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As Melbourne’s oldest suburb, Fitzroy has had plenty of time to develop as a buzzing dining hub – 180 years, to be precise. Victorian buildings are now home to ultra-modern restaurants specialising in a variety of cuisines.
Long-time local resident and social media personality Arlo Enemark, known for his Instagram series #ArloPicassoHerbThief, teaches food literacy in his own kooky way. He commits the “cool crime” of plucking herbs protruding from gardens, and identifying wild green edibles for his audience.
He also eats out in Fitzroy three to five times a week. “Food literacy is important. Understanding what’s available opens up a whole world of experiences,” he says.“I like an intelligent and varied menu with well-considered vegetarian options. Eating at good restaurants is affordable if you’re smart with your choices and don’t drink too much.”
With little web presence and a barely-there shopfront, Afghan Gallery has survived for more than 30 years on Fitzroy’s most transitory street by word of mouth and serving quality nosh. Faded portraits, brass artefacts and decorative rugs make up the lived-in appeal of this dimly lit gem on Brunswick Street. The meals are mountainous – earthy stews, wholemeal naan and fluffy whipped dips that fill the venue with a heavenly scent. While the waiter might suggest the speciality lamb qorma with rice and currants, or the kofta in spicy sauce, there’s plenty of plant-based meals on the menu, too. “The qorma-i-badenjan (eggplant cooked in spicy sauteed tomato) with naan could satisfy even the most ferocious appetite,” says Enemark. The bar is fairly basic, but patrons are welcome to bring their own drinks.
Nothing beats tucking into Ethiopian food with friends – and you won’t find many better places in the area to do this than Saba’s, where guests can tear away at injera and scoop up stews and salads on enormous shared platters to their heart’s content. Choosing to adhere to strict rules regarding authenticity, this restaurant only uses teff flour, meaning its menu is 100 percent gluten free. There are vegan, vegetarian and meat options, making Saba’s a truly inclusive restaurant and one of Enemark’s favourites.
“Transformer is where I go if I want to get fancy. They’ve got a creative, delicate menu and the staff are super friendly,” says Enemark – and he’s right. Transformer’s focus is on innovative plant-based dining – it’s the elegant, uber-refined version of its laid-back sibling, Vegie Bar. Expect clever, aromatic combinations such as king oyster mushrooms with confit garlic, pine nut puree and smoked shallots. If you’re unsure what to order, opt for the popular “feed me” menu option – this’ll get you the chef’s selection of sample dishes à la carte for a reasonable price.
Grub Fitzroy serves its all-day menu out of a 1965 Airstream RV in a heavily decorated greenhouse and courtyard. Its crude, quirky design sees toy soldiers hang from the ceiling and legless mannequins seated among guests. There are very few places that can harness such loud decor without distracting from the menu, but Grub Fitzroy does just that. Its ethos is “simple, good”, and all dishes are made using locally grown produce. Enemark recommends everything here, from the salted coconut sago with lemon curd and maple hazelnut to the ocean trout with zucchini and light rye.
For fresh, authentic Japanese food and a playful atmosphere, Enemark suggests heading to Ichi Ni Nana. Coming from the people who brought you Ichi Ni and Ichi Ichi Ku in the south of the city, this north-side counterpart is known for its glass-encased courtyard, which comes into its own in the height of summer. If you’re looking for something more intimate, book a private booth inside a cable car and draw the curtains. Offering delicious cocktails and quality food in an interesting setting, Ichi Ni Nana is a great place to impress a client or canoodle with company without breaking the bank. There’s even a karaoke room in the basement for those on a liquid lunch. So eat, drink and be merry at this Fitzroy favourite.