Friday, 21 June 2013

Melbourne: Eating

It's been a month since I was in Melbourne. Time flies right? I was thinking about this post, thinking, "urgh, no too much time has passed, there's no way I am going to remember what I ate and where", but after thinking about it for all of about ten seconds, the food memories came flooding back.

My sister and I base everything on food. She's 22, I'm 28. I once said to her, "do you remember when we went to Great Yarmouth?" ad she said "is that where we  went to the Little Chef?". Yes, yes it was, and you were 7 years old. And you still remember sausages, chips and beans in Little Chef?! Food is so evocative though, isn't it? Anyway, I digress.

When we landed in Melbourne it was early morning. We went to the hotel to drop our bags, then my sister and one of her friends met us there and we went to one of their favourite spots for some breakfast. This was the first of 3 trips to La Roche, because it was bloody good. They do deals on food every day of the week. At weekends, it's breakfast, and when I tasted this breakfast I thought, "I think I'm gonna like it here". The breakfast consists of eggs poached, fried or scrambled on toasted Turkish bread with bacon, sausage, tomato & hash brown. Simple but effective. The poached eggs were like perfect teardrops. Amazing.

Our further two trips to La Roche were on Monday nights. Monday is when they do Surf and Turf for just $17.50 and boy is it tasty?! A great big steak topped with big juicy prawns and an amazing garlic sauce, with chips of course. Wine is just $5 a glass during happy hour, so a glass of red wine with that and you've just had, like the best meal ever for £12. Mum spent the whole of the following week saying, "I don't care we go to eat as long as we can go back to La Roche next Monday for Surf and Turf again." Fine by me! We went back, but this time I had a chicken parma, an Australian classic. It was an enormous chicken escalope covered in cheese, it was so big it covered the plate. The fries were hidden underneath, there was so little room left. Incredible.
Surf and Turf
Mexican Chicken Parma at La Roche
Melbourne has a number of foodhalls, inexpensive places to get lunch which quite frankly poop all over our foodhalls which normally contain a Spud-u-Like, a McDonalds and a Harry Ramsdens. Lacklustre. One of the best I found was at Southgate Plaza, right by the Yarra and Flinders Street station, which has Mexican at Salsa's (lovely burritos to rival our Chilango) and Rhumbas for great tapas and Italian food, the counter is full of mouthwateringly good-looking arancini and piadini. Then there's sushi, Chinese, Indian, a juice bar, coffee shops and a bit of everything. There's also some sit-down restaurants like Wagamama (which I didn't realise they had in Oz), bars (including an ice bar) and some more upmarket fare. Being part of an office complex, this place gets pretty busy at lunchtime, but after nabbing a table it was fun to people-watch and see what everyone else was having.

Down the road from Southgate Plaza is the impressive Crown Melbourne, boasting a huge casino, hotels (the luxe Crown Metropole included), spas, luxury shopping, another great food hall and restaurants galore. On one of our first days in the city we walked in and had a good gander at everything and spied a fancy seafood place, The Atlantic which is hard to miss with window displays crammed with succulent crabs, lobsters and oysters.

Over the next couple of days I realised that it was Mother's Day in Australia while we were there, and my poor old mum had a crappy UK Mother's Day, my present was late and my sister probably didn't even acknowledge it, as she lives in Australia so wasn't subjected to the same marketing messages that we were here. So I emailed the restaurant and booked a table, pulled my sister aside and told her the plan and on Sunday we managed to gear her over to that side of town right in time for our booking. So we suggested walking through the complex because it had just started to rain (for once, rain was welcome) and as we strolled through, I said "Let's just take a look at that divine menu again. Oh isn't it lovely? Such a shame we can't go here. Except we can because I have a table booked in 3 minutes time." Mum was swept off her feet, delighted and very, very surprised. We had the feasting menu which consisted of oysters and prawns, luscious soft shell crab and barramundi, fries and salad and a delicious cassonade for dessert. Everything was delicious. The feasting menu is $60 each (£40). We checked out the wine list but the prices made me want to cry a bit so we opted for water and carried on our tradition of $5 supermarket wine back in our hotel room. Heathens like us wouldn't appreciate fine wine anyway!
Oysters and Prawns at the Atlantic
Barramundi,Soft Shell Crab and Fries at the Atlantic
Another highlight was Joe's in St Kilda, which is a really cool, fairly new diner selling American nosh with an Australian twist. The food was incredible, we opted for several plates and shared because we just wanted a bit of everything, so we had kranski sausage, soft shell crab, harissa chicken, fries and a chickpea salad. There was a relaxed vibe, it was clean and the staff were really helpful, and the final bill was modest too.

We had so many other amazing meals in Melbourne, including Mexican at Taco Bill which is a very reasonable sit-down restaurant, lovely authentic Thai food, fantastic Greek cuisine in the now miniscule Greek Quarter and so so much more. We happened upon a down and dirty takeaway establishment which was newly opened on Chapel Street, the Cheeky Prawn. As it was newly opened, they were boasting 50% off selected items on the menu (they were pretty vague about how long the deal was for, "oh maybe a few weeks?"). We each had the soft shell crab burger (are you spotting a theme yet?) which was delicious and came to something ridiculous like $5 each, and we shared a seafood chowder which is the best I've ever eaten. It's fast food like with its formica tables and plastic cutlery, but damn I wish we had something like it in the UK.
Enchilada Nuevo Mexico, Taco Bills
Our final night was spent at Cafe Cavallino on Lygon Street which is the Italian part of town. There are tonnes of Italian restaurants, some with staff outside trying to tempt the tourists in. My sister had asked an Italian friend for recommendations, and she told us where to go and where to avoid. We opted for Cavallino. We wanted to tick off as many main food types as possible, and Italian is a big part of Melbourne's culture. The whole place is covered in Formula 1 memorabilia and has cute gingham tablecloths so it does feel like you're in a southern Italian ristorante. The menu was huge, so much choice, so we spent ages poring over it. I've just had another look at the menu and I can't actually remember which one I had, it was so vast. But I know this: we all agreed it was one of the best pizzas we've ever eaten, far better than UK chain restaurant fare.

N.B. My favourite ever Italian Restaurants in the UK for authentic Italian are La Pizzeria Italiana, Catford, and BB's, Sheffield.

Other highlights included:
These enormous sushi rolls were$2 each
  • Sushi. It's everywhere. It's cheap. Try Edo Sushi and Noodles on Degraves Street.
  • A deep fried scallop. I mean, can you even imagine a better way to debase such a delicate thing? It's amazing. Funk Fish, Queen Victoria Market
  • Gooey cakes at the famous Ackland Street bakeries. apparently Monarch is the best.
  • The coffee. Almost anywhere. Our chainstore fare in the UK sucks in comparison.
Because Melbourne is such a multi-cultural city, you can get almost any food, from any place, at any time. It's incredible. I want to go back, there's a million restarants I didn't get to try, and what better way to live your life than by a food bucket list?