Now, I know what all those readers who’ve been teasing me about being inundated with free books for review because of the Best Blogs Competition are going to think, but you’re wrong about this one. The publicist contacted me about it a while ago (before the nomination, much less anything else) and I said yes, yes please, because I couldn’t resist it. This blog’s focus is Australian literature, not coffee-table foodie books, but hey, this is another chance to brag about my beautiful city and about its gourmet reputation. I’m just taking a little side trip into promoting tourism for a moment, ok? (And Masterchef is back too, you’ll just have to bear with my enthusiasm for food and cooking for a while, sorry!)
Now, where was I? Oh yes….
I reviewed Charmaine O’Brien’s terrific book called Flavours of Melbourne, A Culinary Biography , a while ago, but this one is different. That was more of a social history of food and cooking, in the style of Bold Palates, Australian’s Gastronomic Heritage, but (as is obvious from the title) with a Melbourne focus. This new Flavours of Melbourne does have a chapter called ‘Our Tribal Ancestors’ and there’s a timeline of our history and a few photos of the early days, but that’s not the book’s focus. Its subtitle is Favourite restaurants and bars in Melbourne’s laneways and rooftops and it’s a big, bold photojourney through my city’s nooks and crannies where some of my favourite restaurants are.
Melbourne as we all know was voted the most liveable city in the world in 2011, but what many don’t know is that the CBD is consciously designed to make it nice to walk around in. Melbourne City Council has a Director of Design, the eminent Rob Adams, and there’s been a deliberate strategy for over a decade to increase public space and urban amenity. One of his concepts is that while you can travel easily around town on our trams, from just about anywhere you can slip out of the hustle and bustle of the roads that criss-cross the city in Hoddle’s grid - and stroll into side streets, laneways, small squares and arcades. Adams’ urban revitalisation strategy included opening up our laneways for retail activity, and what this book shows is just how enthusiastically Melburnians have taken these spaces to heart.
For me part of the pleasure of this book is finding my favourite places in it. There are plenty of ‘hip’ spaces featured, and the authors obviously have a taste for grunge and graffiti (a taste I don’t share) but there are some stunning photos of restaurants, bars and coffee shops more to my liking. I may have mentioned once or twice before that Melbourne makes the best coffee on the planet because our postwar Italian migrants taught us how to, but hey, I was born in England so I drink tea too. I’m very fond of the Lupicia Tea Shop in Artemis Lane near the QV Village which was created from the old Queen Victoria Hospital. It is so conveniently close to my favourite habitats in the CBD: the Wheeler Centre and the State Library! I also like the Hopetoun Tea Rooms in the National Trust listed Block Arcade, the perfect spot for high tea when taking a break from Melbourne Writers Festival events. (The last time I was there I started reading Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night A Traveller and nearly missed the next event!) Another literature-related haunt (or would be if I were a man and could be a member) is the Savage Club in Bank Place (which lets women in) when the State Library Foundation has its annual dinner.
Bourke St isn’t a quiet spot, not even in the mall, but it is home to Grossi Florentino where we’ve enjoyed some memorable meals. The last time we went there it was for a Penfold’s Wine Tasting dinner, and though we had to watch our pennies for weeks afterwards to put the budget back in order, it was worth every cent. I like the rustic-classy Italian food at The Society restaurant too, but for views of our city and fabulous fusion food with an Asian twist, you can’t beat Taxi at Federation Square. (The book features the bar downstairs, not the dining room).
Mind you, I haven’t yet seen Shannon Bennett’s new Vue de Monde at Level 55 in the Rialto. I bet the view from there would be sensational…but I’d be too busy looking at the food to know. The Spouse took me to Vue de Monde in its previous incarnation for a special night out, and it was the best meal I’ve ever had anywhere in the world. (Yes, even better than Domaine des Hauts de Loire which was our one-and-only scandalous extravagance on our first trip to France.)
Flavours of Melbourne features quite a few upstairs places of interest, notably our rooftop cinema. I went there once not to watch a movie, but to get a glimpse of the adjacent archaeological dig. There were rumours that they might find the parliamentary mace which was nicked from over the road, but if they ever did, I didn’t hear about it. The photos of the famous Movida in Hosier Lane not far from Fed Square reminded me of Movida Aqui, hidden away upstairs at Level 1 500 Bourke St, where the launch of their cookbook waylaid me from one of my Melbourne Writers Festival events. Getting there even feels kind-of Spanish, because you make your way down a small alley, and then up some steps, and around a corner, and there it is, tucked away in the lee of the building.
The book includes some feature recipes from some of Melbourne’s best chefs:
- calamari with chickpeas and radicchio, and also risotto venero with bug tails to die for, from Guy Grossi and Matteo Tine, at the Grossi Grill (which is nice too, for quick meals before a show)
- cured ocean trout with fennel and vanilla custard, oyster, candied olive and pine-nut crumble, from Michael Harrison at Syracuse in Bank Place (we might try just the candied olives part, with olives from our own tree)
- strawberry and berry almond tart from Pierrick Boyer at Le Petit Gateau in Little Collins St, and
- a chocolate bread and butter pudding that I am going to persuade The Spouse to cook for our next dinner party, from Self Preservation at the Parliament end of Bourke St.
An unusual feature of this coffee-table book is the ‘green not glossy’ paper, which suits the style and content perfectly.
Time to stop! Masterchef starts in 10 minutes and The Spouse wants me to proof-read his paper for uni before it starts!!
Designed by Jonette George & Daniele Wilton with photography by Brad Hill (no relation)
Title: Flavours of Melbourne, Favourite restaurants and bars in Melbourne’s laneways and rooftops
Publisher: Smudge Publishing, 2012
Source: Review copy courtesy of Quikmark Media
Availability: Fishpond Flavours of Melbourne: Favourite Restaurants and Bars in Melbourne’s Laneways and Rooftops
or direct from the publisher with free postage: Smudge Publishing