Her first book Sad Girl Novel is out in June with Ultimo Press. In this book, one woman tries to write a sad girl novel, and another has a baby called Baby. There’s also a lot of trains. Here’s how she Melbournes.
My local is The Napier because of their kangaroo salad. It’s got a very generous serve of sliced smoked kangaroo, and then the veg rotates according to the season. The dressing has something magical in it. I would hazard a guess it has something to do with pomegranates. It’s a hearty pub meal without the stodginess. The Napier is also my local because of the general vibe, the crowd and the building itself. There’s the cute little room out the back with the fireplace and all the paintings of gumtrees which remind me of the landscapes my grandpa used to paint. And then there’s the beautiful green tiles! Somebody, please think of the tiles.
I know I’m in Melbourne when eating well is effortless. In other cities the good food is there but ‘you have to know where to go’. In Melbourne, if you walk past any suburban restaurant overflowing with people, you don’t have to Google it because you know it’s going to be something great. A friend of mine is very passionate about the song That’s Melbourne by Rhonda Burchmore and Bobby Valentine, and I personally enjoy the Speed Racer aesthetic of the music video. It started out as a bit of a gag, but now we reference it all the time, when something very Melbourne happens, like stumbling across delicious food in the most random of places.
My favourite Melbourne moment in literature is… I’ll always remember reading The Slap when I was a teenager and recognising streets of Melbourne in the scenes and that being a very new experience for me. At that time, it wasn’t something that happened a lot (I was mainly reading weird historical fiction about mediaeval tapestry weavers: I was a cool kid). Tsiolkas’s characters would roll out of bed and fart and make their way to the Queen Vic Markets to stock up for Christmas Day, and the familiarity of characters like that is simple but exciting for a teen. More than that though, the way Christos Tsiolkas writes about the intersection of culture and people here is so compelling, and reading it I had the feeling that he was doing something that only he could do, and that’s a powerful thing to experience as a reader. At the moment I am reading Bad Art Mother by Edwina Preston, set in a St Kilda restaurant, amongst other places, and her prose is insanely good. It’s like a delicious meal.
In the mornings, before I start writing, I usually get a coffee and a pan de bono from Sonido, and walk my dog around Carlton Gardens. A friend told me that I have a daggy coffee order: I get a large cappuccino – is that really such a crime? Sonido do my favourite coffee on Gertrude Street hands down. They use Todo Good beans which I also get by the bag to make at home throughout the day. Pan de bono is a Colombian cheese bread. It’s the gluten-free-girlies’ croissant and it’s sort of life-changing. It’s made from cheese, eggs, and tapioca or cassava flour, and when served warm is gooey and soft in the middle. Sometimes I make my own; you can get ingredients from Casa Iberica, the Spanish supermarket on Johnston Street. Obviously mine don’t compare. For a full meal at Sonido, get the black bean arepa with a side of chorizo and an espresso milkshake. Trust me.
My defining food moment in Melbourne was a sushi cake from Tochi Deli that I ordered for my last birthday. I had seen one on their Instagram before and was taken by the weird beauty of the sashimi fashioned into layered flowers, with little wasabi leaves and rosettes of pickled ginger. There was a base of sushi rice underneath that you could only see when you cut into the cake. For my birthday we were going out for a day dance, so beforehand we hung out in my garden with the sushi cake and I mandolined a bunch of veg to make bowls with. (I bought a mandoline over lockdown thinking I would become a delicate salad person. Dear reader, I did not.) Getting drunk on yuzu gin and eating sashimi cake in the heat was a weird and wacky time. Most of my guests were concerned at the prospect of a sushi cake, and looking at it was like being on acid, with the flowers seeming to turn from icing to fish and back again. I think the fact that it could have easily gone so wrong is what made it so right. And this work of art was from a tiny Japanese restaurant in the middle of a strip mall in Brunswick who were lovely enough to make my sushi cake dreams come true. Cue the song! That’s Melbourne.
My favourite place to stock up on supplies is Kim Chi grocery on Brunswick Street because they specialise in Korean and Japanese food but you can really find everything there, from fresh coconuts to yuzus to bulk spices. There is a store dog called Frosty, a white Westy Terrier who roams the aisles. Top snacks: a flavour of Twisties called Roast Chicken Dance, spicy roast broad beans, frozen shrimp and chive hargow. They also stock Kylie Minogue’s sav blanc, for diehard Melburnians only.
The best new thing I’ve found is Royal Oak Hotel in Fitzroy North. It’s new to me anyway. They allow dogs in the front bar, so it’s the perfect cosy spot to go in winter with the pooch. I consistently order the chicken schnitzel. It comes with a creamy gravy and a fennel and rocket salad that has some sort of sweet glaze-y dressing. It’s better than any schnitzel I ate when I lived in Germany. (It’s not hard to find food in Melbourne that is equal to or better than in the origin country.) And the fries! Usually, fries are fries, but these ones have something extra going on. It’s either an amazing chicken salt or they are cooked in stock. Whatever it is, it is good. The dining room in the back is dog-free, and gets a special mention for the carpet, which is Liberace meets RSL. They have delicious specials like deviled eggs and saltimbocca to go with the carpet.
When I want to push the boat out on a meal, I take it literally and go to Fairfield Boat House. You can rent a boat there and BYO take away for a nice little picnic floating around on the water. Ideally, I would pick up Belles Hot Chicken and a bottle of something casual and sparkling on the way, like Delinquente’s Tuff Nut pét nat, for example.
There’s no better value in Melbourne than Good Times, the pasta place in Fitzroy North. You can get a bowl of delicious pasta for $9, which is basically a scandal. As a GFer I get the bolognese on rice, which is so much better than it sounds. The Negronis here are very cheap. Another place for cheap Negronis is Quiet Time in Clifton Hill, where they have affordable cosy soups and insanely good music to boot. Quiet times are good times, coincidentally.
If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be all the incessant queuing. I am becoming a bit of a curmudgeon about sandwiches. Specifically, people constantly lining up for sandwiches in the backstreets of Fitzroy at one of the various hot sanga spots. I’m not trying to say that a good sandwich can’t turn your day around, it really can. I’ve seen The Bear and I respect sandwiches. But with some good and simple ingredients you can have yourself a merry sandwich at home rather than waiting outside in the cold for one.
But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is the one-two punch of Pellegrini’s and The Paperback Bookshop.