Day 17 – Saturday, January 31
When you’re travelling it’s nice to push the culinary boat out occasionally, but it’s just as rewarding to eat simply – as the locals do – to get under the real skin of a city.
Strolling through Melbourne’s main shopping precinct on Bourke Street on a busy Saturday, we wandered off into the maze of more atmospheric laneways and narrow covered malls.
Within earshot of an ageing accordionist playing hackneyed but romantic old tunes, we ate in a tiny and basic cafe, hunched up at a narrow counter and surrounded by industrial-size bags of quinoa and enough coffee beans to keep neighbourly barista Simon Ware grinding away for a year or two.
Delicious, healthy and generous portions of chicken waldorf and pumpkin & chickpea salads were just $6.90 each, about £7 for both, eaten reading the local Melburnian newspapers, listening to the old accordionist and people-watching.
In the evening, we ended up climbing the dingy stairs off a dark alleyway between Bourke and Little Collins Streets to eat at The Waiters Restaurant. Opened in 1947 – and with decor, tables and curtains barely changed since then – this humble eaterie was once a place for Italian & Spanish waiters to unwind after work. Anyone can go now, but the simple ethos remains the same.
No wine list, just red or white offered verbally. We had a couple of glasses of excellent Shiraz in petrol-station giveaway tumblers.
No menu, just a blackboard of regular dishes and one with the specials. We both had pasta, with garlic bread on the side. Honest, wholesome food delivered without pretension. Buonissimo! And all for A$60/£30.
The service was equally simple, but friendly, from two young English girls…one from The Wirrall, studying at St Kildas for a year as part of her International Business degree course in Leeds; the other from Stamford, having fun and with no idea how the rest of her life would unfold.
The Aussie boss wandered amiably around, until huddled by the side of the radio blaring out by the open kitchen counter……The Socceroos were in the final of the Asian Cup against South Korea, and were 2 minutes from glory when the Koreans equalised. The food might have suffered from that point on…..*
Earlier in the day, we had done the official Neighbours tour. Gill is ever so slightly addicted to this Aussie soap, and this was a small price to pay for inflicting 3 days of tennis on her.
It was a fun way to spend a few hours, but somehow the functional, small street (actually suburban Pin Oak Court) and outdoor sets back in the Fremantle Media TV studio lot undermined the glossy vision of what end up on our TV screens. Another dream shattered….
But fortunately the subsequent dining experiences, as humble as they were, reinvigorated the soul.
Less is definitely very much more.
* the Aussies scored again in extra time to win the Asian Cup. Phew!