How I Melbourne: Katie McCormack

Published on 15 November 2019

Photo: Restaurateur Katie McCormack

What if all of us lived above a restaurant that we’d happily eat at every day? That’s the dream Katie McCormack and her brother Michael are making reality with Milieu Hospitality, pairing her hospitality knowhow with his property smarts to create quality new places to live and eat in Melbourne. Starting in 2017 with Congress, a wine bar on the ground-floor of a Collingwood apartment block, the duo has since collaborated on two other venues: Future Future, serving Japanese in Richmond, and Lagotto, which specialises in all-day Italian in Fitzroy North. McCormack, who originally trained as a chef, is the front-of-house whiz across all three venues, a job that keeps her busy from morning ‘til night – and keeps regulars smiling.

I know I’m in Melbourne when I struggle to decide which restaurant to go to, so end up going to three.

My first defining food moments in Melbourne were Saturday morning trips to the Vic Market with my food-obsessed family. From a young age, the colours and smells at the market were a sensory overload. Each week we took turns picking something that we would cook during the week, whether it be a whole fish with lemon and dill on the barbecue or a veal pot roast in the winter months. Family market days taught me about the value of good produce and those that supply it.

The best new thing I’ve found is midnight drinks and snacks at Bar Margaux. It’s quickly become an after-service tradition. The Beggars Banquet is a steal: a bottle of Champagne, oysters, steak tartare and frites for $99.

When I want to push the boat out on a meal, I order the fruits de mer plate at Cutler & Co and a bottle of Champagne (vintage, if I’m really splashing out).

There’s no better value in Melbourne than a bowl of pho on Victoria Street. Soft rice noodles, an aromatic, spicy, almost medicinal broth and crunchy bean sprouts all topped off with a mountain of herbs and fresh chilli: it’s a simple, delicious and hearty meal. It’s pretty hard to find a bad pho in Melbourne but Pho Chu The in Richmond is my go-to. I also love Good Days in Brunswick, as much for their pho as their tofu rice paper rolls.

And when I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I agonise over all the choices. If it’s lunch time, you can’t go past the views and the killer prawn tacos at Stokehouse St Kilda. But if we have all day, I take them on a distinctly Melbourne tour of my favourite haunts. That means double lunches, afternoon wines and snacks, and back-to-back dinners. My route at the moment includes Marion for Chablis, oysters and flatbread; the chickpea pancake at Embla with a glass of something deliciously natty; grabbing a sunny table (and bottle of Chenin) on French Saloon’s terrace and sharing a whole fish with sauce a la meunière; a snack of grilled ox tongue (and of course a bowl of pasta) at Tipo 00; kingfish crudo with crème fraiche and horseradish and a perfect Martini at Carlton Wine Room and then dinner at Sunda, featuring the Vegemite roti (enough said). Plus who could forget the tuna tartare and the lamb at Cumulus? Then we’ll finish with a cheese plate and a cracking bottle of wine picked out by the great staff at City Wine Shop.

In the mornings you’ll find me sleeping in an Uber on the way to Lagotto. I’m never truly awake until I have my first coffee.

If you looked in my fridge, you might be surprised to find a non-alcoholic drink – to mix with gin, of course. I’ve also got zucchini pickles that my mum made. They’re perfect for a late-night cheese toastie. I myself am always surprised when I find milk in the fridge that’s not off. I’m not at home very often.

The last awesome Victorian thing I drank was Mac Forbes EB37 Tasty Locals Vermouth. Mac makes it with local botanicals and on warmer days it’s perfect over ice with a wedge of orange.

My local is Napier Quarter because there’s no judgment when I order a glass of bubbles with my boiled eggs and soldiers at 10am. Anchovy in Richmond is another favourite. Whenever the stars align and my partner and I get the same night off, we walk down Bridge Road and grab a spot at the bar. The warm hospitality of JY [Jia-Yen Lee] and the inventive and sometimes challenging dishes from Thi Le are always a killer combo. Thi’s blood pudding is the one of the best dishes in Melbourne.

If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be less pre-packaged vegetables. It frustrates me when I go to the supermarket and so much of the “fresh” produce is wrapped in plastic. We’re in danger of losing our connection to the food that we eat. There’s nothing better than talking to your local greengrocer or butcher about the provenance of their produce.

But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is the all-day nature of Melbourne’s unique and vibrant food scene. The diversity and quality of our restaurants is like no other. It doesn’t matter what time it is, there is always someone who will feed you – and feed you well.

See what’s keeping Katie McCormack busy by following @cafelagotto, @future.future and @congresswine on Instagram. Or better yet, pop your head in and say hello.

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