Elgin Street: A beginner’s guide

Don’t dismiss Elgin St as merely an artery to Carlton – it’s stacked with interesting shops and eateries

Elgin Street is the artery that joins the bohemian lifestyle of Fitzroy with the heart of all things Italian and sophistication in Carlton. So the street has become a combination nurturing the identity of both precincts whilst the diversity in businesses allows Elgin Street to become a bustling hub in the inner city of Melbourne. Here we feature some of the eclectic businesses that make this street hum.

A foodie's paradise

Café Lua Café Lua
Café Lua is a great spot in which to start your morning. Right on the leafy side corner of Drummond Street and Elgin Street, it’s perfect for sitting outside in the sun while you indulge in pumpkin and chia seed pancakes, ‘Naughty’ French toast with Canadian maple syrup and crispy bacon, quinoa porridge with all the healthy trimmings, or an old-school toastie – filled with your choice of baked beans, sardines, spaghetti or ye olde fave ham, cheese and tomato – cooked in a jaffle maker. Order a fluffy milkshake on the side.

Big Harvest Big Harvest
A mainstay of Elgin Street for nearly a decade, there’s something comforting about seeing all the food at Big Harvest cooked right in front of your eyes as you entertain a cup of Genovese coffee. Whether it’s their lentil, mint and feta; herby nutty brown rice; or tuna, black bean and chilli salad, the fun of eating at Big Harvest is not knowing what delicious salad is going to grace your plate that day. Sit outside on their makeshift wooden box tables and chairs while eating your still-warm orange flourless cake. A place for the health conscious with plenty of gluten free treats on hand.

Muttis Muttis
This one is purely for the meat eaters. Go there and grab the pork knuckle, and you’ll find yourself presented with a wooden chopping board and a slab of meat… or grab the goulash with a side of spatzle. This Eastern European inspired eatery, complete with the accented wait staff and Austrian and German beers on tap, will provide you with one of many flavours of schnapps (try pear or strawberry if you’re on a mission, but a summery mission) to help you digest your meal.

Abla's Abla's
No Elgin St guide could be complete without this reputable restaurant. Easily the most iconic establishment on the strip, the food encapsulates the essence of Lebanese cuisine: falafel, tabbouleh, kafta and halwa and baklawa for dessert. Being a BYO restaurant has its perks, but book before you get there as you can wait up to three months to bag a table. If you can’t wait, buy matriarch Abla Amad’s cookbook, Abla’s Lebanese Cooking, from Readings a few blocks away on Lygon St.

 

Buy buy baby

Music Swop Shop Music Swop Shop
This musician’s haunt on the corners of Lygon and Elgin Streets has been accumulating vintage, collectable and rare musical treats for nigh-on 25 years, which is why so many bands pay a visit when in town. As the name suggests, it specialises in second-hand stock – and not just electric gear; you can pick up brass and woodwind instruments, not to mention mandolins, banjos, accordions and fiddles. The staff are also pretty nifty with repair jobs, so you can take along that three-stringed, busted acoustic that’s been languishing in the corner of your room for eons.

Make Designed Objects Make Designed Objects
A store dedicated to promoting the best in home gadgets and designs from Australia and abroad, this could be the perfect pit-stop for that illusive “what do I get someone who has it all?” mission. From designer salt and pepper shakers, cushions, toothbrush holders to bins, there are 4000-plus products to hand. Don’t worry – you can always search their website beforehand, by designer, brand or object.

Yooralla Yooralla
An op shop with real op shop prices in the heart of inner city Melbourne? There are ripper good finds in here, like 80s cookbooks and mad VHS titles. You run the risk of also walking out with a baby chair, floral tablecloth and a ghastly Copper Art lamp, but if it tots up to just 20 bucks, who cares? NB: Be ready to do some hunting and gathering, as everything in here is thrown together in a mad frenzy of finds.

Book Affair Book Affair
Here’s an upstairs/downstairs book retreat for the lover of the written word. If you really want to get away from it all, head down to the well-worn leather couch at the bottom of the stairwell with a Peter Temple novel, retracing his very footsteps in the same part of town. Scour through wall-to-wall second-hand books – with some new and some rare in the mix. Don’t forget to check out the recommended shelf (across from the counter) to find something that will tickle your literary tastebud, and don’t be scared by the mass of stock – the staff have every book accounted for and they will make it their mission to find it for you.

Booze Booze
There’s no mistaking what you will find in this shop with a massive bling bling signage saying Booze. Booze glorious booze! What better way to end a day in Carlton than taking home a crispy Adelaide Hills Riesling home with you, or local Sweet Water Beers from Mount Beauty. Cleanskin wines direct from local wineries – Yarra Valley to Mornington to King Valley – and with Lobo Cider on hand, who can resist a cheeky swig on a hot summer’s day. There’s imported entry level wine from France and Spain with low price tags to boot. The knowledgeable staff are on hand to guide you – and even give a sip to try – a pinot gris from a sauvignon blanc. Go in for a six pack and you’ll probably end up walking out with a carton of Margaret River vino.

Bezela Bezela
Every day, the Bezela team whip up take away meals for those of us craving home-cooked delicacies but are time poor. Pick up a copy of the weekly menu to make sure you’ve sampled the meatballs, chicken paprika, frittata and minestrone. You’ll find only free-range goods here – smallgoods, cheese and antipasto included –so the best way to enjoy the produce is to grab some salami, bresaola, Dorset cheddar, Tarago wild olives and vegetarian dolmathes, some fresh bread and head on down to one of the many parks surrounding Elgin Street.

 

Pampering

Beauty Tips by Sandra Beauty Tips by Sandra
No one can honestly say they enjoy hair removal, but the beauty about Sandra is she can talk on about any topic that you can think of to take your mind off what’s really going on downstairs: film, food, literature and travel… by the time you’ve finished chatting about her trip to New York, your visit to Brazil is all over. She’s also been in the business for so long that she can tell if you’d just rather keep quiet and keep to yourself. Hit her up for a deluxe facial, too, or get your nails done – chilling out in her beige lair, you’ll feel ready to take on the world after.

Fer Le Noir Fer Le Noir
A newbie on the block, this boutique hairdressing saloon offers an alternative to the high turnover saloons with doof doof playing at ear bleeding volume. Jenny at Fer Le Noir offers a pure indulgent experience, making it perfect to unwind. Upon walking in, you’re automatically at ease in a baroque inspired setting; with plush red velvet curtains, dimly lit chandeliers, candles, soulful 20s jazz and a glass of wine (or herbal tea if you prefer). Having a hairdresser giving you their undivided attention for an hour is a blessing in itself. And with 100 per cent organic products on hand, you know you’re doing your head the world of good. PS: Ask about the footbath.

Kotan Japanese Acupuncture Kotan Japanese Acupuncture
If you find yourself in inner city Melbourne often, discovering somewhere that offers holistic medicine and practical healing is paramount. Caleb Mortensen has been practicing this particular style of acupuncture for nearly ten years and his commitment to it is still as strong as day one. The clinic’s musk walls set this building apart from the others on the strip, and once you step inside it’s therapeutic healing all the way. Make it your last visit of the day to get the full benefit of the treatment and give yourself plenty of me time after.

First published on 8 Dec 2011. Updated on 3 Mar 2014.

By Penni Pappas   |  
 

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