White Chocolate And Caviar
It’s one of those afternoons that have allegedly leapt out of an Enid Blyton novel. Sunny weather, air so crisp you can bite into it and visions of a picnic basket on the horizon stacked with apple scones and maple syrup. Post a winery visit and lunch, that vision morphs into a Turkish Riviera, replete with a stunning coastline and beach houses in pink, green and turquoise. The word bucolic schizophrenia springs to mind, in the nicest way possible. Just an hour’s drive from Melbourne, Mornington Peninsula is an idyllic weekend getaway and as I discover, a haven of foodie delights.
Lunch at Max’s at Red Hill Winery Estate is memorable; not just because Kim Cattrall lunched here a few weeks ago and Kylie Minogue has reportedly bought an estate close by. The property affords the most picturesque vistas in the state of Victoria. From the a la carte menu, my plump barramundi and Tuscan porchetta with braised kipfler potatoes burst with flavour. Even with its manicured lawns and servers sporting Italian and French accents, Max’s has a charming, informal, characteristically Aussie vibe.
Mornington is the sort of place where you can easily glide from one satisfying meal to the next, living in a fierce little bubble of gastronomic bliss. But should a bout of guilt strike, allow me to recommend a round of golf (and a luxurious overnight stay) at the sprawling Pepper Moonah Links. The staff will also give you a buggy ride to their next door neighbour, Peninsula Hot Springs, where you can book yourself a private bathing area. For art lovers, Port Phillip Estate has installed winners of its art contest all over its property; walk around before tasting their divine, flavoured olive oils. As souvenirs, pick up packets of addictive freeze dried chips of apples, bananas and strawberries from Mock Orchards, a bio-dynamic apple orchard and organic farm shop.
Before heading off to the city the next day, there’s one more Mornington epicurean experience to lap up – that’s lunch at the one-hatted La Petanque. The setting of this French restaurant surrounded by 20 acres of rose and herb gardens and olive groves is unassuming, but one bite into their roasted baby carrots with fresh herbs and honey has our entire group in raptures. The restaurant has a genteel feel to it – there’s even a game of petanque set up in the massive backyard, should you want a break between courses. My entrée, dill cured ocean trout with blue swimmer crab, melts in the mouth. A friend asks for the bay snapper with cannellini beans, chorizo, salsa verde and baby fried calamari, which our waiter pairs with a local 2011 Elgee Park Chardonnay. Both the wine glass and plate make their rounds across the table, Indian style, to loud appreciation. Three hours pass by in perfect harmony of food and fabulous company, topped by a silky home-style hot chocolate and a heartwarming tête-à-tête with a philosophical sous chef, before heading back to the city.
There’s something to be said about the cuisine of a city, when you breakfast-lunch-dine (and snack!) like a queen, yet the food doesn’t ever begin to thud and heave ominously inside the stomach. Melbourne’s cuisine is as playfully light as it is multicultural, rich and bountiful. You don’t become the ‘world’s most livable city’ without a splendid food-scape!
With no visible hangover from the indulgent Mornington weekend, I stuff myself silly at the Grand Hyatt’s Collins Kitchen, enjoying the buzz around; Ellen DeGeneres is in town (her partner, Portia De Rossi is slated to play the lead in city-based Wayne Hope’s new comedy film) and the hotel’s hosting a grand dinner in their honour. Perhaps if I hang around RuCo Bar, I will catch Shane Warne reposing in that plush armchair. But no worries, instead of Shane, I’m booked for a multisensory experience of the Shannon kind.
Chef Shannon Bennett’s restaurant, Vue De Monde, towers over Melbourne, literally, on the 55th floor of the iconic Rialto building. Two thumbs up for the sweeping cityscape and the Gold Rush invoking décor; a neon Joseph Kosuth artwork, reinventing a Charles Darwin sketch, lords over the expanse of artfully arranged tables and the cheery open island kitchen. Our table opts for the degustation menu, an endless parade of cleverly plated food, leisurely decoded by the very affable staff, who later invites me into the kitchen to fiddle around with shiny, stainless steel equipment. One of the earlier courses is smoked eel – rolled delicately on the table while we stare in fascination – with white chocolate and caviar – presented on a rustic slab of wood – an acquired taste. The trout with wasabi and egg cream is luscious; the Flinder’s Island lamb with Australian anchovies is juicy and buttery, while the marron with brown butter and pork floss (I’m tempted to beg for a jar of this goody to take home) is as buttery as it’s photogenic. But the highlight for me is duck yolk with aparagus and mint, which oozes sunshine when pricked.
Science laboratory theatrics follow soon; a palate cleanser arrives in the garb of a pretty garden of pastel herbs which we’re asked to crush with a pestle, even as liquid nitrogen is poured into the bowl. I’ve skipped the wine list, so the maître de brings me a glass of sous vide shrub, a seasonal fruit cocktail infused with herbs, which as it turns out, is wildly delicious. After the meal, I ask for a refill and hang around a little longer at the adjoining Lui Bar, next to a chic group of ladies-who-lunch polishing off their apple and cinnamon rolls. Despite drama around every chandelier and intrigue behind each fillet of fish, Vue de Monde is also about the food; fresh and indigenous flavours, cleverly paired and presented with deft touches of whimsy. Could this possibly be the ultimate Melbourne food experience?
HE RIGHT SORT OF CREAMY
I’ve quickly learnt to avoid using the ‘U’ word in Melbourne. Nothing is the ultimate because there’s always something equally, if not more exciting, around the corner. On my last day in the city, I breakfast at the hipster hangout, Cumulus Inc on Flinders’ Lane and stroll around the lanes and arcades of the European-style CBD before taking a tram to the expansive Victoria market to pick up some organic produce and artisanal breads. For the last supper, there’s a toss-up between the legendary Grossi Florentino and Neil Perry’s Rosetta. The latter wins and it’s not just because ‘she’ is drop-dead stunning – picture Murano glass chandeliers peeking down at Pucci-inspired blue upholstery, Fellini and Loren in sepia tones gracing the walls, an uber-romantic terrace and a price list that’s unapologetically exorbitant. You’d have to pay a bomb for one of Perry’s signature pastas, but the servings are generous and worth every dollar. I get a tagliarini neri, a plump mud crab nesting on a bed of shiny squid-ink pasta, fragrant with fennel pollen, olive oil and lemon. The ravioloni with sopressa salami and in-house ricotta is another slam dunk. In the interest of making it to my early morning flight to Mumbai, I pass up the cioccolato torrone – a mighty feast of chocolate, peanut parfait, nougat, coconut and crème Anglaise – for a simple chocolate gelato. It arrives with a cute Rosetta wafer and is just the right sort of creamy; revealing the truism behind Melbourne’s dazzling foodie charms.
Just because it’s rich, doesn’t mean it lacks soul. Whether you’re living it up or pecking through tasting platters across the city; whichever angle you look at it, Melbourne is a foodie haven.
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