belt is well supplied but there’s always room for one more cafe if it is really, really good. The corner premises is spacious; pot plants, stucco, watchful elephant figurines and music on vinyl add texture to a clean fit-out. A window bench has delightful views of St Kilda cop shop.