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Food, Top 10

Top 10 Eateries in The Inner North

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The Inner North is bursting with amazing cafes and restaurants and a plethora of cuisines. From Mexican to Latin American to fine coffee, the inner north is where it's at. Check out our favourites...

The inner north is brimming with great cafe and restaurant choices:

Che - Fitzroy

CHE taps into the Australian chicken shop dream and The World Loves Melbourne was invited to sample some of the menu at the launch. We love the name - sounds like the name of a revolutionary (and it is a revolution) - but CHE stands for Chicken/ Heledos/ Empanadas as well as "mate" in Spanish (clever). CHE has a modern fit out and is in the heart of Fitzroy on the corner of Johnston St and Brunswick St (look for the neon letters in the windows at night).

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CHE is a next level chicken shop with an attractive street style fit out with an attractive mural on the wall, as well as exposed brick. How about the best empanadas you've ever tasted? Both chicken and beef. Or 48 hour marinated chicken slow cooked in a charcoal oven? Or top notch salads? And alcohol options in a chicken shop? Of course no chicken shop ticks the boxes unless the chips are amazing - and CHE delivers! 


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Auction Rooms - North Melbourne

Auction Rooms is a standout café in Melbourne and exudes industrial chic as well as being a serious coffee haven. Housed in the old WB Ellis Auction House it is an oasis of coffee perfection in trendy North Melbourne. Loads of serious coffee lovers descend on the award winning Auction Rooms in its accessible location on Errol Street.


Admire the blue façade then enter into a massive warehouse style building featuring the rough texture of exposed brick along with fine dark timbers and concrete floors. Ambience is also created from unusual aspects such as Six Degrees lead lighting and pendant low hanging PVC lamps. Come here on a lazy sunny day and be inspired by the natural light that pours in from the large front windows.
Auction Rooms is a spacious café with split levels and a charming courtyard. When you are done admiring the ambience and architecture, call on the helpful hipster staff to engage you with an outstanding coffee experience. The coffee here is consistently rated among Melbourne’s best. 
Auction Rooms roast their own coffee with links to Small Batch Roasting Co. and so are a roastery not just a cafe. This sits them in the place of coffee royalty. Enjoy single origins of the day. Enjoy a syphon or pour over or cold drip. Admire the gleaming Synesso. And of course score an irresistible espresso. The coffee here is silky and velvety and resonates with nuances of the blends.
It’s famous for its serious coffee but Auction Rooms also serves great food! The menu selections feature inventive names playing with the auction theme such as “opening bid” (two free range poached eggs on sourdough with bacon, field mushroom, grilled tomato and sautéed spinach on Dench sourdough) and “shady deal” (Moroccan style tomato and chorizo stew with eggplant served with poached eggs, olives, dukkah and feta and flatbread).


CH James - Fairfield

A popular venue to open in recent times is CH James, a trio of festive spaces in Station Street Fairfield. Locals are imbibing the modern menu and character of the venue, which includes a stunning outdoor courtyard. The World Loves Melbourne was invited to experience CH James and some of its signature dishes. The ambience here is a standout, with large welcoming windows and bright spaces, giving a feel of light and airy. Fascinating farm implements adorn the wall, a reference to the period of CH James and heritage. The fit out is such that the indoors and outdoors meets seamlessly, with the windows opening up to accommodate the coffee bars, and its an easy stroll to the courtyard.

CH James is modern but features a nod to yesteryear with its compelling story of local CH James who was prominent in the northern suburbs in the halcyon period of Melbourne's development. Charles Henry James was a businessman extraordinaire in the 1870s and 1880s, and hugely influential in forming the unique community dynamic of the north we love today.  Dreamer, innovator and fiercely local, CH James was an influencer who was keen to “have a go”, connect with his community and he conducted his business with distinctive flair. CH James became a model and mentor to young businessmen of the era.

Station Street has its own place in Melbourne history. With diversity and an eclectic vibe, Station Street is quintessentially Melbourne. CH James spent much of his time on Station St Fairfield and in 1884 established a horse tramway, which ran the length of Station Street. Very Melbourne.

CH James is well equipped with a coffee bar that faces iconic Station Street. Customers can pull up to the bar for top notch Small Batch coffee. The World Loves Melbourne sampled two lattes perfectly made with fine latte art to boot.  Service here is excellent with the team personable and on their game. 

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CH James also hit the high notes with this Hungry Vego dish of Three grains, roasted pistachio, activated almonds, seasonal veg, lemon yoghurt & a poached egg.  When we look at the menu as a whole there are a number of healthy style dishes. This is modern cuisine and on trend.

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The World Loves Melbourne was impressed with this dish and intends to imbibe it again on return.

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Coffee here is excellent and served in proper glassware. CH James spent time sourcing the best sugar to match its specialist coffee, and uses Coconut blossom sugar, which features a slightly caramelised taste.

Drinks list includes Small Batch coffee, Mork chocolate, and Tea by Chamellia. Wine list includes boutique World Loves Melbourne favourites, Maddens Rise and Medhurst, as well as other boutique wines. Another favourite is Pizzini Prosecco, our favourite Australian Prosecco. Craft beers are sourced from Victoria, including Hargreaves Hill and Holgate Brewhouse. An interesting option is Lager from Keo, Cyprus. 

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CH James has developed an amazing courtyard area next to a church, featuring plantings of fruit trees and fresh herbs, used in its cooking.

This is a great new addition for the northern suburbs and Melbourne. CH James has character in spades and boats several attractive dining spaces. Service is top notch, the coffee excellent, and the menu compelling and on trend. Highly recommended.


Proud Mary - Collingwood

Nestled in a warehouse like premises in Collingwood, Proud Mary with its uber fit out, is the coffee summit. Inspired by owner Nolan Hirte, it exudes rarefied air of coffee excellence. Hirte's stamp of excellence is on every aspect in terms of ambience, passion, coffee sophistication and the notable cuisine. Proud Mary is a benchmark for roasters and coffee lovers in Melbourne and along with its sophistication has the charm of a river boat queen.  Just listening to Nolan speak about his trips to source the world's best coffee and his belief that great coffee can bring change, is contagious and inspirational. When he speaks about his recent trip to South America there's an excitement.

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The breakfast rush is on every day and the place is humming after 8am. A great option is to have breakfast here and then go on into the city for work.  Great breakfast here with the Potato Hash a standout for me – featuring a large crispy not too greasy hash brown with stringy fibres of potato with crispy bacon, buttery spinach, a poached egg and bagna cauda. Too good! Especially with a great coffee.

Camus - Northcote

Camus is a revelation in Northcote; behind the humble entrance is a world of chic and nuance with French Algerian cuisine at its finest. The World Loves Melbourne was invited to experience Camus for a Friday luncheon.

Michelin star chef Pierre Khodja (below) is having fun with his playful menu; an expression of his soul and childhood fancies. Melbourne needed this restaurant, even in a sea of launches and openings. Honest food served with an element of sophistication; vibrant colours on the plate and subtle use of spices.  We remember Pierre from Terminus on the Mornington Peninsula where he earned a hat four years running and where we were mesmerised by his cooking.

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Industry Beans - Fitzroy

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Industry Beans has been making a big impression since it opened recently as a quintessential Melbourne cafe with nondescript entrance (off Rose St Fitzroy), chic fit out and top grade coffee and cuisine. Set back from the street you enter a semi industrial world of creative space and transformation. High ceilings and interesting paneling combine with funky lighting and attractive tiling along the counter. This ex-warehouse now has the feel of a large studio.

Having visited once I returned 3 times in a week to sample more of the menu and the coffee. Couldn't get enough. I found Industry Beans a great cafe to relax, imbibe, and check my emails and tweets. Brothers Trevor and Steve Simmons have done wonders with this space.

Industry beans is a serious coffee (and tea) destination. One can get fooled into thinking the food might be secondary - it's not. The breakfast menu is creative and not same old same old... Options include Deep fried Duck eggs and Avocado smash. The philosophy is to use the best ingredients and to make dishes and components in-house.

Industry Beans pours a mean coffee. Single origins from Panama, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nicaragua. Filters and pourovers. Check out the Roaster on site. The dude who took my breakfast order then proceeded to the Roaster to give the beans a bit of a stir. I ordered a strong latte and enjoyed the nutty and honey hues. "That's great, " said the barista. "That's what we're trying to achieve, that slight sweetness."

Checking out the creative menu at Industry Beans it took me several minutes to decide - there were 4 or 5 dishes I wanted to order. The Steel Cut Oats breakfast option was revolutionary for me as I'd never choose oats (I'm a hot gourmet breakfast kind of guy) - but went with the staff recommendation. In fact the dude that recommended it to me told me he eats this everyday - and he looked super healthy. The oats are soaked with white chia, sunflower, poppy seed, pepita, linseed, served with semi dried seasonal fruit, cinnamon and vanilla bean yoghurt. So much goodness. I'll admit I enjoyed it and felt great for the rest of the day. 


Industry Beans has a state of the art Roaster in action during one of my visits. You can see bags of coffee from all over the world on display. Industry Beans develop their coffee in micro-batches before they serve them to the customer. I overheard a barista asking a staff member to "check out this" as he was preparing a batch - I love this coffee perfection mindset. Upstairs is a coffee cupping area. Order the beans online from their website

The long tiled counter is interspersed with an attractive display cabinet with treats. The muffins are superb and I ate mine straight from the oven...  Industry Beans also boasts a chic courtyard with suburban views, plants and red brick wall.

Industry Beans is also a superb place for lunch. Grab a Brioche burger for lunch or Fitzroy St Fried Chicken. Takeaway options are available.

Industry Beans draws people and is already a hub in a highly concentrated precinct of cafes and restaurants. Highly recommended.

Town Mouse - Carlton

Town Mouse is a smallish restaurant with a classic convivial ambience. Check out the mood lighting, fine tiles on the walls and attractive use of timber. A courtyard was opened the night we visited as another dining space.

I personally enjoy the set up with modern bar in the centre of the room and high tables with stools. It lends itself to interaction and conversation. And its a trend right now to imbibe fine dining experiences with casual expressions.

It's also a trend to bring together bar and dining space... And feature the best of both worlds in the one experience. Bars are generally becoming more sophisticated and food at bars is becoming more accessible and of increased quality - I can think of several exciting venues right now that are going this way...

Staff at Town Mouse are professional and engaging. Our waitress ran 600m down Drummond St to catch us after we left a package at the restaurant. Out of breath we should have paid for her taxi back to the restaurant.

Town Mouse has a secret dessert - just don't tell anyone. We ordered this Cigar like dessert - Lemon and yuzu curd, white chocolate, burnt coconut, spiced rum and coconut sorbet. One of Melbourne's best desserts but no longer on the menu as such. A hidden treasure for those in the know. And it tastes every bit as good as it looks. Town Mouse adds another dimension to "a cigar at the end of the meal".

Apart from Sangiovese we enjoyed these dessert wines...

And we enjoyed this White chocolate & lavender curd, strawberry, shortbread, & violet ice cream. Another attractive delicate dessert with finesse, giving special kudos to the curd and strawberry.

The final dessert looked like a deep sea creature bedazzling and curious. Buttermilk poached pear, walnut, caramel, roast chocolate, & pear sorbet. The bevvy of textures was amazing, and the taste of the sorbet was sumptuous.
We were satiated beyond satisfaction by now. Fennel, chocolate, goat’s milk, & candied olive vienetta was playful and exciting. Reliving our childhood with this vienetta variation.

Town Mouse is a standout restaurant in Melbourne and the enthusiasm has been consistent and growing. Having personally visited over 500 restaurants in Melbourne I place Town Mouse at the top of the tree in rarefied air with a few others. Christian is affable, not showy, and a culinary genius whose food does the talking.
I respect the hat assessments from luminaries, however my personal view (and I'm not alone) is that Town Mouse should be awarded at least one hat if not more...

In the meantime I plan to return to this stellar establishment that is now open 7 nights a week.


Epocha - Carlton

Epocha is simply one of Melbourne's best dining experiences, featuring a formidable team, stellar European cuisine and a killer ambience at this terrace property. Nestled in Rathdowne Street close to the city and opposite Carlton Gardens, Epocha exudes charm and elegance, if not an air of sophistication. The World Loves Melbourne was invited with other media to sample some of the fine wines and cuisine offered by Epocha. 

We dare to place Epocha in a dude food line up, even though this is fine dining with finesse. The large share plates would make any dude estatic - Lamb Backstrap, Bird, Scotch Fillet, Rib Eye 550g, and Veal Rack 700g...

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We dare to place Epocha in a dude food line up, even though this is fine dining with finesse. The large share plates would make any dude estatic - Lamb Backstrap, Bird, Scotch Fillet, Rib Eye 550g, and Veal Rack 700g...

Epocha has an immediate impact as you enter; this is about a fine dining experience, with Epocha meaning "a new or distinctive era". Distinctive and distinction. Epocha blazed from the "get go", gaining a hat in The Age Good Food Guide and quickly establishing itself as a serious culinary destination in Melbourne.
Greeted by owners Angie Giannakodakis and Guy Holder, we were given a taste of their culinary and hospitality philosophy before sampling the food. Angie has a pedigree of running the front of house at The Press Club, and Guy has worked at fine Melbourne dining establishments and as Catering Manager at The House of Commons in London (I could imagine The Chancellor of the Exchequer dining at Epocha). They know what they're doing ten times over, and work hard at providing diners with that certain je ne sais quoi.
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The fit out is a nod to the classic, and is understated rather than overstated. Large windows with chunky frames, elegant timber floor, and green wicker chairs and wooden tables embedded with tiles. We were treated to a presentation from award winning Dan the Sommelier who has recently returned from France working in some of the great wine houses. Dan and the team thrilled us with exciting wines that the Sommeliers are talking about in France.
Having been brought up on big Australian reds I enjoyed the nuances of these French wines. Of late I've been breaking out of my "big red" mould.
The European inspired menu offers a plethora of highlights, with head chef Michael Bolam brilliant at the helm. Mini crumpets, honeycomb was a brilliant starter.  The house made dark bread was served warm inside these knotted cloths, with generous amounts of freshly house churned butter. Another nod to the European. The Fava puree and brioche toasts was a delight, with us wanting more of the toasts to accomodate the generous amount of exceptional fava puree. 
I was taken by the artistic presentation and indeed the stunning floral crockery (haven't seen this number in Ikea), as we were served Swordfish carpaccio, grapefruit, caperberries. I love a carpaccio and the flavours balanced wonderfully with the creamy Swordfish and piquant graperfruit and caperberries. My carpaccios of late have been beef and kingfish, and I found the creamy Swordfish carpaccio unique and refreshing.
I was also taken with the fine cutlery that wouldn't have looked out of place in my late great grandmother's mansion in Kew. Imbibing on a Thursday night, the restaurant was packed and humming. No need for background music, as the ambience feeds of itself in this house of finery.
Whole fish oven baked with lemon, dill was a highlight; there was a sense of theatre as the whole fish was presented then served with French wines. 
Bird - breast, thigh, leg and wing was another highlight and cooked to perfection, further enhanced by crispy Roast Potatoes with duck fat. Come to Epocha for finery and indulgence.


Saint Crispin - Collingwood

Saint Crispin has been a revelation in modern dining since it arrived on the Melbourne dining scene. This is modern cusine at its best, highlighting key fresh ingredients without being overworked.

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  Saint Crispin jumped out of its skin with this delectable Main Course of Wagyu beef cheek and rump, miso eggplant, fricassee of mushrooms, parmesan gel and soil. We get excited by beef cheeks but even more excited by beef cheeks and the rump! The miso eggplant and mushrooms provided perfect accompaniment to the beef. And the soil provided extra finesse.   Saint Crispin wait staff excelled at every level.

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On song, Saint Crispin produced the perfect pairing of Parfait of hazelnuts, caramelised pear, crispy phyllo pastry, almond gel with the Grey Goose La Poire.  The parfait was a work of art with complex layers and a hit of pear.

We were treated to coffee and a triage of chocolates to finish the tasting profile... Photos courtesy of  The World Loves Melbourne, Tim Grey and Grey Goose.

Smith and Daughters - Fitzroy

Smith and Daughters has an amazing feel to it; a Latin American restaurant on Brunswick St that is the result of a dream of two zany and extrovert ladies, award winning chef Shannon Martinez (ex Gasometer, The Sweetwater Inn and South), and Mo Wyse (ex Manager at The People's Market), bringing her design and business savvy expertise. Smith and Daughters promises much if the recent launch is anything to go by. The World Loves Melbourne was invited seemingly along with half the hipsters of Brunswick. Let it be said, Smith and Daughters is not exclusively for hipsters; it brings vegan food to Melburnians in a new way.


Smith and Daughters is all about the food and wine experience; it just so happens to be vegan (food without animals). To be honest, upon receiving the invite, I thought to myself that Smith and Daughters looks an interesting concept, Latin American vegan, but I'd probably head for a burger afterwards. How wrong I was. Although a pork belly tragic, I fell in love with Smith and Daughters and was highly impressed by its inventiveness, technique and sophistication. And I was full at the end of the meal!

Melbourne lacks great vegan restaurants in my humble opinion. Often the vegan element is covered by a "vegan option" served up at Melbourne's leading restaurants. This is fine but Smith and Daughters enters the fray with a passion and a verve that compels, and an extensive menu.

Smith and Daughters was pumping for it's Friday night launch as hipster central. The ambience is alluring with high ceilings, stone walls, windows housing candles and religious figures, some foliage, dark timber floors, quirky artwork and a neon sign with a nod to all things vegan.

For a launch this was mighty generous. The Sangria, Spanish beer, cocktails and wine was all flowing. Cocktails were in abundance including a popular version of the Margeurita.

Oyster Mushroom and White Bean Ceviche was served as a beautiful, fresh variation on the Central/South American seafood dish (below). Served with tostones - twice fried, smashed plantation chips (above). This was refreshing and a delighful collective of flavours and textures, including the beans and oyster mushrooms contrasting with the tomato. Zingy, zesty, fresh and playful, dancing inside the glass with the joy of Central America...


As a lover of croquettes I enjoyed the Tuna and Green Pea Croquettas, Spanish bechamel folded with tuna and green pea served with caper aoli and a wedge of lemon. A spectacular success, with the right amount of golden crunch on outside and super creamy inside. Plump generous tasty croquettas with a winning aoli. My desire is to return and get me more of these...


Tamales were a fun small plate; a single serve of the traditional Mexican favourite with Masa filled with mushroom, nopales and grilled corn then steamed in a corn husk. Served with fresh lime and hot sauce. I was like a kid in a candy store opening up my tamale to discover the delectable filling inside. What I also loved was the hot sauce, which packed some punch.

Then it was time to check out Shannon at work on the paella, revealed as Shannon's super secret, at least 4th generation, family recipe with all the necessities flavourful vegetable saffron stock, green peas and veg prawns, sausage and scallops.


The paella was served, infused with flavour and rice cooked perfectly. Shannon had the soffrito and the soccarat going on... Mock meat was used but this was a triumph of flavours, with my serving not dominated by the mock meat, but tomato and vegetable flavours.

Dessert also impressed with Tarta de Chocolate Azteca and these Quince filled Spanish Donuts. Had to imbibe a few of these. I n the end I was full and satiated, and I hadn't eaten any meat. The menu was creative and had fine dining touches.

Smith and Daughters are focussing on lunch and dinner (will start with dinner), but also on brunch for weekends, with seriously good coffee (without full cream milk)  and cold pressed juices.

Smith and Daughters launch was a genuinely exciting event and we predict big things for this restaurant. Shannon and Mo are inspirational women doing great things in Brunswick, and the impact of this will be felt far and wide.

Estelle - Northcote

Estelle is taking all before it, and Scott Pickett is a genius. Here you find intimate dining with flair, and substance without hype.

Scott Pickett, owner-chef of two celebrated Melbourne restaurants Estelle and Saint Crispin, began his career at the age of 14 in a winery restaurant and did his apprenticeship with two notable Adelaide chefs. He has learnt his craft with some of the greats – Phil Howard of The Square in London, Philippe Mouchel in Melbourne. 

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Come to Estelle for professional service and modern food, such as Flinders Lamb shoulder or Western Plains pork, with inventive flair. We're enjoying the European influences in Northcote, transforming it into some sort of Northcotes Du Rhone.

Rockwell & Sons - Collingwood

Rockwell and Sons offers "dude" food gems such as Southern Fried chicken sandwich, Rib sandwich, cheese dumplings, Lamb dog, Calamari roll with pickles, or even a delectable Lamb shoulder... But the star of the show is the Rockwell Double patty smash burger of rock star fame...

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The Double patty smash burger consists of a sexy brioche bun from Brasserie Bread (important to have great bun), excellent juicy patty action, cheddar cheese drooled all over the meat, crunch gherkins and a killer sauce. For mine it's the sauce that makes it... This sauce reputedly includes 3 different kinds of mayo. So good. The burger is a triumph of juicy melted and crunchy bliss! and the price point is kind to the wallet.

The burgers are better at Rockwell and Sons...

And the fried chicken is legendary, with Wednesday night events in hot demand (need to book ahead). Rockwell also boats amazing home made french fries with aoli... Critical to get this right when you've got a rock star burger.

Rockwell and Sons is the perfect place to dine with friends or even pull up at the bar on a stool as I did. Service was engaging and friendly. Even the barista chatted to me over the bar while pouring coffees... 
Rockwell is long and elongated... Cool tunes playing. This is a great vibe without pretense. The logo is a classic...
Rockwell and Sons is highly recommended for unpretentious dude food with great vibe and at a reasonable price in a cool part of Smith St.  
Check out these fine inner north establishments...