Jess Ho was the food and drink editor at Time Out Melbourne, writing several bar and restaurant guides for the publication and a tonne of no-holds-barred reviews. Ho has also been published in The Guardian, Foodservice REP, Virgin Voyeur, Time and Tide and Eater and has contributed to many restaurant guides and cookbooks. Ho is a regular presenter at food and wine events and festivals across Melbourne and has toured large-scale wine events around the country. They’ve also been a judge on a commercial-network food show, but don’t ask them about it unless they’ve had something very strong to drink.
Ho’s first book, Raised by Wolves: a Memoir with Bite, is out now.
I know I’m in Melbourne when I order a coffee and it is so perfect it brings a tear to my eye.
In the mornings you’ll find me covered in sweat from the gym and hunched over my Moccamaster, waiting for it to spit out a pot of filter from my Market Lane Coffee subscription.
My local is Tom Toon. They’re a short walk from me, open seven days a week and I am addicted to their tom saab with chicken feet, their tab wan and sai oon. Add an order of sticky rice and I am the happiest person on earth. The crew who run the place are also super friendly and know how to have a good time.
My defining food moment here was probably when I travelled to the US for the first time and realised how lucky we are in Melbourne. Every time I leave the city, I am reminded of how amazing and diverse our food scene is here. I couldn’t live anywhere else in the world because I’d miss the restaurants too much.
My favourite place to stock up on supplies is the Melbourne Farmers Markets. They used to change location every week, but now there are weekly markets and I chase the producers around, according to what I want to cook. I love the quality, the chats I have with the farmers, and when I see the seasons change in the produce. Winter is here and I’m looking forward to hauling sacks of Cara Cara oranges home from Kingfisher Citrus and jarring them up as marmalade with a splash of whisky.
The best new thing I’ve found is Caretaker’s Cottage. I don’t drink much any more, but when I do, I make it count. This is a relatively new cocktail bar run by some of the city’s best bartenders in a bluestone cottage behind a church in the CBD. Excellent drinks, great hospitality, hilarious banter, and plenty of vinyl. What more could you want?
When I want to push the boat out on a meal, I hit up D&K, buy a live fish, crab or cray and cook for a large group. Being Cantonese, live seafood always means celebration and luxury.
When I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I like to take them to Footscray. First, we hit up the market for a bowl of noodles followed by some banh khot and banh xeo from Banh Xeo Tay Do, wash it down with a drink from Mr West, migrate to Babysnakes when it opens and line our stomachs with a slice from Slice Shop, downstairs. Depending on how much eating we have left in us, it’s either a walk down the street for a bowl of bun bo Hue from Dong Ba, or a Uyghur feast from Karlaylisi.
My go-to spot in regional Victoria is Provenance in Beechworth. Hands-down one of my favourite dining experiences in the entire state. I recently found a menu I stole from them about 10 years ago. I sent the photos to Michael Ryan, and we had a chuckle.
If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be a bigger appreciation for independently owned, cuisine-driven restaurants.
But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is the number of small businesses: It’s what makes Melbourne such a compelling food city.