A Melbourne interlude

A sample of murals around Melbourne CBD

It has been a very long time since Bren and I went away on holiday together. 15 years in fact. Before Christian, her oldest child (my godson) was born. Christian is now 14-and-a-half and towers over us. Time has not only flown, it installed supersonic jet engines. Since then, we have not lived in the same town, and in the last few years, or even the same country. We’ve talked about having a proper catch up for a while. The opportunity finally came up when Iwan, Bren’s husband gallantly volunteered to take care of the kids for a long weekend in exchange for his boys’ week. The date was set (Labour weekend), the place picked and a girls’ weekend was on!

I flew in from Auckland, Bren from Brisbane, for an airport reunion. We spent the first day meandering around Chapel Street, in South Yarra, taking in the sights of the young, beautiful and very hip natives (all very foreign concepts to a not-so-young, pretty-average-looking and wouldn’t-know-something-was-hip-if-it-fell-on-her). Chapel St is also the home of one of Melbourne’s trendiest dessert shops, – Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio. If your taste buds run to intricately sculptured sweet treats with clever flavour combinations, this is heaven. There was nowhere to sit, so we (okay, it was me) agonised over which treats to survive the 40-minute train ride + walk back to the hotel.

I highly recommend the explosive raspberry milk chocolate which comes served in a clear acrylic tube. The list of components: raspberry & milk choc mousse / raspberry custard / raspberry compote / explosive milk choc chip cookie crumb / exaggerated rasp cream / raspberry marshmallow / milk chocolate mirror glaze. There seemed to be way too much going on, but the sweet/tart flavour of the raspberry made the dessert; it was so fresh tasting, plus the gritty cookie crumb is simply delightful.

The second day had us searching for a Sunday morning breakfast in the CBD. Whilst getting lost on the way to Cumulus Inc., we stumbled upon Terra Rossa on Flinders Street. Terra Rossa is styled as an upmarket gentleman’s club, with vintage-y Chesterfield leather sofa, a massive wall sculpture of stampeding horses, and exposed brickwork. The two most intriguing offerings on the menu were not available on weekends; my first thought was oh no, a chef during the week, but a short order cook on the weekend? But our Big Time breakfast and brioche toast with bananas and honeyed macadamias were glorious. It was seriously the best French toast I’ve had for a very long time; the toast was crisp on the outside, the bananas were suitably caramelized complementing the clean crunch of the macadamias.

My favourite Sydney Malaysian restaurant recently opened a branch in Melbourne. The authentic roti canai from Mamak brings a queue to the restaurant every lunchtime, and it was no different on a Sunday. The service was slow and I was unimpressed being asked to queue outside in the cold wind, but the food was every bit as good as I remembered.

The MoVida chain is touted as the place to go for dinner, with its slew of awards and advertising in all the tourist guides. The flagship (1 Hosier Lane) seemed promising enough; it was packed, and the diners at the next table were gushing. Maybe our palate were not sophisticated enough and we weren’t drinking wine to mask some of the tastes, but we found the anchovy way too overpowering for the crouton and sorbet (some of the brine should have been washed off), the seafood was overcooked (clams were rubbery, and the snapper was overdone) and the braised beef cheek was charred and dry at the edges. The squid ink croquette with cuttlefish, on the other hand was a star; chewy soft cuttlefish, slight salty tang of the squid ink, crisp bite of the croquette.

Our last morning in Melbourne saw us on the hunt for yum cha in Chinatown. We pushed through the doors of the first opened restaurant we saw advertising yum cha, Dragon Boat Restaurant. The dumplings were good, but the braised chicken feet were the best I’ve ever had; I know, there shouldn’t be such a thing. Both Bren and I were so effusive, a patron at the next table asked a waitress to bring her some.

We were definitely spoilt for choice when it comes to dining options in Melbourne. Some observations:

  1. The restaurants pack in as many diners in as is physically possible; tables are arranged so closely you can’t help but eavesdrop on your neighbours’ conversations. At Mamak, I ended up speaking Foochow to a 90+-year-old grandmother I was sitting next to.
  2. Restaurants are focused on ethnic cuisine (lots of restaurants with Italian, Spanish, Chinese influences, etc). I did not see much of a general Australian cuisine, though it could be that these restaurants are at a higher price point.
  3. Standards are high; eating out in Melbourne is certainly an art that is inching towards perfection. The décor, atmosphere, wait staff and the food all work together to make the dining experience.
  4. The turnover of restaurants is high; a couple of recommendations from Urbanspoon had disappeared.
  5. Eating out in the CBD on Sundays can be a challenge; lots of places are shut or open late for breakfast.

Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio
647 Chapel Street, South Yarra
(03) 9827 7060

Terra Rossa Restaurant and Bar
87 Flinders Lane, CBD
(03) 9650 0900

Mamak
366 Lonsdale Street, CBD
(03) 9670 3137

MoVida
1 Hosier Lane, CBD
(03) 9663 3038

Dragon Boat Restaurant
203 Little Bourke Street, Chinatown
(03) 9662 2733

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