MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – September is beckoning its sexy little finger, whispering promises of a springtime cure to everything wrong with the world. In Melbourne, we’re taking our first tentative, frostbitten steps out of a disgustingly bitter winter.
That’s right: It’s date season. Time to start locking down some potential summertime flings.
But there’s an issue with dating – aside from the usual horrorshow of it all – that has been troubling me of late.
Melbourne, with the entire weight of its cultural capital hinged on the promise of “excellent nightlife”, has felt distinctly barren of any good places to go. I’ve reached out to countless friends on numerous occasions: where do I take a hottie that isn’t god-awful???
The problem isn’t our cold city’s offering of excellent bars, cafes, restaurants and nightclubs. The problem here is me, and my lack of audacity. Always visiting the same old spots. I have let my fear of a bad time overtake my desire for a good one. This attitude is stupid, and must be stopped.
I doubt I’m the only person to be feeling this way, though.
So, it’s Friday night. You’ve got a date. Where to go? What can you expect?
That’s where I come in. I’m rating all of Melbourne’s best date spots. And I’ll give you nothing but the visceral truth.
OLD PALM LIQUOR
Nestled in the “date night strip” that is the East Brunswick end of Lygon Street, Old Palm Liquor (OPL) is a restaurant-slash-wine bar that is almost synonymous with its $20, litre bottles of natty wine: a gorgeous offering solely responsible for keeping the inner north sauced – and slightly more sane – throughout numerous devastating lockdowns.
Having only been there before to pick up the aforementioned litres of wine, I only had a basic understanding of the vibes: cosy, beautiful interior, friendly staff, lots of nice bottles.
It was busy, as expected on a Friday night, and I felt a little shy before entering. But the shyness dissolved as we were warmly welcomed. No weirdness to note.
The front bar was popping the fuck off, packed with clusters of couples, and laughter ricocheted throughout the room. The music was just loud enough to set a carousing vibe. I am terrified of trendy spots but I felt immediately at home here, which was probably because every last person in the joint was hot and sexy. But not in an intimidating way. Every staff member looked like someone I wanted to be friends with, everyone was smiling, the atmosphere was convivial.
A former bartender, I can confirm the bar is the sexiest place to sit on a date. It’s less formal, great for sharing plates, and there’s plenty to look at so you don’t have to constantly make eye contact. A friend told me that it’s good psychologically, too, because in your brain it’s like you and your companion are on the same team. You’re also positioned to chat with your server, which is fun.
But we were seated in a nook in the back dining room, which turned out to be a fucking vibe because we were right next to the fireplace.
The temperature throughout the venue was perfect. This was very important to me – I did not wear a little black dress for it to be hidden under layer number two of four – and there’s a huge courtyard for the vaping fanatics (everyone) which I mentally pinned as a spot for future casual drinks. Like the rest of the venue, it was really well heated and really well lit.
The lighting was spot on. Just dim enough. Some places take it way too far with the dimming of the lights. Candlelight can be useful if you don’t care to get too good of a look at your date - but I personally prefer being able to see whatever and whoever I’ll be eating.
They also have oysters on the menu, thank God. Oysters are the perfect sexy start to kick off your palate and find out whether your date fucks or not. If your date doesn’t fuck with oysters, I don’t know what to tell you.
The menu is pretty big and covers all the usual bases: snacks, small plates, mains and dessert. Designed for sharing, as it should be.
We started off with the globe artichoke fritti: fried artichokes with a tangy, creamy sauce. It reminded me of fish and chips – the artichokes had been brined with a salty vinegar concoction, battered and fried. Then we had the swordfish crudo, which was velvety and soft and melted on the tongue. The flatbread went hard. It was glazed with toum, a Lebanese sauce of garlic, lemon, olive oil and salt all ground together in a mortar and pestle, and served with labne – an unparalleled combination.
The whole garlic thing might be stressful for some on a date, but you can’t let thoughts of bad breath disrupt your desire for delicious food. Buy some mints and grow up.
For balance and health we got the citrus salad. Juicy slices of blood orange, mandarin and grapefruit all covered in thick shavings of parmesan, which both looked beautiful and tasted divine.
I wanted to get the fries but my date laughed at me over the concept of getting hot chippies at a nice restaurant. I forgave him because he then let me go on a rant about high-low: No matter how fancy the spot, if they’re on the menu, you should get the chips. They could be the best chips of your life.
Ultimately, we skipped the chips and the mains because it was a date and didn’t want to be put to sleep. But we did enjoy a few wines… natural of course… when in Melbourne etcetera. The wine list was phat with uncountable bottles and the “by the glass” section was very accessible.
The service was great, the staff were attentive but not too attentive, and they clearly knew their shit. Although it’s a beautiful venue with clear attention to detail, the vibes were overall laid back and fun.
I hate to be so overwhelmingly positive and yet I’d hate to lie.
My date said: “Ahhh I would rate it highly too, food and wine was yummy and the staff were attentive without being annoying and everything came out relatively quickly.”
So there you have it.
It is more on the upscale side, so just be prepared for that. Like, don’t take a first date here unless you have a really good feeling about them. Ensure whoever is paying is down to invest in a great dining experience. It’s totally worth it, though.
Mood, lighting, music, service, food, wine, atmosphere, joie de vivre, comfort, warmth, 6969/10.
It was really good. But is it the BEST? My quest continues…