Published on 22 October 2020
In the mornings you’ll find me walking my dog Morrie along Port Melbourne beach, or queuing for croissants at Agathé Pâtisserie in the South Melbourne Market.
My favourite local is The Tipsy Cow on Bay Street. They have a decent happy hour most nights and their drink selection is great. Also, they welcome dogs! (Okay, in truth the dog-factor is the main selling point for me on this one. It feels far less tragic to be spending an evening in a bar with my dog than it does to spend it on the couch with my dog.) I also must mention Chapel Café (also on Bay Street), which is my local breakfast haunt. This simple, no-nonsense café run by Vinny and Tu is just the most welcoming place. They go out of their way to remember all their customers by name, and importantly they understand how to make a decent cup of tea (not the tepid, watery teabag affair you get at so many venues).
My defining food moment in Melbourne was when I completed my first draft of Sticks and Stones, and my husband and I celebrated at Dalmatino. I adored this gorgeous Croatian restaurant, which had the most delicious zucchini fritters, duck leg and braised beef cheeks. It was one of those rare venues that managed to provide great service and great food consistently, in an atmosphere that welcomed you as though returning home. Unfortunately it has closed permanently now, so perhaps we didn’t visit often enough.
There are so many things that feel uniquely Melbourne to me: the smell of hot dogs and chips at the MCG, the lights of the Bolte Bridge reflecting in the water at the Docklands, the city skyline appearing over the Yarra. I could go on and on.
The best new thing I’ve found is Hanoi Mee Kitchen and Bar. This is such a fun little restaurant (little being the operative word), and though it’s often hard to get a table, it’s well worth the effort. As the name suggests, it’s Vietnamese, and the menu offers plenty of smaller options like prawns, rice paper rolls and pork belly, or large shareable plates such as pork hock (amazing) and roast duck. I’ve never had a bad meal here, and the cocktails are exquisite.
When I want to push the boat out on a meal, I… for me, simply attempting to cook a meal is “pushing the boat out”, because I am the world’s worst cook. True story: I was kicked out of home economics classes in Year 7 after I set a bench on fire. (An unfortunate incident involving a tea towel, a stovetop, and a stack of newspapers, which could have happened to anyone…honestly.) Sadly my skills have never improved, and I’ve become one of those people who only eats well when they dine out or have someone else cook. Otherwise pasta and soup are about the only things I can manage.
When I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I like to savour a summer afternoon at Madame Brussels – a rooftop bar that’s decked out like a garden party is hard to beat. With its fake turf and eccentric décor, it’s kitsch and quirky and one of those places you can truly come as you are. For an evening out I’d head to Golden Monkey in Hardware Lane. This bar is a gem of a place, hidden behind velvet curtains. The maze of wooden screens means you can have as much or as little privacy as you want, and the cocktails are magnificent.
There’s no better value in Melbourne than dumplings in Chinatown. I avoid the fancy-looking places and stick with venues that are bursting with uni students. My preference is usually Shanghai Dumpling House.
My favourite place to stock up on supplies is La Manna. The Italian market is a great place for meat, seafood and fresh produce, though I usually find my trolley stuffed with chocolate, cheeses and snacks that I really don’t need but can’t resist. It’s never a cheap experience but always a good one.
The one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is the food and café culture. I’ve been lucky to travel around Australia and overseas, and I have to say Melbourne’s is as good as anything I’ve experienced. I hope the range of independent, unique venues continues on, and we don’t become one of those cities that’s reliant on chains.
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