A self-confessed food and wine obsessive, Thio is the man behind one of Melbourne’s finest Instagram food accounts, @paperblade, a thrilling high-low edit that takes in Melbourne’s hot regional Chinese food scene among other big hitters and out-of-the-way gems.
He’s travelled extensively – both domestically and abroad – in his culinary adventures, and among friends he’s known for his “fear of missing out” on anything delicious or new. You’ll find him every week at his favourite table, at his favourite restaurant, with his favourite food-loving family, either having a “family” meal, as he calls it, or hosting like-minded friends for big feasts and delicious wines. Here’s where he eats in Melbourne.
My local is Via Porta on Whitehorse Road in Mont Albert: excellent pastries, delicious coffee and lovely food. The fried chicken bun with spicy sauce is usually my pick but if not I’ll grab the eggs in arrabbiata sauce with ’nduja butter, or the crab scrambled eggs, and a VP iced latte. Let’s not forget the knock-out pastries, too. I am so in love with their mushroom XO Danish I have a couple in my freezer for a rainy day.
I know I’m in Melbourne when I can visit my favourite Chinese restaurants, such as Chopstick Delight in Mulgrave, Nihao Kitchen in Kew, and Haoziwei Sichuan Restaurant in Chadstone, and I don’t have to order because they already know what I like to eat.
In the mornings you’ll find me downing at least two espressos, either at home or at a variety of coffee shops such as Gesha and Via Porta, which are both on Whitehorse Road or Nuts About Coffee next to Blackburn Station along the way to work. I am perpetually running on caffeine, especially on weekdays.
My defining food moment in Melbourne was discovering Chaozhou Malaya Bistro a couple of years ago. It is, for me, both my favourite restaurant and the best place to eat at in Melbourne – inconspicuously located in a shopping arcade, where the loveliest aunty churns out wonderful dishes, one after another. My favourite dishes thus far include a formidable fish head curry, mud crab or fish on vermicelli, clay pot rice, marinated foie gras, marinated raw scampi, prawn rolls, and even something seemingly simple like flat rice noodles. I can’t find dishes of similar quality anywhere else (nor can I find the dishes themselves) and it’s a true reflection of what it means to cook with heart and soul.My friends and I love it so much we eat there at least once a week, omakase-style. For us, it’s akin to going home for a wonderful home-cooked meal by our mum. There’s nothing better.
My favourite place to stock up on supplies is at the newly opened UmiTochi store in Balwyn North. I’ve always purchased my steaks from their online store but now that their physical store is actually open, I find myself visiting multiple times a week to pick up a piece of beautiful Mayura wagyu or Berkshire pork, or even some seafood for dinner. I have so much love for the amazing produce and people at UmiTochi; I’m actually counting down to when their dry-aged steaks are ready for purchase.
The best new thing I’ve found is the Alphington Foodstore, newly renovated with a Slayer coffee machine to boot pumping out excellent coffees. Another notable recent find would be Little Naples Pizzeria in Ivanhoe. A friend bought some takeaway pizzas from there recently and they were fantastic. You can’t go wrong with either the Napoli Nel Cuore, La Valentina or the four cheese.
When I want to push the boat out on a meal, I plonk myself down in front of chef Alex Yu at Yugen Dining and indulge in an amazing omakase experience. Alex’s knife work on the fish that he uses, as well as the combination of various rice types and vinegars for his shari make his omakase stand out amongst the others that I’ve eaten here. His attention to detail and care for his dining regulars mean I know I am in good hands, and I always leave very, very, happy.
If it was not a dine-out meal, my friends and I would gather, buy several different steaks from Umitochi and do a vertical steak cook-up alongside a full array of sides, and a beautiful line-up of wines. Special shout out to my amazing food-loving family.
When I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I like to bring them to Chaozhou Malaya Bistro and put on a feast for them. My friends and I have hosted out-of-town friends there numerous times, and we now even refer to the free-range chicken dish fondly as “The Jowski” chicken after our dear friend chef Jowett Yu. It’s essentially a plated whole-cut chicken, but with a firm skin, a beautiful layer of gelatine, and juicy meat; one of my favourites. Another favourite of ours (and guests) would be the prawn rolls, and the steamed fish.
When I want to drink something Victorian, I either pop open a bottle of By Farr or Savaterre. Usually chardonnay, but sometimes a pinot noir. Excellent wines.
There’s no better value in Melbourne than a mixed pork and chicken bánh mì from Bun Bun Bakery in Springvale. That and a Vietnamese iced coffee – a quick and affordable lunch while shopping for groceries at the markets.
If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be the litany of soulless Instagrammable restaurants that do not deliver in terms of food (or drink). If only they spent an equal amount of time ensuring the food is tasty, rather than devoting 100 per cent of their time and effort on plating or decor (and vibe)… give me ugly delicious any day.
But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is the melting pot of cultures that have translated into many delicious places to eat at. If anything, I hope we have more of these wonderfully vibrant and different restaurants and less of the cookie-cutter places that are “inspired” by one another.
Follow Tony’s culinary adventures on Instagram at @paperblade.