And so, Mali Bakes was born: a bespoke Northcote bakeshop that captured the imagination of the cake-eating public with its starburst frostings and Chimkire’s knack for deliciousness.
“I’m surrounded by so many creative people,” Chimkire says. “And being in Melbourne, for me, has always meant being inspired, and challenged, by what is being done around me.” It’s a passion for colour, food and culture that makes Mali Bakes possible; it’s a love of community and sharing that holds it all together.
I know I’m in Melbourne when I can smell roasting coffee beans in the early morning, when I’m queuing up for bánh mì at lunch and when I see that the mural under the bridge by my house has changed again. I really like that about this city, there is always creative energy present and, like the weather, something is always changing – there’s always something new to check out.
In the mornings you’ll find me grabbing my first cup of coffee from Lan in Thornbury. They are just up the road from our cake studio and in my humble opinion make the best coffee in Melbourne. After this morning ritual/addiction, you will find me in Mali Bakes’ studio baking, prepping, or decorating cakes.
My local is definitely 1800 Lasagne. Their lasagne is juicy, cheesy, and just so satisfying. Great wine list and cocktails with a cool cosy atmosphere. The music selection is always on point and if you go on a Sunday night you can be serenaded by Josh Kelly and his live jazz trio while you soak up lasagne sauce with your garlic bread.
For breakfast and brunch our local is Little Tienda. Christina Mayer’s Mexican and southern Californian-inspired menu is absolute bliss, always great vibes. We’re a teensy bit in love with the Bloody Maria too.
My defining food moment here was… During my first year in Melbourne, I discovered The Horn on Johnston Street, Fitzroy. I would go there most weekends and it was such a magical time. Ethiopian stews served on injera bread eaten with your hands, which was totally new to me at the time, and I just loved it. It is a family-run place with live Ethiopian jazz every Sunday night. I remember seeing Mulatu Astatke play a secret gig with The Black Jesus Experience there one night. It was such a multi-sensory experience with the smell of Ethiopian coffee and stews, incredible music, colours, and people, which made for an electric atmosphere that I will never forget.
My favourite place to stock up on supplies is Preston Market – we’re there every Sunday morning stocking up on spices, seafood, vegetables, and everything in between and beyond. There is a great little spice shop called D’Souzas that stocks rare spices and herbs; just browsing their tightly packed shelves can lead to inspiration.
The best new thing I’ve found is Gai Wong in North Melbourne a few months ago. I think I cried a little when I had their Hainanese chicken. It’s such a nostalgic and comforting dish in a lot of Asian cultures – and they’ve absolutely perfected it. Also, a friend took us to Ras Dashen in Footscray recently. The whole deep-fried tilapia is an absolute dream and the housemade tej, the Ethiopian mead, is heavenly.
When I want to push the boat out on a meal, I would go to Sunda. I love how they push the boundaries of Southeast Asian cuisine while staying connected to this land through their use of indigenous ingredients. I particularly love their spin on congee. However, I cannot go too long without having a hotpot session: Haidilao in Box Hill is the absolute best.
When I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I like to eat my way around the city in between seeing whatever live music and art shows are on at the time. Soi 38 is definitely first on the list. It takes me right back to Bangkok. I’m obsessed with their papaya salad with raw tiger prawn and oom kai (spicy herbal chicken soup). I would finish the night off at Sleepy’s Cafe and Wine Bar on Nicholson Street. The staff there are dreamboats. They often have different chefs doing a residency each week so you can always rely on being wowed by something new and interesting.
When I want to drink something Victorian, my first choice is anything from Patrick Sullivan.
There’s no better value in Melbourne than any food stalls in Preston Market. There is so much delicious food from different cultures that you can get for such a reasonable price. We have a soft spot for T’s Vietnamese Classics. Be sure to take a seat at the bar on the side of the kitchen and order yourself a beautiful crisp chicken egg noodle soup.
If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be the perception that Asian food should automatically meet a cheap price point. It constantly blows my mind that we’re able to get a great bowl of pho, or a bánh mì, basically anywhere, for so little money. There’s so much time, knowledge, and skill that goes into those dishes! I believe that anything that requires so much of these things should be rewarded with what is deserved.
But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is (and this will sound like so many other people’s opinions) the eclectic mix of cuisines, from so many different cultures. If this were to change, my hope is that it comes in the form of more and more things being added to an already vibrant mix.