I'm often in the city for work, but business hours in Melbourne seem much different to the more exciting and colourful 'after hours' times. After the sweat stained white shirts, loosened ties and wobble legged heels eventually stumble onto their late Friday trains, the weekend begins in earnest. Grimy grey lane ways ignite into bright, graffiti candy-coloured walls. Beggars give way to buskers. Children magically appear and laughter can be heard. Restaurants do more trade; the streets actually smell better - roasting chestnuts, spices, coffee.
My weekend began on Saturday morning with a few hours at the office, before checking into a Collins Street apartment and taking a wander up Swanston Street. I solo-lunched briefly at "Vietnamese Grill Bar" - steamed prawn rice roll & viet pandan rolls - which was a good standard without being standout; but what I really want to tell you about is my next stop: the Cupcake Bakery in Melb Central. For those who love a good sugar fix, and who are, like me, addicted to butter cream icing - it's the place to go for cupcake heaven. I grabbed a few to go and slowly devoured them over the course of the weekend. http://www.thecupcakebakery.com.au/ I can now highly recommend the "red velvet", "vanilla strawberry" and "choc vanilla". At $3.50 a pop it's WAY cheaper to cook your own, but they were just. so. damn. cute. Would make a great birthday gift for the young or young at heart.
Saturday evening my husband returned from his week long trek in the aussie outback, arriving at the swanky apartment in dusty clothes and in desperate need of a beer and a shower (in that order). My friend T - someone who spent almost her entire childhood growing up in asian countries - accompanied us to Chinatown for a visit to "Spicy Fish" for a spot of soft-shelled salt and pepper prawns, crispy skin whole duck, prawn dumplings, citrus & garlic cucumber, greens and rice. All agreed the food was authentic, tasty and most importantly, spicy. A nice bonus was that the wait staff were extremely kind and more than happy to accommodate our ever growing order list, topping up our wine glasses every thirty seconds. The place was packed to the rafters, noisy and brimming with excitement.
On the way to my little sister J's very first DJ gig in Richmond, we detoured via Manchuria in Waratah Pl (off Lt Bourke) to sample some of the most amazingly flavoursome cocktails I've ever had the pleasure of imbibing - second only to Der Raum. The cocktail "bible" is impressive enough - but they also have an extensive collection of whiskeys and beers from around the world. Our helpful waiter was also only too happy to hear our "favourite flavours" before suggesting the perfect tailor-made cocktail. From our 'private' corner booth we spied orange segments being scorched before dropping into icy shakers, orchids in martini glasses, smooth bar magicians working their magic, and interesting people mooching on large lounges. So seductive were the flavours and scene, that we almost lost track of time, subsequently arriving at J's gig two thirds of the way through. Sorry sis - I love you and I loved your gig (you're so talented!); but I love food more.
After almost a full day of recovering from Saturday's cocktail/boogie night, Tim and I presented at The Press Club for a long anticipated date with the freshly renovated restaurant. After following George Colombaris' fast rising star via Masterchef and marvelling at his food snobbery and hysterically non insightful "sayings" ("food is family - family is life - life is everything" - well, DUH); a despicable part of me actually wanted to be able to declare smugly to my friends : "Colombaris? He ain't all that". Eight meals on the "Symbosio" menu later - and I had to eat my words before even uttering them. Each meal was described in a single word. For example "taramosalata" = freshly shucked oysters + house made tarama + "olive oil couscous" - a freeze dried olive oil concoction personally sprinkled at the table from a smoking silver bowl. "Lamb" = backstrap cooked to perfection on a saffron "mash" + blackened roast garlic. The climax of the symposium menu was the finale, "Aphrodite" = berries and rose petals freeze dried and sprinkled over a glorious panna cotta, from which oozed a magnificent cherry sauce. This was preceded by a spritz of rosewater 'perfume' from a pretty bottle, to add to the rosy berry experience.
One of the best things about The Press Club though, was the "Chef's Table"; a granite counter at the front of the restaurant, where both single diners and small groups have an opportunity to converse with the chefs, make special requests, and perve at the bright young staff as they work their kitchen magic. As someone who used to travel a lot on business, I've had plenty of awkward solo dining experiences at restaurants designed for couples - so this concept scored points with me.
The coffee ('metrio') was the perfect accompanyment at the end of the gastronomic journey, making me whimsical and taking me right back to the Greek Islands in late summer 2007.
Melbourne on a cool Sunday evening; tourists begrudgingly returning to their suburban lives, once-lively bars now closing, the city transforms itself once more.