Australia’s second city? Not in the dining stakes. Ask any Melbournian and they’ll tell you about their city’s supremacy over Sydney as the true representative of Australian cuisine on the global stage. They’re as fiercely committed to this idea as they’re obsessed with Australian Rules football. (Whatever that is.)
It’s Melbourne, they argue, that forged the Southern Hemisphere’s first regional style of Italian cookery. It’s Melbourne that has the deepest Australian-Chinese roots, home to a significant Cantonese population since the gold rushes in the state of Victoria in the mid-19th century. It’s Melbourne that’s one of the biggest and most culturally influential centers of Greek life outside Greece. It’s Melbourne that’s home to Dainty Sichuan, one of the most celebrated proponents of the cuisine in or out of China. It’s Melbourne, they hammer that has greater access not just to rich farmland, but also to teeming waters and some of the nation’s best vineyards.
If Melbourne has a reputation for less clement weather and less of the natural beauty that have shaped Sydney, they argue, then the city has turned those things into virtues, driving a built environment that is rich in detail and invention, and putting the focus on culture – all of which create a fertile environment in which restaurants may flourish.
It’s Melbourne that pioneered the laneway culture that celebrates graffiti-spattered alleys that are home to a dizzying array of businesses. It’s Melbourne, they say, that became one of the world’s great bar cultures as far back as the 1990s while Sydney was still spending most of its time at the pub, struggling with antiquated liquor trade laws. (And, they argue, Sydney still struggles with those laws, its city bars closing at midnight when many of Melbourne’s better venues are just getting started.)
And that’s even before they get started talking about coffee. It’s pointless to argue with Melbournians.