To market we go...
Feasting on food and wine is the heart of any trip to Melbourne
ALEX Drysdale came to the door of his converted caravan, complete with a massive replica mussel shell protruding from the top, to let the long line of customers know there were only 14 serves of his seafood left.
The customers did the maths and some started to peel off the back of the line, but those at the front held on in the hope of a serve.
We were at Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market, again. The day before, during our central business district jaunt, the aroma of the steaming seafood with herbs drew us to the distinctive caravan after we had feasted on some Greek breads from the market’s food hall.
A couple already tucking into the mussels recommended them and we were back for our own taste. They did not disappoint. Our blend of chilli and tomato flavoured morsels were worth the wait.
Drysdale, who started harvesting the seafood off Geelong about 30 years ago, said he started selling them fresh caught off the back of the boat.
“There was a demand for people who were staying in motels said ‘I love mussels but I’ve got nowhere to cook them. We went to the council and got permits to cook them ... at the fisherman’s wharf in Geelong,” he said.
After a few years on the boat and a second vessel converted to a floating kitchen, Drysdale and his partner Pixie sat down over a couple bottles of red wine and cooked up a more mobile business idea.
“We invented this pop-up trailer with the shells and took it to a couple of people in Geelong (to construct it) who laughed at us. So we took it to another person who said ‘I’ll try’,” Drysdale said.
But the Victoria Markets aren’t just about mussels, there are enough food options to keep shoppers occupied for some time. From Brazilian slow-cooked meat to Sri Lankan curries, one could let their tastebuds travel the world on the cheap.
The market started as a wholesale meat market in 1869, nine years before it was officially opened. By 1874, the meat market was overcrowded with butchers and expensive, so many moved on and the space became a retail centre. It remains the same, today, with household items, hats and other trinkets for sale, plus fresh fruit and veg.
My partner in crime and I had escaped to Melbourne for a few days, and we were there to eat and drink.
For those on any kind of diet, this city is probably best avoided. In the short time frame we had, we stuck to the city centre, and the centre alone could take weeks to properly explore.
Narrow laneways with tall buildings that had caught the city grime in their crevices and blocked the sunlight, hid cafes, bars and eateries from the main streets.
Rooftop bars were also a delight despite the unseasonal cold and expected drizzle – remember, it is the city of four seasons in one day after all. But take an umbrella and enjoy the walk. The city reveals more hidden delights when going at a slow pace. One of our walks ended in a toast to French masterpiece Chloe at Young and Jackson, a pub opposite Flinders Street station.
Chloe is a painting also known as the Queen of the Bar Room Wall, the Mistress of the Soldiers and the Naked Nymph.
She was purchased by pub licensee Henry Figsby Young in 1909 and displayed at the pub – a scandalous decision at the time. The painting’s success outshone the desperation of the nude model, Marie, who two years after posing for Parisian artist Jules Joseph Lefebvre in 1875, threw a party for friends, boiled a soup of poisonous matches, drank it and died.
According to the Young and Jackson’s website, the reason for her suicide was thought to have been unrequited love.
Now the watering hole draws in tourists and office workers and city slickers keen for a drink and a peek at the artwork.
The opening of a narrow laneway in Melbourne’s central business district reveals a number of cafes and bars lining the walkway and, top right, Alex Drysdale, right, with Red Sahari in his mussel caravan at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne and, below right, the famous painting Chloe at the Young and Jackson Hotel in Melbourne being inspected for damage in 2004 after a patron knocked it during AFL grand final celebrations.