Melbourne Dining Highlights 2011
If you tell people you are planning a trip to Melbourne, be prepared for the well-meaning onslaught of dining recommendations. Wanted or not, it’s likely you’ll end up with a giant list of places you ‘absolutely, positively *have* to go to’, and unless you have a stomach the size of the Greek public debt and a bank balance to repay it, it’s nigh on impossible to take on all those recommendations. My personal recommendation, therefore? Do a bit of everything; take on board some recommendations, select some obvious, popular choices and then go totally random and let someone pick something for you!
Initially, I really did struggle to decide from Melbourne’s many fine dining options. In the end I chose semi-randomly from some recommendations of Ashely from I’m So Hungree (Syracuse), selected one Urbanspoon favourite (Movida Aqui), and let a local friend just pick something and I met her there (Bar Lourinhã). Much easier than laboring through food guides (‘Good’, bad, or otherwise) or trying to remember where my work colleague’s aunty’s dog groomer went to eat in Carlton that was supposedly good :|
I ummed and erred so much about where to go for The Bestie’s and my first dinner in Melbourne that by the time I picked up the phone to book the original Movida (a couple of weeks out from the trip, I might add), I found myself out of luck. Fortunately, I was able to get us into MoVida Aqui which provided all the same delicious tapas and raciones but at a larger venue (within the Supreme Court building), to no doubt accommodate the after-work crowd of the business end of Little Bourke Street.
The Bestie hadn’t experienced tapas before so I couldn’t think of a better introduction than having a Team MoVida tapas fest. The menu didn’t contain too many things to frighten a more conservative palate but what was on offer certainly didn’t short change on Spanish flavours. We started with some classic tapas to nibble on such as egg, spinach and manchego tortilla (no skimping on the manchego here!), potato bombas filled with chorizo, and smoked prawn with mini cigars filled with sobrasada. I washed my starters down with a refreshing Hemingway Daiquiri (White Rum, Lime, Grapefruit, Maraschino Liqueur). A picture of sophistication, I am :)
We further indulged in a plate of jamon, the croquetas of the day (prawn and chorizo – these restored my faith in croquetas!) and organic broccoli braised with Iberico jamon, tomato and garlic. The Bestie and I were tempted by dessert but given we’d had a little over five hours of sleep at best, we decided to get our bodies moving again and headed off to Softbelly Comedy. Perhaps next time.
Verdict: Very, very good food. Melburnites will argue that there are better tapas joints but I thought Movida Aqui did everything right. A safe choice perhaps but that’s what I needed! No low points and if I had to pick a negative, the venue felt more like a diner and lacked any real atmosphere. Our waiter wasn’t the most affable person on this planet but he was highly efficient so no complaints :)
This was an unexpected but wonderful surprise addition to my Melbourne eating excursion. A lovely friend of mine in Melbourne (Ms Kitty) suggested meeting up with me for a late lunch and since The Bestie needed to catch up on some missed sleep, I welcomed the chance to quiz a Melbourne local about what to do and where to go over a couple of glasses of Spanish wine. I hiked up Little Collins Street to meet her at Bar Lourinhã.
Bar Lourinhã is almost a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it place as there’s nothing ostentatious about the venue. It’s got a rather understated sexiness about it though and I imagine that those who do know the wonderful secrets held within are quietly happy that it may be off the radar for many. All the more food and wine for those the wiser!
It was truly, truly hard to choose form the menu. Everything appealed to my tastes. Sometimes you rely on the specials of the day to get your motor running but not so at Bar Lourinhã. The specials just made my job harder! Ms Kitty and I started with some sensational smoked mussel croquetas and a delicate salad of slow cooked juvenile eggs (small eggs laid by teenage hens…) and Spanish anchovies.
On the specials was another salad of smoked, grilled corn mixed with potato and coriander which was quite simple in presentation and components but packed a powerful punch of flavours. I could have happily eaten that all day :) I then couldn’t resist the tender chicken livers which were served up in a crazy-good red wine jus. I really wished I paid attention to the wine I ordered but it was a gloriously easy-to-drink Spanish white which went well with every dish we ordered. Ahhh… Ladies that lunch :)
I’m so happy that I ended up having a meal at Bar Lourinhã. Anyone wanting a quiet moment to feel fabulous and well fed would enjoy a late weekday lunch there. I am not sure how the service or menu translates at night or weekends but the staff were wonderfully attentive and helpful with wine selection. I know I’ll be compelled to find other places to try the next time I visit Melbourne, but I’d like to think I can find a moment to dine here again.
I thought long and hard about a fine dining experience for The Bestie and I (ie – entree, amuse bouche, main course, dessert, large bill) while in Melbourne but ultimately, I couldn’t ignore the fact that all the restaurants that were getting the rave reviews offered small plates and hybrid menus. I guess you can certainly try more dishes in one sitting this way and as I have always been that strange diner who orders two or three entrees as a main, small plates get my tick of approval. Perhaps I was just ahead of the times…
Syracuse had Ashely’s glowing thumbs-up (sounds radioactive…) so without bothering to read up on reviews or perusing the online menu I booked a table for two on a Friday night. I wasn’t even sure where the restaurant was in relation to our hotel but I was pleased to discover it was just around the corner. It’s in the decidedly business part of town and the nearby pub had suits aplenty spilling out into the lane; reminiscent of Hong Kong’s expat hang-out, Lan Kwai Fong.
The Bestie and I ducked into Syracuse (which if I *must* fault, does not have very clear signage outside) and were immediately seated. The interior had a lovely, old-school charm about it without feeling stuffy like an old-school banker who no doubt frequented the building many decades ago. Syracuse is decidedly romantic compared to most modern restaurants that seem to get a generous visit from the stainless-steel fairy.
Now, the food. Exceptionally good. I don’t know if I need to say much more. I think I was only disappointed by the Wagyu Tartare (a generously sized entree portion) which was seasoned a touch too strongly for me as I like to taste the meat. Perhaps more seasoning was used to cut through the fattiness of the wagyu. At any rate, I still ate it gladly. The zucchini flower fritters were sensational also and a more substantial dish than others have presented with an otherwise unsubstantial item.
The Bestie’s choice of the black rice with yoghurt, brown butter and slow cooked egg didn’t set my world on fire but when the actual dish arrived and I put a spoonful of it in my mouth, I was in flames. Amazing flavours and (finally) a clever use of pomegranate. Hidden amongst the black rice, I had to really think about what it was I was crunching through. The tartness was disguised by the yoghurt so it didn’t distract you from the unique texture of pomegranate seeds.
For me however, the tempura fried King George whiting with pea puree, crayfish mayo and smoked herring roe was a divine symphony of flavours and therefore my pick of an awesome crop. The creamy, slightly tangy mayo, the sweetness of the peas, salty roe and super light but crunchy whiting with soft flesh. Magic! The Bestie and I capped the meal off with a simple dessert of fresh strawberries, violet ice cream, sponge, honeycomb and meringues.
Once again, I can’t fault Melbourne service. Syracuse’s staff was welcoming and helpful. The tables may have been just a wee bit too small given the large number of plates patrons are likely to order up in a sitting but such trifles were managed without fuss or annoyance to diners. Finally, for a Perthite made weary by inflated prices back home, Syracuse was priced exceptionally well. If you’re open to recommendations, then please take Syracuse as one :)
23 Bank Place, Melbourne
03 9670 1777