Tag Archives: restaurant

Melbourne – less is more

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!

Melbourne – a circular city

Day 14 – Wednesday, January 28

Orientation day for us in Melbourne today. A city sandwich, between a tennis hors d’oeuvres session yesterday and our main course on Thursday & Friday, the Aussie Open semi-finals, out at Melbourne Park.

Smug from our morning gym & swim session in the posh Langham’s spa, on the 9th floor and with a rather spectacular view across the Yarra to the skyscrapers on the north bank, we strolled across one of the many bridges at about 11 am, in warmer temperatures than yesterday and almost cloudless skies. Thinking about the wintry conditions back home and snowmageddon forecast for the east coast in the US, obviously.

We’d been impressed by the free city buses and trams in Adelaide, now we were hopping on the free trams trundling along Flinders Street, past the historic station, seemingly every few minutes.

 

The plan was to ride number 35, which does a full circuit of the inner city, to get our Melburnian bearings. But we eventually realised that doesn’t run until 12 pm, so jumped on the next one heading west and ended up at the Waterfront area, by the impressive Etihad stadium. These Etihads seem to be taking over the world…or sponsoring it, at least.

The Waterfront and Dockland areas were rammed with office workers heading out for a smoke or early lunch at the many eateries. New apartment blocks pierce the skies and shiny bling-boats bob around in the water as evidence of an affluent economy.

We successfully hopped onto a number 35, differentiated from the other trams by its period livery and enlightening on-board tourist commentary on points of interest around the route.

Heading east, we trundled along the length of La Trobe Street, past Flagstaff Gardens where we had Airbnb’d our first night, near Queen Victoria market to the north (on the list for later), past the imposing State Library of Victoria building, close to the Old Melbourne Gaol before hitting Carlton Gardens for the turn south.

Spontaneously we jumped off at the impressive Parliament building on Spring Street, wanting to roam the city’s innards on foot, like feral animals looking for rich pickings away from the main feeding grounds.

We’d heard about Melbourne’s famous laneways, the smaller streets tucked away off the main intersections, so we zigged and we zagged our way south and west. We were rewarded with the city’s treasures….boutiques, restaurants and bars concealed down atmospheric alleyways, or in well-preserved covered Victorian malls, like the famous Block Arcade.

But we ventured east again, and south, to Gazi’s at the junction of Exhibition and Flinders Streets, for a late lunch. Why? Because we’re sad Masterchef fans and the owner George Calombaris is one of the Aussie version’s star presenters……the bald Greek one who can cook. Like a more talented Greg Wallace.

Gazi’s is a cool, relatively new restaurant in a cavernous, shabby chic space. The menu has dirty Greek food as one section. Apparently that’s a good thing, and we enjoyed the waiter’s suggestion of combining calamari (with pine nuts, capers, cucumber & grilled apricots) and grilled saganaki cheese (with balsamic honey and lemon). Greek tapas…social & sharing. But we also wanted some clean anti-social nourishment so we added chicken souvlaki (with parsley, onion, and mustard mayo) and roasted beetroot salad (with hommus, goat’s curd, purple carrot, toursi red onion and cherry dressing). Washed down with a couple of glasses at rose……at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Outrageous behaviour.

All lovely, thanks George….I think we’ll put you through to the next round.

Just about time to complete the circuit – by foot – back to Flinders Street station and then across the river to see the movie Wild at the Crown complex.

Phew. Thanks, Melbourne….I think we’re going to like you.

Later, at the al fresco riverside Foxtel set-up, we saw the final set of Novak Djokovich sweeping aside the young Raonic as if extricating a small piece of grit from his eye.

So the main course is now ready to eat…..Murray v  Berdych tomorrow, Wawrinka v Djokovich on Friday. Mouth-watering.

 

South Australia – Road Trip 1 (continued)

Day 7 – Wednesday, January 21

Built in Belfast in 1868 the 3-masted iron ship, Star of Greece, ran into a violent storm off Port Willunga in the early hours of July 13, 1888. She was a regular visitor to Adelaide and bound for England with her cargo of wheat when disaster struck. There’s some confusion but most reckon that at least 17 poor souls perished that day.

Every cloud….., as they say. The Star of Greece bistro now commemorates the unfortunate ship, and is perched shyly on the shallow cliffs above the shimmering waters of Gulf St Vincent, off the west coast of South Australia below Adelaide.

Gill and I dropped into the cafe on a whim, late one afternoon on our road trip of the Fleurieu Peninsula as we headed back to Adelaide. They were fully booked but found us a spot on the balcony outside, directly overlooking the picture-perfect beach and in Pom-searing heat, despite the lateness of the hour. The service was so considerate that they conjured up a couple of wide-brimmed hats to protect our already burnt northern hemisphere faces from further punishment.

1 Southern Ocean kingfish sashimi with smoked Goolwa cockles, 1 serving of Spencer Gulf king prawns with green chilli and lime salsa, 1 Kangaroo Island salt & pepper squid with Yuzu mayo, 1 barramundi fish with a quinoa crust, and a couple of exquisitely chilled glasses of wine later, and we were really missing home. Really.

Earlier in the day, we had headed south from our overnight base in the affluent McLaren Vale wine area towards Victor Harbor (yes, spelt the dodgy US way) towards the southern tip of the Peninsula. But that town felt a bit too kiss-me-quick for our Surrey sensitivities, its Victorian heritage undone by a few more recent town planners.

My abiding memory of Victor Harbor will be John, a  sprightly weather-beaten host at the Tourist Office. He went to the UK and mainland Europe for the global Scout Jamboree in 1957, as a 21 year-old . He was away from Australia for 6 months, of which 2 were spent on a boat, forced around the southern tip of Africa on the way out because of the Suez crisis. He preferred Denmark to England, but has never returned to either. Yet.

We liked the sleepy nearby hamlet of Goolwa, with its local Steam Exchange Brewery serving small tasters of excellent ales and Hector’s, a sea shanty-like cafe right on the water in the shadow of the Hindmarsh Island bridge, but serving sophisticated food with a relaxed marine ambience.

Returning north our jaws dropped at the string of long, sandy and almost deserted beaches lining the Gulf’s coastline. Locals drive their roo-busting 4 WD wagons straight onto the sand, but we wandered down on foot and dipped our white toes into the cooling water of Sellicks Beach, before slurping ice creams on the path above Aldinga Conservation Park, its boardwalk descending to the water like the elongating ladder from a toy truck.

We’d like to have explored Kangaroo Island too whilst in South Australia but with another road trip to see Gill’s family in nearby Wallaroo to come, we’d run out of time. But a couple of days exploring the McLaren Vale and Fleurieu Peninsula were a good option. And the image of those beaches and the view from the Star of Greece cafe will stay long in the memory.

Adelaide – rooftop fun

Day 4 – Sunday, January 18

Chris, still with a vague trace of his Scarborough accent after 11 years in Adelaide, sucked in his cheeks when we said we were off to the Rocket Rooftop Bar & Cinema on Hindley Street. Like a dodgy builder quoting for your extension

“Are we too old?”, I probed.

I’m too old”, he fizzed back. He might have been pushing 30. Gill and I have played around with the 50s for quite a while already…..

“Drug den”?

No reply.

We’d just enjoyed an excellent supper at Bread & Bone on Peel Street, an atmospheric laneway off Hindley in downtown Adelaide. Chris had served us B&B Burgers from the short but funky menu – top quality beef patties wedged into soft brioche buns, layered with smoky bacon, kewpie mayo, lettuce and crisp, vinegary house pickles. Nicely washed down with Napoloene apple cider, all the way from the Yarra. And enhanced by cool music wafting around the shabby chic industrial space.

The disconcertingly narrow entrance to the Rocket Bar was guarded by a polite but wide-pupilled doorman, and led to a steep, dark flight of stairs.

“So have you got a film on tonight?”. The website was somewhat unhelpful, advertising that The Royal Tenebaums would be showing on Sunday 23rd November. We’d been told about this venue by some German girls we’d shared a few drinks with on our first night in Adelaide, but the omens were not looking good….

“Yes. Two Hands“.

“Great. What time does that start?”.

“7:30, maybe 8”.

“And how much are the tickets?”

“Nothing. They’re free”. Curiouser and curiouser…..

We were back at just before 7:30. The scary first flight of stairs led to a scuzzy landing, covered entirely with fading posters of presumably old rock gigs held at the venue. And then to another dark, scary, scuzzy flight. And another.

You know you’re always told never to judge someone by the way they look? Well, I will never judge a Rooftop Cinema by its dingy entrance and shifty doorman again.

Sure, the place was a bit scruffy but, as we emerged onto the rooftop and into late evening sunshine bouncing across the Adelaide skyline, we took in the cocktail bar, sizzling barbecue and Corona sponsored blue beanbags, and all was well with the world.

The movie didn’t start until almost 9, but after a couple of cold beers, free popcorn and a wickedly funny tale about criminal Aussies, in the style of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, we didn’t care.

Earlier in the day, we’d taken the tram to the seaside suburb of Glenelg again for coffee and brunch, before a pretty amazing 10 km walk to Holdfast Bay and Brighton Beach. The outward leg mainly on the elevated promenade, with the return stroll on the soft white sand, waves of the Southern Ocean breaking near our feet and breezes providing some small relief from the increasing inland temperature.