***NOTE***This post is from November 2007-ish. It is late because I am slow and drowning in homework, but it?s a long one filled with tons of food, so it?s worth it, damn it. ***SECOND NOTE*** Don’t know what chunky means? Find out here. When people think of Australia, they usually think of Sydney and Melbourne. In fact, before I moved here, people would constantly say, oh, Australia? Are you moving to Sydney or Melbourne? Like no other city existed. They were partially right. I had already visited Sydney, and while I loved it, I had to hit up its sister, Melbourne. She deserved some loving too, damn it. For some reason, I planned a lot of breakfast stops for this trip. I had heard that Melbourne serves up some amazing breakfast, and I was dying to see someone step outside the box of traditional Aussie brekky, so on the first day, we checked out The Green Grocer in North Fitzroy.
The Green Grocer came highly recommended by some food blogging friends. It is an organic caf?/store and as soon as you walk in, a wall of beautiful looking produce with descriptions longer than a novel. I think I even learned who was the carrot’s baby’s daddy. They also sell gourmet ingredients, like Spanish smoked paprika and a $16 bottle of organic, homemade cordial (Aussie?s answer to American Kool-Aid). The menu was modern Australian (think British-Asian fusion) and a decent length, not too many dishes but not too few, and plenty of creative options. I chose the Grocer?s breakfast, an herb and feta pancake topped with a poached egg and basil pesto ($16 AUD).
I was really excited about this dish because it seemed different from the typical Australian breakfast items, but the downside was that the egg was practically hard poached. I typically don?t eat poached eggs, but they seem to be popular in Melbourne. I figure if you are going to go through the trouble of putting an egg on top of my dish, might as well make it gooey, right? So you can enjoy the dish at the height of its richness, of course. Duh. The egg really ruined this dish for me. But thankfully, Adam made a better choice. My partner went with the corn fritters with smoked salmon, salad greens, capers, oven-dried tomatoes, dill mayo and chili jam ($12 AUD).
Even though corn fritters are a popular Australian breakfast item, this dish kicked major ass in new ways. The fritters were crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and savory enough to bring together the smokey salmon and the greens. The capers gave the perfect amount of salt and the chili jam was the final hit that really melded the flavors of this dish together. The combination of wood-smoked salmon with sweet and spicy chili jam was a new sensation for my mouth, and I dug it so much, I threw it a little welcome party. Adam was stoked about the dish as well, at least until I ate the rest of it. I also had a very good, dark hot chocolate whose name escapes me at the moment . If you go, you have to try it?just look go for the more expensive hot chocolate on the menu. It was rich, dark, and the perfect combination of sweet and bitter, but then again, I have had a fascination with dark chocolate-based hot chocolates lately. The Green Grocer was a little more expensive than your average brekky, but it is a place worth visiting if you dig good food. From there, we wandered around Fitzroy, a hip area filled with heaps of shopping and heaps more restaurants. And maybe heaps of heaps. I love heaps.
This is just one of the many graffiti-ed walls in Melbourne. I really think Australian graffiti is more a form of public art and it rocks. More on that later.
We ended up at the Rose Street Artist Market, a weekly meeting of local jewelers, fashion designers and other diverse bits of wonderfulness. There was a gentleman who made wallets out of old leather and tires, funky foam food brooches, funny t-shirts and more. It was very similar to a giant, cool craft fair. It?s a tiny venue, but definitely worth a look if you enjoy having unique and one of a kind items.
We accidentally stumbled into Simon Johnson Providore (near the corner of Brunswick and St. David street) and fell in love instantly. It was a really hot day outside, and as soon as we entered this food mecca, a few ladies handed us some ice cold water and invited us to taste a few different cheeses with some local food products. Um, ok. Normally, I hate free, delicious food, but if you are going to force me, I suppose I can shove some down–but begrudgingly so. It was the cutest little gourmet food store, and I really really really wanted to buy something, but I am not kidding you, the cheapest thing there was $20. Even the jam was expensive. There was a mini fruit pudding that was no bigger than a thimble and it was $15. I love splurging on fine food as much as the next glutton, but this was a bit outrageous. I need to be in an entire other income bracket before I can buy a $20 candy bar every week. But I still loved the store! We stayed in Fitzroy through the evening, wanting to stop off at an authentic Mexican restaurant a friend had recommended, Los Amates . Know this now?Australia does not do good Mexican, most likely because they live so damn far away from the country. But my food twin Bobby promised that Los Amates is worth a try, and claims he was so happy to eat good Mexican food in Australia, he hugged his waitress. This probably scared her. Bobby is a big man. But when we arrived, the street looked like this:
Apparently, there was a Latin-Mexican-Spanish festival going on, and thankfully, Los Amates had a booth. But I have never seen a street festival so ghetto-packed. SO many people.
The booths were mainly Spanish tapas, with a few Greek and Chinese booths thrown in for good measure. But Los Amates had our heart from the first bite.
We started with a plate of chicken taquitos, fried corn tortillas stuffed with shredded chicken and topped with cheese and sour cream.
They were crispy, delicious, and made with corn, not flour tortillas, a definite score in my book. Next came the Enchiladas con Mole Rojo, or corn tortillas stuffed with cheese and drowned in a rich chile sauce and Mexican cotija cheese.
The first bite was pure bliss, the dark, chile-laden sauce bringing a pleasant, slightly bitter savory flavor into my mouth that I had craved for so long. The only problem with eating at a festival is they never give you enough and charge way too much for food, so we had to make several trips back to get a few extra plates of these bad boys. We also had a decent trio of sopes, or thick disks of corn dough with different toppings and some elotes, or corn with crema, lime and chiles.
These were okay, but we were more excited to something that actually resembled Mexican food we had eaten in the past that we were satisfied.
We grabbed an alfajore cookie on the way out (a Peruvian flaky cookie layered with dulce de leche), and dashed backed to our hotel to escape the crazy crowd that tried to swallow you as you passed through it. Several times, Adam started off at my side and ended up at a paella booth looking frightened and confused. We ended up stopping once more for a churro break, opting for the less popular churro booth simply because we didn’t want to enter the mosh pit that was forming outside of the popular churro place.
They were still deliciously crispy and sweet, a perfect churro.
I was quite surprised to realize the festival had a lot more booths from Spain than they did booths from Latin America. Los Amates was the only Mexican booth we could find. There were more Asian and Lebanese booths than there were Mexican booths at the Latin American Street Festival. But they had heaps of churro booths. Hmm. Something for a gastronome to ponder. The next morning, we had breakfast at Mart 130, which came highly recommended by Ed. A word of warning?all directions online say this place is across the street from the train station. What they mean to say is it IS the train station, but it took us around 15 minutes to figure that one out. We?re a bit slow in the a.m.
We saw a slight variation on a typical Aussie brekky menu (corn fritters, ricotta pancakes, porridge, big brekky with tomato, sausage, eggs and mushrooms, poached eggs on toast, etc.) and decided to order poached eggs with toast, beans on toast, and French toast with crispy Aussie bacon. Yup. We heart carbs. The restaurant had these shelves filled with magazines and books to read while you are waiting for your food. I love reading while eating, so this totally worked for me.
Everything was okay?just not spectacular. The beans on toast took an Aussie (and British) comfort food and kicked it up a bit, using what I think were cannellini beans and pancetta in a tomato-based sauce.
The eggs were okay, nice and gooey like I like them, but there is just something about the white part of a poached egg that doesn?t do it for me. Perhaps they used a bit of vinegar in the water when poaching to help the egg whites cling together, as some chefs do, but whatever it was, it gave the whites a funky taste. Perhaps I am just not a poached egg person. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps (Cake fan, anyone?).
The French toast was good, and while not completely crispy, the Aussie bacon was decent (but I just wish they would smoke it!!).
The prices were reasonable, not a bargain but not terribly bad for a nice Australian breakfast. I think our total bill was $40, but we had ordered three dishes for the two of us and a glass of fresh squeezed OJ. The best part was the view. No, not the train, but behind the building you could see the skyline of the city, which was really great.
From there, we headed back to the city center and Federation Square, basically the hub for all tourist activity in Melbourne. We made a visit to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, where we played video games, watched indy films, and engraved old records for a dj to spin. We also happened upon a random Polish festival. Never one to turn down a good sausage, we investigated.
There were men and women dancing in traditional Polish clothing and giant fresh jelly donuts (I dug the later, obviously).
We found a giant, smoked polish sausage with onions and mustard for $3.50 and a Polish Okocim beer.
But considering we had eaten breakfast only a few hours before, we could barely finish the two. So we just danced around with a few Polish people and moved on? ?to more food?duh. This time, we headed up to the beach at St. Kilda to dine at Cicciolina, apparently a favorite of the locals.
We had heard many good things and had high expectations , but like most prom nights, Cicciolina left us slightly disappointed and exceedingly more poor. In all fairness, this place was recommended as a good place to have a glass of wine, chat with some locals and eat some amazing food, but we went on a Sunday night. While it was still fairly busy, we did not get to mingle with others, and the food was not as stellar as we might have hoped. I started with a tuna carpaccio, which was pretty good with a nice, citrusy sauce on top.
I like fish, but it can’t have a strong fishy flavor. This tuna passed the test. Adam had a mini crab pie, which he was satisfied with. Neither were particularly memorable, but they were not bad either, if that makes sense.
Adam?s main was much better, a duck breast with juniper berries and lentils (I think?damn its hard writing this months after the fact!).
It was the perfect combo of fat, salt and sweet, and I kept stealing bites of it when Adam wasn?t looking and blaming it on the guy at the next table . I ordered the special of the day, a piece or harpooka (fish), on top of mashed potatoes with a lemon sauce(either a beurre blanc or hollandaise, can?t remember), and topped with a stuffed and fried squash blossom and shaved bottarga, a salty pressed fish roe.
This dish didn?t do it for me at all. It was okay, but it felt very heavy for a spring dish, especially the potatoes. I just didn?t feel like eating it. We were hoping the dessert would redeem my heavy main, and we ordered a pavlova with balsamic ice cream and stewed rhubarb.
No. Just?no. It was a good idea, and I will admit, the balsamic ice cream was what made me order it, but it just didn?t taste right. The rhubarb and ice cream were both tangy, and sadly, the sugary pavolva did not balance it out. The ice cream made the dish a bit overwhelming. I would have preferred some strawberry with the rhubarb, and maybe a balsamic reduction instead of the ice cream to heighten the sweetness of the vinegar. Ah well. Adam ordered some grappa, but we both decided that night we are not grappa people yet. It tastes too much like hairspray, at least to us. It was very strong, but that doesn?t mean it was bad?it just means it made us vomit in our mouths a little. No biggie. On our last day in Melbourne, Adam had a meeting to attend, so I was on my own. I started off my day at Books for Cooks, a delightful little book store that focuses on food-related books, both food writing and cookbooks. YAY.
Needless to say, I spent way too much time in this store, gazing longingly at several books. I couldn?t buy any, because I still have several books left to read from school this year that I haven?t gotten around to, so I wouldn’t let myself get any. It was tough.
But man, what a great way to waste your day! Definitely check this place out if you are in the area. Later, I went back to Federation Square and put on my Ipod so I could listen to the ABC Melbourne Eat, Drink Melbourne podcast tour I had downloaded earlier. The tour was read by Derek Guille and had a few clips of food writer Stephanie Alexander. This post is already longer than the Bible and it is a topic I would like to explore, so I?ll save it for another post. Suffice it to say, great concept, okay tour. I had the lovely opportunity to meet a fellow food blogger, Ed Charles over at Tomato. We discussed food blogs and Melbourne dining over cups of gelato in St. Kilda. Thanks, Ed, it was great meeting you! And that was it! We had an exhausting but food-filled weekend. You ain’t half bad, Melbourne. You ain’t half bad.
~LTG The Green Grocer 217 St. Georges Road North Fitzroy, VIC Tel +61 3 9489 1747 www.thegreengrocer.com.au Los Amates 34 Johnston Street Fitzroy, VIC Tel+ 61 3 9417 0441 Mart 130 107a Canterbury Rd Middle Park, VIC Tel +61 3 9690 8831. Cicciolina 130 Acland St St. Kilda, VIC Tel+ 61 3 9525-3333 Books for Cooks 233-235 Gertrude Street Fitzroy, VIC Tel+ 61 8415 1415 www.booksforcooks.com.au