Hoping to head south to escape the northern winter? If Australia on your list of dream destination, make sure you don’t skip Melbourne, a lively city that is consistently named one of the world’s friendliest and most liveable! Once you’re in Melbourne, take a tram just outside of the city centre to Fitzroy and Collingwood, where the best food and fun are to be had (particularly if you’re vegan).
Brunswick Street, Gertrude Street and Smith Street are lined with bars, cafés, restaurants, art galleries and shops, and as vibrant during the day as the evenings. Whether for a breakfast date or to see a late-night rock gig, gallery-hopping or thrifting, whiling away a sunny weekend afternoon with a drink and a view over the city, or disappearing into a cosy cocktail bar after dark – this is the place to be.
Take the 11 Tram east on Collins Street to get to Brunswick Street, or the (in)famous 86 Tram on Burke Street to get to Gertrude and Smith Streets. Alternatively, it’s a lovely walk via the Carlton Gardens, where you can admire the 19th-century architecture of the World Heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building, the much more contemporary Melbourne Museum, and the many terrace houses that are typical of Melbourne’s inner suburbs.
1) Vegie Bar: I think this is the best vegan/vegetarian restaurant in the world – and I have no hesitation in saying so. Something of a Brunswick Street institution, and one of it’s busiest restaurants for over 20 years, it’s the first place I go when I’m in town, and the first thing I recommend to visitors – for the food, for the atmosphere – but mostly for the chocolate royal cake (served with vanilla soy icecream), which is vegan and gluten free and absolutely phenomenal. The main dishes on the extensive menu are all vegan, vegetarian, raw and/or gluten-free, with changing daily specials of food that is so delicious, and piled so generously onto plates, that it is often difficult to fit that cake in… The healthiest and freshest of stir-fries and curries and stews and pizzas and salads and wraps and all kinds of other wonders can be complemented by some great sangria, organic Australian wine, gluten-free beer, cocktails, juice, smoothies and lassies, coffee, or one of many types of tea. Not to be missed!
380 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy (11 Tram, Leicester Street/Brunswick Street stop), open Monday to Friday from 11am to 10pm (Friday until 10:30pm), Saturday from 9am to 10:30pm, and Sunday from 9am to 10:30pm.
2) The Cruelty Free Shop: Australia doesn’t have a national dish as such, but there are certain foods that are very dear to the hearts of the people of this country, and that any discerning traveller must try – Vegemite, for one, and a certain chocolate-covered chocolate-cream-filled chocolate biscuit (best consumed, some believe, by biting both ends off, and using the biscuit like a straw to drink your tea or hot chocolate through). Luckily for us, The Cruelty Free Shop stocks a vegan and gluten-free version called Chocolence! They also have just about anything else your little vegan heart might desire – such as bags by Matt&Nat, shoes by Macbeth, beautiful organic skincare products from Australian company Sukin – and please do acquaint yourself with the wonderful range of treats from Melbourne-based eco-brand Loving Earth.
385 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy (11 Tram, Leicester Street/Brunswick Street stop), open Monday from 12pm to 5:30pm, Tuesday to Friday from 11am to 6:30pm, Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and Sunday from 11am to 5pm.
3) Madame K’s Vegetarian: This is an Asian restaurant with dishes from all over Asia – Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Indian, and all kinds of tasty things in between. Each plate is as well-presented as the elegant interior of the restaurant itself, and vegan and gluten-free options are clearly labelled, down to the annotated wine list.
367 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy (11 Tram, Leicester Street/Brunswick Street stop), open Friday, Saturday and Sunday for lunch, and open every day for dinner (check website for opening hours). Delivery available every day between 6pm and 9:30pm.
4) Naked for Satan: There’s a story behind the name, the decor, the atmosphere – and why vodka is such a fundamental element of this multi-level bar (http://www.nakedforsatan.com.au/the-naked-story/). Downstairs bar serves Pintxos (Basque-style snacks, vegan options available), but you’ll want to head straight for the elevator which will take you to the rooftop terrace with panoramic views over the city, Fitzroy, Collingwood and beyond (part of said cityscape is seen in the photo at the top of this article). It’s the view and the vodka that sets this bar apart from the too-many fantastic night spots around the area – choose one of the various imported and in-house infused vodkas (displayed in enormous glass containers), Spanish and Australian wines (hot wine available in the cooler months), craft beers, or beer on tap.
285 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy (11 Tram, Johnston Street/Brunswick Street stop), open Sunday to Thursday from 12pm to 12am, and Friday and Saturday from 12pm to 1am.
The Bear Café: Currently closed for renovations, keep an eye on their facebook page for their grand re-opening, as this is a great, cosy café for tea, coffee, and hot chocolate with a choice of non-dairy milks – and a selection of vegan cupcakes by Mister Nice Guy’s Bakeshop.
439 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy (11 Tram, Leicester Street/Brunswick Street stop)
5) Trippy Taco: Vegetarian Mexican-style street food becomes vegan with an easy switch to non-dairy cheese and sour cream, and there are a good many gluten-free options here too. Generous servings of burritos, tacos, taquitos, nachos and tamales, fries and salads, and all-day breakfasts are often big enough to share if you’re not too hungry, or good and filling alongside the Mexican beer, margaritas, tequila and sangria on offer. Eat outside under the stripy awnings, or take a seat inside where the sun streams in through the large corner windows.
234 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy (86 Tram, Gertrude Street/Smith Street stop), open Mondays and Tuesdays from 11am to 9pm, Wednesday to Friday from 11am to 10pm, Saturday from 10am to 10pm, and Sunday from 10am to 9pm.
6) Storm in a Teacup: In a city where all of the locals are coffee-obsessed, Storm in a Teacup is a welcome anomaly. The knowledgeable staff can guide you through their long list of teas and tisanes sourced from around the world, which can be savoured in the gorgeous shop itself (note the cloud-and-lightning bases on the bar stools!), the leaves brewed for just the right amount of time and at the at the perfect temperature according to the type of tea you choose. In the evenings, the bar also serves tea-based cocktails, organic wines, local beers, and snacks. Purchase some tea to brew at home (in-store or online) – they sell Japanese teapots and other teawares too.
48A Smith Street, Collingwood (86 Tram, Gertrude Street/Smith Street stop), open every day from 10am until 6pm.
7) Aunt Maggie’s: If you’re self-catering, need a quick snack, or shopping for organic skincare and haircare and cleaning products, this well-stocked store has fresh fruits and vegetables, a great range of vegan and gluten-free products (faux meats and cheeses, and every kind of coconut-based product you could imagine, for example), and a juice bar that also serves soups, salads, wraps and cake, to eat in or take away.
188 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy (86 Tram, Napier Street/Gertrude Street stop or Gertrude Street/Smith Street stop), open Monday to Friday from 9am to 7pm, Saturday from 9am to 6pm, and Sunday from 10am to 5pm.
8) Organic Wholefoods: Along the same lines as Aunt Maggie’s, this shop is just around the corner on Smith Street (…so much coconut icecream…)
277 Smith Street, Fitzroy (86 Tram, Hodgson Street/Smith Street stop)
9) Las Vegan Bakery: Not just a bakery, Las Vegan serve wraps, salads, pizzas (after 5:30pm) and a whole lot of other hot food – but you probably want to come here for the cakes. Vegan cakes. Enough said.
22 Smith Street, Collingwood (86 Tram, Gertrude Street/Smith Street stop), open Tuesday to Thursday from 11am to 3pm, and again on Thursday from 5pm to 9pm, Friday from 11am to 9pm, Saturday from 1am to 9pm, and Sunday from 10am to 3pm.
Vegan Style: Just upstairs from Las Vegan is a friendly space filled with shoes, bags and accessories, for men and women, from brands such as Brave Gentleman, Novacas, Noah, and Beyond Skin.
22 Smith Street, Collingwood (enter via Las Vegan Café), open Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday (check website for hours), or shop via their webstore.
10) Vegan Wares: Something else you won’t escape talk of in Melbourne – the football. Australian Rules Football, to be exact – and if you find yourself as taken with the game as your new Melburnian friends, Vegan Wares make vegan versions of the odd-shaped ball. They specialise in (sensible) shoes, which they fabricate themselves to high quality and ecological standards, and also stock sneakers by Macbeth and FYE. And then there are shoe care products, guitar straps, dog collars, bags, scarves, socks and other accessories, vegan cosmetics and skincare.
78 Smith Street, Collingwood (86 Tram, Gertrude Street/Smith Street stop), open Monday to Saturday from 11am to 5pm.
11) Pana Chocolate: Just a little further away, in the neighbouring area of Richmond, is a little paradise – one look at Pana Chocolate’s Instagram feed and you’ll see what I mean. In their shop, they serve cake – amazing colourful cake – that is organic, raw, vegan, gluten-free, refined-sugar-free, soy-free. Their incredible chocolate bars are made to the same specifications, and are available here, as well as select places worldwide – check the Pana website for stockist details (so worth the effort to seek this stuff out!)
491 Church Street, Richmond (take the 70 Tram from Flinders Street in the city centre, Swan Street/Church Street stop), open Monday to Friday from 10am to 5pm, Saturday from 10am to 4pm, and Sunday from 10am to 2pm.
For more ideas and recommendations for Fitzroy, Collingwood, the city centre and other fun areas like St Kilda and South Yarra, Three Thousand’s directory has a wealth of reviews and up-to-date information, as does Broadsheet, or try the City of Melbourne’s website. If you have the opportunity to get out of the city for a day or two, or even longer, Visit Victoria is a good place to begin planning a trip to the Great Ocean Road (for stunning ocean views and countryside landscapes), Phillip Island (for beaches – and penguins!), the Grampians (for mountain hikes), Victoria’s vineyards, snowfields, natural hot springs, or any number of other truly beautiful areas around the southern-most corner of the Australian mainland.
Photography by Emilee Seymour, except number 11 of that delicious-looking Pana Chocolate cake, which is by Alan Dinh. For more pretty pictures of places we’ve visited and loved, follow us on Instagram.