If I had two words to describe Melbourne, they would be “food” and “puns.”
“Food” probably comes as no surprise to many of you — Melbourne is world renowned for its foodie culture. The flat white was invented here, a coffee drink that is similar to a latte, but using only “microfoam” instead of “froth” to create a velvety texture above the coffee, which is mixed with milk. It is impossible to walk a block in the city center and not see a cafe, a restaurant and a takeaway spot, offering everything from all-day “brekkie” (Australian for “breakfast”) to Chinese dim sum to kebab to Italian with a modern twist.
The busier streets are crossed by alleys and smaller streets, like most other cities. However, in Melbourne, it is best not to dismiss an alley (they call them “lanes”). Some alleys too small for vehicles aren’t piled with trash cans, like you see in many American cities. Instead, they are lined with cafes and other obscure eateries. One dead-end alley has a gourmet donut shop next to a pizza parlor next to a restaurant that serves all-day brekkie with a Middle Eastern twist, such as thick bread spread with a smashed mixture of avocado, goat’s cheese and spices topped with two poached eggs. Tables and chairs for all of the restaurants fill the street, which is too small for a vehicle anyway.
Another alley looks dark on first viewing, but at the end of it is a liquid nitrogen dessert bar, with nitrogen ice cream made fresh upon ordering. Nitrogen ice cream is made by adding an ice cream base to a standing mixer, turning the beater on medium speed and pouring in the nitrogen. It works much faster than an ice cream churner, and the resulting product is silky smooth if done correctly.
I mentioned “puns” earlier because the names of some of these restaurants make me both smile and roll my eyes.
Our first night here, we ate at an Asian fusion “tapas” restaurant called Rice Paper Scissors, serving up tapas such as spiced wagyu beef wrapped in mustard leaves, steamed barbecue pork belly buns with fresh pickles on top and grilled spicy barramundi with a green apple salad (are you hungry yet?). Inventive mixologists served up drinks such as a refreshing tequila, lime and cucumber mixture, several drinks with sweetened condensed milk and one that was a slight pink color with a lychee garnish.
Two fast food places we walked by are called “Lord of the Fries” and “Hunger Game.” That nitrogen ice cream place I mentioned earlier is called Dex2rose–pronounced “dextrose.”
Among many other food puns.
Many restaurants here boast a menu of about two to five pages, with drink menus topping 20 to 30 pages. Wine lists go on for days, and there is no shortage of specialty cocktails. Beer variety is lacking compared to the Pacific Northwest, but each restaurant usually has at least one beer that isn’t a lager, if you prefer beer to wine or cocktails. Rooftop bars offer stunning views of the city skyline, and sometimes kitschy themes to make the night just that much more fun.
Melbourne seems less busy than Sydney, but more crowded, if that makes any sense. Narrow sidewalks are packed with people walking with purpose, dodging slow-moving tourists left and right.
We came to Melbourne without much of a plan–just eat and drink whenever possible and visit the gardens and historic buildings whenever we could. This seems like the right city to have that plan, as we have not run out of things to do yet, and frankly I don’t think it’s possible.
The city also seems to value art and culture. In addition to the graffiti art spotted in several alleys about town, there are are several art and history museums, as well as the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, which appears to be similar to Seattle’s EMP, but focused on Australian-based movies.
There is also a park called “Batman Park” and a historical site called “Batman Hill.” I looked it up and apparently one of the founders of Melbourne was named Batman. I would expect any city founded by Batman to be pretty awesome.
– Story and photos by Natalie Covate
Just-married MLTnews editor Natalie Covate is writing about her honeymoon adventures.