Melbourne, Australia -- Happy New Year! Having escaped the biting cold and blistering wind of New York this winter for the warm sunny days of Melbourne, Australia, I was quite amused to discover that we had the "same" temperature on New Year's Eve -- the only difference was that while New York had a seasonally mild 43°F, Melbourne sweltered in 43°C (about 109°F).
I hadn't been back to Australia in over a year, and as always, Melbourne is on the move with countless new restaurants, bars, nightclubs and ways to make a summer here even more memorable. What is most striking about Melbourne in summer is the fact that everything takes place outdoors and on any summer night, you will witness the mass exodus of people occupying each seat in thousands of al fresco dining establishments in the bayside, city and suburban areas, sipping martinis on couches in courtyards, laneways and gardens and even watching movies under the stars on blankets in the famed Royal Botanical Gardens (www.moonlight.com.au).
Summer wouldn't be summer in the city on Port Phillip Bay without a visit to St. Kilda Beach. Although there are plenty of new restaurants, the old standards seem to undergo annual transformations and retain their popularity along with excellent cuisine. One of my personal favorites is the group of Chinta restaurants, and in particular Chinta Blues (tel. +61 3/9534-9233), a rustic, hip, Hawker-style Malaysian restaurant located in St. Kilda's chic end of Acland Street. Here $20 will buy you an authentic Malaysian indulgence and a glass of fine Australian wine whilst sitting on comfy folding chairs and watching the beautiful people of St. Kilda parade by in droves. Don't miss the delicious daily desert menu -- if you are lucky, fall in love with the sticky date pudding with warm butterscotch sauce -- an Australian tradition.
Next door is Melbourne's uber stylish Prince Hotel (tel. +61 3/9536-1111; www.theprince.com.au) with its award-winning signature restaurant Circa (if you have a sophisticated pallet and plenty of dollars to spend), the Aurora Spa Retreat (tel. +61 3/9536-1130; www.aurorasparetreat.com) and the Mink Bar (tel. +61 3/9536-1199), heaven for any vodka connoisseur with hundreds of authentic brews and Eastern European concoctions. Around the corner but still part of the Prince Hotel, are a nightclub and the Band Room venue where you can see some of Australia's newest and most popular musical acts. A deluxe room at The Prince, including continental breakfast starts from $191 per night (based on the current exchange rate of $U.S.1 =$AUD1.36.
Walk further down Acland Street, through a small residential neighborhood and you reach Acland Street proper, the Mecca of continental cake shops, too many eating establishments to mention, several bars that extend on to the sidewalk and garden areas, and a selection of fashion boutiques. Overlooking historic Luna Park, The Vineyard (tel. +61 3/9534-1942) is a sensational venue for eating and drinking al fresco (especially oysters and champagne) and people-watching. If you don't find what you are after here, Fitzroy Street (back at the other end of Acland Street) will not disappoint. There are over 100 restaurants here, from Australian fusion to Turkish, Thai to vegetarian and absolutely everything in between. Termini Restaurant (tel. +61 3/9537 3465; www.termini.com.au) at the recently refurbished old St. Kilda train station and the adjacent Lionel Bar (tel. +61 3/8598-9000; www.lionelbar.com.au) both have large outdoor dining and drinking areas overflowing with young good looking model-type patrons -- but there is no velvet rope or dress code here -- shorts and tank tops are fine, as are flip flops.
Especially handy for barhoppers is the old George Hotel (tel. +61 3/9525-5599) with two popular drinking corrals -- the Melbourne Wine Room and the White Room plus the Bird Cage restaurant. On the St. Kilda foreshore on Jacka Boulevard, you also have Melbourne staples like The Stokehouse Bar and Restaurant (tel. +61 3/9525-5555) and seafood specialty restaurant Donovan's (tel. +61 3/9534-8221) and the casual waterfront atmosphere at The Great Provider (tel. +61 03 9525 5855; www.thegreatprovider.com.au) on Marine Parade.
Melbourne is known for its coffee culture, and Melburnians pride themselves on serving and drinking only the best. One of the places to indulge is Café Racer (tel. +61 3/9534-9988) on Marine Parade, St. Kilda (just across the road from the beach -- look out for the bike racks and morning patrons sitting outside in full cycling gear). Danny, the owner will whip you up the perfect "flat white" or "Macchiato" to go with your delicious and healthy breakfast or snack; he also owns Coffee Darling (Darling Street, in the heart of South Yarra's shopping district) and Federal Coffee Palace, in the recently redeveloped and restored historic GPO (General Post Office) building located on the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth Streets in the City.
Despite so many fine restaurants and funky bars to choose from, the quintessential Melbourne summer experience is still the backyard barbie (and no, Australians never throw a shrimp on the Barbie -- they're called prawns here). No doubt, when you are visiting Melbourne, you will meet friendly locals who will invite you to a BBQ, either in their backyard, in a park or by the Yarra River. This is a culinary and cultural event not to be missed, and there is no better way to really immerse yourself in the Australian lifestyle.
Where are your favorite hotspots in Melbourne? Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers on our Australia Message Boards today.