Friday, September 14, 2012

Dreaming of eating out in Melbourne

Masterchef Australia and Masterchef UK are the only 2 versions of the program that I like to watch as they both actually focus on the food.

The latest series of Masterchef Australia is currently airing on StarWorld in India and the contestants have been racing around Australia visiting wonderful food markets and competing with or learning from fantastic chefs and eating reward lunches at the most delightful restaurants.

This made me wonder, that if I ever got a chance to visit Australia which restaurants would I want to eat at. But the choice was so vast, that I decided to begin planning my fantasy trip by restricting myself to Melbourne.

Of course the easiest way to do this would be if I could get  Matt Preston to design the trip for me. As the Creative Director of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival (until 2009), I'm sure he would know the best places to eat and would be able to design a brilliant holiday revolving around places to eat and drink at, markets to shop for the best local produce and the best hands-on masterclasses in the region.

But since that is just a pipe dream, I have to go with a more achieveable dream of planning the trip myself. :)

Melbourne has 3 - 3 hatted restaurants, so those are obviously on the top of my wish list: Ben Shewry's Attica where I'd love to experience the Tuesdays chefs table or order poached marron tail with prosciutto glaze, crowned by pork lardo, bass grouper and roasted quinoa in a shiitake broth or a crisp tile of pork tail with a rich, morcilla puree. The Franco Australian Jacques Reymond where he combines classical technique with an Asian sensibility, and of course Shannon Bennett's Vue De Monde for the 10-plus-course degustation.

Melbourne also has 12 - 2 hatted restaurants, which would be next on my wishlist.
The Italian Cafe Di Stasio for seafood, suckling pig and wild boar and Guy Grossi's Grossi Florentino with its high theatre style for black rice risotto topped with a Moreton Bay bug and parmesan sabayon and the Valrhona chocolate souffle.

The contemporary restaurants: Jake Nicolson's Circa, The Prince, which is even open for breakfast is famous for his whole beast cookery and mostly homegrown outstanding produce, Cutler & Co which also won the Diners Choice award, Ezard for one of Melbourne's destination dishes – master stock fried pork hock with chilli caramel, Matteos with its Japanese and Chinese inspirations and Neil Perry's Rockpool Bar & Grill to pay homage at his aged-meat shrine before feasting on some woodgrilled beef and saffron shellfish stew.

Then there are those restaurants serving traditional cuisines:
The Cantonese Flower Drum where dining off-menu would mean a lovely modern-Cantonese selection: gingery chicken on rice noodles, pearl meat on its shell with white asparagus, showstopper 'noodles' made from wild barramundi minced with Chinese sausage, satiny wagyu and theatrical toffee apple.

The modern Spanish Movida, for calamari tubes stuffed with minced pork and sherry-braised beef cheek.

The modern Mediterranean Stokehouse, for Beef tartare flavoured with capers and cornichons, the Stokehouse staple - John Dory fillet, slow-cooked wagyu rump with truffle-infused jus and desserts like ginger cannoli with cherries.

And how could I not round it up with George Calombaris's Modern Greek restaurant - The Press Club where I definitely want to be seated at the kitchen-side chef's table. I would certainly want to taste the capsicum terrine in his deconstructed Chef's salad and end with ouzo pannacotta.

Melbourne also has around 50 1 hatted restaurants, of which (if forced) I would narrow my wishlist down to
Paladarr for some fiery hot Thai cuisine and also one of their cooking classes.

Chef Shigeo Nonaka's Shoya, where I would definitely feast on Melbourne's most authentic Japanese experience with unusual seafood offerings such as the 'Hatching Ocean Egg', a steamed egg custard with spinach puree and scampi tempura; or the ocean cornucopia 'Umi no Megumi' – green-tea soba in lobster-rich broth with Hokkaido scallop, luxurious Japanese king crab and grilled calamari.

Neil Perry's ode to modern Chinese at Spice Temple includes cumin spiced lamb pancakes, watermelon granitas with ginger syrup and wonderful seafood dressed in various Chinese style sauces.

I'd love to try modern Vietnamese cuisine at Dandelion, where Chef Geoff Lindsay has his own twists on classic Vietnamese food. His rice paper rolls are stuffed with ingredients like soft-shell crab or peppered wagyu and Pho is studded with tuna tartare or corn-fed chicken.

Chef Chris Donnellan at Teage Ezard's Gingerboy serves Modern South East Asian food. The menu is divided into snacks and shared dishes and is street food with a polish serving dishes like Pork and shiitake dumplings, Coconut chicken salad and duck sang choy bao.

I'd also love to taste some MENA (Middle East & North African) flavours that I've been missing since we moved back to India from Egypt.

George Colombaris is also part owner of Maha where chef Shane Delia's Maltese heritage is combined with Eastern Mediterranean's best. Labna rolled in zaatar, olives in a Maltese bread-and-chilli paste, roast potato foam and jamon crumbs, 12-hour lamb, saffron-slicked pork belly and Turkish delight-filled doughnuts, all sound amazing and will definitely taste as good.

The Lebanese Abla's for kibbe, chicken and rice, Lebanese green beans is very reasonable but the food is cooked with love.

The North African Canvas, where Algerian-born chef Pierre Khodja’s serves his signature slow-cooked tagines and dishes like scallops baked with pork and pomegranate, quail stuffed with grapes and almonds, Cinnamon spiced lemony broad-bean soup and cous cous with raisins and ghee.

The modern European Sapore for the 12-hour slow-cooked pork with fork-tender meat and faultless crackling and Honeycomb-topped limoncello semifreddo with Manuka honey sabayon.

Chef Darren Daley at Livingroom, serves beetroot-cured salmon with vanilla pickled cucumber; or lemon thyme and goat's cheese fritters with truffle honey . Polenta-crusted sea bream is plated with warm ni├žoise salad, Crystal Bay prawns with herby salad and crema catalana with fennel shortbread for dessert.

And how can I not indulge in Melbournes best seafood at Chef Michael Bacash's Bacash? Char-grilled calamari on tomato, chorizo and Puy lentils with parsley puree, Nori rolls filled with garfish, salmon and prawn farce, Cape Grim eye fillet and rich duck confit are just some of the wonders that they serve.

These are just my must-try's among the hatted restaurants at Melbourne.

Then there are a ton of cafes like the one in the auction rooms  in the old auction house that have character and serve good food and Fandango with its crochet blankets, cupcakes, hot chocolates and pancakes with homemade honeyed cream cheese is like a grandmothers living room.

The city is also filled with pubs and bars that also serve great food.

Then there are the markets that sell fresh produce and have lovely food stalls too. Some of them are only in season markets like the Caulfield Farmers Market, Spotswood Farmers Market, Williamstown Farmers Market, Queen Victora Market, Dandenong Market. The Sunday Markets at the Arts Centre, Docklands and North Melbourne.

If I am going to be shopping, I'd also like to cover the crafts markets for unique hand crafted products that I can bring back as gifts for my friends and family. The Yarraville Market, Hawthorn Craft Market, Carribbean Gardens,

And how can I leave without visiting the specialised bookshop - "Books for Cooks"?

Since I'm going to be in Melbourne anyhow, I should also catch up on some sightseeing covering history and wildlife. The walks will also help me digest what I've eaten and make space for more food :)

There are so many options for a wildlife enthusiast to spend the day in Melbourne.

The Shark and Ray centre is the world's largest shark and sting ray feeding experience, the Aquarium with its 360 degree Oceanarium and Great Barrier Reef exhibit, the zoo where you can view koalas, platypus, kangaroos, wombats and other unique native wildlife in the Australian bush setting and the moonlit sanctuary where you can cuddle up to koalas, feed kangaroos and wallabies and maybe even spend a night at the luxury safari accomodation at the Werribee Open Range Zoo.

The Melbourne Heritage Walk is a comfortable 2km stroll visiitng buildings built as far back as 1869. The walk through the Royal Botanical Gardens will also be very beautiful and pleasant without the distraction of wanting to photograph beautiful buildings! The Homestead to Gellibrand Hill Trail at 11km sounds a little more strenuous but will be worth it to visit the historic Woodlands Homestead, a large pre-fabricated timber house brought out from Britain in 1843. There are also plenty of food and wine tours on offer which would satisfy both my requirements of good food and a bit of exercise (just enough to whet the appetite). There are other walking tours too with focus on arts, ghosts, particular areas, photography and history.

My husband of course would love to do one of the Sports tours, instead of hanging around with me in the markets, he would prefer to pay homage at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds and the National Sports Museum.

But it would be romantic to take a Moonlight Kayak tour together.

Melbourne also has a rich Aboriginal history that I'd love to get aquainted with as it is something I have absolutely no idea about. This area was originally home to five Aboriginal language groups, which together formed the Kulin Nation. Melbourne offers multiple ways to do this. There is an Aboriginal heritage walk, sites of significance that you can visit, art galleries which display Aboriginal art, the Koorie Heritage trust which cares for a diverse range of artefacts, artworks, crafts, oral histories, books, manuscripts, historical material and photographs and houses four gallery spaces; a permanent interactive exhibition that teaches about our history and culture, and a retail shop that sells authentic products.

There are plenty of other options for family activities, but I would be happy rounding off my trip with a visit to the Royal Exhibition building, Monstsalvat and the Mornington Peninsula .

Oh My! with such a long list, I might as well move to Australia for awhile, but its so difficult to shortlist just a few, when the range is so vast and amazing!

What do you think of my list of places, am I being too ambitious? Have I missed something out? If someone told you that "It's your time to visit Melbourne NOW!", what would you like to add to your itinerary?

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