Where to Eat, Shop and Visit in Melbourne

For a speed date with Australia’s event city, here’s four easy access ideas to make the most of a limited lay-over

Stylish CBD restaurant Maha. Picture / Supplied

1. GALLERY: The National Gallery of Victoria is always a must-visit. Head first to the gallery’s Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square for the new 200 Years of Australian Fashion exhibition. It brings together more than 90 designers in the country’s first major survey of its fashion. From exquisite early examples of dressmaking to designs by contemporary names such as Dion Lee, Ellery, Romance Was Born and Toni Maticevski, fashion fans have until July 31 to check this out.

From Fed Square make the short walk over the Yarra River bridge up St Kilda Rd to the main gallery to see the blockbuster Andy Warhol - Ai Weiwei show. This impressive survey of the parallels between these two commanding contemporary art figures has been drawing crowds since before Christmas, but will close on April 24. See www.ngv.vic.gov.au

2. SHOPPING: If time is short head straight to the Emporium, which is the best of Melbourne’s big shopping centres sitting behind the Bourke St department stores. From designer to retail giants including Topshop and Uniqlo, you can get your fashion fix fast. Our fashion pick is Cos, at the Elizabeth St side entrance, for grown-up cuts in natural fabrics. Even if H&M’s fast fashion doesn’t appeal, it is good to know that its sports gear and homewares are well worth a look. If you have spare time in the CBD, the independent boutiques and menswear along Flinders Lane should be on your list, with the top end of Collins St the place for international designer splurges.

3. SHOW: Melbourne always has a musical or two or three to choose from, and the latest to open is Matilda, an adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic which is too good a tale to leave just to the children. A bonus is that it is on at the glorious old Princess Theatre in Spring St. The acclaimed production, by the Royal Shakespeare Company, will move on to Brisbane in November, then Perth in 2017. The culture city of Australia has plenty of top-class dance and drama to choose from, so check out what is on before you head over.

4. SUSTENANCE: Gutsy, hearty, honest food is the prescription for satisfaction of Melbourne celebrity chef Shane Delia. The champion of modern Middle-East food through his stylish CBD restaurant Maha was the chef chosen to cater for VIPs at the Australian Grand Prix’s Mercedes Star Lounge. Delia, known for his Spice Journey book and a TV series of the same name on SBS, loves layered flavours and is sick of chefs “who just don’t cook” and spend their time plating.

Trends in Melbourne are currently to a resurgence in high-end, although non-stuffy dining and a continuation of produce-driven and ethical and sustainable approaches, he says. “A hole in the market for good takeaway food,” was what prompted Delia to open his latest venture a few months back to express a different side of his personality. It is a kebab shop, like no kebab shop you have known, called Biggie Smalls.

There is no meat cooked over coals or on a stick, rather a more gourmet serving taken old school (with garlic and mint sauce) or new school (with Japanese mayo). “I wanted a place I could go with my mates,” explains Delia who has set up shop at 86 Smith St, in the fast regenerating inner-suburb of Collingwood. For fresh, simple, tasty, and satisfying snacking, including for vegetarians, Biggie Smalls is worth the cab fare. See www.deliagroup.com.au

• If you’re in the CBD, other casual eateries with an honest appeal are Meatballs in Flinders Lane and, just up the road, the Asian fusion shared plates of Chin Chin.

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