She is also the writer and presenter of Behind the Bar with Cara Devine, a YouTube channel dedicated to all things bar and booze, and writes for industry publications including Australian Bartender Magazine and A+ Insights.
Her book Strong, Sweet and Bitter has just hit the shelves, and it aims to demystify the world of cocktails and encourage people to be creative when mixing drinks whether at home or in the bar.
My locals are… I’m lucky to live right on the border of Carlton, Carlton North, Fitzroy and Princes Hill so I’m spoilt for choice. My go-to cafe is Fenton – they own a farm so the produce is always great and the staff are lovely. Gerald’s Bar is a dangerous local as well, it’s hard to stick to just one drink when the atmosphere is so welcoming. Their Olive Spritz and the smoked mozzarella caprese is a classic combination. I love having Carlton Baths nearby for a dip as well, and try to spend as much time as possible lazing on the median strip behind my house when the weather is good (with a tinny from The Wine Corner of course).
I know I’m in Melbourne when I can base a day of activities around a single neighbourhood. Date night on Lygon Street with snacks and a sherry at Heartattack and Vine, cheap-movie night at Cinema Nova then a big bowl of pasta at Tiamo. Or, head out to Footscray for beers at Mr West and incredible Uyghur food, or roti at Roti Road. Or, head to Preston Markets and then play some arcade games at The Keys, have a glass of wine at Jamsheed and a feed at One Noodle Friendship or Tina’s Noodle Kitchen. I love how every suburb has its own identity – it feels like you can have a little holiday in your own city; it keeps things fresh.
In the mornings you’ll find me in bed, cuddling my cat and waiting for my wonderful fiancé to bring me a cup of coffee; we’re currently drinking McIver’s Coffee from the Queen Victoria Markets. I’m a natural night owl, but I try to get up and do some YouTube yoga or Pilates to get me moving before work.
My defining food moment in Melbourne was… For years when someone left Bomba we would go to Ling Nan on their last night. Icy Tsing Tao, crisp quail, pipis in XO sauce and Chinese doughnuts all on the lazy susan. The fact that you can get a group of 20 together and have such an amazing feast at 1am is so special, and quintessentially Melbourne.
The best new thing I’ve found is camping. I was never a fan in Scotland (where I’m from), but the Australians really know how it’s done and have all the gear to make it comfortable and fun – we even have an inflatable bar to keep our beers cold while we laze in the river now. There are so many great spots within a couple of hours of Melbourne, whether you head down the Great Ocean Road or into Gippsland. I’m still a novice but look forward to exploring more.
When I want to push the boat out on a meal I… I don’t get lots of nights off as I still work in the bar most of the time, so I like to try new things on special occasions. For my birthday this year we went to Il Bacaro and the attention to detail was amazing – the bug spaghettini is a thing of beauty. Epocha and Carlton Wine Room are always exquisite, and Flower Drum was an incredible experience.
When I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I like to… A borek at the Queen Victoria Markets is a great way to start the day, then City Wine Shop for a coffee or glass of wine before a stroll through Carlton Gardens and a potter in the fancy shops on Gertrude Street. A snack and drink at Bar Liberty while we decide on dinner. I still enjoy showing family and friends Bomba; even after working there for seven years I still love the food, and the rooftop bar feels like such a sanctuary in the city. I tell them to come hungry.
There’s no better value in Melbourne than Udon Yasan on Bourke Street: it’s my go-to before work. A big bowl of udon is only around $6 and they have a toppings bar where you can heap on whatever you fancy.
If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be having more time to enjoy it. My days off tend to be Sundays and Mondays and especially post-COVID a lot of places are closed those days, meaning my to-try list is expanding much faster than I can get through it.
But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is the variety. There are so many independently owned passion projects here that create such a unique scene. I was worried they would be picked off through the lockdowns but Melburnians love their locals and really stepped up to support them.
Strong, Sweet and Bitter by Cara Devine (RRP $36.99) is out now through Hardie Grant and available to purchase at Readings and other book booksellers.