Graze of our lives

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - Ed Charles

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.

www.mel­bourne­food­tours.com

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