A long time ago, Adam Racina was the kind of person who rarely ventured outside the suburb he lived in.
“I grew up in Preston,” says the chef, who runs Spanish-influenced eatery La Pinta in Reservoir, in Melbourne’s north. “If you’d asked me 10 years ago if I’d open a restaurant in Reservoir, there’s no way. There’s no way I would have thought I’d be living and working in this part of town.”
Growing up, Racina’s north was a place many new residents wouldn’t even recognise. “I remember being interested in food and things when I was 15 and wanting to check out cafes, and the closest cafe was probably at the city end of Northcote,” Racina says. While Melbourne’s north is now peppered with quality cafes (as well as bars and restaurants), it still retains a few old charms for Racina. “It’s definitely the diversity, the multiculturalism,” Racina says. “I love the area of High Street, Preston, because of the different cuisines and the different feel you get there.”
Whether you’re an old hand like Racina or a recent convert, there’s plenty to explore in the northern suburbs. Here’s a guide to five of his favourite spots.
Moreland: Coburg Farmers Market
“For me, out of all the farmers markets, that one is the best,” Racina says. “You can go and do a weekly shop there, and there’s lots of young families and it’s a really diverse mix of people.”
Along with Lakey Farm meats and Drysdale cheeses, Racina loves the constantly rotating selection of seasonal produce. “Right now you can get a box of organic persimmons and heaps of apples and pears, and then as summer rolls around, there’s heaps of stone fruit that you can buy by the box.”
Darebin: Thornbury Picture House
Inside a former drive-through petrol station and furniture store is the 57-seat, single-screen Thornbury Picture House. “It’s such a great spot to watch a movie and then sit out the front,” says Racina. “It’s a beautiful building, and they’ve done such a great job at turning it into a cinema.”
With its prime spot on High Street, the 1920s-built venue is as perfect for catching a new release (or a classic) as it is for grabbing some arancini and a glass of wine from nearby Umberto. “You can get food at Umberto, and they’ve set that front bar up so well that you can just go there for a drink as well,” says Racina.
Whittlesea: Plenty Gorge
Twenty kilometres north of Melbourne is really not far to travel to feel removed from the city bustle, but that’s what you’ll find at Plenty Gorge. “It’s just a great place to go for a walk when you feel like not driving very far,” says Racina. “It’s 15, 20 minutes in the car, but you definitely feel like you’ve gone a lot further.”
Picnics, bushwalking, cycling and wildlife spotting are all great reasons to visit this accessible getaway. When done, fuel up at the sprawling Farm Vigano in South Morang.
Banyule: Vinoshis Beverage Shop
Owned by winemakers Jasmine Wakely and Yuri Zinenko, Vinoshis is Racina’s pick for when you’re seeking out the perfect drop. “It’s such a great little bottle shop,” he says. “It’s great to be able to go into a bottle shop owned by winemakers, and you get help and guidance and knowledge [to help you find] what you’re looking for.”
There are plenty of small-batch, locally produced drops to take away or drink in-house, as well as a selection of sake, beer and spirits. And if you’re keen for a taste, just ask – Wakely and Zinenko are always happy to open a bottle.
Nillumbik: Laughing Waters
This is an area that’s worth visiting in all seasons. Racina recommends making a beeline for the Laughing Waters, on the Yarra River near Eltham. “I think Laughing Waters is such a great place,” says Racina. “It’s one of those spots you have to pinch yourself that you’re in Eltham.” If you’re feeling adventurous, Racina suggests driving through the Yarra Valley. “I’m a big fan of driving and walking through Christmas Hills, Warandyte and Kinglake. And I love the concept and ethos of Greasy Zoe’s.”
Exploring further afield:
Hume: Marnong Estate
In the suburb of Mickleham, on the city’s northern fringe lies the winery and sustainable farm of Marnong Estate. Based around an 1840s homestead, it offers some terrific examples of Sunbury region wines, including pinot nero (the Italian term for pinot noir), chardonnay and sparkling. The estate’s restaurant, Bankvale Run, specialises in red-wine-friendly steaks cooked on a Josper grill, while the Atrium & Terrace Wine Bar serves up casual bistro-style fare.
Mitchell: Trawool Estate
In the beautiful Goulburn Valley, about 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne, Trawool Estate has quickly become a destination since being acquired by father-and-son duo Wes and Terry Old in 2019. The picturesque estate features a boutique hotel with 20 elegant rooms (seven of which have uninterrupted valley views), a restaurant helmed by former Coda chef Eric Kwek, and a speak-easy-style cocktail bar.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Melbourne’s True North. Melbourne’s True North is a collaboration between Banyule City Council, City of Darebin, Discover Hume, Mitchell Shire Council, Moreland City Council, Nillumbik, and City of Whittlesea, in partnership with Northlink/MNFG.