Why You Can Never Have A Bad Meal (Or Drink) In Melbourne
Even before Melbourne hosted the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony in 2017, global gourmands had already fully acknowledged this Australian city as a great food destination. With market fresh produce, unique local ingredients, and an evolving food scene that takes the best of international cuisine by infusing a local twist, Melbourne continues to amaze even jaded foodies with its innovative ways with food.
Melbourne has already been making a mark on the food and wine scene through its annual Melbourne Food and Wine Festival , to be held this March 8 to 24, 2019
During a recent visit arranged by Wine Australia for journalists from Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, and the Philippines, I had the opportunity to understand why this charming Victorian capital continues to attract visitors for its alluring mix of creative eateries, boutique coffee shops, cozy cocktail bars, and audacious menus paired with sophisticated wine lists.
“Melbourne has been home to all sorts of immigrants and it is relevant to what we do today,” explains Fiona Sweetman of Hidden Secret Tours, as she guided our group across the city’s laneways to discover the city’s hidden dining hot spots.
Combined with the agricultural prosperity of the region, Melbourne’s varied, competitive, and vibrant food and wine scene reflects the diversity of cultures and flavors that the capital has openly embraced
Here are three (among many more) reasons why you’ll be hard put to find a bad meal, bottle of wine, or cup of coffee in Melbourne:
1. The charming al fresco vibe of the city’s laneways
We discovered there is no better portrait of Melbourne culture than a leisurely walk through its laneways and arcades, where street art, music, food, and the local vibe are masterfully blended for a wonderful introduction to what makes this city truly unique.
Melbourne is famous for its street art, spread out in interwoven alleys and lanes to entice visitors to stop and take a closer look, like the work done by famed Mongolian artist Heeseo who did a mural of a local Mongolian model which marks the entrance to the Spice Market venue.
Heeseo’s mural can be found in Beaney Lane, adjacent to the Grand Hyatt Melbourne
Laneways are also the location for a number of al fresco eateries, an irreplaceable part of Melbourne’s thriving outdoor space.
Chuckle Park is a charming enclave in Little Collins Street, housed in a caravan serving pizza, sandwiches, craft beer, cocktails, and natural wines
Arresting arcades, like Block Arcade and Royal Arcade, form part of Melbourne’s architectural landmarks, where famed shops and eateries offer little bites into history.
The Royal Arcade was probably the first arcade in Melbourne and the longest standing arcade in Australia.
Hopetoun Tea Rooms at the Block Arcade whisk diners back to the late 19th century, when it began as a tea room run by the Victorian Ladies’ Work Association. Roped-off queues usually have a line of hopeful guests, who patiently wait their turn to enjoy Hopetoun’s famous cakes, including the Chocolate Strawberry Swiss Roll, scones, coffee, and tea
Gewürzhaus Herb and Spice Merchants at the Block Arcade infuses old and new traditions with its intriguing collection of 350 single origin spices, herbs, salts, peppers, teas, and sugars from around the world. The small-batch blends created in Melbourne offer unique flavor profiles with the addition of Australian ingredients. For example, Australian Macademia Dukkah retains the Egyptian spice and nut mix but with quality Australian ingredients
2. The city’s superior coffee
Melbourne has an ongoing love affair with coffee, elevating it to an art form. Almost every block will have a café—but not just any typical coffee shop. There is an almost unspoken vow to only serve exceptional coffee with quality beans for a truly superior coffee experience.
Locals flock to their preferred brew, whether it is the boutique roaster and retailer Market Lane Coffee at Prahan Market or the bustling social hub of Cumulus Inc.
Cumulus Inc. is located in Flinder Lane, Melbourne’s famous fashion and art precinct, where coffee lovers are spoiled for food choices to accompany their organic and fair trade single origin house blend
The cheekily named Self Preservation is a café, bar, and gallery housed in a creative art space serving casual fare suited to both coffee and wine.
Aside from the good coffee, Self Preservation offers a diverse range of wines with seasonal dishes
3. Melbourne’s many chef-driven restaurants
Melbourne is home to a remarkable gastronomic scene, one where diners find a real connection to the food, as interpreted by the growing number of renowned chefs in the city.
We were fortunate enough to try the cuisine at Matilda. The restaurant is a journey for all five senses, with the crackling open fire over hot coals in the kitchen immediately riveting our attention, while the interiors incorporate elements of earth, fire, water, and nature into the space.
Matilda locatd in South Yarra’s chic neighborhood
The well-crafted menu speaks highly of Chef Scott Pickett’s direction towards sustainably sourced meats, flavorfully cooked with seasonal produce. It also mirrors a move to return to one’s roots, with unique local ingredients prepared over the most natural heat source, which Chef Scott obviously champions. The result is food that is indulgent and extremely satisfying.
Choice meat is cooked over live flames and open grills for a wonderful smoky, slightly charred finish
A popular Matilda entrée is the exquisite Dressed Spanner Crab, with fresh crab slivers generously coated in a tangy lemon-crème fraiche dressing and deliciously slathered over prawn-buttered flatbread
Australia’s bountiful produce takes center stage with small plates that combine freshness and flavor, as seen in the Smoked Burrata with tomato and zucchini, Ox Tongue with grated horseradish and gribiche sauce, and Lakes Entrance Baby Octopus served with lemonade fruit and squid ink
Matilda’s mastery of live flame and open grill cooking can be seen in this mouthwatering Blackmore Wagyu Bavette 9+ with smoked bone marrow and grilled green onions, kiffler potatoes with smoked sour cream, butter lettuce, green tomatoes, and Jonella farm asparagus
Matilda has a comprehensive wine list, reflecting trends and preferences in Victoria for both up-and-comers and established wineries. This 2016 Domaine Naturaliste by Bruce Dukes Chardonnay from Margaret River provides a rich and elegant accompaniment to the meal
Matilda’s sommelier revealed a wine list with a lot of Pinot Noir, which pairs well with much of the food coming from the kitchen, like this single vineyard 2015 Pimpernel ‘One’ from Yarra Valley in Victoria
Melbourne is home to a number of chef-driven restaurants lauded locally and internationally for creating memorable and unique dining experiences which hark back to Australia’s past for inspiration. These include Chef Ben Shewry’s acclaimed fine dining restaurant Attica in suburban Ripponlea, which celebrates Australia’s history by transforming indigenous ingredients into something exciting, artistic, and flavorful; the majestically located Vue de monde by Chef Shannon Bennet, recognized for its chef tasting menu that gently guides diners through a progression of flavors against a theatrical backdrop; and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, a restaurant this celebrated British chef opened together with Chef Ashely Palmer-Watts, offering a modern menu inspired by historic ingenuity, recipes, and ingredients for a unique repast like no other.
Melbourne promises to unveil ever more innovative and exciting dining experiences in the future that will certainly keep our palates busy. I will definitely be on the lookout for what this culinary capital has in store.
Photos provided by Wine Australia