Time Out Melbourne

This north-west 'burb, home to the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds, has a gastronomical side thet belies its country town feel

Little Byrd

Community spirit is alive and well at this raucous café that might see you seated next to racing identities, mums with prams or the odd underworld figure. Owner Jordan Willis and his team move enthusiastically around a room decorated with cutesy ornaments, chatting with regulars and taking orders as if from close friends. The seasonal Mediterranean and Middle Eastern slanted menu features eggs all day, homemade spanakopita and pita bread wraps. Coffee is far from third-wave, so expect old-school chocolate intensity from locally roasted Signature beans, while there is Bonsoy milk for those that way inclined. Organic drinks, herbal teas and sweets are also available.

Crumbs Organic Bakehouse

Those looking for sprouted wheat wholemeal bread will find it at this strictly organic, vegan-friendly bakery. Feel free to enjoy tea or coffee and something sweet in the quaint little room or join the queue of regulars who order decisively from a window display that vanishes quickly. Be sure to pop in for sourdough hot cross buns at Easter and get in early for scrumptious cinnamon dusted or raspberry jam-filled doughnuts. Racks holding loaves of casalinga, 7-grain and spelt to name a few are accompanied by a pantry containing flours, Victorian honey and free range eggs. Not necessarily just for kids are vegan gingerbread animals; while the apple, zucchini, walnut and cinnamon muffin is too good to ignore.

Arcadia Gastronomique

Husband and wife team Andres and Ruth Ruiz-Mesa have created an enchanting restaurant serving classic Spanish fare in the heart of Ascot Vale. Candlelit tables, charming staff and images of flamenco dances lining the dark-wooded walls make this an ideal spot for a romantic dinner. The food is steeped in family tradition and divided into tapas (for one), raciones (for two or more) and main courses; while a price-friendly Spanish wine list is full of gems by the glass and bottle. You could finish with churros and chocolate sauce; however a crème brûlée flavoured 'cream Catalan foam in candy flames' steals the show.

The Laurel Hotel

A newish rooftop beer garden dedicated to live music has changed the dynamic of this landmark Ascot Vale pub. Local artists play mainly covers from Thursday to Saturday nights on a wooden deck offering tapas, jugs of sangria and views over the Inner West. The downstairs bistro is set in upmarket surrounds featuring fireplaces, hanging plasmas and shiny furnishings. The sports bar is a complete contrast however, where locals come for a cheap feed, to place a bet and have a yarn. Expect an electric atmosphere during Spring Racing Carnival and footy season, with all Fox Sports games shown live. 

The Vintage Emporium

The emphasis is on the 1960s through to the 1980s at this retro-focused vintage outlet that offers a cute alternative to stores in the Inner North. Customers are encouraged to rummage through well priced stock to find secondhand treasures; from guys and girls clothing and accessories through to mirrors, suitcases, typewriters and even a restored 1950s Wayne petrol bowser. Co-owner Vanessa Mangan, who has been in fashion for as long as she can remember, purchases mostly by private sale and ensures there are new discoveries to be found each week. Plans are in place to showcase young, independent designers using vintage and recycled fabrics.

Updated on 29 Oct 2012.

By Zenon Misko   |  

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