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Three square meals: A foodie’s full-day guide to Carlton

Diane Leow

Wed Nov 09 2011

Anchovies in sambal from Sambal Malaysia, Victoria St Carlton

FEELING peckish? Meld foodie Diane Leow has the lowdown on three of Carlton’s best eateries that won’t break your budget, whatever the time of day. 

With a restaurant on almost every corner, Carlton is a foodie’s heaven – but sometimes it helps to know where to look. Sure you can head straight for Lygon Street, but why not try something a little more off the map?


When I’m feeling a little indulgent in the morning, I head down to Café Lua for a treat. Previously a rundown café with an uninspiring menu, this little gem has been transformed into a cosy treasure trove of good food. They serve a comforting Eggs Atlantic with their own twist – house-smoked salmon with a hint of tea and hollandaise with caper berries to cut through the richness. The coffee is decent too.

The current owners have cleverly retained the previous café’s charm, keeping old furniture pieces while sprucing up the space with a bright red coffee machine and works by local artists keen to contribute their talents to a competition being run by the café.

Cafè Lua is located on the corner of Elgin and Drummond Streets, Carlton, and is open Monday to Friday from 7am to 4pm and Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 3.30pm. Phone: 9348 1118


Occasionally one stumbles upon a restaurant with bold, authentic flavours. Salve Caffe and Cucina is one of those places, serving up Italian-inspired breakfasts in the mornings and fantastic handmade pastas for lunch and dinner.

Salve’s has replaced the iconic Rathdowne Street Food Store, but with its equally-impressive menu, no one is complaining. The cafe’s breakfast menu runs till 3pm, so if I pull an all-nighter and wake up in dire need of eggs and toast, this is the place I run to. Their ricotta hotcakes with homemade rhubarb berry compote are a must-try. The hotcakes are buttery and fluffy and are a perfect match to the fresh, slightly tart flavours of the berry compote. When I feel a little blue during winter, I order this and it feels like summer has come in an instant.

For something a little more substantial, I often order the spaghetti vongole (spaghetti with clams) or gnocchi in oxtail ragu tomato sauce – or both, if I’m really hungry! All the pasta here is handmade and, my friends, I can vouch for their pillowy-soft gnocchi, which are so different from the stodgy supermarket variety.

But be warned, Salvo, the affable caffe owner, loves to chitchat. If he likes you, you may end up with a free scoop of homemade Sicilian gelati for dessert.

Salve Caffe and Cucina is located at 617 Rathdowne Street, and is open for breakfast and lunch Wednesday to Monday and open until late Thursday to Saturday. Phone: 9347 4064


This is the test that international students use to decide whether or not to visit a new Asian joint: if other Asians frequent the place, it must be good. Whenever I begin to miss the flavours of home, I head to Sambal Malaysia.

Run by a couple who migrated from Kuala Lumpur 10 years ago, this eatery is the closest thing to a hawker stall you’ll find in Melbourne. Most dishes are prepared upon ordering, just like it’s done back home. Their specialties include char kway teow (wok fried flat rice noodles) and wan tan tee (prawn dumplings served with egg noodles). They also roast their own barbecued pork on site, which is pretty remarkable for a place that seats less than 30.

But the best bit of all? Most items on the menu cost less than $10. That’s a bargain!

Sambal Malaysia is located at 74 Victoria Street, Carlton, and is open until late every day. Phone 9663 9993

After you’ve eaten

When you can’t eat another bite, don’t dine and dash. Carlton has plenty of shops for you to browse in after meals. Here are my two favourite:

Alice’s Bookshop

As someone who absolutely loves books, the demise of bookstores around the world depresses me. Thankfully I chanced upon Alice’s Bookshop on Rathdowne St, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary. The store’s namesake is Alice in Wonderland, as the space was a children’s bookstore before its current owners took over.

The store sells more than 2,000 secondhand books at any one time. It’s owner, Anthony, is also always on hand to help if you’re looking for a specific book, and loves to recommend an easy read. And in the summertime, you might just find homemade jam for sale among the books.

Alice’s Bookshop is located at 629 Rathdowne Street, Carlton, and is open from 10.30am to 5pm everyday

The Clothing Exchange

They say you can’t have too many pairs of shoes…or dresses…or tops. But there comes a point where the tiny box I live in cannot accommodate my purchases anymore.

When I finally clear out my wardrobe, I take those precious purchases to The Clothes Exchange. The name is slightly misleading – one doesn’t actually exchange anything here. Instead the lady at the counter decides if the items can be resold. If so, they will be sold on a consignment basis – that is, if someone buys them, you get a part of the profit. It’s a great way to pass along your old clothes to a more loving owner, while earning a little cash on the side.

Not to mention there are some fantastic, pre-loved clothes on sale in the store, just is case you’re looking for something to fill the space you just cleared out in your closest!

The Clothing Exchange is located at 294 Rathdowne Street, and is open from 10am to 5pm everyday