Melbourne’s Oldest Restaurants

Melbourne’s oldest restaurant is Florentino (est.1928), if you count restaurants opened on the same site, serving the same cuisine under the same name. The oldest continuously running restaurant (as far as I could find) is Cuckoo Restaurant in Olinda (est.1958) which took over the site from Quamby (est.1914). Even though they’re important to local cuisine, I’m not counting pubs. The oldest is the Duke of Wellington (est.1853) but it’s unclear if it has had a kitchen for that long.

Can you make generalisations about who will last a quarter of a century in the restaurant business? Is there a recipe for success in Melbourne?

Name yourself Jim and serve any cuisine at all as Jim’s Greek Tavern, Jimmy Watson’s (Italian), Jim Wong (Chinese) all attest. As for location, get in on Lygon Street and serve affordable Italian food, or as close to Parliament House as possible. Public servants obviously like to eat.

As for what to serve, it doesn’t seem to matter a great deal. The quarter century industry survivors run the gamut from some the world’s finest dining to unmitigated shit. There’s not any clear pattern as to what price point or level of service guarantees longevity. What does guarantee it is that they’re almost all family-friendly. If you go to any of them for a weekend lunch, I’d bet there would be more than one high chair. This is a list of restaurants where people went as children and still return as adults.

Here’s the list from the map: all of Melbourne’s restaurants older than 25 years as of today. Huge thanks to eatnik, essjayeff, stickifingers, mysecondhelping and dananikanpour for all the suggestions.

I’m sure that there are a large number missing: almost every suburban fish and chip shop will be 25 years old by now. It also omits chain restaurants. The first McDonalds opened in Melbourne (Glen Waverly) in 1973 and by 1982, there were 33. In the same year, there were 35 Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets. Burger King set foot in town in 1986. Also a word of caution about the opening years: they’re not necessarily exact. Quite a few were gleaned from reviews where they mention that a restaurant has “been open for more than 30 years” without mentioning an exact date.

If you know of any missing, comment below.

NameEstablishedCuisine
Abla's1979
Alasya Restaurant1978Lebanese
Bedi's Indian Restaurant1980Indian
Brunetti - Carlton1985Italian
Cafe Di Stasio1989Italian
Caffe e Cucina1988Italian
Casa Del Gelato1980Italian
Cuckoo Restaurant1958German
Donnini's Pasta1981Italian
Domenico's Pizza1968Italian
Dragon Boat Restaurant1986Chinese
Dunyazad Lebanese RestaurantLebanese
Flower Drum Restaurant1975Chinese
France-Soir1986French
Gaylord Indian Restaurant1985Indian
Golden Orchids Malaysian Restaurant1979Malaysian
Grossi Florentino1928Italian
Hanabishi Japanese Restaurant1988Japanese
Il Gambero1970Italian
Izakaya Chuji1989Japanese
Jim Wong Restaurant1968Chinese
Jimmy Watson's Wine Bar1935Italian
Jim's Greek Tavern1980Greek
Joe's GarageItalian
Kunis Japanese Restaurant1977Japanese
La Porchetta Carlton1985Italian
La Spaghettata Restaurant1984Italian
Lobster Cave1987Seafood
MariosItalian
Masani Italian Restaurant1984Italian
Paris Go BistroFrench
Patee Thai - Fitzroy1983Thai
Pellegrini's Espresso Bar1954Italian
Penang Coffee House1976Malaysian
Poon'sChinese
Ricardo's TrattoriaItalian
Shakahari Vegetarian Restaurant1972Vegetarian
Shark Fin Inn City1980Chinese
Spaghetti TreeItalian
Stokehouse1989Modern Australian
Stuzzichino Caffe Bar Spuntini1987Italian
Sukhothai Restaurant1989Thai
Supper Inn Chinese RestaurantChinese
Tandoori Den Camberwell1981Indian
Isthmus of Kra1989Thai
The Old Paper Shop DeliCaf‚
The Olive Tree1971Italian
The Waiters Club1947Italian
THY THY RestaurantVietnamese
TiamoItalian
Toto's Pizza House1961Italian
University Cafe1953Italian
Vlado's Charcoal Grill1964Steak
Warung Agus1989Indonesian
Geppetto Trattoria1981Italian
Eastern Bell1989Chinese

Is authenticity xenophobic?

My favourite Mexican cookbook is Marilyn Tausend’s Cocina De La Familia because it is not devoutly Mexican. Tausend isn’t Mexican and collated her recipes from interviews with home cooks across America rather than in Mexico. Recipes come with the location that they were collected and the Mexican state where the recipe or cook originated. It captures the evanescent nature of immigrant food; the adaptations and innovation required from living somewhere other than home and cooking for the eternally-shifting tastes of Americans that at some point in the past came from Mexico. It says “authentic” on the cover but it is an uneasy label for a book that documents a cuisine that has thoroughly changed from an imaginary state of origin south of the border.

I like it because it gives Mexican-Americans a huge amount of credit and agency for adapting traditional recipes. Cooking nachos is given equal importance to cooking a more traditional looking sopa. The emphasis is on delicious rather than time-honoured.

With the current flood of Mexican restaurants opening across Melbourne, the laziest way to deride them is decry their lack of authenticity, ticking off your personal list as to whether they serve corn smut or cabeza or whatever other edible markers of tradition apply, making an assiduous note of the ethnicity of the chef. As soon as that happens, you deny that food and culture are mutable, and shifts to accommodate the locals.

Recently, Gustavo Arellano took this up in an interview in the New York Times.

But he is wary of the many non-Mexicans who have anointed themselves as ambassadors for Mexican food in the United States, from Bertha Haffner-Ginger (who taught cooking classes at The Los Angeles Times in the early 20th century and wrote an influential and confusing cookbook called “California Mexican-Spanish Cook Book”) to more modern arbiters of taste like the British expatriate Diana Kennedy and the Chicago chef Rick Bayless.

For Mr. Arellano, non-Mexicans who glorify “authentic” Mexican cuisine, even with respectful intent, are engaging in a kind of xenophobia. “It’s a different way of keeping Mexican food separate, out of the American mainstream,” said Mr. Arellano, who calls Mexican-food purists “Baylessistas.”

Arrellano has excellent form – his now decade old column “Ask a Mexican” in the OC Weekly pokes into the recesses and excesses of Mexican-American culture, often to hilarious effect. To underline his idea of authenticity: he’s a man who takes a great deal of joy in what happens when you translate Vietnamese food for a Latino clientele rather than seeing it as a culinary abomination.

To Arrellano (and me), food is more interesting where cultures butt heads and I can’t imagine a situation more interesting than watching what happens in Melbourne where the previous culture of Mexican food that was wrapped up in the yellow box of an Old El Paso meal kit runs into the current one that seems to revere the taco truck of Roy Choi rather than the markets of Oaxaca.

Melbourne Restaurant Name Generator: Mexican Edition

Since the City of Melbourne passed an edict that no new restaurant can get a liquor licence in Melbourne unless it serves a fish taco, my Melbourne restaurant name generator has become redundant. I’ve been meaning to write some reviews, but most of the new joints do a pretty good job of satirising themselves. So inspired by this tweet from Beechworth chef Michael Ryan, here’s a Mexican edition of the restaurant name generator. Name that new restaurant:

Jorge Colombaris

Press reload for more authentic Mexican suggestions. Also, inspired by my original generator, Willamette Week in Portland has made a local version.

Food Blogger Tip: New Melbourne restaurants with no reviews

A short while ago Fitzroyalty thought that I might be up to the challenge of building some sort of site that churned out lists all of the unreviewed restaurants in Melbourne.

I quite clearly wasn’t. I tried a few approaches and none were at all accurate. I couldn’t think of an immediate way to legally make money from it and lost all motivation.

In its stead, here is a bundle of RSS feeds that grabs new restaurants from Urbanspoon that have never been reviewed by a food blogger whom suckles from Urbanspoon’s teat. If you subscribe, it will alert you when a new restaurant in Melbourne is added or an unreviewed restaurant is updated in the Google index, so that you can be first to post your capsule-sized review. It’s not all quality. You’ll get alerts whenever a new McDonalds graces the earth or your local milk bar gets uppity and installs a coffee machine, but you’ll soon realise that almost all of the writing about restaurants in Melbourne happens within a ten kilometre radius.

Melbourne Restaurant Alerts

Indentured Labour: Camy Shanghai Dumpling House’s secret, part 2

Last time that I mentioned Camy Shanghai Dumpling House, I conjectured that the popularity was due to its open secret status and cheapness. At least now we know where the cheapness comes from: not paying their staff. From the Herald-Sun:

Mr Chang worked 13-hour days from 9.30am-10.30pm with only five-minute breaks, which had to be approved by the boss, for $100 a day.

He worked six days a week and his only holiday was Christmas Day, according to Federal Magistrate Grant Riethmuller. “It is clear that the patrons attended for the quality of the Shanghai dumpling-style cooking rather than the ambience of the premises,” Mr Riethmuller said.

Mr Chang feared if he lost his job his visa would be cancelled and he took action only after he had permanent Australian residency, the magistrate said.

The court found that Mr Chang had been underpaid from December 2004 to January 2008.

Mr Riethmuller ordered restaurant owners Min-Seng Zheng and Rui Zhi Fu to pay $172,677 in unpaid overtime and penalty rates, and $25,000 of superannuation. Their lawyer, Alex Lewenberg, said the owners planned to appeal.

I also praise Federal Magistrate Grant Riethmuller for his knowledge of the premises.

Melbourne Restaurant Name Generator

Not sure what to name that new cafe or restaurant that you’ve lovingly crafted from rotting couches in a Melbourne laneway? Can’t find an fitting piece of pornocracy or Italian horror film to print on your disposable coffee cups?

All you need to do is combine an honorific of some kind with the name of a character on Mad Men, or parts of a spaghetti Western with a radio call sign. Or do all four at once and then follow whatever food trend is hot right now.

I think you should name it:

Press reload for more random free advice.

There is a one in nine hundred chance that you’ll get the exact name of a real restaurant. Sorry.