Culture and heritage

Firm friends and family traditions at Queen Victoria Market’s new Food Hall

5 March 2024

It’s often said in the culinary realm that cheese and fish shouldn’t go together.

Luke Luca and George Milanos are proving that theory wrong, combining their expertise in dairy and seafood to bring a fresh taste to the Queen Victoria Market dining scene.

They met at the market decades ago – Luke a delicatessen, George a fishmonger, holding stalls at the iconic site for 15 and 20 years respectively.

The duo are the owners of Saltwater Sushi and Oyster Bar, one of the new tenants of the revamped Food Hall at Queen Victoria Market.

They formed a friendship throughout the years, bonded by early mornings, roaring trades and a changing landscape. The renovation of the 30-year-old Food Hall gave them the opportunity to move their friendship into a business venture.

Half lobsters and champagne on ice
Lobster mornay is one of the specialities at Saltwater Sushi and Oyster bar

Luke said they identified a gap in the dining offerings for fresh, ready-to-eat seafood, paired with fine wines and beers, of course.

“We saw the refurbishment as a great opportunity,” Luke said.

Saltwater opened just before Christmas, joining the knowledge and produce of both experts.

From oysters and sashimi to fresh sushi rolls made on-site, Japanese treats like chicken karaage and tempura, through to indulgent lobster rolls. The cannot-miss dish, according to Luke, is the half-lobster mornay.

Family traditions continue

From old friends in new ventures to fresh shoots from familiar faces, the Food Hall has warmly welcomed the latest iteration from the Mammone family.

Frequenters of the market over the years will be familiar with Cafe Gilli on Therry Street and its mouth-watering porchetta rolls.

Enter: Rubens, expanding on the family’s iconic Italian fare. Damian Mammone, together with parents Carla and Joe Vitale, opened Rubens to continue their legacy at the market.

Two smiling people with a tray of American barbecue meats
Damian and Carla Mammone from Rubens

The new space afforded by the Food Hall revamp means they’ve been able to build on their staples and include American-style delights, now offering barbecue and more lunch options that invite diners to take their time, dwell and enjoy.

“We’ve been able to refine more, to focus on lunch offerings, it’s been fantastic,” Damian said.

“The energy has been great, and everyone is really excited,” he said, adding that Saturdays are the stand-out trade day for the Food Hall.

The family is soon to bring even more Italian delights to the Market precinct soon, opening Romanello in March in the Munro Building, specialising in pizza and Tuscan delight schiacciata.

Tastes from around the world

The Queen Victoria Market brings together more than 500 traders and attracts some seven million Melburnians and visitors each year.

It’s one of Melbourne’s top tourist attractions, with visitation forecast to continue to grow, which is why the City of Melbourne has made the Queen Victoria Market Renewal Project its biggest investment to date.

The Food Hall was built in the 1980s and as other parts of the market are given facelifts, the sit-and-dwell dining site needed to be brought along for the ride.

A coffee shop worker handing over an iced coffee
Bellboy Coffee Bar is now open at Queen Victoria Market Food Hall

Alongside Saltwater and Rubens, tenants in the Food Hall include:

  • Bellboy Coffee Bar – a chic city offering with coffee, beer, wine and cocktails, as well as light bites.
  • Drums – returning favourite, the Sri Lankan cafe comes with a fresh new look, serving traditional fares.
  • El Rincon – a Spanish tapas bar dishing up popular share plates, such as cured meats, Spanish meatballs and paella.

Two new tenants are due to open soon.

The Queen Victoria Market Food Hall is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 9am to 3.30pm.

A worker serving up curry from large metallic bowls
Sri Lankan cafe Drums is a returning favourite

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