First thing’s first: Ronny Chieng wants to make sure you get the pronunciation right. “It’s Mel-BIN,” the actor and comedian said over the phone. “Think of Jason Bourne — and then don’t say that.”
The Malaysian-born Daily Show senior correspondent, who also appears in this month’s Crazy Rich Asians as Nick’s cousin, spent 10 years living Down Under in the city he describes as “if Brooklyn became Australia.”
He attended the University of Melbourne, which is where he found inspiration for his new Comedy Central in-app series, International Student, premiering Aug. 13. “It’s never really mentioned that [the show is] in Melbourne, but obviously it’s an homage to the culture there, and it was shot on location at the university,” he said. “You see the streets of Melbourne.”
In Melbourne, Chieng spent most of his time studying — but also managed to explore the city’s hidden restaurants and bars. “Melbourne is all about the alleyways,” he said. As he tried new spots, he curated a spreadsheet of his top haunts that he’d pass off to visiting stand-up comics. Now that list is a website, ImOkWithAnything.com, complete with his witty suggestions of places to grab brekkie and where to find the best coffee in town.
We asked Chieng, who now lives in New York City, to expand on his list of favorites just for Mic.
Where to get caffeinated
“Australia’s coffee is some of the best on the planet, even though they don’t grow it,” Chieng says. “They really know how to make it!” He makes constant stops at Brother Baba Budan on Little Bourke Street. His order? “Go with latte and you can’t go wrong,” he said. “Just milk and coffee.”
Where to find quiet cocktail spots
Chieng sneaks over to speakeasy spot Bar Americano when he wants to grab a drink (he likes whisky on the rocks) with a friend. “It’s in an alley, it can hold 15 people tops, there’s no music and they don’t allow you to take out your phone,” he said of the vibe there. The website describes it as “broom cupboard dimensions” and asks patrons to refrain from taking photographs. Chieng also likes it for practical purposes: “I do a lot of stand-up, and it’s a place where you can actually have a conversation and not blow out your voice.”
He also frequents Joo Mak, a basement bar that serves Korean pub dishes like kimchi pancakes and pan-fried pork skins. “It’s hard to explain, you have to go down the stairs, walk inside and then you’re there,” he said. “It’s good for late night, and it’s quiet.”
Where to get a hearty brunch
In the U.S., brunch usually involves bottomless mimosas. Down Under? Not so much. “I remember when I moved to America and I tried to get my friends to go for brunch, because it’s one of my favorite things to do, and they thought I was like this huge alcoholic or something,” he joked. “But brunch is different in Australia. It’s more of like an avocado, poached eggs with coffee kind of deal. It’s not about drinking.” He gets his fix at Auction Rooms, an airy North Melbourne spot that serves up eggs on toast and brioche french toast with caramelized bananas. Or, he heads to Hardware Societe — “the go-to, but the lines are always long” — though he said the fried brioche is worth the wait.
Where to book a room
Chieng likes the Sofitel Melbourne for its sweeping views from the 35th floor watering hole, Atrium Bar on 35. “Melbourne is a rooftop bar kind of city,” he said. “This is a top-floor bar where you can see the whole city.”
His favorite deal in town
Chieng loves to recommend this date spot to friends: i Darts Hive, an electronic darts bar in town that won’t set you back. “You wouldn’t think of playing it, but it’s less than $10 for a game, it’s in a bar and you just throw darts at an electric board,” he said. “It sounds dumb, but I guarantee you’re going to have a good time.”
Where to take a beach day
The city has St. Kilda Beach, but locals know that the best nearby sandy shore is really at Half Moon Bay Beach, just over an hour drive outside the city on the Mornington Peninsula. That’s where you’ll find peace and quiet. “You do have to hike out, but it’s worth the trip,” Chieng said.
How he keeps it local
Chieng scopes out Queen Victoria Market, or as locals say, “Queen Vic,” an outdoor market filled with local vendors selling everything from handmade knitwear to meat pies. “It’s becoming a hipster place to go,” Chieng said. “You can eat bratwurst sausages, goat cheese and burgers, and you can shop for clothing, too. It’s nice because you’re supporting the local industries.”