Graze of our lives
THERE are so many excellent markets, cafes and food shops in Melbourne it is sometimes difficult to know where to start. Even as an intrepid local I relax into my shopping comfort zones and forget to explore new territory.
Luckily, I’m one of about 20 souls from as far away as Brisbane, Perth and Auckland taking Melbourne’s Foodies’ Bus Tour this Saturday.
Our host, Allan Campion, is the embodiment of a Melbourne foodie. A trained chef, he runs cooking classes as well as walking and bus food tours across the city. With his wife, Michele Curtis, he is also coauthor of TheFoodies’Guideto Melbourne, launched in 2003.
As we drive out of the central business district along Flinders Street, Campion gives us a potted history of Melbourne’s markets. He shows us where they started along the banks of the Yarra River in the early 1840s.
We can smell the first stop before we see it. It’s artisanal coffee roaster St Ali, at 12 Yarra Place, hidden away in a warehouse on this South Melbourne back street. We learn that St Ali concentrates on single-origin beans and it’s one of Melbourne’s most popular coffee spots.
A dark and creamy latte sets us up for our walk across South Melbourne past Cafe Sweethearts, which has been on the same spot in Coventry Street for 20 years. Farther along the street is South Melbourne Market. It has been here since 1867. If we had time, we could buy organic doughnuts dipped in organic sugar and cinnamon. Instead we enter Let Them Eat Cake, at 147 Cecil St, a cornucopia of the most elaborate and outlandish cakes any of us has seen. We don’t eat Barbie or the roulette wheel but we are offered some delicious small tarts.
Next stop is Oliveria, at 325 Chapel St, across Commercial Road from South Yarra’s Prahran Market. Here we are introduced to the delights of olive oil tasting. While I’m poking around among the chocolate olives, everybody else in the group is paying attention to the peppery flavour of a fresh European oil.
We taste several oils, including Il Biological Accademia Oleria from Sardinia. It is made from bosana, semidana and carolea olives and has strong grassy flavours with herbal notes. We are told it is ideal for pasta, risottos and soups.
Shopping soon begins in earnest. Resistance from the foodie purists is futile, although Campion deftly steers us across the road through Prahran Market and on to the Ay Oriental Tea House on Chapel Street for yum cha. Everything is going well until a plate of chicken’s feet arrives coated in a bright red spicy sauce.
Those of us who try them are won over by what look like miniature hands. There is nothing unpleasant about them, aside from some small bones that we chew and spit discreetly into our bowls.
Campion says the man behind the tea house, David Zho, specialises in food and tea that are also medicinal.
After more shopping forays, we join our bus for a trip north of the Yarra to provedore Simon Johnson, next to the Correction Centre in Fitzroy. We see the vast cheese room and are treated to an unpasteurised roquefort, until recently banned in Australia. And we taste a Brie de Nangis Rouzaire, which is runny, ripe and stinky, everything a cheese should be.
Campion tells us there are very few Australian cheeses that reach this texture and taste. Many critics believe the obligatory pasteurisation of our cheeses adversely affects flavour. At this point, I give way and buy more than my fair share of cheese as well as some West Australian truffles from Manjimup.
Back on the bus, which winds its way towards Lygon Street, Campion points out more foodie hot spots: the Spanish deli Casa Iberica at 25 Johnston St; Donati’s Fine Meats at 402 Lygon St; Brunetti at 194-204 Faraday St, with its fabulous selection of celebratory cakes; and King & Godfree, Fine Wine and Food Specialists, at 293-297 Lygon St, founded in the 1880s.
It’s all becoming a bit much. We cool off with gelati at Il Dolce Freddo, at 116 Lygon St. The durian-flavoured ice cream smells like a concentrated version of all the cheese we’ve bought. But there are many more conventional flavours.
Refreshed, our final stop is Books for Cooks on funky Gertrude Street. Owner Tim White tells us 20,000 food and wine books are published every year. The oldest book in the shop is an early edition of CookingforKings by the first celebrity chef, Antonin Careme. It’s looking pretty worn, but costs about $4000. We sip prosecco, browse and, inevitably, we shop.