What's better than Melbourne's world-famous tram network? Travelling on it for free. Alexia Santamaria takes a culinary tour of the Melbourne CBD free tram zone.
On the first of January last year Melbourne became an even better city to visit. The free tram zone expanded to include the area from the Queen Victoria Market across to Victoria Harbour in Docklands, up to Spring Street, and over to Flinders Street Station and Federation Square – in short the whole of Zone 1. For anyone interested in eating, this has made it even easier to get from one fabulous restaurant to another. No need to top up or swipe a myki card, the city's public transport smartcard. Instead you can focus solely on your next meal, glass of wine or afternoon snack.
A great place to start an eating tour by tram would be the Queen Victoria Market, which is as much a feast for the eyes as the stomach. Piles of plump glistening olives, cured meat hanging from the ceiling, fat balls of fresh mozzarella, coral-coloured smoked salmon and piles of freshly baked breads and pastries all compete for your attention. Take a chiller bag if you're intending to take food home for 4pm wine and nibbles – the Melbourne heat is unforgiving in summer.
One of the best Melbourne breakfasts (or lunches) has to be a freshly baked borek from the lovely ladies at the Queen Vic. And they are always fresh as they are selling almost continuously. Every few seconds, it seems, someone hands over their three dollars in exchange for a hot, comforting baton of baked filo pastry with a filling of cheese and spinach, spicy lamb or potato and vegetables. It's a Melbourne must-eat.
If you take the tram from the Queen Vic down Elizabeth Street and on to Bourke Street you will land squarely in Chinatown. There are lots of great places to eat but Hu Tong Dumpling on Market Street is definitely worth a visit if it's not crazily busy. An open kitchen means you can watch as hundreds of dumplings are folded by hand while you eat. Everything from the ordinary boiled dumplings to the xiao long bao (Shanghai soup dumplings) and spicy variations are great; there's also an extensive menu of larger, dumpling-free dishes.
The next tram stop is the corner of Russell and Bourke; a brief walk away are two of the best places to eat in all of Melbourne. Located in vibrant Hosier Lane (you won't be able to miss the urban art all over the buildings) Movida's Spanish tapas and raciones are a favourite among locals and tourists alike – do not leave without trying their house-cured charcuterie. Two minutes away in Flinders Lane is Supernormal, a must for fans of modern Asian cuisine. People go mad for the New England lobster rolls; the duck bao is pretty fabulous too.
Speaking of Asian food, popular Chin Chin is only three minutes walk from Supernormal. It's constantly busy so visit outside peak times if you don't want to wait – they are open from 11am till late. This vibrant eatery is famous for its fun big-flavour dishes loaded with peanuts, tamarind, lime, chilli, cucumber, coriander, crispy shallots and other delicious things. Their cocktails are well worth trying too.
A waddle up to the intersection of Collins and Russell street means you can take a tram to Elizabeth Street and then another one up the street itself. Get off at Little Bourke Street and you'll find yourself spitting distance from Sun Moth in Niagara Lane. Sun Moth changes its menu regularly with a strong focus on hearty grains and seasonal produce. It's nutritious food, full of flavour, but there are also delicious pastries on the counter if that's more your thing. It's a modern, sleek space with a great range of natural wines and good craft beer.
To go full circle and end up back at the Queen Vic Market, take a tram further up Victoria Street. If you still feel like food, make sure you check out Fancy Hanks on Queen Street. Despite the name, this is a no-frills American BBQ joint. Think slow-cooked brisket, fries, ribs, mac n cheese, hushpuppies, slaw and potato salad all dumped on brown paper on cafeteria style trays.
Needless to say, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to eating in Melbourne. The sushi here is great (and everywhere), Lygon Street is loaded with Italian restaurants and gelaterias, and Lonsdale Street can't be beaten if you've a craving for good Greek food. And of course you can always pay – not very much – for a tram outside Zone 1 and head to Fitzroy (we love Belle's Hot Chicken) or Richmond for even more deliciousness. Book a trip to Melbourne soon if food is your thing. With a tram map in hand, the options are endless.