Groups – Dani Valent


Panama Dining Room

It doesn’t matter how many times I lug myself up the steep stairs to Panama Dining Room, I’m always made at least as breathless by the city views as I am by the long staircase that got me there. This is a quarter-acre-block-sized bar and restaurant, so large that the billiard table and booths look like dollhouse furniture. Enormous windows face east (to the burbs and hills) and south (through plane trees to town). In a town of bolt-holes and boutique hideaways, it’s nice to take a turn in a place that has room for dozens of cool cats to swing, swig, swagger and dine.

Arbory Bar & Eatery

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.


Imagine running a restaurant for more than 30 years, opening every day for lunch and dinner, tallying more than 20,000 sittings and an awful lot of “Would you like to see the wine list?” That is the reality for Richard Maisano, who opened Masani in 1983, when Bob Hawke was prime minister and carpetbag steak (beef stuffed with oysters) was the height of sophistication. Maisano’s parents were hoteliers in fancy Italian resorts; they moved to Melbourne in 1971 when Richard was 13. He studied hospitality locally then boned up at Les Roches, a white-glove Swiss hotel school, and returned with the spit, polish and gumption to take on this handsome 1889 Gothic revival edifice.

Jimmy Watson’s

Long ago, before espresso coffee arrived in Carlton, back in the days of beer, more beer and unironic moustaches, Jimmy Watson opened a wine bar. It’s still there 78 years later, run by his son and grandson who persist in the glorious mission of highlighting wines from up-and-coming producers and sharing bargains from bigger names. This place has shouldered much of the load of weaning Australians off spumante and towards connoisseurship and it still deserves a fond place in drinkers’ hearts, not least because it focuses on wining well at moderate prices.


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.

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© Dani Valent 2021