Melbourne, you ate.

Diners of Australia, you are the duck’s guts – or breast perhaps, dry-aged and honey-roasted à la Neil Perry cooking at Omnia. You are the savant’s croissant – brimming with pastrami and emmental and cut with salsa verde à la To Be Frank. You are the celebrity’s sausage – plumped with chilli and showered in glitter, à la Art Simone.

You are the spiced rum caramel on our banana split à la Dun Hunter at Dan’s Diner, the pickled plum in our coral trout soup à la Palisa Anderson at BKK, the mango palapa on our slow-smoked jowl à la Hapag at Serai, the fig leaf chantilly cream in our barley koji mille feuille à la Bar Heather at Embla. You are our inspiration and our muse – the apple of our eye – and it was your insatiable appetite that made Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 2024, presented by our principal partner La Trobe Financial and our destination partner Visit Victoria, our best Festival yet.

We kicked things off in rare style at Hilton Little Queen Street’s Luci, with a glittering opening night party, presented by OpenTable, that saw Melbourne’s culinary crème de la crème assemble in anticipation of 10 days of big flavours and thrilling collaborations.

The following morning we cut the ribbon at Dan’s Diner, presented by Dan Murphy’s – a certified smash of eel-buttered pancakes and chicken-crested waffles. Open every day of the Festival, it featured food and drink from some of the hospitality industry’s pre-eminent Dans, rebooting the classic diner experience smack dab in the middle of Fed Square. It’s gone now, but its crumbed fish burger with cheddar, lettuce, tartare sauce and eggplant relish lives on in our hearts forever.

We began dining in earnest in the most Melbourne way imaginable, with the city’s dean of deliciousness, Andrew McConnell, hosting 1,500 people in the sun-dappled Kings Domain for the World’s Longest Lunch, presented by La Trobe Financial. We liked it so much we returned the following morning for the World’s Longest Brunch, presented by Cocobella, for a deeply flavourful excursion through some of the tastiest regions of India led by three of the country’s most important voices in contemporary Indian dining: Harry Mangat, Mischa Tropp and Helly Raichura.

This month, our Global Dining Series soared to new heights, courtesy of our partner Singapore Airlines. Neo-trattoria superstar Sarah Cicolini of Rome’s Santo Palato worked roughly 1,500 yolks through her signature carbonara during a 10-day Melbourne residency – a dish that became an unofficial emblem of the Festival and the envy of diners citywide. Over on the banks of the Yarra, Garima Arora of Bangkok’s Gaa dazzled with her two Michelin-starred take on crab curry at Evergreen, another nightly delight that ran all Festival long. 

If they were our Global Dining Series north stars, there were plenty more who shone just as bright in briefer stays. Serai, the restaurant that hooked Melbourne on fine Filipino dining, welcomed the team from Manila hotspot Hapag for a wild, wood-fired night of Pinoy brilliance. Neil Perry reminded us in a way few can that produce is king, celebrating the natural advantages of Victorian seafood in a masterfully light-handed partnership with Omnia chef Stephen Nairn. Mohamad Orfali, the man on the pans at the World’s 50 Best’s number one restaurant in the entire Middle East, Orfali Bros, thrilled across all price points, first in popping up with sour cherry and pine nut kebabs at neighbourhood joint Komur, and later in teaming up with Maha and the mighty Shane Delia for an elegant look at the food of Syria and its surrounds. Dan Hong riffed on Melbourne’s beloved Shandong Mama mackerel dumplings at Yugen, Bar Heather brought Byron-style bo la lot to Embla, Noble Rot made landfall at Marion with a dizzying list of rare wines, and Chengdu tofu god Zhang Fa plied us with baijiu and precision mapo tofu at Chef David. That was just the beginning.

Our Special Events program, presented by Square, was among the biggest and broadest in recent memory, taking in everything from the three-act, three-course, four-star (The Guardian, The Age) dinner and show that was Gluttony, a landmark event in Australian theatre, to events dedicated to wild ales, bubble tea, cheese, sake, lobster, tofu, rum, rare spirits, sucking pig, tacos, grappa, tomatoes, Greece and Turkey, Brazil and Japan and Sicily and Venice.

“West is best”, yes, but were we prepared for it to be this good? Our Westside Wanders, presented by Eat Drink Westside were a revelation in suburban dining, with a keen focus on the outstanding contribution Melbourne’s migrant communities continue to make to the culinary and cultural fabrics of the city. From Bosnian treats and Vietnamese sweets in St Albans to the frankincense-rich Ethiopian restaurants of Sunshine and Footscray, each Westside Wander was its own progressive dinner of discovery and delight.     

All roads would then lead us to Fed Square, with thanks to City of Melbourne, for a carnival of free activity that ran across the Festival’s final weekend. Baker’s Dozen proved what we already knew, that Melbourne is a world-leader in both the baking of pastries and the consumption of pastries, with 13 of the city’s finest cakers and bakers setting up shop for the savviest pastry fans you’ll ever encounter. 

Celebrity Sausage, presented by Baker’s Delight, saw a group of Australia’s favourite stars (Isaac Quaynor, Daen Lia, Art Simone, Matt Preston, Clare Bowditch, Remy Hii, Sarah Todd, Chyka Keebaugh, and Charlie and Ed Curnow among them) design their dream sausage sandwich, loading them up with serious sizzle on some of Bakers Delight’s finest. Matt Preston’s banger took out the unofficial golden snag award, slathered as it was in bacon jam, but it might just as easily have been Remy Hii’s gochujang pork sausage with kimchi relish, or Art Simone’s hot and sparkly delight. “I love being able to taste myself,” she declared from the Festival Stage, presented by Vic Grown, where local produce authorities such as the incomparable Fruit Nerd led us in a rousing celebration of all things, well, Vic grown. Finally, at The Pizza Sessions, presented by Gozney, we held, treasured and devoured the pies of our dreams, courtesy of a cast of Melbourne’s pizza thought-leaders: Casey Wall of Capitano, Ellie Bouhadana of Hope St Radio, Lucy Whitlow of Figlia and Theo Loizou of MasterChef, until, after 10 days of black-belt dining, it was time for a nap.  

Thank you to everyone who came, who ate and who delighted in any way shape or form in this year’s Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. Thank you to the chefs, the staff, and to everyone everywhere who had a hand in bringing the dream to life for another year, and thank you to our partners for seeing the vision. We’ll see you next year – we’re hungry already.

By Frank Sweet