A Melbourne newbie after years in London tasting my way around the city.
Published August 6th 2014
Last weekend was special. It was my first in Melbourne, having just moved here from London. I had passed the week wandering the city alone, spending a fortune sampling the city's famous coffee, taking touristy shots of startling graffiti on Hosier Lane and standing in awe of the incredible Blake exhibition at the National Gallery.
But the weekend, the weekend was for friends and beer and fun. Friday night began in the rather familiar environs of the Young & Jackson. Familiar not because I had been there, but rather that it looks like every other pub back home in the UK. What made it stand out, and I am coming to realise that this is the norm in this awesome city, was the beer selection. Beautiful crafty, hoppy, pale, wheaty, amber tastiness. All served at a crispy cool temperature. This pub's English twin would offer one or two taps of tasteless pale yellow fizz, plus maybe a thin brown bitter: foul. I was amazed. Having sampled two or three of these delights, my friend suggested moving on to Fed Square for a couple of Belgian beers. Unfortunately, the horrific deluge of sleet put an end to the evening after I was caught in it between bars. I headed back to get warm, for fear of pneumonia setting in.
Saturday was a bit of a scouting mission for areas to live. St Kilda was first up. Though cold, it was a beautiful sunny day, so sitting outside with sourdough toast, crispy smoked bacon and field mushrooms with a bloody Mary to my right, just seemed like the perfect recipe. Chapel Street and Windsor were destination two. Windsor seemed the perfect mix of quiet side streets lined with beautiful Victorian cottages and busy bars and restaurants on the main drag. And the shopping. Of course the shopping. Lunch was a plate of wonderfully crisp salt and pepper calamari, salsa verde and, yes, chips, from Hooked. Maybe a tad too much fried food for one plate, but delicious nonetheless.
Saturday night didn't start off in the best style after one drink in a hotel that had as much atmosphere as a teetotal students' union. The Savoy Tavern was next, a beautiful seventies gem with a central bar surrounded by large comfy booths. AFL games on TV screens were the only slightly jarring element, but again, I think that is something I will get used to. From there it was Smith Street and the Fitzroy Beer Garden. Overtly self-aware of its own coolness, FBG was blighted by the staff's interest in each other, rather than in the punters standing opposite them at the bar. I think they served each other more drinks than customers. The Grace Darling, a well established music venue, was the final stop, part bar, part club, part restaurant, it was a fun end to the evening.
Sunday didn't start too early after the number of beers that had found their way into my tummy the night before. Something a little more sedate was called for. A short walk to South Melbourne food market sounded about right. It was an excellent choice. After browsing the tasty-looking food stalls and busy restaurants along the outer walls of the market, Claypots Evening Star was the winner. With permanent queues and patrons fighting for space, it was pure luck that I managed to get a taste of their food at all. Huge king prawns, spicy chilli sourdough bread, delicate fish tacos and beautifully tangy white anchovy spaghettini were all spot on. Paired with a light, crisp Spanish white, it all went down too quickly.
Full, but not too full, there was enough energy left to do a quick tour of the market itself. The food sections were astounding. Porterhouse steaks the size of my head. Morton bay bugs and dozens of oysters. Huge slabs of artisan cheese. It all looked incredible. It would have been rude to not sample something of the treasures on offer, so a couple of freshly shucked oysters dotted with tabasco and lemon juice rounded things of nicely.