There’s just something about Melbourne that is captivating. Whether it is the fashion, the events or the food, Melbourne is a winner every time. The purpose of Melanie Hawkins’ and Denise Cohen’s recent trip was to attend the Melbourne Wine & Food Festival Master Classes and in between explore and immerse themselves into the wonderfully diverse and exotic offerings available in this great city.
With there being so many places to enjoy a great breakfast in Melbourne, it is hard to narrow it down so we’ll just stick with where we went this trip, first up being Richmond Hill Café & Larder - always packed and it’s not hard to see why, with their wholesome, hearty and slightly different food like creamy porridge with sticky roasted seeds and nuts or Baghdad eggs sprinkled with fresh mint and cumin and served on grilled flatbread. Second in line was the Lyall Hotel’s extensive, delicious à la carte menu catering to everyone’s taste for the day. And thirdly, The Botanical, a house-hold name to Melburnians with the likes of house-made bircher muesli topped with rosewater poached figs or wild rocket and herb scrambled eggs to choose from.
Given our limited exploration time, we decided to focus on three distinct areas within Melbourne – Lygon Street, Sydney Road and Prahran Market.
Lygon Street, Carlton
For all things Italian, Lygon Street is the obvious easy choice. Brunetti’s is a lavish feast for the eyes. There are rows and rows of flamboyantly decorated cakes, deluxe chocolates, gelati and authentic Italian pastries, as well as another whole section of savoury meals. Donnini’s fresh hand-made pasta had us wanting to fill up our suitcases with interesting combinations like squid ink spagetti, poppyseed tagliatelle and beetroot, ricotta and bay spinach agnolotti.
Sydney Road, Brunswick
A train ride from the city out to this part of town revealed a treasure trove of exotic food-finds. Supported by a rich and layered multicultural history, the area offers a multitude of predominantly Middle-eastern speciality food stores, like Balha’s Pastry, which is a feast for the eyes with a wide selection of sticky traditional Lebanese pastries and sweet treats like handmade barma (pistachio filling in crunchy kataifi pastry) and namoura (semolina and coconut); and the Phoenician Bakery & Café, which has a superb collection of supplies like vine leaves, halva, pomegranate syrup, Turkish delight and sumac, as well as freshly baked pita and traditional simits (sesame-coated Turkish rolls). On adjacent Victoria Street is BASFoods, which is a one-stop-shop supermarket-style store stocking the likes of Turkish rose-petal jam, herbs and spices, dried exotic fruit and buckets of feta and haloumi cheese.
Prahran Market, South Yarra
Australia’s oldest continuously running market dating back to 1864, Prahran Market is a foodie enclave with numerous speciality purveyors. With a vast selection of what you would expect to find in terms of fresh fruit and vegetable product, the market is also home to various delicatessens selling a multitude of fresh local and imported cheese, divine looking plump olives, dried and smoked meats, dips, pestos and so much more. There is also an impressive fresh meat section proffering everything – rabbit thighs to whole quail. A cupcake boutique, fresh pasta shops, gelato specialist and any cook’s necessity – the Essential Ingredient store for all conceivable culinary supplies - can also be found in this vibrant venue. And if you haven’t yet heard about and tried Phillippa’s Bread then there is ample opportunity here.
As we wandered through the rows of stalls salivating at everything we laid our eyes on, it occurred to us that yes, it could be sampled while on holiday. We were staying at The Lyall – a Melbourne favourite located in the leafy suburb of South Yarra, just ten minutes from the city. Each suite at The Lyall has a kitchenette so why not put it to good use? And so we envisioned collecting a basket containing fresh produce that is different to what we can get in New Zealand and creating a delicious feast right in the relaxed comfort of our room. Great idea, but will save that for tomorrow as tonight we were off to enjoy an evening of foodie indulgence at the newly re-opened MoMo Restaurant. But first a glass (or two) of Champagne at the Lyall Bar. A surprise treat, for when we ordered a glass each of Veuve Cliquot, we received a 200ml bottle (equivalent to two glasses) presented in an individual baby ice bucket.
And so the evening progressed to MoMo Restaurant within the Grand Hyatt, which was indeed a memorable foodie experience. The warm Persian breads offered to start our culinary journey were like soft cloud pillows and were complemented with rich olive oil and organic pomegranate molasses. The descriptions of the dishes are irresistible, like ‘zucchini flower dolmades with almond, barberry and rice stuffing with hot yoghurt sauce’, ‘veiled quail covered in leaves with chorizo-green olive stuffing’, and pumpkin and courgette couscous with green harissa broth. Chef Greg Malouf’s pigeon bistayeea has been widely talked about so devotees will be pleased to know that it remains firmly on the menu. The tender meat is encased in a flaky pastry crust and finished with a sweet dusting of icing sugar and gypsy salad accompaniment. It was fresh food with subtly complex layers in a luxuriously sophisticated setting.
Afterwards we dropped into the newly opened Spice Market bar. Our mouths dropped as we soaked up the exotic ambience. It was ‘the’ place to be and be seen. With several different areas, including private lounges, Spice market captures the romanticism of the Middle East and The Orient. Reserve one of the private rooms (minimum spend required) with drapes in opulent fabrics and plush cushions or really splash out and treat yourself to Australia’s first Belle Epoque Lounge. This extravagant enclave has a capacity of up to 14 people, and comes complete with bottle service and personal attendant. The night we were at Spice Market, the Champagne was flowing, the patrons exultant and the atmosphere electric as we sipped on our signature Turkish Delight Martinis and were wowed by this lavish new night-spot.
During our Melbourne stay we were also invited as guests of Crown Towers Hotel to attend a wine-matched degustation dinner by three Michelin Star Italian Chef, Luisa Valazza. By all accounts the evening was spectacular. Luisa’s dishes were uncomplicated and soft on the palate yet oozed a multitude of memorable flavours – chestnut tortelli, yellow pumpkin and hazelnut foam, essence of Jerusalem artichoke with mascarpone scampi soufflé and spiced chocolate powder. The Italian wines so superbly matched our dishes that the various layers of flavour were dancing in our mouths. There is something to be said about dining on food created by someone who exudes a passion for the enlightenment they bestow in the minds of their diners.
We also attended a celebratory Roman Block Party at Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons (GAS), which opened last year on the Promenade within the Crown complex. Owners, Maurizio Terzini (from Caffé Cucina fame) and Robert Marchetti (former Head Chef at Icebergs Dining Room & Bar) joined forces in 2006 to open North Bondi Italian Food in Sydney before bringing this energetic trattoria concept to Melbourne. There are more than eighty items on the menu including calamari fritti with zucchini and mint and crab arrabbiata, baked in a paper bag. You can also order from an exclusive selection of aged cheeses, which are served with fennel biscotti, celery stalks and paper bread. And all of this within an amazing interior inspired by Rome.
Our gastronomic journey was inspirational and rewarding. The beautiful city of Melbourne again confirmed her status as a foodie paradise and we had only just scratched the surface. This means though that each subsequent trip will be exciting and interesting as the exploration continues.