It feels a little strange to write about Melbourne in the same way that I have with other cities that I have visited. Melbourne is my hometown, it is part of my identity. Despite living in Ireland for the last 8 years, I have spent the majority of my life in Melbourne. So there isn’t that naivety that comes with traveling to an new city and trying to scope out the foodie scene in a short time frame, like with my other blog posts. However Melbourne’s foodie scene is so vast that it would make anyone’s head spin. Being a multicultural city, pretty much every cuisine is covered and the city has numerous culinary areas; Chinatown at Little Bourke Street, Italian at Lygon Street, Greek at Lonsdale Street and as well as the suburb of Oakley, Vietnamese in suburbs Richmond, Footscray and Springvale, and Afghan in Dandenong, to name a few. This alongside the many high end dining establishments, relaxed cafes, food trucks, markets, etc, it’s a city spoiled for choice! I could go on and on about fantastic foodie places, but in reality there is just too many to mention in a single blog post, so I’m going to focus on the highlights of my last visit home.
Ichi Ni Izakaya
This super cool, Modern Japanese restaurant overlooks Port Phillip Bay in St Kilda. As an Izakaya, it has a large floor plan and decking where you can sip on cocktails or mull over a beer or three whilst taking in the view, and an extensive drinks list to suit after work drinks. But the star here is the food, to put simply it’s fantastic. The focus is on small plates of food, designed to share. The highlights were the renkon (lotus root) chips with taramosalata dip, the wagyu beef and the green tea fondant.The service was attentive and personal. The one issue with Ichi Ni, is that ordering lots of little dishes adds up in price. Ten dishes, two beers and a cocktail came to approx $220 (€160.) Obviously ordering more filling dishes would be advisable.
The Flower Drum is a Melbourne institution, which has provided quality Cantonese fare to the Melbourne CBD for over forty years. It is pretty evident as to why this place has continued to go from strength to strength over the years. The food, presentation, service and attention to detail is of the highest standard. Plus it is highly popular amongst businesses to wine and dine their clients. They have a choice of à la carte or set menus, with an extensive wine list. The highlights from the lunch set menu were the quail sang choi bao and the peking duck pancakes (not pictured.) Sadly on this occasion, the deep fried ice cream was also memorable for being lackluster. Hopefully this was simply an oversight. The service was almost military in it’s precision, but still retaining an air of theatre in serving dishes at the table. The four course set menu for two, plus a bottle of wine came to just over $200 (€145.)
(Pork and prawn siu mai, black angus beef siu mai, prawn har gao and scallop siu mai, quail sang choi bao with chinese sausage, eye fillet with black pepper sauce, fried rice and asian greens, fried ice cream with berry sauce. Cost $150 (€110) with an added bottle of Pinot Noir it came to just over $200.)
Puffing Billy Cafe
Puffing Billy cafe is vastly different from Ichi Ni and the Flower Drum, but no less typical of Melbourne. Situated in Belgrave, in the Dandenong Ranges, this laid back, cheerful cafe offers cafe staples with an Australiana vibe. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that they serve the best steak sandwich in the hills! Really, this is simple, honest food done well. Four steak sandwiches with the lot and chips, with four milkshakes came to approx $75 (€55). Bloody ripper!
2018 EDIT: Sadly, I have been told on good authority that Puffing Billy cafe has new management and the standard has gone down quite dramatically. I wouldn’t be lying if I said I shed a tear on hearing that, as the steak sandwich was a highlight of my visits home.
(Tender beef, onion, bacon, egg, lettuce and tomato with skinny chips for approx €10.)
Yarra Valley Wine Bus
The wine bus offers an intimate adventure from Melbourne’s CBD to the Yarra Valley, an hours drive away, to sample the produce from four wineries and a chocolaterie/ ice creamery. No visit is the same, as the wine bus visits different wineries on the day depending on availability. On the day of our tour, we visited Domain Chandon, Tokar Estate, Helen and Joey, Yerring Farm and the Yarra Valley chocolaterie and ice creamery. Highlights of the tour included the tour guide Ian who was friendly, knowledgeable, accommodating and funny; the full glass of sparkling at Domain Chandon of which the sparkling red was being absolutely divine; the lunch at Tokar estate; all the different wines at each winery; and the fact that all the staff at each of the wineries were never pushy. The tour costs $130 (€95) per person, plus extra if you’re buying any of the wines, chocolates or ice cream.
(Cuvee Riche, Rosé and sparkling Pinot Shiraz. A full glass is offered at Domain Chandon.)
Really impressed with the quality of food and the variety of dishes at Leroy Espresso, which is located on busy Acland Street in St Kilda. They offer plenty of healthy options, as well as paleo, gluten free, vegan and vegetarian options, and all day breakfast. Good choice of fresh, cold press juices, as well as smoothies. They offer a take away service as well as sit down dining. Main breakfast/ lunch meals ranging from $14- 24 (€10-17) which is good value considering the location. The staff were really friendly and helpful, and dressed as super cute Jean Paul Gaultier look alikes.
(Thai beef salad, cauliflower rice, raw blueberry notella cake, “Keroy” key lime chia pudding and a macchiatto.)
Books for Cooks
Lastly, Melbourne is so food focused that places like Books for Cooks thrives. It is situated opposite the bustling Queen Victoria Market (which deserves a write up in it’s own right, but will have to do so next time.) This bookshop has every conceivable cuisine covered from Arabic to Cajun, Chinese to French, Filipino to Japanese, Jewish to Malaysian, Mexican to Persian, Punjabi to Zanzibari and everything in between.
(Shelves and shelves of books upon books of all there is to know about cooking every cuisine ever imagined.)
Melbourne is a trendy city that seriously has it’s finger on the pulse when it comes to food and coffee. It definitely doesn’t suffer fools lightly, which is fantastic for travelers because the chances of finding good food and coffee is pretty high. The city centre and surrounding suburbs offers such an array of cuisines, that you don’t have to travel far to find something that suits your taste buds. With a keen eye, it is possible to get quality food for reasonable prices, but Melbourne definitely is on the upper end when it comes to dining out. In saying that, supermarkets in Melbourne offer decent produce at reasonable costs. For example, to buy a few basic essentials (eggs, milk, butter, bread) from the supermarket can cost close to €7. So it is possible to keep things cheap and cheerful. Melbourne is close to my heart, I hope this post has done my hometown proud.
*** I am not affiliated with any of the companies listed. I have not and will not receive any financial benefit for mentioning any of those listed. However I did receive a free meal from Leroy Espresso, which was lovely but did not sway my opinion of what they have to offer. Overall I think that those listed are pretty awesome.
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