While a Piccolina gelateria might lure you with its striking design, anyone who has tried the goods knows that this is a shop that walks the walk.

Founder Sandra Foti grew up in a gelato-making household in Melbourne where tubs were given as treasured Christmas gifts to family and friends. When Foti, a graphic designer by trade, got itchy feet and wanted to start her own business in 2015, gelato immediately sprung to mind.

She opened her first Piccolina store in Hawthorn and now oversees a thriving business with locations in Collingwood, St Kilda, Richmond and Melbourne CBD. The silver pozzetti hold seasonal fruit sorbets (right now, strawberry is the pick), Italian classics like fior di latte or pistachio and enduring favourites (hello, chocolate). Foti works from the Collingwood HQ most days to stay close to the gelato kitchen and share her latest ideas with the chefs. Perhaps it’s that devotion to the product that makes it some of Australia’s best gelato.

My defining food moment in Melbourne was after I had just opened our flagship Piccolina store in Collingwood and needed some time out. I headed to Matilda for the first time and grabbed a seat at the bar for dinner. I expected a great meal, but it was the way the kitchen ticked that really excited me. I’d never met Scott Pickett but I decided to send him a message on Instagram to thank him for the experience and to ask for his help. Once I saw what he was doing there I knew I had to raise the bar with my own business. He said yes, we met for a coffee and he’s since become a great friend, mentor and collaborator.

I know I’m in Melbourne when I experience the fourth season in one day but I’m dressed for the first. Cue Havianas in the rain.

The best new thing I’ve found is Panton Vineyard at Sherwood Farm, a boutique winery on the Mornington Peninsula. Owner Karen Panton opens her gardens to the public for one weekend every month and it’s basically a word-of-mouth event. When you arrive, you can grab a picnic rug and set up on the hill with one of their picnic boxes and a bottle of wine. It’s low-key, which I love, because you feel like you’re part of the family.

When I want to go crazy on a meal, I head to Embla for one of Dave Verheul&rsquo’s incredible meals. My tip is to skip lunch because you’ll need room for dessert.

There’s no better value in Melbourne than Sonsa Markets on Smith Street in Collingwood. They make a really generous gozleme for you on the spot, and the freshly baked börek is also phenomenal.

And when I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I like to call in a favour from my sister and tell her we’re heading to her farm: start rounding up the kids, horses, dogs, chickens, bees and pet snake! She and her family have a small weatherboard house on one of the most beautiful hills in Kangaroo Ground and when people see it for the first time they fall in love. It’s not far out of Melbourne and there are always kangaroos by the dam. You can imagine how excited people get when they see their first roo. On the way there, I stock up at Meatsmith and pass by Kings of Kangaroo Ground for some great wine and then we decide on what to add to the menu based on what my brother-in-law has going in the garden.

In the mornings you’ll find me at Falco on Smith Street getting coffee and one of their freshly baked English muffins.

The most underrated thing in town is Heide Gallery. Anyone who’s been there rates it highly, but I’m always surprised by how many people still don’t know about this gem. It’s a really important piece of our cultural heritage but apart from that, the grounds, the architecture and the contemporary art all make it a must.

If you looked in my fridge, you might be surprised to find cans of Victoria Bitter. During lockdown, somehow I discovered why VB is a classic beer. It’s so good with corn chips at 5pm after a day of home-schooling and kid-wrangling, but I was also surprised to find out that it’s preservative-free.

The last awesome Victorian thing I drank was Ten Minutes by Tractor’s Estate pinot noir from 2018. I was looking for something to go with some charcuterie and a cheese board I pulled together with cheese Maker & Monger. They’re so helpful when it comes to matching cheese with wine. This was super easy to drink and good value for money.

My local is The Faculty Hawthorn, where I stop every morning for a great coffee on the way to work. But for a quick Japanese meal, I love Samurai, next door to Piccolina on Glenferrie Road. The food is fast but good. You can’t find them on delivery platforms, so you’ll have to head down for a meal.

If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be cafés staying open longer. I’m still drinking coffee at four o’clock.

But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is the variety and quality of the hospitality industry. We’re pretty spoilt for choice with such a multicultural offering. The more I travel, the more I realise how unique this is to Melbourne. You can get great food without having to spend a fortune.

Piccolina Gelateria’s original store is at 296 Smith St, Collingwood but you can also get your gelato fix in Hawthorn, Richmond, St Kilda and now at two spots in the city. Head to piccolinagelateria.com.au for the specifics. Check out @piccolinagelateria on Instagram to help you make your decision before you arrive, or to see the latest collaboration Sandra has dreamt up with Melbourne’s top chefs as part of the 8 Chefs in 8 Weeks series, running until 6 April.