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It's fitting that the most renowned structure in Melbourne is the open-mouthed entrance to Luna Park. Currently undergoing a facelift to restore its 1912 luster, the theme-park entrance captures the locals' friendly and open demeanor--as well as their appreciation for fine (and fun) dining and drinking. Melbourne is a foodies' paradise, with restaurants ranging from chichi spots like Circa (613-9536-1122) located in the historic Prince of Wales Hotel complex and the award-winning Flower Drum (9662-3655) to more casual but equally rewarding establishments like the Hairy Canary (9654-2471) and Madam Fang (9663-3199). Melburnians mourned when local chef Stephanie Alexander closed her eponymous restaurant in 1997, but her subsequent culinary (ad)venture, Richmond Hill Cafe & Larder (9421-2808), is packing them in. Besides fine food, the restaurant also sells exotic cheeses and other gourmet goodies to go, as well as the many Australian and international cookbooks Alexander has written.

Tea Too on Brunswick Street is the hip hotspot for cha and chai. The city's most unusual dining experience is the Colonial Tramcar restaurant, a converted 1920s tram--with built-in stabilizers--that tours the city while you eat. Meals range from $35 to $58; bookings at 9696-4000. The Art Nouveau-flavored Park Hyatt Melbourne, which opened May 1 across from St. Patrick's Cathedral, also offers a memorable evening out: guests descend through the Radii restaurant's open kitchens to get to its bar and cigar club (9224-1234; opening rates from $220 for a deluxe room). For other tips on where to nosh and imbibe, consult The Age Good Food Guide, or Mietta's Eating and Drinking in Melbourne. G'dining and g'drinking to you, mate.


May 10, 1999

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