The dishes that define Melbourne dining in 2016

Shan Dong Mama's Mackerel dumplings

Shan Dong Mama's Mackerel dumplings

For our 50th anniversary issue in 2016, we scoured Australia asking two questions: What dishes are making waves right now? What flavours will take us into the next half-century? Melbourne provided 14 answers.

From Cumulus Inc's eight-hour lamb shoulder to Shan Dong Mama's mackerel dumplings, here, in no particular order, are Melbourne's essential dishes. Plenty of established excellence hasn't made the cut - MoVida's smoked tomato sorbet and anchovy is an immediate example. But these are tomorrow's hall-of-famers. Take note - and make bookings.

See regional Australia's defining dishes here.


Stracciatella, fermented fennel, chamoile oil, Embla

Stracciatella - otherwise known as the super-creamy heart of any self-respecting burrata - combines with fermented fennel and the aromatic, herbaceous note of chamomile oil for a light and delicate left-of-centre winner. File it under "shouldn't work, but does".  Embla, 122 Russell St, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9654 5923


Too many Italians and only only Asian, Nora

Sarin Rojanametin's witty tribute to Carlton's Italian food culture might look like pesto pasta, but the pasta is actually green papaya, and the pesto a mix of roasted cashew nuts, sator beans and pieces of school prawn tossed with sorrel oil and fermented garlic powder. It's a clever trick that succeeds on the strength of balance and flavour. Nora, 156 Elgin St, Carlton, Vic, (03) 9041 8644

Spaghetti fresca with clams and smoked tomatoes, Tipo 00

The world's finest carbohydrate is magicked to a Platonic ideal with supple house-made fresh spaghetti, clams, garlic and chilli. Then the Tipo kitchen takes it to a whole new level with the addition of smoked cherry tomatoes. Two words: pasta perfection. Tipo 00, 361 Little Bourke St, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9942 3946

Eight-hour lamb shoulder, Cumulus Inc

It's so simple: whole lamb shoulder cooked low and slow until it's magicked into a crust of dark gold and the meat surrenders on favourable terms. Consider it less of a dish, more of a patriotic duty. Cumulus Inc, 45 Flinders La, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9650 1445


Croissants, Lune Croissanterie

The definition of "artisan" may have been bastardised beyond meaning in an era of mass production, but Lune will brook no slights. Kate Reid's croissanterie has moved to bigger digs in Fitzroy, but her exacting iterations of French p√Ętisserie perfection remain truly artisanal - which explains why the queue forms before sunrise and they sell out by mid-morning. Lune Croissanterie, 119 Rose St, Fitzroy, Vic

Tulips DIY, Attica

Ben Shewry has turned showman, splicing his ascendant native-ingredient obsession with a touch of theatre that places diners centrestage. To wit: the end-of-meal imprimatur to pluck a single tulip from the courtyard garden, the petals (edible, yes) of which are then filled with lemon myrtle cream and topped with fermented rhubarb sauce. A cracker dessert that argues for the relevance of fine dining. Attica, 74 Glen Eira Rd, Ripponlea, Vic, (03) 9530 0111

Avocado with citrus, toast and local kelp salt, The Kettle Black

There are now around 1.2 billion versions of avocado on toast across the globe, but this combination gets it right by playing it straight and simple. Half a perfectly ripeavocado (stone out, skin on) arrives with sourdough toast, a wedge of lime, and salt made with dehydrated kelp. It's DIY made perfect with carefully sourced, top-notch ingredients. The Kettle Black, 50 Albert Rd, South Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9088 0721

Double-boiled wallaby tail soup, Flower Drum

A taste of the Australian terroir in a hallowed temple to high-end Cantonese food. Anthony Lui takes Flinders Island wallaby tail and painstakingly refines it into a rich, luscious broth powered by wolfberries and sweetened with yam. It's both uniquely Australian and undeniably Canto - a multicultural masterpiece of harmony. Flower Drum, 17 Market La, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9662 3655

Mackerel dumplings, Shan Dong Mama

It's the Shan Dong Mama mystery: how can mackerel's assertiveness be tamed into cumulonimbus-light, aromatic dumplings that practically levitate their way to your mouth? (Spoiler alert: the fish is turned into a fine mousse with ginger, coriander and chives.) Either plain boiled or panfried, they're the stuff of dumpling reverie. Shan Dong Mama, Shop 7, 200 Bourke St, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9650 3818

Chinizza, Lee Ho Fook

You'd have to be some kind of po-faced stick-in-the-mud not to get this "Chinese pizza", a glorious so-wrong-it's-rightarrangement of fried pancake base massed with thinly sliced spring onions, shallots, chilli and brilliant buffalo mozzarella. So salty, crunchy and soothing you'll want to order one for breakfast. Or at the end of a long night. Lee Ho Fook, 11-15 Duckboard Pl, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9077 6261


Miso and pink lady soft-serve, Supernormal

Old-school dessert meets new-school ideas at Andrew McConnell's Japanese canteen. Take one soft-serve machine, add the savoury element of miso and the tartness of apple and, hey presto, a palate-refreshing Oz-Asian mash-up that's a little bit kooky and totally unique. Supernormal, 180 Flinders La, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9650 8688

Rice and Flesh, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

There's an historical backstory to the dish, of course, but all you really need to know about Heston Blumenthal's rice and flesh to enjoy it is this: it's a sunflower-yellow pond of tangy, saffron spiked risotto lapping at pieces of kangaroo tail subtly cooked in curried red wine sauce. Comfort food circa 1390. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Crown Towers, level 3, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank, Vic, (03) 9292 5779

Saganaki with peppered figs, Hellenic Republic

Sweet meets salt. A toasty wedge of golden-crusted, almost blistered kefalograviera cheese still sizzling in the cast-iron pan, capped with baby figs in a syrupy sauce driven by honey, balsamic vinegar and plenty of black pepper. It's all in the balance - and the speed with which it arrives at the table. Hellenic Republic, 434 Lygon St, Brunswick East, Vic, (03) 9381 1222; 26 Cotham Rd, Kew, Vic, (03) 9207 7477

Ma po tofu, Dainty Sichuan

"Pockmarked grandmother's beancurd" - Team Dainty didn't invent the name, but their version of the dish has achieved international fame thanks to its take-no-prisoners onslaught of tofu and minced beef with chilli and enough Sichuan pepper to numb the mouth into next week. It ought to come with a warning. In fact, it does: a two-chilli legend on the menu. Take it seriously. Dainty Sichuan, 176 Toorak Rd, South Yarra, Vic, (03) 9078 1686

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