I love this city. My initial impression after three days: Melbourne caters more to its residents, while Sydney looks after its visitors. Melbourne has a fantastic, sprawling business district, full of life and shops. I was extremely impressed by the culinary scene there too: The tiniest little no-account arcade cafe prepared a sumtuous lunch for us that would have easily cost double in Sydney. Also was bowled over by the chain-restaurant Pancake Parlour. Looks like any other chain restaurant, menu appears to be similar to that of IHOP in the States, but is better by several orders of magnitude. I had an untraditional Eggs Benedict that may have been the tastiest breakfast dish ever: instead of a toasted English muffin, the eggs sit on top of a savory buckwheat pancake. The Hollandaise sauce was puckeringly lemony, and they didn’t skimp on it. Marvelous.
My guide around central Melbourne was the (remarkably peppy for a bicentennarian)“Tom Paine”, who showed me the startingly ugly Federation Square, a building of the type that would have looked very avant-garde 30 years ago, but now is just an eyesore.
Took a jaunt to the…
Queen Victoria Market (I’ve noticed that VR is very big around these parts), an outdoor stall affair. Was very nice for a while but after about a hundred vendors of stuffed koala bears and toe socks and cheap leather jackets, it got a bit, well, old. Much better and more fun were the produce and meat sections, with the vendors loudly hawking their wares.
A restaurant in the Carlton section of town took the same approach. The hawker outside Alpino offered us in no uncertain terms, the most glorious gourmet epiphany of our pathetic and humdrum lives. All well and good, but our ears really perked up at the mention of a free bottle of wine and free garlic bread, and we took our chances.
Inside the restaurant was cosy and warm. Our waiter Giuseppe brought out the wine (not plonk, mind you: a quite respectable Lindeman’s Chardonnay) and took our orders. They took a while to get there, but while they may not have been the best of our lives, they were indeed delicious. Our haplessly charming waitress Katie (it was her first night, or so she claimed) brought us dessert: strawberry crepes and chocolate mousse. (They were out, Katie said apologetically, of tiramisu and gelato.)
Tuesday night we got together at the Duke of Kent pub for a Melbourne blogger bash with the shockingly young lookingAlan Anderson (I swear, this guy looks like the long-lost half-Chinese Backstreet Boy), the not-very-groggy Tony the Teacher, Tom, Tex and myself.
I think I need to come back here.