Around this time of year I get asked a lot of Questions... Sadly, not about my availability on February 14, but about where you should take the ball and chain for a lovely feed this Valentines Day.
HERE IS MY TOP 10 (that aren't already booked out):
1. DONINIS - 320 Lygon Street, Carlton
This place has the best pasta you will find in Melbourne, for real. The Donini family have been making pasta (and waves) in the food scene along Lygon since before I could walk. I would easily state this to be my favourite Italian in Melbourne.
I would recommend getting a platter of Bruschetta and following it up with the Trio of Pastas. sharing is caring. Alternatively, any independent dish would also go down a treat, but Valentines day is all about being with someone, keep that in mind with what you order team.
Fun fact: as a child, I was taken to Doninis multiple times and would apparently run around trying to take photos of peoples food, Marco reminded me of this fact on my most recent trip there and I haven't been unable to shake how doomed I've been to fill this Career my entire life. Destiny is a thing.
For those like minded fellas, you're thinking "hey, that's right near Cinema Nova, maybe I could take my girlfriend to a really cool indy film so she can see how intellectual I am". You thought right. The Disaster artist is definitely worth a spell of your time, or just see The Showman, or anything really. You can't miss in there.
2. ICHI NI NANA IZAKAYA - 127 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Sister to Ichi Na in St Kilda, The Fitzroy branch also has a cocktail bar AND hawker hall in a complex of 3 levels (which they renovated with a casual $20 mill) so your options are endless. While everyone in the world is quite poised towards the Chapel Street "Mr. Miyagi" (and rightfully so) it's booked out. Don't despair, Ichi Ni Nana has a really deep library of any Japanese (or Japanese blend) dish you could wish for. If you're from Southside, Feel free to stick to Ichi Na.
I would follow this up with a walk down to Black Pearl or The Black Cat for an old fashioned.... but you know, that's just me. Ask for Chris & He'll rock your world. Tell him I sent you and he'll probably smile slightly and do absolutely nothing for you.
3. NAKED FOR SATAN - 285 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
The perfect precursor for what we all know is about to happen later that night. Naked For Satan is a gorgeous rooftop bar with incredible city views in the heart of Fitzroy. For a post dinner met up, you can grab some bites to eat on the roof and avoid awkwardly smashing 3 burgers and a large chips in front of your future prospect. I recommend the Croquettes, Lamb Skewers and a couple of espresso martinis. Or head downstairs for some $1 finger food.
4. SUDA - C2/550 Lonsdale Street (down the lane)
Located down an alleyway off of Lonsdale Street (brownie points for hard finds folks), SUDA has some of the best Korean blend dishes around. I've taken multiple groups here and never heard a single complaint. You can't go wrong with the Korean Fried Chicken or the Mini Pizza's, there's also plenty of Veg options if you're that way inclined.
Most people won't care for this, but boys, they also have quite a variety of Asian beer (including Singha's) which particularly tickled my fancy on a night that I swore "I AM NOT DRINKING".
If you're looking for a quick bar to go to afterwards, hit up White Hart Bar (22 Whitehart Lane), a mere 5 minute walk. Extra points here for neon's and another hard find.
5. SUPERNORMAL - 180 Flinders Lane
Look. I'm not going to lie, It's probably already booked out, but any Andrew McConnell restaurant will do. Asian Blend & Cocktails to die for is a mix made in heaven that McConnell nails site after site. If Supernormal is booked out, check out Ricky & Pinky (Fitzroy) and Supernormal Canteen (St Kilda) for similar success stories.
Supernormal speaks for itself as a cocktail location, but if you'd like to check out another rooftop bar, go and have a couple of drinks at Good Heavens (Upstairs, 79 Bourke Street). A lovely spot to end your night.
6. GINZA TEPPANYAKI - 139 Little Bourke Street
Eating and playing games catching food in your mouth, the key to any romance really.
On a serious note, you can't beat fresh cooked food, having it made straight in front of you brings things to the next level. Teppanyaki can be a loud affair - but active entertainment, great food, and great company (hopefully) can make for the perfect memory this V-day. For those on a first date, it can be a great silence & barrier breaker. Nothing stops an ego like getting a piece of fried egg thrown at your face.
If you want to cool things down afterwards, walk up chinatown to 18o6 (169 Exhibition Street) to snuggle into a slightly warmer, less volatile environment.
7. LONG SONG (CBD) - Upstairs, 44 Little Bourke Street.
Because I know you need a safe bet for your first date, I give you, LONG SONG. You never know what cuisine your newest fling might be (for some reason) opposed to. Long Song has a huge open space that cultivates a nice talking environment (that isn't too open). Taking the goldilocks approach, it nails the spot between intimate and spacious. I would definitely still opt for the sharing option here (as I would on any date) but their cocktail list will ease any nerves you may have on that. Plus it's a really cool venue guys, have I mentioned that?
8. SHUKAH - 104 Chapel Street Windsor
I know you were all waiting for a Chapel Street option, but this ones worth the wait. Shukah came into our lives about 6 months ago and isn't looking to leave. This menu has heaps of Veggie options, and while it may be spicy, the Armenian cuisine has some incredible flavours. Feel free to go cool down your tongues at Messina afterwards though, it packs a punch. I'd highly recommend trying the variety of dips they have (their hummus is great), as well as the fried chicken. They also have some Armenian beer, that is totally a thing.
Oh yeah, and they have dumplings?!
Because they deserve their own post....
9. BLACK PEARL - 304 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.
Put some class in your glass. Old Fashioned & Moscow mules are my potions of choice here... Black Pearl LITERALLY has the best bar tenders in the world, and I've never experienced perfection in drink mixing (as in, will get you drunk without you noticing) like I have here. Cocktails do come at a penny, and you'll definitely want to eat before hand, so perhaps try out Tora Dumplings (just under naked for Satan) to get some cheap Japanese action before signing yourself up for some world class mixology.
10. Thirty Eight Chairs - 4A Bond Street, Prahan
Your South Side fix for all things Italian. Have a couple of Aperol Spritz's and some pasta while getting to know your partner. This venue opens up to a sort of open air blend at night and has a lovely atmosphere. I know I'm talking a lot about the different vibes places has, but it is important. The Dessert menu here is particularly to die for.
Located conveniently close to the Jam Factory if you fancy a visit to the cinema as well.