Melbourne                                       Melbourne image library

 

We now have a married daughter living in Victoria. We love it. It means two to three trips a year to fabulous Melbourne. Not only is the flight from Auckland less than four hours, but with the time difference, there’s also an extra couple of hours to enjoy on the day we arrive.

 

We’re just back from a six-day city visit. Our accommodation was in a Southbank apartment, handy to the Budget rental car City Road office, which works well for picking up the car when we head out of the city to see her.

Our wish list of things to do was too big to complete. But, we had a great time trying, enjoying tasty and well-priced food at several handy restaurants, great coffee at numerous cafes, marvellous walks in heritage streets, the delights of fresh food markets, some shopping and even a live show.

Melbourne is foodie’s heaven and we went armed with recommendations from friends and the results of lots of research.

For centrally located breakfasts we loved the friendly service along with delicious choices at the very popular The Quarter  in Degraves St and the more ramshackled Degraves Espresso next door, with its fold-down theatre seats, serving large cups of full flavoured coffee. As well as these Melbourne institutions, there was the Riverland Bar and Café on Federation Wharf, right alongside the Yarra with seating in a brick lined interior or outside where you can watch rowers and enjoy specials like Morrocan eggs, Welsh rarebit Jaffles or mushrooms with feta on brioche toast.

 

Our coffee stops were plentiful and all over the place. The very busy French marble themed Laurent in Bourke St, specialising in pastries; the more contemporary Italian themed, austere Café Greco Restaurant and Bar at 560 Chapel Street where the coffee was above average; Prahan’s eclectic Spoonful at 543 High Street, with mismatched tables to share and a décor mixing eastern and European kitch, serving homemade cakes and very good coffee, but sour service, Giorgios Restaurant and Café Bar on the corner of High Street and Glenferrie Road, Armadale, with terrace or indoor seating and a huge cabinet full of luscious cakes; Little Cupcakes also in Degraves Street, where the coffee was deplorable but the attitude, atmosphere and mini $2.50 each or standard $4.00 cupcakes in chocolate, vanilla, berry, mocha, lemon and jaffa flavours topped with balls of butter cream and mini decorations, made your mouth water.

 

Lunch  we found for ourselves. One of the best was tiny Creperie Le Triskel in Hardware Lane. We sat at a pavement table warmed by outside heaters and relished genuine buckwheat based galettes one filled with gruyere and ham, the other mushrooms in béchamel sauce, plus a crisp green salad and basket of French bread and a glass of smooth Cote Du Rhone; Cafe Sienna Ristorante, a Chapel Street fixture, where the clientele keep pouring in, gave friendly and competent service, the water arrived promptly and our two gourmet salads were crisply fresh and generous; The Pavilion Fitzroy Gardens did not deliver as it had previously. They served a reasonable long black, but deplorable decaf and a croissant that was crisp outside but was completely uncooked inside. The setting by the wishing tree is its best feature. Sezana’s Coffee Shop at 428 Toorak Road, Toorak Village, one of a chain, will make many things for you. My simple chicken, lettuce and mayo rye bread sandwich was just as I wanted it. Both the decaf and standard long black came in large white cups with great crema and full flavour. Seating was in and out, many diners seemed to be locals, orders were placed at the counter and service was friendly.

 

We had the most fun and one of the best meals of our trip at zany Zappa at 206 Bank Street South Melbourne. We fell upon this cute, madly decorated tiny restaurant, bursting at the seams with tables of people in every corner, but have since found many reviews attesting to its popularity and great value. The food is homemade and the choices are huge. My chunky bean soup with big crisp parmesan bread croutons on the side, was one of the day’s specials. Service was delightful and the coffee superb.

 

Our coffee pick-me-up in South Melbourne, after wandering through the stunning displays of fresh produce at the South Melbourne market (tram 96 from the city, stop 127), was just across the road at bistro style Caffe Panette. Our French waiter was charming but the decaf coffee was not.Thanks to lots of daytime walking we were more than ready to enjoy great dinners as well. Feddish on the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets, in Federation Square, with its pretty Yarra riverside location, relaxed atmosphere and good value for money, was our choice twice. Both times we ordered fish of the day, very white, sweet and delicious deep sea Rockling fillets, with chunky chips and squashed peas for Au$19. The only downside was a 2% extra charge if you wanted to use Amex.

 

Our special night was at the very French France-Soir, 11 Toorak Road, in South Yarra. I had made a reservation by phone from New Zealand a couple of weeks before we left, opting for a Sunday night as Saturday was fully booked. (They don’t have email). Tables in European bistro style, were close, lining the two side walls of the corridor restaurant. Every chair was taken and the food was exceptional and the service superb. We shared Salad Provencal, while my main was moist succulent roast chicken, Alex’s, the Plat du Jour, Navarin of lamb. We had a side of French beans and matchstick chips, accompanied by glasses of good Bourgogne Pinot Noir. We will be back.....

 

Sightseeing, shopping and shows in Melbourne - so much to choose from, but first a recipe.

 

Delicious fruit breads, cut thick, toasted and served hot, popped up on menus all over the place. We tried a few. One of the most delicious was a golden rich pumpkin based variety. I came home with the flavour strongly in my memory taste buds and took a basic recipe and added to it to achieve the ‘moreish’ texture and taste we had enjoyed.

 

Golden pumpkin and mango bread

 

2 to 3 kg piece of pumpkin (½ an average sized pumpkin), skin on

½ cup safflower oil

¼ cup golden syrup

¼ cup pure maple syrup

½ cup yoghurt

1 egg

½ tsp salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tsp baking soda

2 cups flour

½ cup finely chopped dried fruit like mango

Place seeded pumpkin flesh side down on lightly oiled baking tray and cook in pre-heated oven at 350 F/180C till tender for about 30 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel and dice into 1cm squares. Put a quarter of prepared pumpkin aside and place rest in blender with oil and process till smooth. Add golden syrup, maple syrup, yoghurt, egg, salt and cinnamon and blend lightly till well mixed. Add sifted flour and baking soda and blend lightly again till free of lumps. Pour mixture into large bowl and stir in remaining diced pumpkin and mango. Put mixture in 8 to 9 inch/20 to 23cm x 4 to 5 inch/10 to 12cm loaf tin. Bake in 350F/180C pre-heated oven for 1 hour 10 minutes, till a wooden skewer poked in the centre comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes, then remove from tin.

Cool completely before slicing. I sliced thickly and wrap each slice in clingwrap, place the lot in a well-sealed plastic container and freeze it. It’s perfect then to take out as needed to grill or toast and serve with butter or rice bran spread.

 

Back to sightseeing, shopping and shows. We booked online to see Jersey Boys – The story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. playing at the glorious cast iron filigree and marble decorated Victorian Princess Theatre in Spring Street.

I had wanted to do this by phone to request aisle seats, but the only contact I could find was the online booking option (www.ticketek.com.au). Unbelievably, with a full house and capacity for an audience of 1488, the A class seats in the Grand Circle we were issued, were on the aisle and just as well. Alex is over 6 feet (1.85m) and at 5ft5 (1.65m), my two knees were jammed tight against the back of the seat in front. That was the only minor downside.

The show was fabulous. The totally committed and talented cast gave us a vibrant, toe tapping unforgettable performance. We couldn’t believe we knew so many of their songs – Sherry, Oh what a night, Big girls don’t cry, Walk like a man, Rag Doll, Can’t take my eyes off you and so many others.

 

Shopping beckoned for one and was ho hum for the other. We both did however enjoy, South Melbourne and Prahan food markets, as well as Toorak and Armadale villages with their mix of book, house and food shops and good cafes. Esprit de Famille, The French Shop at 537 Toorak Road is a favourite. It’s just down from the Haigh chocolate shop where the sight and smell of handmade chocolate truffles and bars and gourmet chocolates filled with creams, fondants, fruit, nuts, nougats and liqueurs, is irresistible.

 

Day walks in South Melbourne took us to Park, Clarendon and Bridport Streets, Richardson Road and Victoria Avenue to enjoy heritage homes. In North Melbourne, we walked the length of Drummond Street, lined on both sides with charming 19th century unspoilt terrace houses, stone town houses, alongside stone apartments just two or three stories high.

MelbourneSightseeing was all daytime except for a twilight trip up the Eureka Tower to the floor 88 skydeck. It’s the world’s 9th tallest residential building and the viewing deck is the highest public vantage point in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s an amazing 360degrees view, and for further excitement, we could feel the tower top flexing on the windy night we visited.

The only downside to Melbourne is summertime heat which can on some days exceed 40C. Impossible if you're not used to this. And so dry - when the temperatures soar the humidity plummets. Mid-late autumn is a great time to visit or even during the winter months with the stark leafless trees creating their own beauty.

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