Date-asking is a difficult task. Getting the courage to put your sweaty hands behind your back, try your best at flirting, and pop the question can take weeks or even months. However, contrary to common belief, that is not the hardest part; rather, the hardest part is deciding where to go.
If it's novel, you probably don't want to go all-in just yet. It doesn't get easier even if you've been together for a while; after five years of dating, it can be difficult to find affordable date spots that still have the potential to spark passion.
To aid you in this endeavour, we have collaborated with Melbourne's ridesharing platform to identify five unique locations that are sure to impress your date and you without breaking the bank. We're dedicated to frugal living, too, so the money you save on transportation can be put towards more fun activities like going on dates, buying expensive dinners, and general hedonism. Instead of worrying about how you'll pay for a night out, consider one of these venues.
FAQs Date Night Restaurants
Still, which restaurant you choose to take your partner to can make or break a date. Take them to your local Nando’s, and you’ll probably end up eating that wing platter alone – there’s a time and a place to get cheeky, and this is not it.
“Beautiful romantic dining!”. Carlton Wine Room “Memorable for all the right reasons.” “Absolutely Love This Place!”. Cecconi's Flinders Lane. Piccolo Mondo “Whiting Spaghetti a Must!”.
Aim for a moody, romantic middle. And avoid places blasting loud music as it makes it hard to have a conversation if you're shouting at each other. Aside from the ambience, it's crucial to consider the price point. Choose a restaurant that's within a price range you're both comfortable with.
Date Night Restaurants
"You choose the place" is a phrase that hardly anyone wants to hear when it comes to arranging the perfect date (the pressure!) – unless you're armed with a fail-proof list of romantic spots. But, of course, you can't go wrong at any of these restaurants (unless you can't afford the more expensive ones: check the menu first!). Good luck, daters.
Dim, moody lighting? Check. Freshly rolled pasta every day? Double-check. Is it not going to break the bank? Of course, but, hold on a second, heaven must have been rebranded, and its new name is Lupo. This gorgeous restaurant by acclaimed chef Scott Pickett — the genius mind behind Estelle, Pickett’s Deli and Matilda — is a celebration of all the Italian flavours you know and love, but with a few contemporary twists.
Think lasagne stuffed with spanner crab or tender fried gnocchi at $10 a pop (and by pop, we mean five decadent pieces). Drinks-wise there’s an extensive wine list, although the fruity Nero d’avola from Ciello in Sicily goes perfectly with the clouds you’ll be floating on all night. Hot tip: if you or your date are gluten-free, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Almost all of the pasta on the menu can be made with a chickpea flour-based rigatoni, which also happens to be vegan.
Society guarantees a memorable evening for any occasion, from a first date to a ten-year anniversary. The long-awaited opening of Melbourne's newest supper club has been in the works for four years. Lamplight shines down on rounded booth seating, which is illuminated by statement crystal chandeliers. Have a martini with a caviar garnish in the lounge before indulging in Japanese or European fare. Society is a hip restaurant located in the trendy Collins Street neighbourhood. A high-end eatery and bar conceptualised by industry veterans and recognised chefs.
There is no way to experience Society twice in the same way. Start off at Lillian Terrace for some modern European cuisine. Then, after you've finished your meal, stop by the lounge bar's signature signature bar for sophisticated cocktails and custom martinis. There's also a formal dining room, perfect for when you're in the mood for a swanky supper club.
ARU features a menu influenced by the flavours of South East Asia and Australian native ingredients. It’s one of the city’s most innovative restaurants, with fire and fermentation playing a big part. Reserve a table in the quiet, low lit rear part of the restaurant, or perch up on the bar with your date for a view of the kitchen in action.
Poodle Bar & Bistro
Welcome to Poodle, yet another art-deco inspired multi-level venue that’s graced the fair city, where the head chef (Marion, Cumulus Inc) takes kitschy dishes and gives them a signature Italian-inspired makeover. But this isn’t just another multi-level venue, and this is more. The green, marbled and dark wooden veneered bones of the site designed by Melbourne studio Bergman & Co scream Italianesque grandeur, but the people within make you feel at home. The owner operates the door, and the partner floats around, providing service and smiles iterative of any ex-McConnell staff.
Downstairs you'll find intimate booths, doodles by previous guests framed on the wall and a locked and loaded bistro menu. We order the Padrón peppers, wrinkled, lightly charred and doused in a black garlic vinegar that lends its acidity to the spice and smokiness of the peppers.
Flaky vol-au-vents time travel into 2021 and meet their fate, filled with garlicky taramosalata, chunks of spanner crab and salty orbs of fish roe, the four marrying together quicker than a couple on Married at First Sight.
Soon beefy skewers of duck hearts emerge from a literal trial by fire, bronzed and content in their chargrilled state. Prawn cocktail, anyone? Yes, you heard me correctly – and no, you aren’t nose-deep in an Australian culinary magazine from the '70s. Instead, the retro summer staple distances itself from its gaudy prototype. Instead, it arrives dressed to the nines in diced celery and prawn meat swimming in a lightly spiced cocktail sauce with sprigs of dill while whole, extra raw prawns delicately balance off the rim of a Martini glass.
Fry’s magnum opus is a nod to the surf and turf. A monster charcoal-grilled, dry-aged 800g hunk of O'Connor rib-eye steak glistened in a pool of umami-laden prawn butter (a concoction devised of butter and heavy prawn bisque) deep-fried school prawns. It’s pre-cut to avoid making an Eton mess of the thing and best paired with fries.
Sommelier Alex makes suggestions according to our preference and spruiks the extensive wine list as 'Octopus’s Garden' by the Beatles plays in the background. Classic cocktails make a very welcomed appearance here, but they’re guided under different names: a Gibson is known as the venue’s signature Wet Poodle; a smoked lemonade shandy is a playful iteration of a country pub staple; and the White Ferrari gives a cousin of the Negroni a makeover with a combo of Cocchi Americano, gin and Lillet Blanc.
Saunter upstairs to the rooftop bar and snack on charcoal-grilled garfish topped with Champagne velouté and a Martini showcasing moss vermouth infused with orange and Szechuan peppercorns. Then, if it's warm, lap up the rays outside. Otherwise, you can sit by the fireplace like the king of Gertrude Street.
Matilda is a celebration of Australian meat, and the flames from the open kitchen are enough to warm the soul of even the most dedicated carnivore. Alluring mood lighting soothes the timber and leather furnishings, whetting appetites for bold flavours. The combination of wood fire, charcoal, and smoke does wonders for the flavour of steak, fish, and poultry. Everything from the potatoes to the apple tart tatin for dessert is smoked over hay.
Matilda has amazing regional ingredients cooked over open flames. The open fire and glowing coals in the stove ensure delicious meals, sturdy construction, and a cosy atmosphere. The use of various woods, smoke, and charcoal helps bring out the best in the natural products' flavours.
Regulars know they can count on getting a tasty local cut of meat cooked over an open flame and served with fresh, in-season vegetables.
Clare de Lune oysters, salmon roe tartlets, kangaroo tartare, smoked spanner crab, tiger flathead, duck with charred orange, and a selection of desserts are just some of the tasty options that might appear on the ever-changing menu. Wine, cocktails, and local craft beers are all available and make the ideal companions to any dish.
It’s hard not to notice Chotto Motto. The vibrant Japanese joint’s bold black and white facade immediately draws the eye. At the same time, inside, a soft red glow illuminates a quirky space with funky touches, including a giant box of Pocky biscuit sticks, a few purple Maneki-Neko (beckoning cat) talismans and a slot machine. There’s even a refurbished beer vending machine stocked with local brews from Stomping Ground and Temple Brewing, as well as a matcha IPA or a miso lager if you’re feeling game.
There are many bites to choose from, including crispy katsu sandwiches and a rotating selection of vegan soft serve, but its specialty is Hamamatsu-style gyoza. Fillings like shiitake, cabbage and ginger or chicken and coriander are served in rings of 10 or 20 via a pizza box. Oh, and you can also top them with gooey melted cheese for an extra $5 — it’s worth the splurge.
Vue De Monde
Vue de Monde has more history than you can poke a stick at to adopt its new Australian vernacular. The turn-of-the-century Carlton restaurant that announced Westmeadows wunderkind to the world. It's a grand statement, slightly awkward sophomore period at Normanby Chambers. And the past eight years perched at the top of the Rialto, where this Melbourne fine dining star has taken the mantra of evolution rather than revolution as it journeys from French-leaning neo-classical purist to a restaurant with its Aussie-accented voice.
With Bennett now splitting his time between Melbourne, Byron Bay, and the MasterChef set, how much of that shift can be attributed to the overlord himself and how much is due to various executive chef lieutenants anointed along the way, such as Mark Briggs, Cory Campbell and most recent incumbent Justin James, remains a matter of conjecture.
And conjecture we food boffins will. All that garden-variety diners need to know is that this slick black-on-black dining room is in good hands with the new kid on the block. Hugh Allen is 24, a graduate of various Noma incarnations, and a brilliant fit for the Vue of now. A meal at Vue de Monde is still dressed in the accoutrements of the Euro gastro-palaces Bennett came of age emulating. A Champagne trolley greets you on arrival; a cheese trolley helps bid adieu.
But this classical sandwich contains a modern filling that’s a more subtle taste of Australia than before. The intense moments have largely been banished; the mood is light-hearted rather than quasi-religious. Take heed of the bread: a pumpkin scone that shades Flo Bjelke-Petersen. Take heed of the obligatory Crudo number: lightly cured kingfish and avocado in a palate-brightening drift of wasabi “snow” conjured from Tassie-grown Japanese horseradish and frozen buttermilk. It’s cool, fresh and modern, with a polite measure of nostril-rattling edge.
Seafood plays a starring role. A bouncy mud crab and prawn snag seared at the table and popped into a brioche bun played to the international guests. Still, they will also give locals BBQ inspo with its tarragon emulsion and tendrils of pickled kohlrabi. Marron, the top dog of the WA crustacean scene, is a Vue regular, and Allen serves a just-set tail on a soft cauliflower and coconut puree and in a native curry sauce bedded in galangal, lemongrass and saffron that marries elements of bisque and laksa to a soundtrack of kumbaya harmonies.
Also rusted onto the menu is the palate cleanser of liquid nitrogen-frozen herbs and flowers you pulverise yourself before a waiter adds sea parsley sorbet. For anyone who’s eaten at Vue during its Rialto incarnation, it’s a bit of a new dog, old tricks scenario (“the pestle has landed”, a fellow food-writer recently texted from his own Vue experience).
But bring on the diner interactivity that now defines this most ambitious clique of restaurants across the globe. Vue has also received the memo that diners are no longer content to sit passively and be fed, so you might head out onto the balcony to toast chocolate-centred marshmallows over a mini-campfire. You might head over to the oyster station, where a chef with wit as dry as a dead dingo’s femur will shuck and top perfect Claire de Lune oysters with native condiments such as finger lime and lemon myrtle (a mark of the new Vue is that you can eat as many as you want. The record is 14. You’re welcome to try and beat it).
Meat courses run to smooth curls of salt-cured kangaroo with a lick of mountain pepper butter, salsify and wild garlic with an acid-bringing scattering of green ants on top. Next, there’s a saddle of lamb and sweetbreads in intense jus and a cloak of truffle before the one item Allen has been ordered to keep on the menu: the chocolate soufflé, now with a jolt of espresso ice cream. Good call.
And all the while, an international cast of waiters will satisfy and charm you through three-plus hours of dining power and make you forget the bill until the next day. Expensive? Hell yeah. At $275 a head for the seasonal tasting menu and $310, if you want to add a date with the cheese trolley and a dish of sea urchin and caviar, it’s not something you’d file under “everyday dining”. And even if you could, would you? But under the talented new custodian of this storied dining room, it’s a fun place to revisit as it continues on its way.
Hemingway’s Wine Room
Ernest himself would have felt right at home at Hemingway’s, a seductive homage to Europe’s wine bars. Bar shelves lined with bottles and books lend a bohemian vibe, while the brasserie’s red leather banquettes are pure Paris. Choose the prix fixe menu to splurge on delicate crab cake entrées and Wagyu filet mignon. Follow with your choice of dessert or cheeses from the trolley.
Hemingway’s Wine Room experience is focused on revitalising the elements of service, style, elegance and grace of the 1920’s brasseries of New York, London and Paris.
The venue has created a European-inspired menu that celebrates Australian produce with carefully selected ingredients with simplicity and elegance. The brasserie offers a two- to five-course a la carte menu, while a grazing snack menu is serviced in the wine bar.
When it comes to the wine list, Hemingway’s Wine Room offers a concise combination of the old and new world. The East Melbourne location also features five cocktails inspired by Hemingway's writing, placing its flair on each. Oyster and Champagne Wednesdays offer freshly shucked oysters, glasses of NV Champagne Billecart-Salmon, glasses of sparkling sake and glasses of Prosecco.
The idea for Windsor's new modern Middle Eastern restaurant Balagan Kitchen was born when the owner took a trip to Israel to celebrate his birthday. Having run Toorak's Cafe Latte for just shy of 30 years, the Italian restaurateur fell in love with Middle Eastern culture and food, which resembled a familiar way of life to him: loud gatherings, sharing food and balagan — a Yiddish word borrowed from Russian (and before that Persian) — that means 'chaos' or 'mess.'
Partnering up with his son and self-taught graphic designer opened Balagan Kitchen on High Street in Windsor just over three months ago. Though this lunch and dinner venue boasts a clean and minimal aesthetic, at peak times, the restaurant is the living embodiment of balagan — patrons fill up the small space quickly, and slightly frenetic energy ensues.
Pink neon lights cover the walls, and vibrant share platters cover the tables. On the menu, you'll find everything from beef brisket with pickled peppers ($28), a spiced half chicken with paprika and couscous ($30) and fish shakshuka ($33) — a meal commonly served for breakfast — all crafted by the venue's Iraqi-born head chef Akad Al-Gupta.
Green falafel balls (four for $12) and crisp filo pastry halloumi cigars (two for $13) are the hot favourites for starters. At the same time, the baked cauliflower served with pomegranate, and a generous dollop of labneh ($16) is the perfect accompaniment to mains with bold, spicy flavours.
For lunch, between 12–4 pm, the kitchen offers generous lunch trays for $17–19 a pop. They're platters packed with grilled chicken, roasted lamb or falafel and salad, pickles, dips and fluffy pita.
The halva semifreddo ($12) is the best way to end your visit to Balagan Kitchen — it's a dish that both the staff and patrons wholeheartedly agree is one of the most delicious items on the menu. This serving of halva (a soft, fudge-like Middle Eastern dessert) is served with pistachio, dates and snow-white fairy floss.
Hope St Radio
One of the best new openings of the past year, Hope St Radio is a bar/restaurant/indie radio station unlike anything else in Melbourne. The food menu features a rotating, seasonal selection of comforting food with a fresh spin. For wine, there’s a focus on interesting, minimal-intervention drops from around the world. Your date will be impressive.
It's easy to find a Mexican restaurant or bar in Melbourne, Australia, whether you're looking for a Tex-Mex joint or a hidden mezcal lounge. The historically Italian neighbourhood of Carlton now has a shrine to tacos and tequila. Taquito is a modest establishment located on Drummond Street. However, miniatures are the order of the day. Alex Villareal, the restaurant's manager and owner, explains that the name comes from the Spanish word for "little taco," but in a more endearing context. It's a cute way of saying "I love you."
Taquito may be a tiny restaurant with a tiny name, but its food packs a big flavour punch. There is a garden in the back of the cosy eatery, full of chilli plants and other spices that, unsurprisingly, make appearances on the menu. Unlike most Australian restaurants, their tortillas are made fresh daily. To further enhance the flavour and texture of the fillings, Villereal recommends using handmade tortillas. Corn flatbreads at Tequila are hand-pressed and cooked on a custom charcoal grill, and they come topped with things like fire-roasted, peppery pumpkin paired with velvety avocado and tri-tip steak with fiery salsa and a heaping helping of rich cheese. You can pair them with homemade corn chips and dips like whipped tofu, radish, sorrel, or hot cheddar and peppers. Taquito features a long list of tequilas and mezcals in each of its five signature cocktails, in addition to a wine list and a selection of craft beers. If you're in the mood for something light, try the High Ball made with Trombo tequila, ginger, lemon, and plum; if you're in the mood for something spicy, go for Tommy's margarita with charred jalapeo.
Villareal aimed to create an atmosphere similar to that of a Mexican home by decorating the bar with cacti and other mementoes of Mexico and serving food and drink that has a similar, comforting quality. Along with a margarita on tap, a small brewery, and a bottle shop stocked with Mexican specialities, Villereal has lofty goals for Taquito's future.
Akaiito is the place to be if you're dreaming of stealthy, high-end Japanese cuisine with a dramatic twist. It's perfect for covert meetings, being dark and moody with just a rosy ribbon of light overhead. Your eight-course set menu will be prepared by the robata chefs and sushi masters while you watch from a table near the show kitchen. From the Wagyu tartare to the robata-grilled kingfish collar, it's an exquisite tasting menu. Located on Flinders Lane, Akaiito is a top-notch Japanese eatery.
Superb imported Japanese coals are used in a massive, traditional Robatayaki grill to cook a blend of premium imported and locally sourced ingredients. The fresh seafood, meat, and vegetables on the seasonal set degustation menu are all prepared in-house. The grill and sushi bar also offer a variety of hot and cold dishes. Guests need not worry about getting bored, as the menu is constantly being updated to reflect the freshest seasonal ingredients.
The Robatayaki grill is the main attraction, and there is also a transparent sushi show kitchen where you can get some excellent nigiri and sashimi. The Underground Bar and Restaurant is tucked away in a basement for those who prefer to keep their identities secret. You can enjoy some light a la carte fare and drinks with a Japanese twist at the bar.
TuanTuan Chinese Brasserie
Carlton’s Tuan Tuan has a Parisian-chic interior, but the cuisine is Hong Kong comfort food. So take a seat at your table for two in the courtyard, next to the Shanghainese mural and central spotlit tree. Don’t miss out on the signature snow buns with beef or crispy pineapple. Instead, go Macau-style with pork and seafood on rice, or try congee with abalone and chicken.
Tuan Tuan Chinese Brasserie is a Manila-based cha chaan Teng (Hong Kong-style restaurant) chain that opened its first Australian location in Carlton. TaunTauns pastel-coloured interiors are reminiscent of a chic French brasserie. The menu, however, features a range of Hong Kong-style comfort food that is delicious, quick, and authentic.
If you like a mix of sweet and savoury flavours, try the crispy pork buns stuffed with a choice of barbecue pork, pineapple, salted egg custard, or almond cream. There's also a range of curries, congee, noodle soup, and Macanese rice dishes.
Melbourne's hot gnocchi destination is tucked away in Carlton North. However, good Gnocchi is slinging some top-notch takes on its namesake dish on Nicholson Street, manned by the Owner.
On the menu, you'll find a handful of $15 gnocchi options — think butter sage, walnut pesto, three-cheese gnocchi and a classic bolognese number. All can come extra cheesy on request or paired with garlic bread for an extra few bucks.
Gluten-free pumpkin gnocchi is also up for grabs, as is vegan cashew cheese if you're sans dairy. It's hot, fast, and a solid antidote to a sad desk sandwich. And it's already proven a serious hit with local lunch breakers looking for comfort food in the cooler (and warmer) months.