Published on 14 September 2020
In the mornings you’ll find me looking for coffee. If I’m at my Fitzroy office, I’m heading for Marios Café for good coffee and community, or Faraday’s Cage, a hidden gem. Even in these lockdown times, they’re both good options for takeaways and quick chats. I still miss Atomica Café, no longer on Brunswick Street, where I had lots of friends and wrote the best part of at least two novels while chain-slurping flat whites.
My local is La Niche, a genuine Breton café in Smith Street, Collingwood, introduced to me by my wife and still one of my favourite places to be, years later, especially when live music is playing. Lydie and Justin have done an incredible job of maintaining the atmosphere and food after taking over from the legendary Anthony Sergeant. If we’re kicking on, it’s almost certainly at The Everleigh cocktail bar on Gertrude Street, or The Elysian whisky bar on Brunswick Street.
My defining food moment in Melbourne was actually when I started as a cadet journalist many years ago and the veteran scribes introduced me to the Waiters Club, late at night, when it was still ‘officially’ unlicensed, had zero frills, amazing cheap pasta and all the tables were full of cops, politicians, journos or off-duty hospitality staff. The people who make up the hidden side of the city. It was my awakening, as a teenage journalist, to this little-known beating heart of Melbourne that made my new career and life so much fun.
I know I’m in Melbourne when we ride our bikes through the backstreets of Fitzroy and East Melbourne and see the crowd in scarves and beanies start to thicken as we come over the small rise on Clarendon Street and glide down the hill to the MCG. Home games at the ’G are peak Melbourne and I miss them badly at the moment. (Go Tiges.) In a non-sporting sense, grazing at Heartattack and Vine on Lygon Street with my wife, then poking around Readings and finally crossing the road to Cinema Nova for a film is pure Melbourne heaven for me. Choc-top or red wine during the film? Why choose?
The best new thing I’ve found is the Alphington Farmers’ Market. We’d visited their Carlton North and Coburg markets a lot but the Alphington ‘home’ market has really impressive produce, a friendly vibe and the big parklands right next door for roaming post-shopping.
When I want to push the boat out on a meal, I tend to end up at Supernormal, just because the menu is so interesting and surprising, as well as flat-out tasty. If I’m down the coast, it’s Ipsos, in Lorne, where Dominic and Alex are the latest generation of the Talimanidis dynasty keeping the Kosta’s Taverna vibe alive. I’ve been on that bus since it was The Steak Place.
When I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I usually have lunch at Stuart McKenzie’s unique off-Broadway treasure, South of Johnston, and then walk them through Fitzroy, pointing out the street art and the landmarks before we go up the pokey elevator to Naked in the Sky, because if you can land the right table, overlooking the city, right on sunset, it tends to make tourists fall in love with my city immediately. Dinner at the Standard Hotel is a good follow-up to seal the deal.
There’s no better value in Melbourne than sneaky dessert at the Gelobar in Lygon Street, Brunswick East. For a novelist, the cast of characters, the menu, the colourful backstory and the Italian children’s TV are fodder for the imagination as well as the stomach.
My favourite place to stock up on supplies is Jasper’s Coffee because I am fully on-board Team Aeropress and Jasper’s Juliet blend is the perfect bean for my tastes. Also, Blackhearts & Sparrows for wine and Dan Murphy’s for a strong range of single-malt whisky options. I’ve found I pay more per bottle these days, because I’m a big believer in drinking quality, not quantity.
The one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is our city’s insanely determined commitment to extravagant and hidden whisky, cocktail and wine bars. I really hope they’ve been able to bunker down and survive lockdown intact. I adore joining my grown sons for an evening of darting down the lanes and looking for the hidden door that opens onto a whole new whisky adventure. Eau de Vie is a classic.
Nick Place’s new book Stalin’s Wine Cellar, coauthored with John Baker, has recently been published by Penguin and is available from online retailers and bookstores. Catch Nick on Instagram at @nickdoesliving, Facebook @stalinswinecellar or on his website, nickplace.me.
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