His writing has appeared in The Age, The Monthly, The Guardian, VICE, Rolling Stone and The Saturday Paper. Mahmood also writes about wine for to Be Magazine and under the Instagram handle, @semiautomaticwine.
I know I’m in Melbourne when I can spend the afternoon with friends enjoying a long noisy lunch, followed by a drop in to The Paperback Bookshop for their latest offerings before settling down somewhere that’ll uncork bottles after-hours and where I’ll forget, or donate, said books.
My defining food moment in Melbourne was cooking with my mum and Adam James – @RoughRice on Instagram – in Fed Square as part of Joost Bakker’s Future Food System. My parents were both from humble families in Kandahar. Home-cooking was often peasant dishes with lots of offal: spiced chicken livers with pickled chillies, fried lambs brain with pepper, and, the crown jewel, sheep trotter soup. The trotters are slow-cooked in a broth of spices with beans and potato, poured over a bowl of leftover Afghan bread bits. Top off with a crack of pepper and a dollop of yoghurt. This style of food is the stuff the country is least proud of, but it’s also what most people eat; heartwarming to see it on display, having its moment and being devoured.
The best new thing I’ve found is Manze, one of the most mesmerising and honest places to eat in Melbourne. It’s smoky inter-generational food with roots in family, villages and nostalgia. Nagesh Seethiah‘s kitchen smells like the spicy lifeblood of a home-cooked meal. Sweet and salty memories of his world in Mauritius. Just perfect.
When I want to push the boat out on a meal, I hop on the train for a 20-minute voyage to Box Hill to make my pilgrimage to Bak Kut Teh King for a bowl. Bak Kut Teh is a Malaysian “meat bone tea” that was sustenance for dockworkers in Port Klang in the early 20th century. It’s a masterpiece, infused with over a dozen of Uncle Jerry’s secret herbs, boiled for hours with tripe, ribs, trotters and all the good bits. Menu hasn’t changed since the ’70s. Otherwise, Gray and Gray is a must; they always keep my tie straight.
There’s no better value in Melbourne than the mackerel dumplings at ShanDong Mama, or Bun Bo Hue, complete with giblets, heart and tripe, from Super Bowl Pho in Richmond. Fine fast food.
And if I want to dazzle friends I would take them to Gimlet for a bonny affair of caviar service and Martinis. We would then tighten our laces before sauntering down the hill to Phillipe’s for a bottle of Gigondas and a serve of le canard à la Rouennaise à la presse; Frederic Delaire’s 1890s recipe, a pressed duck served in a sauce of its own blood and bone marrow. Followed by a few rounds of Calvados and camembert until stumps.
In the mornings you’ll find me with a handful of pastries from Falco, waltzing towards Aunty Peg’s for a geisha coffee.
My local where I live in central Victoria is Bar Merenda, where the holy trinity of food, wine and hospitality can only be likened to divine intervention. In Melbourne, my locals alternate depending on which side of the city I’m on, but you’ll only ever find me dining regularly at Gerald’s Bar or France-Soir. Gerald’s Bar is a proper eatery for those that get the spirit of a bistro – hospitality is in Gerald’s bones. If they’re scribbled on the butcher’s paper, as the menu spins like a revolver, order the duck-neck sausages, wallaby tartare, or ox tongue. On the other side of the river, you’ll find me at France-Soir, of course, for its muscular wine list and unvarnished French tucker. Eat the escargot and crumbed lamb’s brains and white asparagus and braised rabbit and so on.
My local bar is Hope St Radio, where Ellie Bouhadana’s food is so good I’m never organised enough to secure a seat, so I’m left drinking Beajoulais from the Gang of Four by the fire in the courtyard and listening to Melbourne’s best selectors.
If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be mandatory disclosure of where the meat and produce come from. Who are the suppliers and how are the ingredients being farmed? Show your cards! Be proud or accountable or both. Also, a more considered approach to waste across the board is something that the industry should embrace, as initiated by our very own zero-waste king Joost Bakker and currently being experimented with by Parcs.
But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is the cut-throat passion, what has felt like a martyrdom over the last couple of years, to keep the embers of Melbourne’s hospitality industry alive. Kiss your favourite chefs for the sacrifices they’ve made to plate up these miracles!
Follow Mahmood Fazal on Instagram at @mahmoodfazal.