23 Mar // Ten delicious things: MELBOURNE, AUS

Melbourne is a fantastic city to visit, especially if you love eating great food and drinking delicious beer and cocktails and local wine and excellent coffee. I was over there recently thanks to Tourism Victoria and Qantas, and as the food writer in the group (alongside Julia and Libby, Art and Matilda, Megan from Blogger at Large, Aimee from My Beloved Style, and Lola Photography) I had a personalised itinerary that was heavy on the eating and the drinking. Any gaps in said itinerary I expertly managed to fill with breakfasts and oysters and craft beer and fried chicken. Here’s a highlight reel.

1. Champagne for lunch at the Qantas lounge

As Qantas was a partner on the trip, the eight of us had lounge access at the airport before our Auckland-Melbourne flight. It was just before midday, and never one to break my life-rule of never saying no to free champagne, I cracked open a bottle of Mumm. I tried my hardest to get the rest of the group to have champagne for lunch too (wellness bloggers and paleo advocates included), and with the few who said yes we managed to finish a bottle. Good start.  

2. Meat fruit at dinner by Heston Blumenthal

I only received my itinerary the day before the trip, and I yelped with excitement when I saw Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on the list. He’s famous for more than just putting cheap wine through a soda stream (or Titahi Bay champagne as my former work colleague called it). He’s a bit of a molecular gastro genius and Dinner, which began in London, has recently taken up residence in Melbourne. We drank espresso martinis downstairs before heading up for three courses. Everyone had said you must get the meat fruit: it’s a chicken liver parfait encased in an mandarin gel, which makes the entire thing look like an actual mandarin. You crack into it to get to the silkiest parfait you’ve ever had, before slathering it on house-baked grilled bread. It’s a goddam delightful way to start a meal. The Sambocade dessert with the goats cheese cheese cake was incredible, the bone marrow was good, the steak was excellent, and the tipsy cake with the spit roasted pineapple was really good too. All the dishes are based on historic British gastronomy, so you get some dishes dating back to c1300s. My highlight of the evening though, it has to be said, was when I asked one of the others in the group, a certain reality-TV star, how his pork belly was. His unapologetic reply? “It kind of just tastes like ham.” 

I spent much of the trip taking photos of people taking selfies. Here, I was harrassing two of my dining companions, a certain reality TV star and her boyfriend

3. Breakfast at the pass at Cumulus Inc.

Up at the pass is my favourite place to sit when dining alone, and for a Saturday morning breakfast at Cumulus Inc, in Flinders Lane, it was the perfect place to perch, alongside other solo breakfast-goers. I had a couple of great coffees, a half-portion of their crumpets with rooftop honey, and smoked ocean trout on a light, delicate potato rosti. It was all excellent, and I could see why about a million people had recommended it.

Crumpets at Culumus Inc.

4. Everything at Press Club Projects

On our Saturday night in this fair city, ten of us had dinner at Press Club Projects. The Press Club restaurant is the fine-diner of George Calombaris, the affable Aussie-Greek judge on Australia’s Masterchef. He’s since opened up his test kitchen next door, so you’re dining at a stainless steel table where the chef prepares everything in front of you, and talking you through it if you pester him enough. There are wine matches with each course and the kitchen radio playing, and it’s simultaneously amazing food in a totally chill kitchen atmosphere. It was pretty much my dream. We had George's offsider cook for us, Reuben Davies, reasonably fresh from working for Jason Atherton in London. At the end of the meal I was ready to marry him and move to Melbourne. We ate: an interpretation of a waldorf salad amuse bouche, featuring an edible walnut; a vegemite cracker with feta and fresh tarragon; a rocket, anise, and sour pear ice block; a pastry snail with caramelised onion and feta; breakfast radish with smoked yoghurt, pickled daikon, savoury breakfast granola, corinader, and dill; fresh peas (my favourite dish I think, an absolute delight in texture and temperature) with spring onion, iced young coconut, pea tendrils, chilled pea soup, and roasted coconut; confit Tasmanian salmon with Krokos mayo (they grow saffron in Krokos in Greece), shaved fennel, roasted fennel, and grapes in champagne (AMAZING); ox cheek cooked overnight at 72 degrees, with liquorice onion puree, and carrots in anise butter; plum compote, white chocolate and miso, served with a green tea kombucha; brûlée a la greek with fig, chocolate custard, and brandy (holy shit); and finally, a peach baklava with peach and basil. It was incredible.    

The magical pea dish, and the magical chef

5. Supernormal

See above re: wanting to move to Melbourne and marry the chefs. See above also: re dining alone sitting up at the pass. Also: oysters, sticky spicy panfried beef buns, the mini corn in miso butter, the pickled vegetables, and the Kimchi Bloody Mary.

6. Belles Hot Chicken

Get a taxi to Gertrude St in Fitzroy. Meet up with one of your best mates from high school and her friends. Eat amazing spicy hot fried chicken wings at Belles Hot Chicken. Find a bogan pub a few suburbs over and order jugs of beer. Play the best game of pool of your life, before getting back to your hotel about 1.30am, the same time as a bride on her wedding night, full white meringue dress and all. 

Buckets of fried chicken carnage at Belles Hot Chicken

7. Cheeeeeeeeeeeese

Downstairs at the Spring Street Grocer there is an underground cheese maturation cellar, and an expert cheese monger, and plenty of incredible cheeses from Australia and further afield, to taste and try and smell and taste some more. Good luck getting out of there without buying anything. From the same people next door to the grocer is The European, a gorgeous eating establishment that claims some of Melbourne’s best coffee. 


8. Negroni at Heartbreaker Bar

My first blog (and entry into food writing as a career) was called heartbreak pie, and as such I have an affinity for anything with the word heartbreak in the title. Especially if it’s a red neon sign, in a bar playing jukebox music only, serving negronis.

9. Local craft beers at Forestor’s Hall

On a neverending research quest of finding great craft beer whereever I am, I met up with a handful of Melbourne-dwelling Kiwis for an afternoon beverage (or three) and a couple of pizzas at Forestor's Hall in Collingwood. Pizza and beer is pretty much my dream scenario. There were plenty of really good local offerings on tap – the Barrow Boys’ Brewing Co Pedlars Ale was one I tried and it was great.

Pizza and beer aka the dream

10. Last supper at Coda

I left Melbourne for a furious 2 days in regional Victoria (more on that shortly), and then returned again for one final meal, before an early morning flight home. That final meal was at Coda, in the CBD. I went with Lola, a photographer on the trip (she blogged about it here) and we ate duck curry, which was kind of like a confit duck leg with a curry sauce, and amazing spicy crunchy green beans, and the spiciest slaw I’ve ever had. There are definite Asian (more specifically Vietnamese) flavours, but it's really just excellent, tasty food all round, with great produce. We sat at the bar and yarned about life and it was glorious. As I’d by then come to expect in Melbourne too, the wait staff were so good – charming, friendly, professional and just so good at what they do. It was a perfect last meal. Until next time.