This chapter begins approximately one year since our trip to Provence – the inspiration for this blog in the first place.
Nothing quite as far away this time but hopefully it will be an equally inspiring (and possibly more relevant) trip to Victoria’s capital city of Melbourne.
Melbourne has an amazing dining culture and its own unique style of dining rooms. You can find million dollar fit-outs with buttoned-up waiters gliding past stiffly starched tablecloths. Battalions of chefs working silently behind gleaming copper pans. But the reason Melbourne dining is so exciting is because of the underground area of the market. Walk down a poorly-lit city laneway with masked and hooded people openly painting on walls with rattling aerosol cans.
You might find a dining room where you sit on recycled cable spools or vintage chairs that have been rescued from landfill. Packed to the rafters with people excited to see and taste the food that emerges from a tiny and hectic kitchen on funky plates carried by a waiter who wouldn’t look out of place in a rock band or on a haute-couture runway.
Melbourne has fewer hatted and highly rated restaurants than Sydney, but the Melbournian sense of adventure and independent style makes the dining scene (in our opinion) much more exciting and accessible.
We arrived in Melbourne where we were picked up by friends and taken to drop off our bags at their place before catching the train in to the city for a bite to eat.
It was Father’s Day so we were expecting to have to wait for a table but we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at Little Press & Cellar, the funky bar attached to The Press Club (click here). The Press Club is the flagship restaurant for the group owned by chef George Colombaris and (due to lack of planning ahead and booking a table in the restaurant) we decided to stay in the bar and eat there. The style of food that Colombaris is creating at Press Club is modern Greek, He utilises the flavours that he tasted in his youth and, using his skills as a modern chef, has re-invented classic Greek dishes.
Outside The Press Club
Inside Little Press
Little Press has its own kitchen and menu mostly comprising small dishes (which we obviously like) and just a few larger dishes, including a Colombaris favourite “goat cooked with 40 cloves of garlic”
The Little Press kitchen
The dining room is long with dark timber paneling and rafters. The gleaming bar proudly displays and impressive range of spirits, liquors, digestives and wines but front and center is a brightly-illuminated coffee machine with in-built, brilliant blue LED lights.
We ordered from the small-plates menu and food quickly started to arrive from the basement kitchen that runs underneath the long bar. Firstly, olive bread with olive oil and gleaming black salt crystals, then octopus with lemon and pea shoots. The octopus impossibly tender and very briefly flashed on a hot char grill to give it a hint of smoky barbecued flavour.
Little Press olive bread and black salt
Next was a mixture of wild olives topped with salty pannrgrata. These olives ranged from large kalamatas to tiny ones about the size of a baby caper.
Next up was the winner of the day – chicken liver parfait with cinnamon toast. The parfait was silky smooth with a rich layer of whipped butter coating its outside edges, and with darkly toasted and thinly-sliced cinnamon brioche to give it texture. A truly wonderful and memorable dish, the cinnamon being a perfect flavour match for the richness of the chicken livers and butter.
Absolutely wonderful parfait!
The parfait was followed by sticky, tomato-y pork ribs with cinnamon pickled Granny Smith apples. The ribs had been cut across the bone instead of long-ways so they were much easier to eat with cutlery instead of cave-man style.
Little Press ribs
Then it was large, plump prawns wrapped in shatteringly crunchy kataifi pastry and standing in a blob of avocado puree and scattered with pine nuts. Although the pastry was crunchy, the prawns inside were cooked perfectly and the avocado was soft, creamy and smooth.
Our three salads arrived in little elevated glass bowls, they looked very top-heavy and unstable, however suprisingly it wasn’t a problem to dig around with the cutlery without them tipping over. Beautiful presentation!
These salads were: beetroot, yoghurt and celery leaf; green beans with mint and fetta; and grains with charred sweetcorn and haloumi.
The grains were superb – nutty and great textures with super soft haloumi.
Beetroot and celery leaves
Beans, feta and mint
That saw the end of our lunch and by this stage Iain and Elysia were feeling starting to feel the 3am finish at work and the early flight so decided to head home and prepare to cook dinner at a friend’s house.
Dinner was the first time Iain had made potato gnocchi since he was a first year apprentice at Box Hill trade school and it was just a little bit soft but not a bad second try with a classical carbonara garnish.
Day two was quite a long one. After an early start we headed in to the city on the train and made a beeline to MoVida (click here)
MoVida has been high on our hit list for a long time, however whenever we are in Melbourne it is always closed for a function or renovation, or it is simply too full to seat us. We have heard nothing but rave reports on it for the last few years so we were very excited.
MoVida has been at the forefront of the Australian tapas boom for years and it is quintessentially Melbourne. Located in the city on a lane that runs between Little Collins and Flinders streets its windows look out on the ever-changing and increasingly famous street art that adorns the walls of most of the lanes in Melbourne. A community of artists who live and work around Hosier Lane make this city canvas the most exciting in the inner city.
On the way to MoVida in Hosier Lane
The friends we dined with had been to MoVida a few times before so we left the ordering in their capable hands.
Bread arrived first, on a pot black earthenware plate with a built-in well to house a pool of greenish and rich olive oil - Spanish of course! This gave us a chance to gaze around the tiny dining room. A long timber bar, a small and busy kitchen teaming with tired-looking chefs and a terracotta brick floor make it a simple affair relying on the food rather than the fit-out to take centre stage.
The first couple of tapas were placed on the table. A pearly pink prism of prawn meat that had been bashed and set into a slab then cut in to perfect squares and garnished with a blob of romesco sauce and a watercress leaf with a futuristic transparent red perspex toothpick to spear it with. We also enjoyed wonderfully rich potato house-made chorizo croquettes set in a rich, spicy tomato sauce.
Yummy prawn terrine
A special of pig’s trotter, skillfully de-boned and stuffed with black pudding scattered with raw garlic and shallots arrived and, like its preceding dishes, was gone all too quickly.
Tender lamb cutlets with parsley puree came next. Lamb sinews had been used to bind a spicy and chorizo-like mousse onto the lamb, which was pink, juicy and cooked to perfection.
Cutlets of lamb
A shallow white bowl lined with paper thin slices of lightly cured wagyu beef formed the frame for a blob of truffled potato foam and a slow-poached egg. Our companions (who had enjoyed this dish before knew what to do next ) showed us how to fold the beef in on top of the eggy concoction to form a parcel before chopping it up into portions to enjoy.
Step one of the wagyu beef dish
step two: folding it up
Step three: chop it all up
Soft textures and simply beautiful flavours, the dish is justifiably famous.
Next to hit the table was duck liver parfait with Pedro Ximenez foam. The parfait was cut into a cube and was not quite as light as the previous day’s version, but that suits the style that is MoVida. The foam, cut to mirror the parfait was more like a marshmallow and provided sweetness to offset the richness of the duck livers. Symmetrical stacks of little square croutons completed the presentation. It was a lesson in negative space on its little green plate.
Duck liver parfait
The last of our savoury dishes was incredibly soft beef cheeks with cauliflower puree and sticky Pedro Ximenez sauce. Slow cooked and very rich!
Sweets arrived all at once. Sheep’s milk cheesecake with lemon sorbet, a scoop of ginger ice-cream that we coerced our waiter into allowing us to taste (tempting as it was we couldn’t accommodate its sticky date pudding companion), and the Spanish classic of churros with hot chocolate to dip them in.
Sheep's milk cheese cake
Naturally sweet and milky, the sheep’s milk cheesecake was soft and wonderfully cut by the sharp lemon sorbet; and the churros, lightly spiced with cinnamon were as authentic as you will find anywhere in Spain. The ginger ice-cream retained the natural heat of fresh ginger and was the stand-out.
We finished our Paco and Lola Albarino before braving the cold to wander slowly past the fresco of artworks on the laneway walls before deciding what we were going to do to kill time before dinner.
Leish examining som paint in Hosier Lane
As usually happens with people who work in Hospitality, the popular choice was a few drinks so we walked to the top of Bourke Street to the trendy Madame Brussels (click here)
Ascending many flights of stairs (reminiscent of high school 80’s décor) we finally reached the top floor and were greeted by Astroturf, white furnishings and wrought-iron lawn furniture. A small lattice shed housed various hoses, garden tools and a lawn mower. The bar itself was a gazebo-like structure complete with plastic ivy.
Inside Mme Brussels
Cool floor covering
We moved out to the large outdoor area that overlooks Bourke Street and were approached by a waiter clad in white tennis trousers and tennis shoes, the look completed by a neatly buttoned polo shirt. We enjoyed a jug of Pimms and browsed the menu. Worded very poetically with some very quirky (and occasionally blue) cocktail descriptions.
Various long-socked, garden-party-clothed staff moved around the bar before we decided to move down the road to The Carlton Club.
The Carlton Club (click here) is lit with a kind of opium-den glow and outside on the covered balcony wide-leaved plants could give the impression that you were in another age many worlds away from downtown Melbourne.
Half a giraffe at The Carlton Club
Finally it was time to head to dinner and in true “Hobartian” style we walked outside and ran in to Fabian and Narelle from Restaurant 373, also on their spring break. Mumasita was where we were heading (click here)
The long room with two large windows out to the street has a short bar down one side and a tiny kitchen (and we mean TINY!) with six or so chefs working feverishly and with every spare space taken up with diners.
The volume in the dining room is at a maximum but this just adds to the atmosphere - one hundred or so happy people eating small plates of tasty, authentic Mexican food. Unfortunately, the room is too dark and broody for our photos to work so you will have to use your imagination.
Because we were a party of eight we were given a set menu, which suited us fine. The first of the courses arrived at table on thin bamboo skewers. Half cobs of grilled sweet corn coated in chipotle mayonnaise and finely-grated cheese. The chillies were dried and smoked which provided another taste dimension and, with the corn, it was an excellent start to the meal.
Next up was crisp corn chips cut into little disks and topped with spicy, shredded slow-cooked pork; or avocado puree with cold spicy chicken. Canapés Mexican style.
Next thin and delicate tortillas wrapped around black beans, sweet jalapenos and long strands of pickled cactus. The natural richness of the beans cut through the sharpness of the pickle. We had never seen tortillas so delicate.
Then the largest dish of the night, about 3 chickens roasted and chopped, then coated in another chipotle based sauce with a hint of chocolate. Rice, greens and charred corn salsa came on the side, way too much for us to finish, even though we did try our best!
Lastly, sweet Mexican-style chocolate sorbet. Rich and mostly made from cocoa solids with enough sugar to balance its natural bitterness.
Not done with our day and not ready to go home we walked the short distance to The Melbourne Supper Club (click here) for a nightcap. The Supper Club is a Melbourne institution, packed with finely upholstered leather chesterfield couches and wine list that will make your eyes water from its vast selection (and on occasions dizzying price tags up to $11,000). We all enjoyed our favourite drinks before braving the night-time cold for the final time to catch the train home and fall into bed. Feeling contented and inspired by the 20 or so great dishes we had eaten throughout this epic day!