Friday, May 29, 2009

Melbourne - As Told In Food

Melbourne seems like a misty memory now although it was only probably 2 weeks ago or so. I spent 3 days there by creating my own long weekend. It was a short break, but a break nevertheless - I have not gone anywhere this year so far for holidays, so even though it was a wee, little trip, it was a welcomed distraction from the normal grind of life.

I spent the first morning exploring the quaint little laneways. My first visit to Melbourne was some 15 years ago, I didn't even know about those laneways then. My next trip was last year, an in-and-out whirlwind for work so that didn't count for anything. This trip, I finally got to explore those famous little laneways, with their lovely cafes, restaurants and unique boutiques. There were some interesting shops housed in old buildings up rickety stairs with old-fashioned cage lifts, selling kimono material for craft, buttons and vintage clothing. Loved browsing in those shops as they were just so different from the usual stores in the ubiquitous malls.

I just had to drop in at the Queen Victoria Market and wandered around a little, and succumbed to the smell of the freshly-made cinnamon donuts being made on the spot in this cute, little van that is parked in the car park. Business was brisk and the simple treat just hit the spot.

The restaurant that G had raved about so much, Grossi Florentino, was a let down, solely because I had ordered the wrong item. I thought duck liver would be like foie gras but alas, it was more like chicken or pork liver which I absolutely detest. So the duck liver and mushroom ragu pasta was picked through thoroughly for the mushroom to go with the pasta, while all the liver were left untouched after I attempted a couple mouthfuls with the liver just to make sure that I really hated it. And yes, I really do. I just cannot eat liver (whatever cuisine), I have learnt my lesson and will never order anything with liver (unless it is foie gras) ever again.

Another good meal was at Sonia's house. She and her hubby had invited us over to Saturday dinner and after some dramas with the GPS, we finally got to our destination. Her beer-battered prawns were delicious, and I made sure I got the recipe off her. Summary: dinner wonderful, company even better as it was an environment where my past and present coincided.

Brunswick Street hosted a whole lot of cafes, it is somewhat like our old neighbourhood, Surry Hills. We had Sunday brekkie at Mario's, another Italian cafe. I only had coffee with toast and jam, but the home-made plum jam was yummy.

The European-style cake shops in St Kilda were what I was looking for. My 15-year old memories of St Kilda were (1) almost being blown off the Brighton pier (so named I guess because it is modelled after its namesake in Brighton, UK) by the super strong winds and (2) the variety of beautiful cakes stacked high in the huge glass windows along the main street, beckoning you like how the sirens beckoned those unsuspecting sailors. A true temptation indeed. And yield to temptation we did. The difficulty was making a decision which of the scrumptious looking treats we want. The only disappointment was my green tea latte I had with my cake. I should have known a European-style cake shop would not be able to execute a proper green tea latte the way a Japanese-French cake shop would. But the taste was just weird.

We enjoyed a lovely dinner at Society Restaurant and I like the baroque ambience. We had half a dozen oysters for starters and the neon-green lime-cucumber sorbet to go with them was just refreshing. My risotto was sufficient even though I had ordered the entree size. G had squid ink pasta. Satiated, we decided to skip dessert and wandered the streets a little, looking for a small bar, in particular, we wanted to try out the Double Happiness bar in the laneway next to our hotel.

Interestingly, the only sign indicating to anyone that they were at the right place was a sign in Chinese "xi" which means "double happiness", a common word or symbol used in auspicious Chinese events like weddings. Obviously, the regulars know they are at the right place, and for the visitors who don't read Chinese, I guess if you had to ask, you were obviously not hip enough for the place. Unfortunately, even though we were able to identify the right spot due to my superb Chinese skills, we decided to give it a miss because it was so crowded, G figured it would be ages before we could get a drink there. So instead, the old folks decided to forego the (alcohol) bar and went to a coffee bar.

The cake and coffee at the well-known Pellegrini's (opened 1954), a stone's throw from our hotel, were spot-on both times we visited. The ambience in this coffee bar was old-school Italian and the staff were lively and friendly, even though every single one of them looked at least 55 and it was late both times we went. None of the painfully hip, young and stylishly gay wait staff one would find in the cafes in our old neighbourhood in Sydney. It really felt like we had stepped into a time warp and perched on a bar stool, the thought I shared with G was how Ed Hopper-like the whole scene felt. The whole city-scape, people, but yet being desolate and alone even surrounded by people. Pelligrini's didn't feel desolate obviously but the scene really reminded me of Edward Hopper's paintings. It was pretty surreal.

So here is an account of our Melbourne trip, told in food.

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