I recently had the pleasure of teaching a class on Japanese Winter Comfort Foods at Melbourne's fabulous Essential Ingredient Prahran ! Thanks so much for having me Essential peeps - and to everyone for coming. It was a hands on class with a lot to get through and each attendee of the eclectic bunch did such an amazing job! Made me proud they did!
Plus I got to meet some very cool people including someone I used to work with but had never met, fans who have several of my books and more than a few fellow Japanophiles. I really enjoyed chatting with everyone as I went from bench to bench helping each group - after the initial demonstration. I love to share information in a casual, friendly way and I was able to do this easily with a hands on class.
It had been about 18 months since I'd spent any time in Melbourne which is strange considering I love it so and used to be there so damn frequently for work - but one great thing about being away for so long is that I got to see this town with fresh eyes. It was so great to be back in winter - my favourite time of the year to swan around 'down south' in my woolly wraps and Trippen Boots.
I know we always say that Melbourne is more European feeling than any other Australian city but I really felt it this time. Not necessarily that it was 'European' but that it felt like I somewhere else in the world. What a happy sensation to experience in your own country.
Melbs really has a very different vibe from Sydney and that is why I enjoy it so - such a lovely contrast. Each place has it's blessings of course but I just love the shift in energy.
Sydney drains me at times and Melbourne has always seemed just that little bit more friendly than 'sunny' Sydney - and it is nice to be able to get around so easily too - travelling to the other side of Sydney can feel like trekking across a whole continent.
I took advantage of being in town to do an 'informal' foodie tour -hosted by one of my lovely friends who was proud to show off her city and local cafes etc. She's someone with excellent taste so I knew I was in good hands.
One thing I really noticed in Melbourne was the excellent range of breakfast options at inner city cafes. So impressed. It just seems to keep progressing in a really wonderful way.
And the coffee.. hello.
Now Sydney is known more for it's outdoorsy cafe by the ocean vibe but so often the food is completely predictable and lacklustre. The horizon, crashing waves and golden sand apparently give cafe owners a free ticket straight to 'why should we bother when we have that view'.
I live on the north side of the bridge and, as a general rule, eateries over here have always suffered from lack of imagination and culture in my humble opinion. Before you jump up and down northern types - I'm not including EVERYONE in this sweeping statement - there are a few cool places around these days and for that I am eternally grateful.
On the south side of the bridge - particularly east and inner west of the city I'm sure there are many more exciting offerings but it's a long way to go for brekkie ya know!? While that could be considered lazy - I work me some long, full on days and honestly I don't want to go to far on the weekends if I can avoid it. It's not like you can just hop on a tram and be on the other side of town in a very short time.... Justified? I think so.
So back to Melbourne. Below is a snapshot of my foodie extravaganza during the 4 days I was in town not working! You'll note there is a concentration on North Melbourne cafes - I happened to be staying in the area but it also happens that cafe society is in full swing in these parts - boy oh boy talk about being spoilt for choice. I'll pretty much let the pics speak for themselves - if I've added it I enjoyed it so won't trouble you with my ramblings as I am prone to do when speaking of food.
Oh, and in case you were wondering - it's not all about breakfast ....
While it announces itself as an Italian Eating House the menu is a mix of traditional Italian and contemporary 'food without borders' with a lick of Italiano at times. Great spot for all day breakfast or lunch with plenty of good, fresh food cooked with heart. Daily specials all look great.
Every Asian food blogger in town is getting down and dirty at Mork Chocolate Brewhouse. And with good reason. The front of house 'showroom' for the Mork Chocolate processing house is a stylish space (which feels very Scandi meets Tokyo to me) serving up bargain- of- the- century, luxurious chocolate 'dessert' drinks as well as their signature Hot Chocolate mixes - which are the stars of the small menu but if you have a seriously sweet tooth there's additional chocolate truffles and excellent looking small desserts and cakes for the taking too. I was a little bit impressed by the special touch of the complimentary vanilla mineral water on arrival. Sounds wanky but it was the perfect in between sipper for one of their rich concoctions. Plain water or straight up mineral water would have been too much of a distraction. I like the way these guys think.
You can tell how good the coffee is going to be at this place just walking up the street towards it. The roasting aroma is pretty damn intoxicating of course - and the cafe itself is pleasantly chocka with 'real local/serious coffee drinkers' against a backdrop swathed in appropriately coffee stained hues . The breakfasts are bloody excellent. I could have stayed here all day. But there was more coffee and food to be had....
We sadly ONLY had time for (some very decent) coffee here at Code Black Coffee's Howard St Cafe but the space is gorgeous (once again in a Scandi/Tokyo way) so I got to soak up a bit of loveliness with my brew - and what I spied of the food offerings looked pretty damn decent. A must return. Lovely spot to while away some hours I'd imagine. Laptop warrior haven.
In a quiet back alleyway in North Melbourne - which you'd never stumble across in a pink fit - comes a shop of few words. But when it's words are 'hot porchetta and egg rolls for breakfast' you tend to not care ... about anything for the rest of the day. A few simple but well executed thoroughly Italian offerings in a simply charming, modern garage like room hit the spot in the daylight hours - for evening - try taking away some of their homemade salami.
The coffee as you would expect is great and when a doughnut hot from the fryer is offered to you on the house -well a girl just can't say no can she? Bloody good. I love the simple offering of orange- water filled carafes dotted around the room.
This fabulously atmospheric restaurant in the grounds of the Abbostford Convent reminds me a lot of some of the wholefood type cafes in Kyoto. It serves rustic, simple, healthy food that makes you feel good when you eat it. Nice to see some stuff on plates that I'd only ever see in Japan. It's homey, folksy Jap fare with the chef's own rifts on tradition.
While we are on the subject of Japanese - Minamishima is the only Japanese restaurant in Australia that has instantly transported me to Japan the moment I walked through the door. It is a sublime, high-end sushi restaurant that you will need to book months ahead for but it is worth the wait. There's a FULL REVIEW over on my ZENBU TOURS site.
And the night wouldn't have been kicked off properly without sampling some very fine sake at Hihou of course...
Also with a Japanese edge that nestles nicely up against the influences of various other Asian cuisines is Adam Liston's Northern Lights. I know Adam and had been wanting to eat here for sometime. It didn't disappoint. We were also very well looked after and stuffed to the gills. Some of my favourite Japanese fun foods were absolutely top notch - the katsu sando for example totally rocked my world. And the Yakitori is the best I've found in Oz. I really enjoyed Adam's version of Udon with dashi butter and crab instead of broth -making it more like a lush pasta dish. The lamb ribs and the fried rice - both of Chinese origin of course were total crackers. Best Fried Rice EVER! Sadly I was too busy stuffing my face to get any decent pics of the food but you'll get the drift. At full tilt we still had room for dessert (betsubara - separate belly) as the Japanese say - and who can say no to a Chocolate Matcha parfait with caramel? By the by - the Japanese influenced cocktails rocked too and there's some nifty sake on offer.
This place is damn popular - and as soon as you step through the door you'll know why. It has that X-factor thing going on. Love the space and wish I'd had time for more than a quick slam down of bacon and eggs. But the bacon... oh the maple coffee glazed bacon....
You'd think you might grow tired of a place you camped out at for weeks on end while shooting one of Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish's excellent MoVida books - but nah... I still love MoVida Aqui like it was the first time... And MoVida and MoVida Next Door.. and..I'll just stop now.
It's certainly been a long time between drinks for me at Pei Modern and with a new chef since last visit there are lots of changes and excitement in the offering. Although the space is still as sleek as ever the food has morphed a little into a more modern French bistro zone. Not all dishes are of French origin but with a Frenchie chef at centre stage there is a rather obvious influence. Take note - the Shiraz braised Octopus with mushrooms garnished with crisp saltbush is a touch of brilliance. Like a lighter, seafood version of Beouf Bougingon. Sounds strange? It's so not. Loved the anchovy and parmesan doughnuts too.
But I didn't just eat out while I was in town...
I ate in too.
One of my guests from a previous ZENBU CUISINE AND CULTURE TOUR had myself and most of the tour group over for dinner in her beautiful home where we ate a damn fine slow cooked oxtail and a mighty spectacular arrangement of cheese - and drank some very fine wines. Most generous hosts - thank you so much!
I also did some shopping...
So what if it was food shopping.
I hadn't been to Queen Victoria Markets for yonks and boy was it fun to check it out again (and also visit my friends and supporters at Books for Cooks in their new digs) and, although I've since discovered they have a store in Sydney - I was very excited to find Gerwurzhaus for a spectacular section of flavoured salts and spice mixes.
I also might have been quietly searching for some Monsieur Truffe chocolate... and guess what - I found it!
a little bit further afield perhaps but I got there in the end! DAMN FINE BROWN STUFF! I've been savouring it and there's a little bit left at the bottom of my handbag. True story.
And with that.. I was in urgent need of a detox and northwards to Sydney Town I flew.
Thanks Melbourne - you were swell!
And thank you to my amazing hosts Mel and Tow and to all my friends and colleagues who made this trip so FULL!!!! in every sense of the word. x
I might have stopped for a stiff and cleansing G&T at Melbourne airport. OK two.