foodie cravings knows no geographical boundaries, so here a few of the standouts from my recent trip to Melbourne. Hopefully they might be of use the next time you head east!
1. The Captain of Aireys, 81 Great Ocean Road, Aireys Inlet
A snug kitchen minutes from the beach in this quiet town, I probably would’ve missed it without a friend’s local knowledge. Lit by the glow of a wood-fired pizza oven, the relaxed interior would be a welcoming refuge on one of Victoria’s colder days. But we opted for takeaway to make the most of the sea views, and thankfully the pizza proved just as good as the scenery. The lemon and garlic prawn pizza popped with fresh flavour thanks to citrus, chilli and feta, but the “pork ‘n pear” was a minor marvel. The combination of cheese, kaiserfleisch, garlic and sticky pear balsamic was equally distinctive and delicious, leaving us all saluting The Captain.
2. The Hardware Societe, 120 Hardware Lane, Melbourne
Apparently one normally needs to commit to queue at this chic café, where French/Spanish influences make for a varied and appetising menu. The question of morcilla sausage or lobster is just one of the dilemmas presented by the extensive breakfast selection. Luckily, while you’re deciding you can spectate on a particularly trendy clientele; I couldn’t tell if one table was a genuine “creatives” business meeting, or some sort of postmodern performance art satirising the concept. Luckily, I was distracted as soon as the food arrived. Roasted mushrooms, “truffled ricotta” and walnut bread made for a lovely blend of earthy flavour, while the baked eggs – mixed with pine nuts, brie and asparagus – tasted similarly luxurious. The cakes and pastries also looked excellent, so even if you do have to be patient, I’d say this spot is well worth the wait.
3. Zonzo Estate, 957, Healesville-Yarra Glenn Road, Yarra Valley
If you dislike relaxed, airy restaurants offering scenic views of lush green hills, I suggest you avoid Zonzo. Everybody else – we can scrap over the window seats. This place really does sit in idyllic surroundings, making it the perfect location for some wine and Italian cooking. Though there were plenty of mouthwatering dishes available – pork and fennel sausage in red wine to ravioli with crab, lemon, butter and thyme – we’d heard Zonzo had a reputation for pizzas. The aforementioned sausage made a wonderful herby, peppery topping, and prosciutto and artichoke hearts were a winning combination I’d not encountered before. The house whites weren’t half bad either, and the bill was good value for a lovely lunch experience.
4. Bomba, 103 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
Tapas can be tricky. While quality Spanish cooking weaves a tapas-try of flavour, insufficient effort can result in food that’s just there tapas the time: bread, cheese and meat plopped onto a plate and served at a high table. Thankfully, Bomba firmly flies the flag for the former camp. The $50 tasting menu reveals a variety of delectable dishes, served in a sequence that set ups each subsequent course. Fresh pea and mint soup arrived with charred corn in a moreish paprika coating. Lamb ribs were wonderfully dark and tender, but sherry-braised pork jowel was a meaty masterpiece: succulent pig swathed in a rich, velvety sauce. For your sake, dear reader, we investigated dessert, and found each chocolate croquette – with custard – a blissful bomb of sweetness. Bomba delivers on drinks too; visit the classic rooftop bar for creative cocktails and niche Spanish spirits.
5. Doughnut Time, 5 Degraves Street, Melbourne
The saying “less is more” is relevant to some foodstuffs, but makes no sense when applied to others. Doughnuts, in my view, should not be subject to any sort of limitation or restraint. If you agree, you’ll be pleased by these chunky customers, which burst with filling and come with a liberal dollop of toppings. Because I’m only recently arrived in Australia and delight in sampling your native cuisine, I couldn’t resist the limited edition “It’s Always a Gay Time”. Yes, in an homage to the classic ice cream, the bakers here have married a milk chocolate glaze with crushed biscuits and honeycomb custard. The result was sublimely sugary, but still surprisingly digestible thanks to a light and fluffy texture. The franchise is currently dishing out doughnuts along the East Coast – with vegan and Christmas specials available – but I hope they arrive in Perth soon so I can rate “The Milo Cyrus”.
6. Bonus boozing!
To make the most of Melbourne’s massive food scene, you might want to mix in an aperitif or two. Doc Martin’s (86 Collins Street, CBD) is a stylish city-centre watering hole, with an enviable range of spirits and a cool al-fresco area. For relaxed refreshment in one of Melbourne’s hipper districts, try Upside Rooftop and Bar (127 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy) for cheap drinks and decent bar snacks. Finally, if the sun’s out and you’re down by the river, ignore the heaving bars on the north bank and cool off at Richmond Rowing Club (7 Boathouse Drive, South Bank). Cheerful staff, excellent views and $5 Sauvignon Blanc? A stroke of genius.