Time Out Melbourne

You’re up late. You need a feed. We’re not here to judge, we’re here to help

Here’s the thing about the late-night diners of Melbourne: they’re not just for drunk people. At 11pm, a sea of (mostly) sober ushers, concierges and waiters are just clocking off. Paramedics aren’t even mid-shift by 1am, and they more than anyone need proper fuel to help your drunk arse when you fall over outside Lamb’s Kebabs.

If you know where to look you can get a whole grilled crayfish at midnight, a bowl of carbonara at 3.30am and a pre-dawn plate of fried chicken.

On a Friday, we rock up to the end of DJ Andrew McClelland’s set at Finishing School and head to Café Romantica. He’d usually go to China Bar (it’s also the go-to for Melbourne’s strip club contingent, according to Miss Burlesque Australia champion Strawberry Siren). This East Brunswick stalwart is quieter. Despite the 24-hour licence (which they make full use of), it’s a calm gelati-serving port in a drunken storm. They’re show in Rage on the TV, but quietly, so you can talk. It’s just us and an old Italian family, who sit at one of the sway backed tables up the back between the graffiti artwork, the bookshelves holding foreign-language dictionaries and the pool tables. Where you go after midnight isn’t just about the food, it’s the crowd. McClelland is tired. He’s Melbourne’s most participatory DJ, and has just busted every known shape to Beyoncé. Romantica is right. They serve a full menu of pastas and antipasti till 3.30am, and continue to serve pizze and drinks all night. We get a thick-based salami pizza and a giant bowl of cheesy carbonara.

We also get beers for $4.50, which they brew themselves, according to our young, fact-filled waiter who looks like his natural habitat might have been a video store pre-Pirate Bay.

Taxi drivers have convened at the Embassy Taxi Café since the ’60s – not for the ciggies that they still sell behind the Laminex counter, or the classic $7 Aussie burgers served on soft buns with a fried egg. They go to meet and bitch about douchebag customers.

Danny’s Burgers is a pick-up joint with snacks. For the hospitality crowd, 3am is 5pm – they want dinner and knock-off drinks wherever their mates are. Up north, it’s Le Bon Ton, where they serve oysters and chicken till dawn. In the city, chefs and bartenders head to Gin Palace, which serves toasted chicken sandwiches and Martinis till 3am. Chasing them are people like Paul Rumpff, head concierge for the the Olsen, one of the Art Series hotels, who needs to know what’s happening in the hospitality scene. “It’s my job to know what’s happening first, and I need those first-hand relationships so I can ask for favours if a guest has a special request.”

And then there’s the ambulance crews who need caffeine. “Hairy Canary is always a favourite because they’re open until 3am Monday to Friday,” one paramedic tells us. (She asked to remain anonymous for fear that people would assume they just cruise around looking for snacks. They don’t. But they do work 14 hours straight, and they have to grab what they can.) “The key is finding somewhere that’s located near the hospitals – like Lygon Street – and it’s got to be quick, because often we’ll order, pay and then get a job and have to go.”

You won’t starve in Melbourne after midnight. Places like Stalactites and the creepily humanised snacks at Pie Face (why is my pie angry?) guarantee it. But you can do better. Here’s how.

Clocking off

You’ve just finished work and you want to eat something the size of your head. You want more than sleazy disco snacks. Here is where you need to go.

The Atlantic
You can get half a damn crayfish at the Atlantic right up until 1am. No kidding. A reduced menu runs from midnight, but it’s got serious dinner options. There’s also a 250g tenderloin from the grill, Bloody Mary oyster shots and prawn spaghettini if you’re feeling more like face-planting into a bowl of comfort.

Cumulus Up
The bar above Cumulus Inc stays open a little later than the restaurant and on Saturdays, the kitchen keeps rolling out the chopped broccoli salads, and coq au vin right up until midnight on the weekends, with desserts being served till 12.30am.

Choo Choo's
The team behind the Toff are the kind of night owls who appreciate your burning need for grilled things on sticks and curries in the small hours. The diner portion of the Toff stays open till 3am weeknights and 5am on the weekends. Get the soft shell crab roll, or make yourself a spicy early breakfast of chicken curry.

Bar Ampere
Gin Palace is a haven for hospos who come for chicken sandwiches and Martinis, but if we’ve got a hunger, we go through the swamp room out back to neighbouring Bar Ampere. Here they take orders till 3am for everything from a duck egg and green-bean chopped salad and to their double patty beef and Gruyere burger.

Café Romantica
This classic Italian joint has a 24-hour licence meaning you can have late-night tête-à-têtes over gelati, pizza and Peronis. But the greatest win for us is the fact that they also deliver. If you put in your order by 2.15am, they’ll make a house call with a cheese board and bowl of linguine.

Firing up

You need some sustenance, but you’ve still got your faculties intact so you want something good, and you probably want a good drink to go with it. Here’s where to keep the party rolling.

Boston Sub
How about a plate of sweet, sweet freedom fries showered with braised beef cheese curds and ladle of gravy? The American sandwich shop that fronts Jungle Boy cocktail bar does their whole menu till 1am, including a whole lot of poutine and a sub stuffed with the makings of a caramel banana split.

Forester's Beer and Music Hall
It’s Melbourne’s answer to Frankie’s Pizza in Sydney, and as well as keeping the craft beers flowing till pre-dawn, they’re serving sustaining pizze and charcuterie boards up until 2am.

Hell of the North
The early evening eats are good at this European wine bar but we’re all about supper. Make yourself a meal of snacks – they’re big on charcuterie and the duck pork and foie gras terrine is a winner. They also do a goats cheese, beetroot and faro salad if you don’t like food with faces.

Le Bon Ton
This is home base for the hospitality crowd thanks to its super-late hours (local bartenders will call in orders of oysters and fried chicken at 3am so it’s ready for when they knock off). You can get a pecan pie for a late, late dessert if you want, but for us, it’s all about eating a dozen oysters in shallot vinaigrette with an absinthe cocktail. Just a warning – the late-night menu runs only on Friday and Saturdays.

Nieuw Amsterdam
The bistro upstairs closes at the regular time 
but the basement bar here keeps serving till 5am. Right now the bar menu is pretty simple – you’re looking at anchovies, cured meats and plates of Manchego cheese, which they serve up until 2am, but next year, they’re planning on serving full meals once upstairs shuts up shop. For now, 
go for some sweet drinks and disco.

Going home

What’s your name? Where are your shoes? Can you answer these questions? If not, you don’t so much need a formal feed as medical attention with sauce and a taxi home. These are our favourite cut-above providers of judgment-free eats.

Supper Inn
We’ve been falling into and out of Supper Inn Chinese Restaurant for years. It’s a second home for ushers, bartenders and drinkers who need the solace only a bowl of congee, crisp-skinned roast pork and fast and furious service can bring. The walls are peeling, the tables are worn and everyone’s wearing enough of a booze jacket that yelling is fine.

Stalactites Restaurant
Smack bang in the middle of the city, this 24-hour Greek restaurant moonlights as a takeaway haven when the sun goes down. 
Who can choose between chicken and lamb at 3am? Go the mixed souvlaki. They combine big hunks of chewy, spit-roasted lamb with the chicken, browned on the hotplate, in a tidy pita with plenty of salad and tzatziki. You can also get chips topped with hummus and garlic sauce.

Danny's Burgers
Danny’s Burgers is a sweet, Aussie-flavoured diner that aims to put a bread and meat and soda buffer between you and the worst hangover of your life. They haven’t heard of brioche here, and properly thick thickshakes are the beverage of choice. These are old-school burgers made with thin patties, fried onions, bacon and egg and salad on a grilled bread bun.

China Bar
Hungry city diners pile into China Bar all night for dumplings and pork noodles, best consumed drunk. Staff bring you the bill before they 
bring you your food – they know their audience. Generally everyone orders what they can most easily say out loud (so, pork buns and dumplings), but we’re actually all about the surprisingly decent buttery roti with nutty Malaysian curry. In other good news, they just renovated.

Updated on 19 Oct 2014.

By Gemima Cody   |  
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