Prepare for a rich mixture if you explore the Melbourne haunts of Shihad's Tom Larkin.

Having lived in Melbourne since 1999, I have come to realise that the central metro hub is surrounded by diverse suburbs, each containing its own dynamic ecosystem.

So rather than trying to convey the nuances of such complexity, I am going highlight some of the better food and music venues through the lens of my working life.

My days cut a neat path through the cultural barrier between the north of the city and its southern suburbs.


Ray Cafe in Brunswick. Photo / Supplied
Ray Cafe in Brunswick. Photo / Supplied


This is where I spend my days with my team building albums and working with a revolving string of artists at The Studios in the City. Outside of this our attention revolves around various eateries and cafes in our vicinity.

Top of the list is Ray Cafe (332 Victoria St) right next door and serving awesome modern food and killer coffee made by some of the best people in Melbourne.

Tibas Lebanese Restaurant (504 Sydney Rd) supplies what we regard as a staple food group. Only problem is they are closed on Tuesdays. Why Tuesdays?

Los Hermanos Mexican Taqueria (339 Victoria St) is the real deal - great, great Mexican food and I'm super annoyingly fussy on this front.

The Northcote Social Club (301 High St) is a great, tight venue that hosts a regular flow of national and accomplished local bands; great bar and reasonable pub grub as well.

An honourable mention goes to The Croxton Bandroom (607 High St, Thornbury), which boasts a long history going back to the 1980s' days of pub rock. It's been relaunched and refreshed, and is looking to become the new "venue of choice" for touring acts.

For Southern-style barbecue that rules, you can't beat Le Bon Ton BBQ (51 Gipps St, Collingwood). I once posted a photo of the ribs served here and claimed that I was at SXSW. The ensuing flood of texts and emails asking me to join various groups of people in Austin confirm that this food is legit.


Gertrude Street Enoteca (229 Gertrude St, Collingwood) is the creation of chef/food writer/farmer Brigitte Hafner and wine importer/architect/photographer James Broadway. It's a spin on the local wine shops in Italy where you could have a social glass and a bite before you taking a bottle home. If they have the lamb on, try it. It's insane.

Huxtaburger (106 Smith St, Collingwood) is a well-solid burger joint in Smith St. Karl Kippenberger used to be the prep chef here and it still rules.

At The Tote (67-71 Johnson St, Collingwood) you know you'll find sticky carpet - guaranteed - and good times highly likely. This was the first venue we ever played in Melbourne and it's still a significant Australian rock venue.

The Corner Hotel (57 Swan St, Richmond) gets an honourable mention.

It's not as reliable for an all-round great night if the act booked is not to your liking, but when the act is great it's possibly the most enjoyable venue in Melbourne.

In Melbourne, bars come in all shapes and sizes. For me Cherry Bar (AC/DC Ln) is the nexus of all things required to make a night out truly memorable (or impossible to recall). Owned by James Young, who is the resident mayor of rock and purveyor of one of the finest suit collections, Cherry serves great tunes at an appropriate volume, a collection of essential liquors, and an environment that can cause you to leave your credit card behind the bar, your car overnight in a $20 an hour parking building and your sense of responsibility well down the back of the sofa.

An honourable mention goes to the Ding Dong Lounge (18 Market Ln). My favourite Melbourne restaurant is Cumulus Inc (45 Flinders Ln). Tuna tartare on smashed peas and the roast lamb = magic. Honourable mention for food: Supernormal (180 Flinders Ln).

Cumulus Inc bar and eatery. Photo / Supplied
Cumulus Inc bar and eatery. Photo / Supplied



I've had a long history with

Borsch, Vodka and Tears

(173 Chapel St). I was first introduced to the place by Lindsay Gravina, a record producer whose studio Birdland is where we developed and mixed the album

Love is the New Hate

in 2005. It's a vodka bar with a sideline in excellent food and late-night drinking sessions.

I regularly manipulate people into meetings at Parlour Diner Windsor (64 Chapel St) which has a great American diner vibe - lime butter corn and the fried chicken are off-tap.

Many a great night has been had at The Prince of Wales Hotel (29 Fitzroy St) which is now the reigning southside venue since the wonderful Espy (11 The Esplanade) is on hold and may be "renovated" or - even worse - "developed".

Tom Larkin plays the drums with Shihad, who are finalists for Album of the Year, Best Group and Best Rock Album at the 2015 Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards. The awards are on November 19, at Vector Arena.