Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Melbourne in Winter

My third night in Melbourne came with an ominous dream. Some might say a vision of things to come even. I was getting ready for work, my day job has a uniform that consists of a fitted business skirt that zips in the back, blouse and jumper. In the dream as I got dressed my skirt didn't fit. I don’t mean it was tight or wouldn't zip up, it literally wouldn't even go past my knees it was quite disturbing to vividly feel as if you gained fifty kilos overnight. Not disturbing enough though to perturb me from my mission which was an unplanned attempt to fill my body from toes to head with all the best food and drink in Melbourne.

I was off to a good start from day one. A breakfast of freshly made lamb, feta and spinach Gozleme at the Queen Victoria Markets was washed down with jam filled doughnuts from the American Doughnut Van, ironically selling a German Doughnut recipe, that has held the same spot at the markets for more than 60 years. Their sugary deep fried-ness was a coronary waiting to happen and if I one day have a heart attack I will look back on that dough-nutty day with fondness and no regret.

In an attempt to walk off just a little of the mounting calorie intake we walked back to the city and explored the new the new Emporium and H&M developments that had sprung up since our last visit. Martin purchased himself some new hipster duds in an attempt to blend in with the ever increasing Melbourne hipster population but without the ability to grow a large bushranger beard within the next five days it would be like pushing shit uphill to fully realise the look.

A short train trip back to our base of operations in the super cool suburb of Prahran saw us heading to Kin for a lunch of Vietnamese Street Food, a cuisine which seems to be taking over the city, for today that is. Trends in Melbourne change as frequently as the inclement weather. The little morsels of various meats on a stick washed down by lunch time alcohol consumption, a right reserved for the indulgence of holiday makers and businessmen around the globe and we were ready for our nanna naps.

Now when we travel to Melbourne we have a secret weapon. It comes in an unassuming form of my parents in law. In their civilian clothes you may just think they are business people working long days in the city fuelled by caffeine and adrenaline but in their true form which only emerges after dark they are uber cool socialites with the ability to know all the hottest restaurants and nightspots and with absolutely no regard for the fact that they may not be the youngest of patrons in a venue always make a beeline for the front row seats, be it perched at the bar overlooking the kitchen or amongst the devastatingly cool youth lounging around low tables in dim lights sipping on cider.

Our education in the Melbourne dining scene for this trip was to take place at Chin Chin. The ubiquitous queue out onto the street was already raging prior to 6pm and the restaurant was pumping. We took the last seats at Go Go Bar with our drinks to await our table. Our buzzer vibrated after around an hour heralding the availability of a table for four and upon inspection of the menu the only sensible course of action to sample as much food as possible was the “Feed Me” option. A seemingly endless procession of food passed before us and into our salivating mouths. Executive Chef Benjamin Cooper had me from the first dish of Kingfish Sashimi, it’s tart lime tones accompanied by bursts of chilli, coconut and basil rocked my world and outdid my previous sashimi experiences by a country mile. With 11 dishes served to the table in total I won’t regale you with tales of all but let’s just say, I’ll never see food the same way again.

The next 5 days in Melbourne was spent moving from feast to feast, bar to bar. Emotions generally ranged from “dear god I can’t eat enough of that” to “dear god kill me I am so full” but that’ s what Melbourne’s dining scene does to you. Whether it be on the fast food end of the spectrum with amazingly juicy burgers from Charlie & co all the way up to the fancy stuff at Chez Olivier and beyond. Good food in Melbourne begets more good food which begets more good food. It seems to be on an upward trajectory with no end in sight. If you aren't keeping up with the Chin Chin’s of the world you are dead in the water, there is no space for mediocrity in Melbourne.

As far as visiting Melbourne in Winter well at first it seems like a fairly idiotic idea, Melbourne of course being best known after the food scene for it’s dreary winter days but somehow we find ourselves there year after year in winter. In an effort to make you forget about the weather Melbourne boasts an extensive winter program of entertainment the best of it being the theatre program. Between Wicked, Les Miserables and The King I (a range of shows that certainly doesn't rival Broadway or the West End but for an Australian city is impressive)  I knew we had to get in and see Les Mis. The show has been in existence basically as long as I have and somehow I had not managed to see it. Wow was it worth the wait, I was blown away. Timeless themes of love, honor and revolution set to a cracking score, a storyline to pull at the most hardened of heart strings and of course a few rollicking characters to liven up the heartache on occasion it has taken it’s deserved place as my favourite musical.

We summed up the trip on the last night with an impromptu dinner at Prahran’s Dumpling restaurant HuTong. Not my first visit here I knew to expect fantastically delicious food but I was blown away by the authentic Chongqing Chilli Fish. I selected it from the “Local Dishes” presented on the extensive menu in a vain attempt to find the flavours I experienced in the Szechuan province in China. It was a bold choice, I knew how spicy this dish could be and with no real idea of the chilli tolerance of my dining companions it was a risk. But I needed to know if authentic Szechuan cuisine really exists in Australia, in the 8 years since my trip to China I have never had anything that comes close to the real thing, till now that is.

Tender meaty chunks of poached basa floating in a chilli oil broth filled with szechuan peppercorns, dried chilli’s and bean sprouts, one mouthful and I was immediately transported to Chongqing, I was speechless, mainly because my mouth was full of fish and I couldn't stop and I was so happy to see that all were enjoying it as much as me despite the sweaty brows and intermittent panting. The waiter upon collection of the plates noted we had not finished the fiery red broth but commented that we had done well so a pat on the back was had by all.

The 8 hour drive home from bustling inner Melbourne back to the rural quietness of Bungendore was spent uncomfortably shifting around in my mysteriously tighter jeans belting out show tunes along to the Les Mis soundtrack, ah the memories, Melbourne we will be back.

Oh and in case you are interested, when crunch time came the work skirt fit just fine.

Originally posted on Wednesday, 20 August 2014 by


Post a Comment