November 25, 2023

Melbourne’s most exciting eat streets are not where you might expect


Eating outRestaurant news

New roads, station upgrades and expanding migrant communities are changing the face of Melbourne dining.

Dani Valent

November 25, 2023

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If you listen to some people, you’d think Melbourne’s most exciting eating happens in Flinders Lane and Gertrude Street. They might extend to Brunswick East if pushed. Not true. Melbourne’s most fascinating and fast-changing food precincts are at all points of the compass well beyond the CBD grid.

Epping, 18 kilometres north of the CBD, is hugely multicultural, with people of Italian, Indian and Macedonian backgrounds featuring strongly. At the 2021 census, 61 per cent of residents reported having two parents born overseas, compared with the Victorian average of 41 per cent.

The food scene in Epping is strong, boosted by the ongoing redevelopment of an old quarry site as New Epping, and fast-growing surrounding precincts such as Wollert, just to the north, which had a 170 per cent increase in its number of dwellings between 2015 and 2021.

Abruzzo Lab in Epping specialises in charcoal-cooked meat on skewers.Luis Enrique Ascui

Michelle Di Pietro opened Epping’s Abruzzo Lab in 2018, with a focus on the southern Italian province’s traditional arrosticini (skewers). “Epping has grown a lot since I opened,” she says. “We get all kinds of cultures coming into the shop and my staff are from everywhere: Fiji, India, Nepal and Italy. I’m the only one born here.”


She finds that people from all over the world can connect over charcoal-cooked meat on skewers. “Japanese call it yakitori, Greeks call it gyros,” says Di Pietro. “Today I had a customer from Peru, and she brought her mum in to show me a Peruvian skewer with ox heart. I’m going to make it for them for a catering event.

“I brought signora into the kitchen; she spoke very little English, but we cut the ox heart together and she showed me her marinade with green chilli. It was an honour, and we had a lot of fun. We often find cultures coming together over a skewer.”

New roads are often a factor in a suburb’s surge. The upgrade of western suburbs artery Leakes Road in late 2019 has supported expanded hospitality trade in Truganina, 22 kilometres west of the city.

Yogi Patel owns Dessert Corner Lounge, which has just opened in Truganina’s Sapphire Square commercial park, completed at the end of 2020.


Dessert Corner helped spark a wave of other restaurant openings in Truganina.Chris Hopkins

“When I moved to nearby Point Cook 12 years ago, people told me they call it Mumbai Cook because there are a lot of Indians here,” he says. “Since I moved here, there’s a lot of growth in the Indian, Pakistani and Nepali communities. It makes sense that their requirement for the food, clothing and cultural activity that connects them with their background also increased. Demand leads to supply.”

According to the 2021 census, 26.6 per cent of Truganina residents were born in India compared to 4 per cent overall in Victoria.

“We often find cultures coming together over a skewer.”

Michelle Di Pietro, Abruzzo Lab, Epping

Patel notes the number of Hindu temples, mosques and gurdwaras (Sikh temples) in the area, as well as a new cricket academy. But food is the big mover.


“A few restaurants took a chance and opened something and as soon as they did it, they got busy,” he says. “Now there are 10 or 12 restaurants surrounding us. There’s no other place with so many good restaurants in close proximity.”

Chefs Mary and her sister Jacinta Ekeroma at Banana Leaf in Hampton Park.SImon Schluter

In the south-east, the Hallam Road train station upgrade and level crossing removal have been a boon for Hampton Park, nestled between Dandenong and Cranbourne 36 kilometres from the city. The Afghan influence is strong in the area but Sesilia Ekeroma, the owner of year-old Banana Leaf, who runs it with her two daughters, Mary and Jacinta, also notes a strong Polynesian influence.

“There are a lot of Islander people coming in from Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand, and the Cook Islands,” says the Samoan entrepreneur, who had a market stall in Apia, the island nation’s capital. “People love our marinated lamb and turkey tail, fried flounder, and raw tuna with coconut cream and lemon. Everyone tells us our food is amazing, better than other restaurants.”

Elham Al Hajj, manager at Amir’s Lebanese Bakery in Hampton Park.SImon Schluter


Elham Al Hajj is the manager at nearby Amir’s Lebanese Bakery. ”It’s a good area, quiet without any trouble,” she says. “We have people from every culture and I love introducing them to our Lebanese breakfast with zaatar pide, our shanklish pastry, and our coffee in little pots that we boil on the stove.”

Hurstbridge, 28 kilometres north-east of the city, is an access point to the northern reaches of the Yarra Valley. It’s less of an immigrant hub, with 86 per cent of residents born in Australia.

“For a long time, Hurstbridge has been seen as having untapped potential,” says Lachlan Dougherty, owner of next-wave coffee roastery and cafe Black Vice, which opened in 2019. He followed eight-seat Greasy Zoes, which opened in Hurstbridge in 2017 and has climbed the ladder to two hats in The Age Good Food Guide, with reviewers lauding its locally sourced contemporary tasting menus and intimate atmosphere.

Greasy Zoes owners Lachlan Gardner and Zoe Birch have pioneered a wave of openings in Hurstbridge.Justin McManus

“Greasy Zoes paved the way,” says Dougherty. “They’ve proven there is an appetite in the area for unique dining experiences and that definitely helped feed our vision for bringing something new and different to Hurstbridge.”


The suburb is developing further with the opening of a new branch of The French Lettuce, a patisserie that launched in Carlton in 1984. “We really like the area,” says director Hudson Brown. “We did a Father’s Day market here and the response was huge. A lot of people know us already – their sister got their wedding cake from us in 1995 or whatever. I have people knocking on the door asking when we’re opening. They can’t wait.”

The Black Vice team welcomes the new player. “It will bring new people into town,” says Dougherty. “It’s a cool next thing, part of Hurstbridge’s continued progress.” There is still room for improvement, though. “We’re missing evening dining options,” he says. “If anyone is thinking of opening a casual nighttime restaurant, we need it here.”

Arrosticini (skewers) are served in a terracotta container at Abruzzo Lab in Epping.Luis Enrique Ascui

Eating beyond the CBD grid


Abruzzo LabSouthern Italian skewers cooked over charcoal and served in terracotta pots. 24-30 Taryn Drive, Epping,

Little Narai of EppingLocal Thai known for duck spring rolls and lemongrass-steamed barramundi.61 Rufus Street, Epping,

Oreganos BakehouseBeloved for zaatar pides, shanklish boats and braided “flower” pastries with sweet fillings.2A Union Street, Epping, 0498 638 764 

TraderAt the local Mantra hotel, this bright dining room is appreciated for its buffet breakfasts.250 Cooper Street, Epping,


Pistachio cheesecake at Dessert Corner Lounge in Truganina.Chris Hopkins


BukharaOne of Truganina’s fancier options for northern Indian banqueting.4 Corundum Lane, Truganina,

ChaskahNostalgic hangout for Indian street food like kathi rolls, golgappe and papdi chaat. Shop 7, 203 Palmers Road, Truganina,

Dessert Corner LoungeTwo-level Indian dessert restaurant that also serves fusion savoury food.13A Tallis Circuit, Truganina,

Gobind SweetsPopular emporium for Indian sweets such as milk cake and ladoo, along with savoury dishes.Shop 33, 20 Prosperity Street, Truganina, 0401 590 000

Black Vice keeps Hurstbridge residents caffeinated.Luis Enrique Ascui


Black ViceCoffee roastery with an upmarket cafe offering. Draws include great cakes and a lovely outdoor area.946 Heidelberg-Kinglake Road, Hurstbridge,

The French LettuceOpening in the next week or so, this patisserie and cafe draws on 40 years of experience. 794 Heidelberg-Kinglake Road, Hurstbridge,

Greasy ZoesTiny two-hatted restaurant with a tasting menu using locally sourced ingredients from artisan growers.Shop 3, 850 Heidelberg-Kinglake Road, Hurstbridge,

Panton Hill WineryCellar door tastings and light meals at a bucolic Euro-style winery surprisingly close to the city.145 Manuka Road, Panton Hill,

Marinated chicken and lamb with curry, banana and chow mein at Banana Leaf in Hampton Park.Simon Schluter


Hampton Park

Amir’s Lebanese BakeryLarge bakery and food store where you can eat in or take away. Excellent zaatar pide and shanklish pastries.62-63 Commerce Drive, Hampton Park,

Banana LeafExcellent Pasifika food to eat in or takeaway. Try the potato curry, spiced lamb ribs or chop suey with vermicelli.Shop 6, 4 Fordholm Road, Hampton Park, 0484 641 046

Hampton Park ThaiAlmost all dishes are less than $20, and lunch specials such as laksa and curry are just $12.90. Everything is halal.Shop 15, 55 Hallam Road, Hampton Park,

Pondok BetawiSuper cute Indonesian restaurant with some seating on a raised platform. Plenty for vegetarians.Shop 14, 6 Fordholm Road, Hampton Park,

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Dani Valentis a food writer and restaurant reviewer.

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