Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Gluttonous Travels: Greedy Diva's Marvellous Melbourne (Australia) - Part 1

Wandering around the cobbled, bustling alleyways of Melbourne, the sandy streets of its leafy beachside suburbs in the south and the charismatic grungy lanes of the north, it was clear to me over Christmas how much my love of food, and my passion for exploring for new edible adventures, has been shaped by this diverse and vibrant city.

Although you'll still find the odd bod who has never tasted avocado, it's been a long time since food was all about chops and 3 veg in Australia. Decades of immigration from both Europe and Asia has brought with it a thriving culinary life to my old home town. From satisfyingly greasy souvlakis to huge whole baby snappers cooked with lemongrass, lime and roasted chilli, from laid back side walk cafes where you can sip a 5 star coffee in your flip flops to high end fine dining where black is always the new black, Melbourne does Italian, French, Greek, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Japanese and Vietnamese food with gusto.

(Snapper at Longrain, City)

Melbourne is also rightly reputed for its fiercely proud coffee culture. While only a handful of places have mastered a decent espresso in London (an otherwise often underrated food city), it's almost hard to find a dud in Melbourne - you can generally follow your nose and the rich, roasting coffee bean aroma to find a stunningly good flat white without raising a sweat, particularly in the city centre and the cafe hubs of Carlton, Fitzroy, Collingwood, St Kilda, South Melbourne and Prahran. It says a lot that most Starbucks stores have shut down in Melbourne - in a city with inhabitants who have espresso running through their veins, only 5 Starbucks stores remain.

There are some distinct regions known for particular ethnic delights:
* Lygon Street (and Carlton generally) for Italian (although much of Lygon Street is largely touristy and not where you'll get the best Italian food in Melbourne);
* Victoria Street in Abbotsford for cheap and delicious Vietnamese;
* China Town in the city for Chinese (the pinnacle of which is The Flower Drum, a Melbourne fine dining institution); and
* Acland Street for cakes and pastries (although these shops are largely overrated with the exception of the delicious chocolate kugelhopf at Monarch Cake Shop).

However, the best of each ethnic cuisine is not necessarily contained within these culinary cul-de-sacs. Some of Melbourne's best bars and edible heros are tucked away off the main drag in dimly lit, cobbled alleyways, or within the limbs of upbeat inner suburbs.

Have grown up in, and devoured my way around, Melbourne for 30 years without holding back, it's impossible to list all worthy Melbourne eateries here. But this is a guide to my current sentimental favourites and others I'm still bursting to try (having been thwarted somewhat by Christmas trading hours on my recent visits).


Despite numerous new coffee shops opening throughout Melbourne (and every one I managed to try during limited Christmas trading hours was good), my trusted Grocery Bar on Fitzroy Street (St Kilda) was consistently the best. Rich, strong, creamy and soothing - coffee of the Gods, in a relaxed "sit back and watch the passing crowds" atmosphere. You can play lawn bowls and drink beers with the cool kids at the St Kilda Bowling Club just across the road. St Kilda Grocery Bar on Urbanspoon

(Grocery Bar, St Kilda)

Another old faithful is rustic Italian bakery, Il Fornaio, at the lower end of Acland Street (St Kilda). Excellent coffee, great bakery items (including my favourite almond croissants in the world and the TPG's beloved beignets with either a jam or custard filling) and terrific for brekkie, lunch or dinner. The blood red orange juice is delicious. Eat inside, or outside on the terrace where the bayside sun flickers flirtaciously through the tree tops. Il Fornaio on Urbanspoon

A relative new comer which we tried for the first time is St Ali (South Melbourne). Tucked away discreetly in an industrial laneway of factories and run down blocks, this fabulous new cafe has high ceilings and industrial fittings, with outdoor decks for summer (coffee) lovin'.

Its award winning coffee is also sold at Liar Liar (Hawthorn), Outpost (South Yarra), Globe Cafe (another GD favourite when shopping on Chapel St, Prahran) and Sensory Lab (David Jones, City).

I adore this place and visited several times, sampling the delicious lamb pizza (more like a wrap with pizza dough, with pine nuts, spinach and yoghurt), the huge, fresh and feisty prawn pizza (care of The Peanut Gallery), toasted banana bread with coffee marscapone and topped with a refreshing salad of orange, mint, almond and rhubarb, and the Mexican breakfast (Mum's wise choice) with a giant corn fritter, 2 fried eggs, relish, spinach and grilled haloumi. Absolutely delicious. And they even serve my beloved watermelon juices. Definitely a new breakfast fave. St Ali on Urbanspoon

I have already sung the praises of my old local, Mart 130 (Middle Park), and its sensational, gigantic corn fritters with sour cream, bacon and relish here.

Magnificent Melbourne coffee can also be sampled at:
* Gas (South Melbourne, near the market - delicious tapas and brekkies/lunches, and I love the baked Turkish eggs); Gas Eatery & Supplies on Urbanspoon
* Dead Man Espresso (South Melbourne, another newbie winning acclaim for its weekly changing single origin coffee and Seven Seeds house blend); Dead Man Espresso on Urbanspoon

* Wall Two 80 (St Kilda East, popular grungy hole in the graffiti clad wall complete with a basic cafe out the back); Wall Two 80 on Urbanspoon

* Small Block (Brunswick East) and the gorgeous Sugardough Panificio & Patissserie (Brunswick East - tiny, but so much good stuff to devour, including delicious pies, spanakopita and custard or jam bomboloni (doughnuts)); Sugardough Panificio & Patisserie on Urbanspoon
* The newish Carlton Espresso (Lygon Street, Carlton - everyone working here is a heavily accented Italian for extra authenticity, which gets me every time - would love to try the pizza here also); Carlton Espresso on Urbanspoon

* City stalwarts: Journal Cafe (which transmorphs into the Journal Canteen later in the day for tasty Sicilian fare; opposite the City Library), Postal Hall (in the old Australia Post headquarters), Il Solito Posto (bustling Italian restaurant set underground in an alleyway, Geroge Parade) and Rosati (housed in a former fabric warehouse, although the restaurant itself has lost some of its lustre in recent years, they still make a fine coffee). Each of these old haunts helped get me through many a long day at the office in my former Melbourne working life; and

* For a shot of the good stuff in Armadale, Cafe Bouchon (which also serves a seriously good granola).

In Australia, milk bars are corner shops, scattered around suburbia, selling your daily staples such as milk, break and, most importantly, sweets. Seven 11's have not killed them off yet. Cute milk bar cafes include Jerry's Milk Bar (Elwood - also famed for its sausage rolls and milkshakes) and Cowderoy's Dairy (although beware of prams and small children, St Kilda West).

Still to try - the following hot new coffee spots: Proud Mary (Collingwood), Seven Seeds (Carlton), Ray Cafe (Brunswick), Liar Liar (Hawthorn), 7 Grams (Richmond), Brother Baba Budan (city). The Peanut Gallery made multiple visits to De Graves Street (a fantastic, and very Melbourne, laneway in the city, bustling with delicious cafes) for the egg, bacon, cheese, mayo toasted bagel at Jungle Juice, and I still haven't heard the end of it. He's talking about it again, right now.

(Sensory Lab, City)

Stay tuned for my next post on Melbourne's Lunch, Dinner and Snacking opportunities - from glammed up fine dining, to crispy battered fish and chips on the bay....


  1. I can recommend Brother Baba Budan. They also have a sister spot in Berkeley St.

    I have also enjoyed Beans & Bagels on Johnson St.

  2. This post has made me so excited about my up coming trip to Melbourne. Been in Perth for a couple of weeks now and heading there on Monday for 3 days before flying to Sydney for another 3 days and then back to Perth again.

    I wish that I liked coffee - I love the idea of it and the way you have written about it makes it so appealing. Unfortunately I just hate the taste - but I do love a good cake. I'm staying in St Kilda so i'll check out some of your recommendations.

    Hope you had a good Christmas and New Year!


  3. I am so excited to go back! Only 4 weeks to go. I have no idea how I'm going to get around all these though... Can't wait to read your post on the meals! Did you go (have you been) to Vue de Monde? Still my most favourite meal ever.

    Welcome back to London town!

  4. Anon - I really wanted to try Brother BB. Unfortunately it was closed after Christmas, so my loss. Next time!

    Sarah - Have a wonderful trip! Can I come back with you -it's gloriously warm and sunny there right now. I'm sure you'll love Il Fornaio - it has so much more to offer than just the coffee.

    Jennifer - Yes, Vue de Monde is amazing - so theatrical and, of course, delicious! I hope you enjoy one of the places in my Melbourne tips - do let me know if so and have a terrific holiday!

  5. Brilliant, never imagined that Melbourne was such a foodie place - love the pics too, they give a real feel for the place.

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  6. You certainly got around in your recent trip to Melbourne! There's so much to eat in the city, not enough time....but you hit some pretty good spots.

    Jetsetting Joyce

  7. Thanks Luiz - I hop eyou make it there some time!

    Thanks Jetsetting Joyce - it is hard to do more than a cursory skim across the surface in such a short time, but I always make sure I target a few old favs!

  8. This post made me homesick! (But in a good way) Great blog by the way. Check out mine if you feel inclined: http://londonrobstuff.blogspot.com/

  9. LondonRob - Thanks! Love your blog too - thanks for the link. We share many favourite London coffee spots - they all have that Melbourne touch to them!

  10. Love your blog. Australia is just so ahead of the game for food. I went to Sydney and Queensland a couple of years ago and was blown away. I can see I need to do another trip to do Melbourne.

  11. MealsinHeels - Thank you! Your blog is fabulous - and so beautiful. It seems I was at the Broadway Market the same weekend as you! I think Australia is absolutely great for food - especially Melbourne (not that I'm biased!).

  12. Thanks so much for this blog post!

    I'm a crazy foodie who is back in Melbs for the first time in 2 years and this is the best rundown of both new and old places I've come across.

    I'm going to be trying everything off your list I can, thanks again for taking the time to put it together!

  13. Hi Cory-Ann - Thanks for such a fab comment. Melbourne's food scene just keeps getting better. I hope you enjoy some of my tips. Have a great trip!


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