a few days in Melbourne
At the end of May and into the first days of June we spent a few days in Melbourne. Early in the year our friends, M & B, had planned this mid-year weekend in the city and encouraged us to join them. We are pleased they did: once again Melbourne provided us with a very pleasant time.
We find Melbourne a satisfyingly easy city to step into. Often, we’ve romanced about which of Melbourne or Sydney we’d choose to buy an apartment in should the lady fortune play us a lotto win. Sydney’s climate wins but Melbourne is the pleasanter city. And so it proved again this visit. Our apartment on Collins Street allowed us to step out into the busy heart of the city immediately and the buzz of this friendly familiar place elated us. Even in the winter cold – a couple of days with fog and chill making all damp and grey, we felt we might have been in London or some other European city in mid-winter – no matter, we still loved being here.
A few paces across Collins Street takes us into Australia on Collins and up the escaltor to the Atrium level where fondly remembered Cafe Doppio awaits with good coffee – matched with fruit toast for breakfast or portuguese custard tarts mid-afternoon. [Another excellent place for breakfast is the Blue Train Cafe in Southgate. Their Bircher muesli is just the best. We took M & B here the night they arrived to experience the frentic evening buzz of the place – and it seemed more subdued than usual. Maybe it is that way on winter nights.]
Of course there are trams stops right outside our door as well; or alternatively a few paces away in Swanston. Melbourne’s public transport system is a great boon – we understand the locals get frustrated but we think they don’t know their luck: it’s frequent, goes all-over, and is a bargain for us on a zone-1 week’s ticket.
So Melbourne does big city buzz and transport well. It also scores high with districts that have that sort of villagey feel to them: we experienced the market in South Melbourne for the first time this visit – envying the locals their access to such a range of gorgeous foodstuffs. Or Carlton where we returned taking M & B to taste the delights of the Brunetti patisserie and the general Italian flavour of this neighbourhood when everyone comes out in the evening to meet friends.
Food: one of the things Melbourne does best. On our first evening of this visit Melbourne friends, M & A, took us to The Press Club. This modern Greek restaurant and bar in Flinders Street is the Melbourne Age’s new restaurant of the year. For good reason. We chose a tasting menu and the food was a delight – simply stunning in tastes and presentation. To give you just one instance: tiny balls of feta rolled in herbs served on a white platter with wedges of roast beetroot – take a piece of pistachio cup cake, spread with feta and a slice of beetroot – the taste sensation of these together in the mouth was astonishingly agreeable. The staff were equally good – knowledgeable and affably attentive. We had a wonderful meal here.
We also loved the meal we had on our last night of this visit at Mecca Bah in the Docklands. Food guides had recommended selecting a meal from their mezze small plates. This we did, and the food we ate was quite simply delicious. Hot turkish bread, Bastilla [Moroccan chicken pastries], spicy lamb and pine nut Boureks, Lebanese sausages and spicy chickpeas, beetroot rocket and yoghurt salad. Very, very pleasing. And our young waiter was from Colombia. Melbourne’s cosmopolitan population is another delight and doubtless a significant cause of the amazing scope of this city’s food and dining offerings.
On the Saturday we ate Italian with M & B, again in Southgate, at Tutto Bene. The place was warm and busy and the food good. I particularly liked the way they served a bowl of olives warmed with rosemary – brilliant. Sunday lunch, after visiting South Melbourne market, the four of us ate in a Belgian bistrot in the base of the Eureka Tower. Several days, of course we bought snacks for lunch from David Jones foodhall – endless temptation there.
Sunday afternoon we took a train to Ivanhoe to see the now completed and superb renovation M & A have accomplished on their house. It looks great, especially now the garden has been so well reformed behind its smart steel fence. Also great was the cake A made to have late afternoon with wine. Friends, food, wine – perfect.
There was time also for necessary return visits to both National and Ian Potter galleries. And let’s not forget the shopping! Another pleasant sojourn in a favourite city.
Look at this photo blog by Michael Blamey for a collection of superb photographs of Melbourne.