In Food + Drink

Five Of Melbourne’s Best Restaurants For Business Lunches

Working in PR in Melbourne for 10 years, entertaining international journalists and needing to choose the perfect venue for every media outlet has made me an expert in the city’s dining scene. Venues needed to not only have beautiful interiors and delicious food, but they also needed properly showcase Melbourne.

In fact among the meal venue selection, the lunch spot was always the most difficult to decide on. For instance, notable restaurants such as Embla – 2016’s Restaurant of the Year – and Coda are better experienced at night; IMHO is too casual for business lunches.

With all that in mind, here are my six Melbourne lunch restaurant go-tos:

Tonka

Great for groups, this is always my first pick for a CBD lunch. Everything chef Adam D’Sylva (also of Coda) has done here is right, managing to be very Melbourne without going overboard.

Located down a street art-covered laneway in a venue that used to house late-night bar Honky Tonks, Tonka is in stark contrast to its exterior. Inside you’ll find a bright, clean and modern space with a huge window overlooking the green trees lining Flinders Street. And the art installation on the roof makes you feel like you’re dining in a cloud.

Tonka’s modern-Indian menu is a recreation of family and classic Indian recipes, heavy on the mysterious spices that headline the dishes. Produce is vast and highlight dishes include Mangalorea clams; snapper, cuttlefish and ink dahl; kingfish tartare; Madras duck breast; and the city’s best lamb curry (with coconut).

Tip: begin with the pani puri crispy parcels (filled with spiced potato, mung beans, dates and tamarind chutney) – and order a cocktail, or two.

Ezard

Image: EZARD / Facebook

For an impressive lunchtime experience, this is the place for you. Ezard has brought verve and creativity to Melbourne since its inception in 1999 in the form of modern Australian cuisine with an Asian influence.

Diners sit at intimate padded booths, or at the banquet table beneath a chandelier made of twigs in the private dining room, to enjoy dishes of local produce.

Get the quick ‘EZ45’ lunch special (45minunets for $45), choose from the a la carte menu, or go all-in with a seven-course tasting menu. Dishes change depending on the season so you’ll always be pleasantly surprised.

Flower Drum

If you have a deal you need to close, and they’re teetering on a maybe, this place will push them over the edge. Melbourne has its share of Chinese restaurants, laneway institutions and hatted-dining experiences but only one place combines all three flawlessly, and that is the iconic Flower Drum.

Tucked unceremoniously up the Spring Street end of Chinatown, it brings elegance to the cool laneway location, offering a la carte or banquet dining menus that differ for lunch and dinner service (as does the wine list).

Owing much of its 30-year success to the signature dish of Peking Duck – roasted daily and wrapped in a handmade pancake, at your table – every part of this dining experience is top-notch.

With staff going about their jobs seamlessly, dining at Flowerdrum is a high-end experience with a low-lit ambiance that will make your business meeting feel special.

Cecconi’s

Operated by matriarch Olimpia Bortolotto, Cecconi’s is located in a basement in Flinders Lane and is often referred to as the ‘granddad’ of Melbourne’s Italian dining scene.

Using seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs grown at the family farm, the Bortolotto family have been serving authentic Italian cuisine around Melbourne since the late 80s.

Offering an intimate setting with space for large gatherings, the open kitchen creates a warm, almost homely atmosphere. Fresh is an understatement as everything from the pappardelle to pasta dishes, pancetta-wrapped quail to the tiramisu is hand-made.

With a menu created by head chef Maurice Esposito, you’ll have to forgive your taste buds for thinking you’re in Tuscany with the long-lost fam, not a Melbourne laneway on a business lunch.

Cellar Bar

The ‘little brother’ of iconic Italian restaurant Grossi Florentino, Cellar Bar offers a boisterous Italian menu throughout the day, and well into the evening.

It’s a fuss-free experience that suits people wanting quality dishes with an affordable price tag. The smell of stewing Roma tomatoes greets those who come to devour the incredible pasta, seafood and traditional Italian dishes for which Grossi is famous.

Sit at intimate tables at the long bar. Or perch by the window and prepare to do as the Italians: eat slowly, talk lengthily and watch the city-workers walk by.

Cellar Bar good for one-on-one lunches with a vibe that, with its old-Italian family-style feel, leaves all formalities outside.

(Lead image: Tonka / supplied) 

Published 16 October, 2019