When a foodie goes to Melbourne: By day

I spent two and a half weeks over Christmas and New Year in Melbourne. It is my hometown – not the place I was born but rather the place that I endured the pangs of teenage angst, the excitement of leaving home and the hopeful anticipation of beginning my career – in essence my transition to adulthood (although some my argue that this happened much later). In any case, it’s a city that holds a huge piece of my expat heart hostage and as Mum and Lil Chicky still live there, it has become something of a habit to make a bi-annual pilgrimage Down Under.

We shopped and hung out and laughed and did a whole lot of stuff while I was there – more of which I’ll post about soon – but mostly we ate. As with most holiday ‘diets’, calories became a distant memory and it was not uncommon for us to be tucking in to some meal somewhere and be talking about where we should have the next one!

As a result I’ve clocked up quite a few great recommendations if you happen to be in Melbourne around the City or down towards the bayside suburbs of Brighton, Mentone, Hampton and Parkdale. There are too many for one post so they will come to you in two parts – by day and by night.

Here’s where I suggest you spend your days.

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Breakfast/Brunch – for a cracking start to your day, I really liked these three:

Urchin Bar – Hampton

Ostensibly this is a Turkish restaurant and bar but serves a great breakfast and we lingered here for a couple of hours catching up over fresh juice, delicious food and great coffee. The service was friendly and laid back and whilst they were attentive, at no stage did we feel rushed by the staff. Don’t let the average website put you off and if you go, make sure you walk through the bar and snag a table in the covered courtyard out the back.

The Groove Train – Brighton

This is one of my regulars when I visit and is a particular fave for breakfast. It’s located in upmarket Church Street and when we were there, the glass doors were concertina-ed aside, opening the whole place out onto the street. I have never had a bad coffee here and my breakfast burrito wrap was chock full of scrumptious stuff. Lil Chicky’s smashed avocado concoction looked pretty amazing as well.

Parkdale Beach Cafe & Kiosk – Parkdale

If you want food with a view, then this place is for you. Perched on the cliff top overlooking Port Phillip Bay, this cafe serves great coffee and a small but excellent selection of food to both tables inside and at loungers outside under the shade of the umbrellas. Mum and I happened to coincide our visit with a Greek Orthodox New Year celebration which moved from the boardwalk that runs along the beach up to the BBQ area next to the cafe. So we decided to enjoy our warm banana bread with fresh berries and mascarpone cream from a inside table with an excellent position by the window…

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Window seats –  the view from our table

This place gets busy but there’s something so unbelievably magnificent about the location that for me, the hustle to get a seat/table is worth it.

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Lunch/Coffee and a little something – as the day goes on, you’ll need to keep your strength up so try these three:

Larsen & Co – Hampton

This calm Scandi oasis is tucked into the lane that leads from Hampton Street through to the station car park and features clean Scandinavian decor inside and 3-4 shaded wooden tables outside. The menu is not extensive but the quality was excellent – I had an amazing superfood salad while Lil Chicky enjoyed her fried calamari with orange, baby fennel, feta and mint. The portions were big – so great value for money – and the service was friendly and efficient (after all we had a train to catch). It’s worth mentioning the excellent toilet facilities here too.

Brunetti – City Square

The original Brunetti opened in Carlton in 1985 and has since expanded to include this outdoor cafe that commandeers the south end of Melbourne’s City Square on Swanston Street. The biggest problem you’ll have is choosing which of the myriad cakes and slices to have. To complicate matters even further, you can also get yourself a little tub of fresh gelati…

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Left: My delicious hazelnut and coffee slice  Right: Ice-cream anyone?

There’s plenty of seating – although not all of it is under cover – and the bird life can get a bit cheeky with any leftovers but if you clean your plate (as well you should), watching the hierarchy of sparrows, pigeons and a seagull or two oust each other for the crumbs can be quite entertaining. Of course Brunetti’s Italian heritage means the coffee is outstanding.

Hopetoun Tea Rooms  – Block Arcade, City Centre

Melbourne’s arcades are something of an institution and the elegant Block Arcade, running between Collins and Little Collins Street, is no exception. Built in the 1890s, it features some of Melbourne’s most delightful retailers and none more delightful than the Hopetoun Tea Rooms. I was told that the line to get a table is usually out the door, down the arcade and around the corner into the street but we found ourselves here at 10am on a Tuesday morning with only a 10 minute wait ahead of us – so plenty of time to window shop…

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Clockwise from top left: Window shopping of the best kind; the mirror dating from 1892; red velvet cake; chocolate and pecan tart

This place is decorated tastefully ‘of the period’ featuring a mirror from 1892, flocked wallpaper and a display of crystal wares in one of the cabinets. It can seem a little cramped when you come through the door (one-in one-out is the best way to manage the traffic flow here) but once seated there was ample elbow room for us to tuck into our sweet treats. My chocolate and pecan tart was so delicious and I have it on good authority that the red velvet cake and the crepes with fresh berries and cream were every bit as good. This is not a place to linger and chat so go for the experience and the cakes rather than the conversation.

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And then there’s the best-laid plans and all that…

The Local on Como – Parkdale

I am a huge Audrey Hepburn fan and when Mum and Lil Chicky discovered this place, they couldn’t wait to tell me and put it on the ‘visit list’. Unfortunately it was closed for the entire time I was in Melbourne so I had to be satisfied with peering in the window…

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Awesome Audrey mural at The Local on Como (there was also a purple coffee machine!)

…so I cannot tell you anything about the coffee, the ambiance or any of the vittles on offer. But it must be pretty good – Lil Chicky does not do bad coffee. And the mural was worth the walk on a mighty warm Summer day.

That completes my haunts by day. You may like to pause (as we did often) and ready yourself for the next installment – my favourite culinary haunts after the sun went down. They’re coming soon…

Caffeine connections

September turned out to be a packed month and given we are mid-October already, you may all rest-assured that I have plenty to post about over the coming weeks. It’s been a run of reminiscing as I have bounced around between regular catch ups and lots of old friends that I have not seen for absolutely ages.

The month started with a work alumni event. I posted earlier in the year about the changes at work and this has meant that many people who worked in the same office as I do have left. In an effort to maintain connections, one of the leavers set up an Alumni Group on LinkedIn and so on the first of the month, on a rather warm and pleasant evening, sixteen of us gathered on board the Tattershall Castle for a tipple or two. Some of us are still working out our notice, some were on the verge of beginning new jobs while others were revelling in the time and space they’d had to do nothing but enjoy their Summer. It was great to see everyone and at the same time, observe life moving on…and at quite a rapid clip!

The following week I caught up with an old boss of mine from almost eight years ago. We could not believe it had been so long and we spent a couple of hours reminiscing about our ‘battles’ in the travel industry and what we’d each achieved ‘back then’ as well as the people we’d worked alongside and continue to stay in touch with. This was also a fantastic reminder of the kind of work I did at this company, the kind that I love to do, and it was such a timely and valuable prompt for me to stay ‘true to my course‘ in navigating the uncertain times ahead.

The next week, I managed to get a gig for breakfast at the fabulous Shoreditch House. This particular friend of mine started out as an agency contact which then segued into a few social, theatre-type outings every few months and we’ve since decided that this hanging out together from time to time is a pretty good idea. She’s great company – one of those well-connected yet down-to-earth types with loads of stories and chat – and works right on Shoreditch High Street. So on a clear Thursday morning, I skedaddled in from the hustle and bustle of the main street and up to the 6th floor to enjoy some poached eggs and avocado on toast with a view over East London on one side and people having a leisurely morning dip in the House’s rooftop pool on the other. (I mean seriously, don’t these people have jobs to go to?)

Towards the end of the month, an Australian friend I hadn’t seen for over six years was in London so I booked us into Ceviche, one of my favourite restaurants. It’s in Soho and while it is on the hubbub of Frith Street, it is so unassuming it’s easy to miss as you weave along the narrow footpath. We spent four and a half hours nattering over cocktails and delicious Peruvian tapas plates before launching into a decadent chocolate dessert…each. (No way were we sharing that!)  It was great to see her well and happy with her life back in Oz.

And then I ended the month by flying to Lisbon (the one in Portugal) to spend a week with Lil Chicky – the ultimate catch up! We were there for six days so I have plenty of fodder for a few posts which will seriously whet your appetite and make your feet itch!

In between all of this, there was a little reflection on trust, a return to yoga and the I-almost-missed-the-whole-of-2016 discovery of the wonderful Prudential Series at The China Exchange. I also consumed an inordinate amount of coffee across my regular catch ups and many other connections keen to chat about my what’s next.

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And what’s next on Gidday from the UK I hear you ask?

Well peeps, keep your eyes peeled for a few glimpses of what Chicky Tours Unlimited got up to in Lisbon. It’s coming soon…

Bean Reminiscing…

I was travelling to Pilsen with a colleague this week and having only met before very briefly, we took the opportunity to chat en route…in the taxi, on the Heathrow Express, in the airport lounge. You get the picture…lots of finding ways to make the time go faster while getting to where we had to be. 

Anyway, we were chatting about my living in the UK and the invariable questions came up: Why did you leave? Will you go back? and What do you miss most?  Nothing unusual.

But this time the last question really made me think. What do I miss most?

It goes without saying family, family, family. And usually at this time of year, I would have answered something about really feeling the lack of sunshine and daylight hours during London’s winter months. But we’ve had a mild winter which in the last few weeks, has merged into a lovely Spring – beautiful blue skies, double digit (celsius) high temperatures and patches of colour everywhere as London’s parks, gardens and suburban streets are transformed by a riot of daffodils, crocuses and cherry blossoms.

And I’ve just come back from my Vitamin-D top up in Abu Dhabi so I’m missing the sunshine much less than usual.

So the question gave me pause. What do I really miss?

And then I thought back to my last trip Down Under and I knew…the coffee. Great, great coffee. Creamy lattes, foaming cappuccinos and pungent espressos with velvet-y golden crema.

I have not enjoyed coffee anywhere nearly as much as I have in Melbourne. Not even in Italy, the self-proclaimed mecca of coffee.

And it would seem that the voters on website booking.com agree, with 301 of them nominating Melbourne as having the best coffee in the world (followed by Vienna – 187 and Rome – 116).

It’s not the first time I’ve waxed lyrical about coffee here at Gidday from the UK and I have found a treasured favourite or two serving sensational shots here in London but there’s no hunting for these rare gems in Melbourne – great coffee is everywhere.


So I’ll be booking myself a Christmas Down Under this year to get me a fix!

Oh and Sydney? Sydney got 20 votes in the survey. Not that I’m competitive or anything.

The Land Sans The Long Black…

This morning I met up with an Aussie friend of mine for brunch. S travels a lot for work and since he has the next 2 weeks in London before his next round of jet-setting, we decided to grab the bull by the horns – so to speak – and catch up over some scrumptious vittels and good coffee at The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell.

S and I used to work together and as such, he is a fellow afficionado of both the Melbourne coffee scene and that bastion of Italian yummy-ness, Lygon Street. Way back when we worked together, we were fortunate enough to share premises with the barista training school of a very well-known Italian coffee brand. As such, there was no schlepping around with freeze-dried instant or filter coffee for us. It was punchy espresso with gorgeous caramel-coloured crema, warm milky-smooth lattes and luscious foamy (not frothy people – there’s a world of difference) cappuccinos. Let me tell you, we knew our Robusta from our Arabica.

Then we came to London. And caffeine confusion reigned.

You see there are two types of coffee that are ubiquitous in the Land Down Under (and for that matter, in the Land of the Long White Cloud) but as rare as hen’s teeth in Ol’ Blighty. 

The first is the Flat White. It lies somewhere between a warm milky latte (a flat white has less milk and is served hot) and the foaming cappuccino (the flat white has less/no foam). It’s hard to find in London but with the likes of The Australian Times providing a handy list of good flat white-rs in London Town alongside a little Antipodean word-of-mouth, it’s possible. But most places here will translate the Flat White into a white coffee (a black coffee with cold milk), completely ignoring the craft of creating a steaming Long Black before adding a large dollop of warm milk.

Which brings me to my second point – the Long Black. In non-barista terms, it’s a shot of espresso poured into hot water to preserve the crema.

Simple right? Not nearly as complicated as the Flat White one would think.

But apparently so.

Just ask for a Long Black here and watch the bewilderment appear across the face of one’s waiter. Then try to explain it ie. a shot of espresso with hot water (and that’s not getting into the size of the cup it should come in). In most places, the response is ‘oh so you want a black coffee?’ No. Not if you are going to stick my cup under the coffee filter for 5 minutes.

Some will respond by correcting you calling it an Americano, grinning proudly at you as they successfully navigate the lingo of yet another of the half million or so Antipodean immigrants living in London. Well no actually – but at this stage, an espresso topped up with hot water is starting to sound like an acceptable (and considerably less stressful) compromise.

But all I really want is a proper Long Black. I want a lovely shot of espresso – that’s right, like you normally give one who orders an espresso – poured into the cup with hot water. Rich and smooth with a velvety crema. No bitterness, no acrid aftertaste. Understated yet still packing a caffeine punch.

Just like the one this morning.

Anna Hansen may have been ‘chef-fing’ all over the globe – and let me tell you the food was really, really good – but for the coffee alone , The Modern Pantry gets my vote.

Smooth, rich and velvety. Exactly the way I like it.

The Universe Is Testing Me…9 Sleeps To Go

The Universe is testing me.

Really it is.  I kid you not.

Absolutely, unequivocally testing me. Pushing my buttons. Stretching my patience.

All in the space of the last 24 hours.

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Weekends are a highly valued commodity where I come from, as I’m sure they are for you, so I like to plan a bit of stuff but also make sure I have time to chill out, avoid doing chores, write – you know the drill.

(The current silence tells me that the wet washing is ‘ready’ and will not hang itself out.)

With a weekend plan including a photos viewing Friday night on the way home, a haircut on Saturday morning and then off for a mani-pedi Saturday afternoon, I was looking forward to firstly feeling rather productive then followed by some serious chilling as a busy Saturday mellowed into a Sunday of pottering about.

So Friday morning I pick up a message from my hairdresser asking me whether I could turn up 15mins early.  Sure, I think, no problem.  I call back to confirm that this is ok to be told ‘No it’s ok we worked something out – turn up at 11.’  Great news but I’m glad I rang back instead of turning up early – tolerating lateness is not my strong suit.  Anyway, moving on.

I leave work a little early on Friday to get to my appointment to view my photos at 6pm (a 90min trip but it is a stop-off on my regular 2hr commute home. I know it’s long. Don’t ask.)  I reach Clapham Junction station which is about a 15min walk from the studio and get a message – which had obviously arrived during the underground portion of my journey – asking me to come at 7pm instead.  With an hour and a half of travelling under my belt already, my weary brain shouts ‘NOOOOO!’.  Long story short – we settled on 6.15pm instead. 

To kill the time, I take myself off to Caffe Nero for a white chocolate and raspberry muffin and a soya cappucino, thinking I will just chill for a little bit before wandering up Lavender Hill towards the studio.  Another message arrives, this time from the Mani-Pedi salon.  There’s a problem with my 2pm appointment on Saturday – can I come earlier?  Brain swears loudly.  Despite the ensuing conversation confirming that someone else will be available at the time of my booking to pretti-fy my paws, I feel mildly nervous walking up Lavender Hill, wondering whether I will receive an apologetic phone call Saturday morning (or better yet, be mucked about upon arrival).  I have next Friday off so I call back and agree to have pretty paws then.

Phew!

Photo viewing goes well (pics look amaaaazing – I will collect my chosen ones mid August and share with you) and I go to bed last night, thinking I will get up early-ish and dash into Kingston to do my errands before my hair appointment.  I’m up at 8.30am and, feeling mildly awake and presentable after my ablutions, am eating some vegemite toast before heading out.

There’s another message. 

My hairdresser (a new one, the lovely A having decided to embark on some world travelling for a while) has called in sick.  Brain sighs resignedly.  Little voice in my head reminds me to ‘breathe’. 

I’m going at 12.30.

In, out. In, out. Breathing, breathing. Time for a coffee.  And a post.

And if it’s really lucky, the washing will get hung out to dry.

ps…as I’m a little intolerant of lateness and would really love a chilled out, low-irritant birthday, I thought it prudent to remind you that there are now only 9 sleeps to go. We are now into single figures peeps so don’t be late – I can just see the good ship 42 coming into view.

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of…

I was happily ensconsed at a local cafe this afternoon, sipping my coffee and picking at a slice of quite sublime lemon and ginger cake, when I came across an interview in The Times with some of the Brisbane-ites who were affected by Australia’s shocking floods 100 days ago (yes I thought, ‘only 100 days’ too).

Right in the middle of the first column was a paragraph that really made me stop and think – it went something like this:

Someone said to me ‘You should be thankful you’re alive.  What you’ve lost is just stuff’, she said.  ‘But your ‘stuff’ is what validates you.  Now we feel invaild and invisible.’

When I arrived in the UK over seven years ago, I had planned to be living with the one person I knew and had arranged for the contents of my flat in Melbourne to be professionally packed up and shipped here.  Long story short – he freaked at the ‘responsibility’ for me coming over here and I moved out after six weeks into a share-house with someone I didn’t know. As one does in London…you know the adage ‘When in Rome…’

So my ‘stuff’ (and my dreams) sat in storage.

I moved into my current flat a year later and I cannot even describe the joy of unwrapping MY couch, unpacking MY books, MY music, MY photos and pictures and basically surrounding myself with MY stuff.  It made me feel whole again, reminiscing over things that had been by-the-by in Melbourne but that had suddenly taken on a comforting and joyful nostalgia.  I remember unpacking my stereo, unearthing an adaptor from somewhere and, in the midst of the mountain of bubble wrap and paper wadding, listening to one CD after another: Kylie, Aussie Crawl, Bachelor Girl, Savage Garden, Noiseworks (just in case the neighbours did not realise that there was an Aussie ‘in da house’) as well as some vintage Madonna, Elton John and Neil Diamond.

And in that one afternoon, it became MY place.  A haven to recover from the knocks I had never expected, and the ones I suspected were still to come.  To catch my breath and take stock of who I was and to assess what I had always thought I wanted.  And to realise that in this ‘stuff’ lay not only the life I’d had so far but also the building blocks for the new chapter I’d started to write.

Six years later, I am sitting in my front window, the late afternoon sun is streaming through the dappled leaves and it’s lovely and warm on my face.  I’ve written many more chapters since – the good, the bad and the heart-breaking – mostly ones I never expected I would write. 
And I remain resolutely and inordinately attached to my stuff…and dream of the chapters that are still to come.

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics…

They say that you can prove anything with statistics.

The Times reported yesterday that ‘$200 a barrel for oil [will] hurt and squeeze spending’ for households (no sh*t Sherlock!) and earlier in the month, The Economist used The Shoethrower’s Index to determine the potential for unrest in the Arab World – apparently Yemen is ‘Top of the Pops’ here, right ahead of Libya.  In other news, Michelle Williams wore the ‘most loved Oscar outfit’ according to Friday’s Metro – with Aussies bastions of style Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett occupying the first and third rungs on the worst-dressed ladder respectively – and the National Trust informs us in the latest edition of their member magazine that a ‘large-beach-towel-sized’ area of coastline costs £52 a year to maintain (and there’s room for 624,800 of said towels!)

But what do statistics really prove?

One of the cool features of having a Blogger account is that there is a stats area where you can check out things like daily and weekly visits to your blog, most popular posts and where your visitors are coming from.

It’s quite addictive as you can click on all the ‘Mores’ and get more fascinating detail to pore over like the most popular post/s and where your audience is located.  But I am often mystified by how it all works.

For example, I am Australian with family and friends in places like the USA and the United Kingdom, and I have recently posted about an expat Russian accordionist who lives in South Korea so these nations being near the top this week makes sense to me…




…but I don’t know anyone in Poland, Iran, Taiwan, Philippines or Moldova (where a few kind souls have visited from this week) and then today, some chaps from Vietnam, Ireland, Turkey and Belarus popped by – I don’t know anyone from any of them either.


Is this what is meant by the Global Village?  Maybe they are just being neighbourly and are stopping by to borrow a cup of sugar…after all, my most popular post is about The Art of Latte!
 
Or maybe it’s just people mispelling ‘late’ in their google search…

21 Sleeps To Go…Better Latte Than Never…

A couple of posts ago, I was bemoaning Australia’s lack of sporting lustre on the world sporting stage but I am delighted to report that there has been a redemption, a pushing forth into the limelight as Australia took the prize… as the best coffee-making nation at the World Barista Championships in London this year.
Yes, Aussies are top of the heap when it comes to making coffee!  And not just the instant or espresso kind either…we are world-renowned in Latte Art (and if you don’t know what Latte Art is, I’ve included some pics for you).  I am not sure this qualifies as a sport as such and I almost daren’t utter these blasphemous words BUT (sotto voce) this strikes me as the occupation of people with too much time on their hands…

But it’s pretty/facsinating/amusing to admire and I am sure it provides latte-wielding baristas with a cathartic outlet for their passion and a little buzz when their erstwhile latte-lovers exclaim with delight over their foaming flights of fancy. 

There are also several How To videos floating about the net so if you are feeling inspired to indulge in a little latte frenzy of your own,  there’s plenty out there to help you on your way…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDZs__m5iAI

http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Latte-Art

So quite frankly, I don’t want to hear another word about you having nothing to do.  I’ll have a double shot mocha soy latte with a pretty picture on top…and make it snappy!

ps…21 sleeps people, 21 sleeps…don’t let time get away from you…