Food, glorious food!

I can’t come to the foodie paradise that is Melbourne without writing a blog post about food and eating out!

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me what the best meal was I’d had all trip. I ummed and ahhed and could only think of one worthy of consideration. I hadn’t eaten badly, indeed I’d say well, but nothing had really wowed me. Now, things have changed, not only because I’ve spent the last few days in Melbourne, but it helps! After four days at the MCG, today I wandered into town from North Fitzroy and back again and passed hundreds of places that made my mouth water!

Eating out here has a couple of differences from back home. It’s a more efficient experience, because (other than in the poshest joints) it’s normal to pay at the bar or a cashier rather than waiting for the bill. In cafés, ordering at the bar is also much more common than in the UK, especially in NZ, though restaurants all offer table service. Secondly, there’s no compunction to tip and it’s unusual to have service charges added on. Living in London, I got used to 12.5% service charges, which made meals a lot more expensive than the menu suggested, so I find this amazingly refreshing! In NZ, some places charge a public holiday surcharge to cover their additional staff costs, and I’ve seen it on Sundays in a few places, but I’m yet to spot either it in Aus. Tipping is reserved for exceptional service rather than the norm, a model I much prefer to the UK (where I’ve only refused to pay it when service has been awful) or, worse, the US tipping culture.

In chronological order, these are my seven favourite meals on my trip so far…

The Rockpool Café, Stokes Bay, Kangaroo Island.

This was the one that was winning when my friend posed the question. The food – a seafood platter with chips and a flat white – were excellent, but probably not in the culinary league of the later entrants. But the waterfront setting, it coming straight after a delightful swim in the sea, and the fact I’d frugally solely eaten meals cooked in the back of my campervan for the preceding three days, made this meal memorable.

Campervan leftover omelette, Kangaroo Island

I was particularly smug about this gas stove creation, which I enjoyed in a seafront campsite in Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island, at the end of a wonderful few days of total freedom. It wasn’t fancy, but made perfect use of all my leftovers – eggs, tomatoes, ham and two granary tortilla wraps, which I lightly toasted and managed wedge the omelette between (no mean feat in the dark!). All washed down with a couple of glasses of Wirra Wirra Shiraz bought at the cellar door in McLaren Vale. Somehow this summed up my little campervan trip.

Depot, Auckland, New Zealand

If I were ranking these meals by deliciousness, this one would probably be at the top. A menu of small plates and large plates designed for sharing was perfect for me and a friend, both of whom enjoy variety and flavour. Everything was incredible, but the winner definitely hapuka belly with eggplant kasundi. The waiter made the mistake of telling us we could order extra kasundi, so of course we did, and noshed it all. We also loved sitting at the bar and getting recommendations from the bar staff. My only regret is being too full to order pudding, though the espresso/short black I had in lieu was excellent. I’ll be back.

Hone’s Garden, Russell, New Zealand

This excellent spot provided lunch on the middle day of three in the beautiful Bay of Islands. My aunt and uncle report that when they were last here, several years ago, it was a ramshackle garden bar where a small BBQ was fired up if food was ordered. Now it’s smartened up rather, with comfy seats, a craft beer bar and excellent pizzas. The only low point of our meal there was me chucking a glass of beer everywhere, including on my aunt’s skirt, but I can’t blame Hone for that!

Grain Store, Melbourne

This was excellent Melbourne breakfast venue number 1, and is where the photo above was taken. I decided to go there before play on Day Four of the test match on the basis of a number of online recommendations, and the fact they had a sweetcorn fritter on the menu. I’m a sucker for a good sweetcorn fritter, and thankfully this one was definitely up to standard! I didn’t need to eat at the cricket until well into the afternoon session.

Supernormal, Melbourne

A close-run second on the deliciousness ranking, and discovered entirely by accident. After the cricket ended yesterday, I hoped to have a quick dinner at my previously-favourite Melbourne eatery, Chin Chin. The queue was out of the door and round the corner (at 6pm! Seriously, that’s how good it is!) so I took to Google to find the nearest Asian restaurant. The result was Supernormal, a Japanese restaurant a block further east on Flinders Lane. It was heavier on my wallet than intended, but wow, it was sensational! All the savoury dishes – Kingfish sashimi, pork loin with wombok and chilli, and the best prawn and chicken dumplings I’ve ever eaten – were fabulous, and I enjoyed soaking up all the flavoursome sauce with rice. I didn’t need a dessert, but, once I saw peanut butter parfait with salted caramel and soft chocolate on the menu, there was no way I wasn’t having one. And that was another good decision! I loved sitting at the bar and watching the raw dishes being prepared – artists at work!

Babajan, Melbourne

My friend’s favourite local café in North Fitzroy, so it would have been rude not to give it a whirl. Another place where I could have happily eaten everything on the menu, but I opted for crab and halloumi omelette and wasn’t disappointed. And the coffee was excellent, and staff lovely.

Sydney is, so far, conspicuous by its absence, but only because I haven’t spent enough time there. I look forward to putting that right!

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