Food in Victoria

Find information about cooking, cookbooks, restaurants, nutrition, agriculture, provisioning and food studies

Early eating

In Port Phillip's early hotels, alcohol rather than food was the attraction. Wine, champagne and spirits were sold, with beer's popularity growing as refrigeration issues were addressed. Early liquor legislation tied alcohol sales to the provision of food and travellers' accommodation - until 1918 counter meals were available for free to entice drinkers. Hotels also fulfilled the important role of a public space for meeting and celebration. 

The gold rush and the related spike in population triggered a diversity in eating establishments. More refined dining rooms followed the French tradition, complemented by an array of coffee and tea houses, chop houses, sixpenny and shilling cafes. 

A.W.Greig, writing in The Argus of Bygone days states, "No-one need starve if he had sixpence, for that was sufficient to provide him with three courses and tea or coffee...the large plate filled to overflowing with really good, nutritious food."

Temperance advocates were instrumental in building coffee palaces. Coinciding with Melbourne's building boom of the 1880's, over 50 operated in Melbourne at their height, including the Windsor Hotel - originally The Grand; and in regional centres such as Ballarat, Queenscliff and Mildura. 

The dining rooms of large hotels of Melbourne - such as the Menzies, Australia, Scott's and Oriental provided 'haute cuisine', their ballrooms hosting lavish events for a wealthy and successful clientele.

Until the 1950's, for many, a meal at a hotel was the only opportunity to dine outside the home, the quality of the dining room helping to attract custom. Generally the food was simple and affordable. 

Information resources

Cole-Tetlow index - traces licensees for hotels around Victoria
Post office directories - for Melbourne and country Victoria identify hotels and food businesses. Held on microfiche in the Family History and Newspaper Room.


The Australian pub - history of hotels in Australia, including chapters on food and dining.
Old pubs : inns, taverns and grog houses on the Victorian gold diggings
The land boomers: the complete illustrated history
Unique and deplorable: regulating drinking in Victoria 
Under the influence: a history of alcohol in Australia
The vagabond papers - written in 1877, impressions of Melbourne life. Searchable text.

Journals and magazines

Coffee palaces in Australia. M/C Journal, Vol. 15, No. 2 (2012)
The Epicurean, Wine and Food Society of Australia, (1966-1996)

Australian food trade journals

Pictures Collection

Photographs and lithographs of early buildings are included in the collection - from the search page choose Pictures and photographs from the drop down box, then enter your search terms: Hotels, cafes, restaurants. You can add a suburb, or town, or name of a hotel you are trying to find.


Melbourne's hotels
Melbourne's restaurants and cafes

Twentieth century trends

The post war period ushered in great changes to the way we ate and drank. Early migrants, chiefly Italian, had a significant influence on the hospitality landscape as people looked to recreate social worlds in their new country. The Melbourne 1956 Olympics highlighted the state of the restaurant and dining scene, and many European chefs arrived, with some staying, including Herman Schneider.

As immigrant communities settled, areas became known for their foods, both for shopping and eating. Included in these are the Vietnamese community in Victoria Street, Richmond, Footscray and Dandenong, the Chinese community around little Bourke St, Melbourne; the Greek community in Lonsdale St, Melbourne, Oakleigh and Northcote, Jewish communities in Carlton, Caulfield, Elsternwick, and St Kilda, the Italian community in Carlton and Middle Eastern countries in Brunswick. Their contributions have now spread far beyond these initial locales. New arrivals have also settled in regional Victoria - such as the Italian community in North East Victoria and the Iraqi community in the Shepparton region. 


Coffeehouses - items from the Library's collections
Tolarno Bistro : the life, time and recipes of a remarkable restaurant - role of the Mora family in Melbourne's restaurant scene.
Maxim's : the restaurant and the people - Maxims in South Yarra in the formal, french style, operated from 1956.
Grossi Florentino: secrets and recipes - the Florentino restaurant, opened by Rinaldo Massoni in 1928, and owned by the Grossi family since 1999.
Mietta's Italian family recipes - the story of Mietta O'Donnells family, as well as other Italian families and their contribution to the Victorian restaurant industry.

Journals and magazines

All online resources are available inside the Library. Selected resources are available off site to Victorian registered users.
You can look at the Journal list or databases to search for titles or subjects.
You can also search for journal articles using the Search box - choose Articles from the drop down list.


Grossi family - owners of the Grossi Florentino
Farm Vigano - Vigano family farm. Mario Vigano opened Mario's in Exhibition Street in 1932. Grandfather of Mietta O'Donnell.
Melbourne's Chinese restaurants,cafes and cookshops - 1830's to 1950's.
Immigration to Victoria - Museum of Victoria, traces the story of arrivals to the Victorian community.
Immigration history in rural Victoria - from the Immigration museum, research tips.
Restaurateurs in the Australian dictionary of biography

Contemporary dining

The restaurant scene - further encouraged with the introduction of  BYO dining in 1965 - had begun to takeover the role previously enjoyed by the big hotels with large kitchen brigades.

After mounting pressure, John Nieuwenhuysen was appointed to undertake the 1986 Review of the Liquor Control Act . An outcome of the report was the new Liquor control act, which opened up the restaurant and hospitality industry to a more relaxed regulation of food and alcohol.

Many of the chefs working in Melbourne during the 1980's, were operating in a time of great change. Pub kitchens refined their culinary offerings, opening up employment and creative opportunities. The near monopoly of alcohol sales enjoyed by hotels was broken as cafe's, bars and less formal restaurants proliferated.


Melbourne : the making of a drinking and eating capital - the story of liquor licensing, especially post the Nieuwenhuysen review.
Melbourne by menu : the story of Melbourne's restaurant revolution
Flavours of urban Melbourne - books showcasing the dynamic cafe scene in Melbourne.

Pictures Collection

The Library holds several archives of photographs, recording Victorians eating out and celebrating:

Rennie Ellis - a large collection of Melbourne photographer Rennie Ellis' images - eating, dining, cafes, restaurants,
Dave Tacon - Melbourne eats lunch
Mark Strizic - restaurants
Wolfgang Sievers - restaurants, hotels
Building a country archive - an exhibition held at the State Library.


The Library collection includes hardcopy and online newspapers. Discussion of liquor control legislation, restaurant reviews, general industry information can be found.  The Age newspaper index 1982-1992, available in the Newspapers Reading Room has a separate sequence for restaurant reviews.  For research help, use our guides on How to find items in newspapers and How to find newspapers.


IBIS industry reports - provide statistical and trend information on a wide range of food industry related topics, including cafes and restaurants, agriculture, food processing and manufacturing. Available offsite for registered Library users.
Cafes, Restaurants and Catering Services, Australia, 2006-07 - ABS data, other releases cover 1998/9; 2003/4.
Restaurant and Catering Association - peak industry body.

Menu collection

The Library's menu collection includes a wide range of examples, mostly from Melbourne restaurants. They provide snapshots of the trends in dining through their language, the range of dishes on offer, and the ingredients used. Menus helped to create a mood in a time when a night out at a restaurant was almost a theatrical experience. Two Faces, Maxims, and Glo Glo's, hotels such as the Australia, the Windsor, the Chevron and the Savoy Plaza created atmospheres of European sophistication. French cooking styles and terminology were used extensively. 

Sporting events were celebrated with special extra decorative menus - the racing carnivals figure prominently.  The ship's menus, especially from the 1930's, echo the times and the journey with complementary artwork and themed dining. Less formal, on the run eating options are also included.

Donations to this collection are welcomed. Please complete our Collection offer form, and Library staff will contact you.


Melbourne gastronomic : a menu guide to the finer restaurants in Melbourne
Melbourne a la carte : a guide to good eating


William Angliss Institute menu collection

Chefs and cooks

Celebrity status has long been bestowed on many chefs and cooks. Today both their work and media involvement extends the reach of the chefs brand.


21 great chefs of Australia: the coming of age of Australian cuisine
Great Australian chefs
Chef: a photographic documentation of Australian chefs
Advanced Australian fare: how Australia's cooking became the world's best - through the careers of Australian chefs describes the development of the restaurant industry.
Australian food: a celebration of the new cuisine...with recipes for home cooking by leading chefs and food writers.
Books by chefs and cooks - list of items in the Library collection.


 Exchange Ryan's Hotel, Alexandra district

 Exchange Ryan's Hotel, Alexandra district, H2005.88/255


Interior of Working Mens Club, showing the bar, Mildura, Victoria

Interior of Working Mens Club, showing the bar, Mildura, Vic, H32492/488. The club once boasted the longest bar in the world, until 1995 when it was dismantled as the club responded to changing demands.

Coffee palaces

Federal Coffee Palace, Melbourne 

Federal Coffee Palace, Melbourne, H96.200/719 . One of Melbourne's grand coffee palaces, stood on the corner of King and Collins Streets until  demolished in 1973.

From the Menu collection

 Menu: Two Faces Restaurant. Herman Schneider

Menu: Two Faces Restaurant. Pictures Collection. Herman Schneider's influential restaurant operated in Melbourne during the 70's and 80's. He arrived in Melbourne for the 1956 Olympics and stayed to become a key figure in the development of the industry.

Cafe society

Pavement Cafe, East End, Collins St, Melbourne, Victoria

Pavement Cafe, East End, Collins St, Melbourne, Vic, H32492/1261. For more on Melbourne's cafe culture see Espresso: Melbourne's coffee stories.

Dining out

Interior, Restaurant, Savoy Plaza Hotel, 122-32 Spencer Street, Melbourne. Mark Strizic

Interior, Restaurant, Savoy Plaza Hotel, 122-32 Spencer Street, Melbourne, H98.30/390. Image copyright Mark Strizic.

Melbourne eats lunch: Kentucky Fried Chicken, QV Centre, Melbourne

Melbourne eats lunch: Kentucky Fried Chicken, QV Centre, Melbourne, H2006.51/3 Image copyright Dave Tacon.