How I Melbourne: Caroline Wilson

Published on 8 November 2019

Photo: AFL journalist Caroline Wilson

Caroline Wilson is as intrinsic to the AFL as the MCG or a Four’n Twenty pie. Whether appearing weekly on television, presenting on 3AW radio or penning stories for The Age, Caro’s voice  rises above the noise of today’s news cycle, no mean feat in the traditionally male world of sports journalism. She was the first woman to work full-time on the Australian Rules football beat and throughout her 35-plus years as a journalist has picked up numerous awards, including two Walkeleys in 2013 for her coverage of and commentary on the drug scandal at Essendon Football Club. The former chief football writer for The Age, she continues to write a weekly column as well as appearing on Nine’s Footy Classified panel. For kicks, she records a podcast each week with her friend and fellow journalist Corrie Perkin called Don’t Shoot The Messenger, where they talk books, current affairs, recipes, hairdresser etiquette and everything in between. Caro’s AFL team, in case there was any doubt, is the Richmond Tigers.

My first defining food moment in Melbourne was being taken by my friend Nicky's family to Capers Restaurant in the city. I was 10 years old and it was a thrilling night. We had been to watch Michael Cole from the Mod Squad in a 3D movie. I wore a denim safari suit with a white leather choker and ordered chicken in a basket which involved an entire roast chicken and chips served – as described – in a basket. Nicky's mother Eve intervened and said to the waiter, "Half a chicken will be sufficient". We still laugh about that.

I know I'm in Melbourne when I'm walking from the MCG after a game to meet the girls at Cinema Como and can't decide between Demitri's Feast, the Richmond Oyster Bar, Feast of Merit or Baby for a pre-movie snack.

The best new thing I've found is old but new: La Campagna in Cape Schanck, which has just re-opened. I thought this wonderful little Italian restaurant nestled in an olive grove with views of Western Port Bay was gone forever.

When I want to push the boat out on a meal, I head to Laura at Pt Leo Estate. The food is local, the staff are a class act and the view is sensational. And then you get to walk off lunch by strolling through the sculpture gardens. I will never forget the first time I tasted the pink lamb cooked in a case of charcoal and the salad that came with it. It's become our go-to restaurant for family celebrations.

There's no better value in Melbourne than Mediterranean Wholesalers in Sydney Road, Brunswick. Standing at the deli counter is one of the great cultural experiences of Melbourne. Take a number and salivate as the slicers work their magic on the well-priced San Daniele prosciutto. Then there’s the still-warm ricotta, the pork and fennel sausages tied with green string, and the piles of Parmigiano-Reggiano. And I haven't even started on the Italian wines and prosecco, the slabs of tinned tomatoes at bargain prices, the most incredible range of extra-virgin olive oils and the beautiful Italian tins full of sweet things which you can peruse as you're drinking a strong espresso. Twice a year, I’ll plan a half-day trip to Mediterranean with my mother. Otherwise, I’ll sneak in the odd visit after an interview or breaking story at Carlton Football Club. It’s a great place to shop for presents and feasts and I defy you to get out of there with less than double of what you planned to buy.  

And when I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I like to seek out somewhere with a view. I might book table No. 300 at the Portsea Pub for an unbeatable panorama of the bay. The Victorian Government destroyed the beach when they dredged the channel but they couldn't wreck the outlook. Or I’ll take them to Agostino in Lygon Street for a perfect bowl of pasta, a wander through King & Godfree’s fabulous deli and then a rooftop Negroni at Johnny's Green Room. Or I could walk them around the Tan and then take a detour to Arbory Bar below Flinders Street Station for a coffee overlooking the Yarra. Or perhaps head down to the Surf Coast and order anything from that fabulous menu at Captain Moonlight at the Anglesea Surf Lifesaving Club. Or, better still, book any table by the window of the Jim Stynes Grill at the MCG when the Tigers are playing. 

In the mornings you'll find me having a dawn coffee at Winter in Malvern with my gym gang or at Pound off Chapel Street where I collect the coffee for Corrie and I pre-podcast or at Market Lane Coffee in Prahran with my geriatric labrador Billie. Once I’m there it's hard to resist stocking up on cheese at Maker & Monger or grabbing a mini spinach and feta pastry from Sweet Greek.

If you looked in my fridge you might be surprised to find too many types of milk. At last count we had low fat, no fat, oat, almond and rice milk. I mean, really. Not to mention hard evidence of the Ottolenghi effect: harissa (two sorts), preserved lemons and, in the pantry, there’s tahini and seven different kinds of nuts and seeds. Plus lots of obscure Asian condiments from other cooking experiments.

The last awesome Victorian thing I drank was… it's a four-way tie between a gin and tonic made with Four Pillars Spiced Negroni Gin and crushed pink peppercorns after gardening all day in rare spring sunshine, the cup of tea my husband brought me in bed this morning, the Tar & Roses pinot grigio we had at my Phillip Island Book Club weekend, and the extra-virgin olive oil harvested by my new local beach friend Ziggy who picks all the olives he's allowed to in the local area and then gives back. You can drink it by the teaspoon it's so yummy.

My local is Fratellino, if I turn right out my front door, and Shadowboxer if I turn left. Fratellino has the best value pizza and wine, but Shadowboxer do delicious seasonal mains and cocktails without giant ice cubes plus they have a great wine list and it's opposite my local cinema. And both places are run by lovely people. Tough choice.

If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be food delivery apps. They're initiative-zapping and bad for the environment and your bank balance. And they encourage isolation.

But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is the way our town is a series of villages each delivering their own set of culturally-inspired food. We’re also blessed with great pubs. My current go-to is the Marquis of Lorne in Fitzroy. I also love the late-night hangouts. The beauty of being able to get a bite to eat or a drink into the early hours is unrivalled anywhere else in Australia. A recent example was walking into France-Soir at 11 pm on Grand Final night and tucking into a perfect steak tartare and that beautiful butter lettuce salad that they’ve perfected over the years. But, then again, maybe the events of the day had something to do with it.

Every Friday during the AFL season you can read Caro’s weekly column published by The Age. Otherwise, listen to her year-round on Don’t Shoot The Messenger, available wherever you get your podcasts.

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