If it ain't broke, build a double
We've already got more restaurants in Melbourne than we know what to do with, and now the're multiplying.
In the past few months, several restaurant owners who have managed to nail that elusive formula and find success in an oversaturated market, have decided to double down on their investment.
Miss Chu has hit Richmond, and shortly, so will a second incarnation of the Meatball and Wine Bar. In coffee land, we now have three Market Lanes, two St Alis, and shortly, Kris Wood from specialist coffee outlet Clements, will be charging into the Docklands.
Is it a bad idea? If the likes of Shannon Bennett were replicating the all-guns-blazing concept of fine diner Vue De Monde (as opposed to opening a series of small casual cafés under the Vue name), we'd say yes. But in the case of casual stop-and-drop places that you don’t necessarily want to cross town for on a Tuesday, it makes sense to bring the mountain to Mohammed. Or the tacos to Windsor, if you will.
If on every corner we have a fun, independently-owned Mexican restaurants, cafés and burger joints started by locals who just really know what their city wants, we're not doing too badly, Melbourne.
Here are the latest doubles we're throwing our hands in the air for.
Go up the escalators and bypass the Rainbow Room karaoke den (or hey, don’t), and enter the glitzy-bright maze of wooden lattices and mirrors that separate hot-plate topped tables. Dainty Sichuan CBD may be a touch flashier than its South Yarra sibling, but the kitchen is just as enthusiastic about fire.
Those tabletop burners are built for bearing tongue-searing hot pots of lamb in all its forms – heart, liver, belly –concealed beneath a crimson layer of chilli oil.
Sadly there are no fluffy bao (buns) here. In fact, there’s not a lot in the way of small plates save for a new dish of duck wings, or chilli-slicked beef tendon with a texture that falls somewhere between gelatine and jerky.
Take friends. Everything is hot and huge and you’ll need back-up to tackle, say, a platter of sizzled pork belly strips with ribbons of chive pancake It’s a bacon bonanza.
Go Chongqing chicken – a haystack of dry-fried chillies and tingly fragrant Sichuan peppercorns hiding bony bits of bird. Cool the fire with chilled tofu lifted by garlic, sesame oil and the sulphuric hit of century eggs. Prices are slightly higher here, but you can still BYO wine.
This is a win for every inner-city worker harbouring a fiery death wish.
We’re big fans of Fonda Mexican in Richmond. The fuscia-bright taqueria was one of the first of the new wave Mexican joints to spring up, and their super fresh tacos and chipotle mayo corncobs are still some of the best going.
So raise your hands in the air and keep that perpetual Mexican wave going for Fonda Windsor. They’re doing your favourites from the Richmond outlet, including icy mugs of Mexican soaked-rice drink horchata – try it, it tastes just like rice pudding – and not-as-Mexican burritos filled with smoky strips of rare kangaroo fillet, sweet potato and quinoa. But there are a few additions. Go crisp quesadillas filled with juicy shredded pork and queso fresco cheese. And good news, fish taco fans, you can now get those fillets of rock ling deep fried with corn, quinoa and chipotle mayo wrapped in a burrito as big as your arm.
The Windsor store is double the size of the Richmond outlet. That means less time queuing and more time burrito-ing. Plus, there’s a bar. Head up the grandiose staircase to Atico, where you can sit on bright floor cushions sipping $10 Palomas like a boho Mexican.
Huxtaburger is the no BS burger joint that sent Melbourne into a frenzy last year armed only with super-soft sugary buns, wagyu patties and condiments.
And now there’s Huxtaburger II, plying the same brand of hot beef, cold beer and crinkle cut fries to the formerly deprived suit trade in Fulham Place.
You’ll find the same silver pressed-metal counters and checkered floors you know from Huxtaburger HQ, but this time, you can count on a few extra chairs and a bigger kitchen to keep things civil at lunch. There’s also a tofu burger that’s wangled its way onto the menu of late. “We made some compromises this year,” co-owner Dante Ruaine tells us. But there’s still no wholemeal bread. They have standards.