There’s no one-restaurant-fits-all rule when it comes to wining and dining the grown-ups, but there are a few things you can do to mitigate disaster when you're choosing a parent-friendly restaurant in Melbourne.

I can only remember my mum ever having one rule for me when I was growing up. “Never dine in a moving restaurant.” Nothing that punts. Nothing set in a novelty tram. Strictly nothing that revolves. Apart from that, it was all fair game, but I know she has firmer guidelines for her own dining experiences. More still if she’s dining with her parents. 

“You want a restaurant where you can make a booking, where you don’t have that uncertainty about whether or not you’ll get a table,” she says. “That eliminates quite a few.”

Food writers are asked for restaurant recommendations all the time, naturally. For dates, for birthdays, for celebrations and commiserations. But maybe the curliest question of all is that of where to take your parents to dinner.

Plainly, that will depend on the parent, or parents, in question. Are they yours? Are they bringing theirs? Do they party? Are they seniors? Are they willing to share food? Can they hear? Can they drink? Are they with child? How do they define value? Are they willing to forfeit control?

According to family lawyer Jill Miller, mother of two (full disclosure, this is my mum we’re talking about), noise level is your first consideration. “Shouting at your parents is not the go, really. You’re there to catch up and fill them in on what you’ve been doing and find out what they’ve been doing,” says Miller. Any restaurant that requires you to lean forward to hear each other is automatically out of the running, too – “they do like to be able to communicate and hear,” she says.

Time pressure is not great either. “The whirlwind of restaurants where you’ve got the early sitting and they’re really pressing you in terms of keeping the whole show moving is fine for me, but if we’re talking older parents, it’s not so good.” There are parents who can cope with that, she says, but parents in their seventies and eighties don’t want to feel rushed. They’re there to spend time with their kids, “and being asked to wait outside in the winter for the early service to conclude is not so good either”. 

It’s not all about the big-ticket establishments, she says. The feel of the place is crucial, and, importantly, atmosphere tends to trump prestige. “Beautiful food is also a plus, but it doesn’t have to be fancy or high-end or the most exciting new thing. It’s got to be comfortable and welcoming.”

But it’s all dependent on the parent. Jill, my mum, cares less about fancy décor and more about the certainty of being able to book a table and the availability of good things to drink by the glass. “I also like a place with a French Martini.” 

So then, where is this unicorn establishment that you can book, where you can hear, where you won’t be rushed, where the food is delicious, the décor comfortable and the service welcoming? “Solid neighbourhood restaurants where you’re well looked after and treated kindly, not dismissively by people who are wanting to turn over the tables quickly,” she says, and “your reliable local restaurant can be a good place to start.”

Here are 20 options you might like to start with. 

Chef Philippa Sibley recently took over the pans at this definitively neighbourhood restaurant, and she’s welcoming parents of all stripes for effortlessly good dinners.
32 Best St, Fitzroy North,  

Rosa’s Canteen
Homey Sicilian food. Excellent local produce. Smart legal quarter digs.
Level 1, cnr Lt Bourke and Thompson St, Melbourne,

Flower Drum
The grand dame of Cantonese dining. Spacious and – crucially – carpeted, for a quiet banquet with a smooth underfoot feel and concierge-like service.
17 Market Ln, Melbourne,

The European
Moody. Old Worldy. Casual Continental goodness.
161 Spring St, Melbourne,

Crystal Jade
Comfortable, time-honoured Cantonese restaurant with a strong yum cha service.
154 Little Bourke St, Melbourne,

French with Japanese characteristics? Japanese with French accents? Either way this is one very well put together, parent-friendly bistro.
960 High St, Armadale,

The Recreation
Lovely pub bistro. Great food. Not loud.
162-170 Queens Pde, Fitzroy North,

French Saloon
Breezy. Serene. Bistro.
First Floor, 46 Hardware Ln, Melbourne, 

Seriously good pizza from the Tipo 00 team. Spacious. Welcoming.
335 Lygon St, Brunswick East,

Caterina’s Cucina e Bar
Passionate, northern-leaning Italian food in a lively Queen Street basement. Caterina lives to serve.
221 Queen St, Melbourne,

Secret Kitchen
The yum cha is excellent, but – pssst – the real secret is that you can feed your parents a whole roast goose for under $200.
222 Exhibition St, Melbourne,

Lee Ho Fook
Self-styled “new-style” Chinese. A meticulously plated, modern look at Chinese food from all over the Middle Kingdom.
11-15 Duckboard Pl, Melbourne,

Marion Wine Bar
A fabulous wine bar by any measure, and Andrew McConnell’s most parent-friendly restaurant.
53 Gertrude St, Fitzroy,

Builders Arms Hotel
A fabulous hotel by any measure, and Andrew McConnell’s most parent-friendly pub.
211 Gertrude St, Fitzroy,

Of all the opulent flourishes that made this French fine diner Melbourne’s fanciest opening of 2024, it’s the impeccable acoustic treatment that feels the most luxurious – and parent-pleasing.
380 Collins St, Melbourne,

Regional Victoria

Tedesca Osteria
Simple, sublime cooking in the warmest room on the Peninsula.
1175 Mornington-Flinders Rd, Red Hill,

Flash Chinese in a flash country winery: Helen and Joey Estate. What’s not a parent to love?
12-14 Spring Ln, Gruyere,

An impossibly pretty dining room that sings with the promise of lobster bisque and sweet, seasonal clafoutis. Stunning.
178 High St, Heathcote,

Du Fermier
Annie Smithers’ French farmstyle restaurant is the original parent trap, a destination restaurant par excellence.
42 High St, Trentham,

Hogget Kitchen
An eminently welcoming restaurant that has parent written all over it from one of Gippsland’s finest chefs, Trevor Perkins.
6 Farrington Cl, Warragul,

By Frank Sweet