Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Melbourne and the Very Big Meals

Ah, Melbourne. So many things to so many people. For my father, for his birthday, it's all about the food. And the wine. And sometimes the art. But mostly the food. So, for a very significant milestone birthday, he decided nothing could be better than a trip during which we would eat. A lot. We arrived late on Thursday night, freeing up the whole of Friday, Saturday and Sunday for outings, galleries, restaurants and cafes.

Friday Breakfast - Cumulus

This well-known Melbourne Cafe is set in the front of the same building as Arc One Gallery, and features a large, open room with a bar on one side and cafe counter on the other. The coffee is super-strong, and the ham and cheese toasted sandwich is actually Kurabouta leg ham and gruyere. The clientele include your classic inner-city Melbourne foodies, trendier yuppies, and business people getting a coffee injection before work. Even so, the food is pretty delish, and I could definitely get addicted to the strong, bitter coffee...

Friday Lunch - TarraWarra Estate Winery

TarraWarra Estate is about an hour outside of Melbourne, in the Yarra Valley, in very pretty, classically rural countryside. The main building is on a hillside, and at first the ultra-modernity of the building seems incongruous, especially above the pond-weeping willow combination just below it on the hill. But when you actually get into the complex, it's easier to see how the building has been designed for outlook, to showcase the view of the landscape, rather than to present a visual image on the hill. Not that the building itself isn't striking, but it seemed to me that it was designed more for the people inside it.

We arrived at around 11.30am - slightly too early for lunch - so we had a wine-tasting first, with a very helpful and friendly sommelier. Of course, none of us could agree on which wine we liked the best, so it was probably for the best that we were able to order flights and wine by the glass when we had lunch. (A flight is three glasses, of about 50mLs of wine each. This lets you have a taste of various wines, matched to your three course meal, without overdoing it.) (Honestly, though, we had a flight each and then another glass, so I think we might have been missing the point...)

TarraWarra Estate also includes a privately funded art gallery, which we visited after our meal. It was showing an exhibition called Sonic Spheres, which had key themes of music and sound, and featured contemporary artists including Eugene Carchesio, Ross Manning, Marco Fusinato, John Nixon, Sandra Selig and more.

Friday Dinner - The Press Club

Do I even really need to say anything, here? This famous bar and restaurant is in the city, on Flinders Street, just up from the back of Federation Square. The fit-out is beautiful, the food is amazing. I doubt I could say anything that hasn't already been said; the food was excellent, and the wine delicious. The modern gastronomy - infusions, jellies and foams all over the place - isn't something I prefer to eat, and my asparagus entree wasn't really to my taste, but even that part of the experience was interesting. I had the chicken for main course, and it more than made up for it, with a delicious collection of flavours and perfectly cooked meat.

The restaurant also has a wine list with about forty pages, which comes in a binder. The Press Club offers wine from across the world - Greek, French, Italian, Australian... Our poor sommelier had to put up with a lot, however, as my father is fairly picky and wanted to discuss the dinner bottle in depth. He also had to try not to look horrified when I wanted red wine first, regardless of whether or not it matched my food (we'd had a lot of white wine at lunch, and the last thing I wanted was yet another glass!), so I'm pretty sure I got written off as a total heathen right around then. But after the meal he provided us with a complimentary shot of Skinos Mastiha liquer, which has quite an amazing taste and was a delicious finish to the meal, so perhaps he didn't dislike us too much.

Saturday Lunch - Gypsey and Musquito

This is a small cafe down on Bridge Road in Richmond, and was an excellent place for lunch. It has mismatched, rustic furniture, a slight bush/outback theme to the menu, great-looking muffins and cakes on retro cake stands, and again, super-strong coffee. The food was delicious - I had something called a box, which was essentially a square-shaped pie without a lid. There was a steak and potato version, but mine was organic chicken and corn, and it was absolutely delicious. It came with broccoli, avocado and green bean salad. The clientele ranged from people picking up coffees, to hipster kids with piercings, to an old lady reading a book at the table next to us. I was a little jealous of her, as it would have been a great place to sit and drink coffee and read something for a while.

Saturday Dinner - Cutler & Co. Dining Room

Cutler & Co is on Gertrude Street in Fitzroy, close to the city but just outside. The front is very unassuming, with big windows and a small logo painted on one door, to let you know you're in the right place. Once inside, though, the beautiful design and fit-out of the restaurant is immediately obvious, with a variety of dining spaces, intriguing lighting, and an impressive glass wine cellar. The staff were professional and accommodating - including the sommelier, who had slightly more success with my father than the poor guy at the Press Club - and the restaurant experience was great before we even tasted the food.

And the food, honestly, is amazing. I had an entree of peas, broad beans, sunflower seeds, onion and
bergamot, which does nothing to describe the small, adorable collection of ingredients I received, which the waiter proceeded to dress with an onion reduction. My main was chicken again; a slow-roasted chicken breast with pancetta, braised turnips and onion, and we also had roast potatoes with garlic dressing. I managed to make room for dessert, which is always worth it when there's a chocolate ice cream sandwich with vanilla parfait and salted caramel sauce on the menu.

From the helpful yet unobtrusive service to the delicious food, the whole meal with Cutler & Co was
absolutely worth it, and made it clear the place deserves every accolade it receives. (Incidentally, it's owned by the same folks that run Cumulus.)

Sunday Lunch - The Hellenic Republic

By Sunday, my personal desire for another big meal was flagging considerably, but I braced myself - and didn't eat breakfast - in preparation for a classic Sunday lunch with the extended family, in final celebration of my father's birthday. And I was glad I did - the food here is fantastic. It's owned by the same folks who run the Press Club, but the Hellenic Republic is far less gastronomie, far more family-style shared food. It's down at the far end of Lygon Street, for starters, miles away from the Italian section near the city. The restaurant is in a white-painted low building with lots of windows, and overall the atmosphere is casual and relaxed. It also has an open kitchen like the Press Club does, so you can see the rotisseries of grilled meat, and occasionally get a waft of barbecue smoke.

We ordered one of the banquets - because too much is never enough, apparently - and were inundated with food. We had grilled meat, fish, prawns, pita, taramasalata, tyri saganaki, lahano salata, delicious Cypriot Grain Salad, and a lot more. It was all excellent, and was topped off with a dessert of Hellenic Mess - broken meringue, orange blossom jelly, vanilla crema and strawberry ouzo sauce - and watermelon, feta and mint salad. I had also decided, by that point in the weekend, that I was totally sick of white wine, so I drank a beer and had some Greek red. I didn't regret it!

So, our weekend of meals was finally over. And you know, while I really enjoy having the occasional gastronomically-fabulous meal, it's not something I prefer to do on the regular, and for me, this many huge eats in one weekend was a bit of a stretch. Which is not a complaint! More a lament that we can't all live in Melbourne, so as to go to these amazing restaurants with a bit more space between visits. I suppose some of us just have to eat too much, then spend the plane ride back to Brisvegas digesting. Which I did. I did not require dinner on the plane at all. Or breakfast on Monday, come to that...


  1. Damn, you had a good eating weekend! Great post!

  2. I went to Cumulus when I was down there with my sister earlier this year. We had dinner there and whilst we had to wait a bit to get a table, it was worth the wait! The food was amazing.

  3. When I have money again and I plan my next trip to Melbourne, I think it will have to be an eating trip rather than a shopping trip.

  4. Sounds like an amazing weekend! Best dinner I've had was at Cutler & Co.


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