Robyn Lea is an internationally acclaimed photographer, author, and director. Her work has been exhibited around the world and published in The New York Times, Vogue, Vogue Italia, Architectural Digest, Vogue Living, Time, and Elle Decoration UK, among others. She has 16 book credits to her name, including several best-selling titles. Here’s what the culinary side of Melbourne looks like through her lens.

I know I’m in Melbourne when I’m at Christine’s, the beautifully curated fashion and accessories boutique hidden away on level two of 14 Collins Street. Christine stocks pieces by legendary designers such as Martin Grant and milliner Tamasine Dale. The Block Arcade is another quintessential Melbourne location for me; I love peering in the windows of The French Jewel Box which has beautiful antique and vintage pieces.

In the mornings, you’ll often find me making school lunches for our kids, Issy and Freddie, while drinking a strong latte made by my in-house barista husband, Tim, made with freshly ground coffee beans. If we’re in a hurry, I’ll race down to Hank’s and grab bagels for the kids to take to school.

My locals are Pony in Beatty Avenue, Armadale, for a great meal and excellent service, and Auterra for cocktails and small plates by chef Clinton McIver. For a special occasion, I might buy something from Victor Churchill, the butcher in High Street, Armadale.

A seminal Melbourne food moment occurred in 1988 when I stayed in Melbourne for a week as a 16-year-old to do work experience with photographer John Gollings. I went with him and his kids one evening to an exhibition in Fitzroy, and then to dinner at Marios Café on Brunswick Street. I’d been to very few cafés and restaurants growing up in Stawell and Ballarat, so the whole experience was a revelation: the great food, the buzzing atmosphere, the quick, no-nonsense service and the clientele who all seemed utterly absorbed in fascinating conversations. I revisited the café recently, and almost nothing has changed in over 30 years, which felt so reassuring.

My favourite photographs of Melbourne are by Rennie Ellis. In his wonderful, disarming way, he captured the spirit of the times in which he lived: the grit, the glamour, the celebrities and the people on the street. An exhibition of his work Melbourne Out Loud: Life through the Lens of Rennie Ellis is on show now at the State Library of Victoria until January 2025.

When I shoot cookbooks, I love working with food stylist Deb Kaloper. She’s the best in the business – a real artist.

When I want to show the city off to friends from out of town, I like to take them to the NGV, the Prahran Market, restaurants like Entrecôte and Osteria Renata, and some of our hidden spots like Hazel in Flinders Lane and Dessous, a glamorous old-style bar downstairs in the same building.

My favourite place to stock up on supplies is Cristina Toscano’s Italian food store, Everything Food, in Chapel Street, South Yarra. She has all the very special Italian treats that I love and more. The food is delicious, and the packaging is so beautifully designed that I keep the empty tins and boxes forever.

When I want to go out for a special meal, I go to Amaru or Bansho, the Japanese-French restaurant, both on High Street Armadale.

When I want to drink something Victorian, my first choice is wine by Place of Changing Winds winemaker Rob Walters, or for a very, very special occasion, Chardonnay by Farr. If I’m having an alcohol-free night, I’ll drink Etch, produced in Mount Martha. There are a number of flavours, but my favourite combines finger lime, lemon myrtle and rosemary. 

There’s no better value in Melbourne than taking a picnic to Heide Museum, wandering around the kitchen gardens, setting up a picnic rug with a view of their outdoor sculptures, then popping into the museum afterwards to see an exhibition. It’s a quintessential Melbourne experience steeped in our city’s fascinating social, culinary, and creative heritage.

And the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is our vibrant arts scene. I love all the small private galleries, like Station tucked away in a side street in South Yarra; Mars Gallery in Windsor; and Scott Livesey in High Street, which represents some of my all-time favourite artists, including Joshua Yeldham. Many Melburnians are motivated art lovers, myself included. I try and support our public and private institutions where I can, including as a volunteer committee member on the NGVWA, a fund-raising arm for the NGV.

Robyn Lea’s latest book, A Room of Her Own: Inside the Homes and Lives of Creative Women (Thames & Hudson), is available at Booktopia and in all good bookshops; @robynleaphotography