I’m back – last bit about Melbourne

August 30, 2007

I’ve been a blog-slacker. Bad Lisa! But I’m back. The last blog was about Melbourne. I think to complete the Melbourne bit so I can start afresh on something new, I will include an article that I wrote about my experience in the 2nd best city in Australia.

 Melbourne is a foodie’s fantasy By: Lisa Wolff

Ask any Australian to name the two primary attractions of Melbourne and most will answer: food and shopping. Two of my favourite things – and I’m sure I’m not alone in that declaration. If a woman could wish up a dream city, Melbourne, I reckon would come up trumps.

Let’s start with the retail therapy side of things. If shopping is your way of relaxing, you’ll be tranquillised after a weekend in Melbourne. The CBD has an old fashioned feel to it, with restored architecture and ornate façades. I almost felt as if I should don a lady’s hat, corset and Victorian dress to amble along the streets. But while the city may exhale history, the fashion is anything but old, and neither are the prices. It’s boutique heaven here with all the world famous designers displaying their chic wares.

I always feel slightly “Pretty Womanish” (before her transformation) when visiting these austere shops. So I headed straight for the fashion famous Chapel Street, which boasts hipper, edgier clothes. Here I picked up some unique designs at good value. Then there’s also the mall experience and Melbourne offers a good variety. Melbourne Central boasts something like four shopping centres all interconnected in a rabbit warren of store-lined corridors. I was after bargains and I found some here. As for the rock-bottom deals, I visited the Queen Victoria Market, where I came away with some “made in China” duds and some ornate cushion covers thrown into the mix.

Victoria MarketThe main attraction at the Market was the food stalls. For a dedicated gourmand like myself, this was the essence of bliss. There was a hall dedicated to the juiciest fruit straight from the farm (including an extensive range of organics). Then there were stalls specialising in cheese, bakery goodies, an entire section for butcheries and even a South African stall with biltong and boerewors.

tramGetting around Melbourne is a breeze. I made ample use of the free vintage city trolley service which stops at all major attractions. To get into the suburbs, I could hop onto a speedy tram, bus or train. It took about 30 minutes to tram from the centre to St Kilda, a charming village and the gourmet capital of Melbourne. There’s even a beach here but Melbournians are clearly not soak-up-the-sun types. On a sunny day, there was not a sole on the sand. With such a scrumptious food culture, it’s understandable though – they’re probably too embarrassed to strip off. And anyway, who has time to catch some rays when there’s serious eating to do.

acland streetAcland Street, one of the bustling strips in St Kilda, holds the holy grail of cakes. The store windows are all edible art with a showcase of baking. I walked from one bakery to another in a sugary daze. After hours of contemplation, I finally picked a hedgehog (it’s an Aussie brownie dotted with finger biscuit morsels). Lunch was at an authentic Polish deli, Scheherezade, offering traditional Eastern European dishes such as cholent (slow cooked stew) and borscht (beetroot soup). Portions are overly generous and after a home-style wiener schnitzel and home-style veggies, there’s was hardly any room for dessert.

But we all know we have a separate stomach for sweets so I was able to continue on my epicurean journey. The chocolate shops in the city are as posh as the fashion boutiques. There’s not a smidgen of emulsified fat in these parlours. Here, they use only the good stuff – chocolate is either made straight from the cocoa bean or imported from Belgium. Each choccie is a confectionery masterpiece both in taste and appearance. There’s even a Hot Chocolate Bar in the trendy Docklands area, where I relished every sip of my rich chocolate drink topped with cookie ice-cream.

Windsor HotelFresh from a glucose high, I almost hugged the top-hatted doorman, who greeted me by name as I entered the red carpeted lobby of my hotel. Brimming with old worlde elegance, the Windsor Hotel is a grand dame of yesteryear hospitality. The florally rooms may be an acquired taste but for a romantic like myself, I’ll take the princess treatment over any modern alternative.

 high teaThey were just setting up for traditional high tea as I lumbered into the lounge. Pyramids of profiteroles, dainty cupcakes and fluffy scones lured me once again in decadence. After this, I promise, I’ll never eat again.

Never say never. With night, comes the inevitable ‘where to have dinner’ question. The variety of restaurants in Melbourne are mouthwatering. It seems that restaurateurs have bookmarked this city as their location of choice. The glitzy Crown Entertainment Centre on the South Bank has attracted famous international chef Nobu Matsuhisa while Jamie Oliver’s ‘delinquent to chef’ culinary incubator Fifteen is inconspicuously housed in the city.

Everyone knows that good food is enhanced by great wine. So to complete my gastronomic voyage, I joined a tour to the Yarra Valley. Besides being blessed with some fine vines, the Yarra is also the brussel sprout Capital. I think I’ll stick to wines though.

We stopped at four wine farms – the pretty Yering Station, Rochford where we endured a below average lunch, the boutique cellar Yering Farm and finally the highlight Domain Chandon. It is here that I learnt that Moët Chandon have expanded their ‘champagne’ operations to four other wineries throughout the world (Argentina, Brazil, the US and Australia). So while we can’t call this sparkling wine Champagne, it is made in the exact same way as Moët. Clearly, I bought a couple of bottles to see if I could taste the difference.

I know that a Melbournian would probably be most disappointed in me that I haven’t spent more ink expounding the cultural and sporting array of attractions. I’m sure the city has much more to offer than a taste and fashion sensation. Maybe next time, I’ll find out.