How I Melbourne: Kara Monssen

Published on 29 December 2021

Photo: The Herald Sun's Kara Monssen.

Kara Monssen has been eating and drinking her way around Melbourne cafes, restaurants and bars since 2018. Monssen recently became the Herald Sun’s lead food and wine writer, reporting the city’s hospitality news for Kitchen Confidential and Delicious, as well as reviewing Victorian restaurants. She also writes a weekly wine review column and hosts a video web series Eating My Way Around… for the Herald Sun. 

In the mornings you’ll find me... outside exercising before a big day of work, eating or both. Exercise is a big part of my life. 

My local is… one of three cafes on rotation, either Wildflour in Prahran or Lenny or Kettle Black in Albert Park because… all three do excellent takeaway coffee and snacks.

My defining food moment in Melbourne was… going out for dinner in the city as a kid. I grew up in the suburbs and eating out in the big smoke was always a magical event. 

I know I’m in Melbourne when…. I can order a magic and the barista doesn’t stare at me blankly (FYI: it’s a three quarter full, double-ristretto flat white). In Brisbane or Sydney, I often test the waters and have been met with complete acceptance or utter confusion. Girl’s got to try her luck.

The best new thing I’ve found is James in South Melbourne. I’m a little late to the party, but its at-home set menu was among the best I’ve had in lockdown. Or Nomad Melbourne. I have dreams about those pickled mussels and toum. Drool. 

When I want to push the boat out on a meal, I’ll go somewhere with a set menu and a rocking wine list. At Gimlet, I spent an eye-watering amount on lobster and excellent wine. I have zero regrets. 

When I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I like to… take them for a ‘Melbourne coffee’ in a city laneway for something touristy, lunch at the South Melbourne Market for something authentically Melbourne, afternoon drinks at a great neighbourhood wine bar like Toorak Cellars, Little Prince Wine or Spensley’s Clifton Hill. We’d finish the day at HuTong for some of those chilli wontons, somewhere new like Robata or even a little bougie like Lillian Terrace.

When I want to drink something Victorian, I know I’m not far from a restaurant, wine bar, bottle shop or cellar door with a great selection. The Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Bellarine and even Macedon are only an hour or so from the city, which is incredible.

There’s no better value in Melbourne than… a plate of pan-fried pork dumplings in Chinatown at Shandong Mama or Supper Inn. 

My favourite place to stock up on supplies is… Toscano’s. I’m a little obsessed at the moment because… of the perfect produce, cheese, wine and pantry items I think I need but don’t. 

If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be… having more good suburban restaurants. Instead of a saturation in the CBD and inner city, I'd love to see more wine bars and cafes further out. 

But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is … our food snobbery and pride. Yes, it’s a pretentious title but really we are just so damn passionate about our state’s incredible food and wine culture and that ought to be celebrated. 

Kara Monssen is the Herald Sun’s food and wine writer, food critic and presenter, heraldsun.com.au, Instagram: @kara_irving, TikTok: @kara_monssen. 

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