Yesterday I touched back into Munich after two weeks in Melbourne. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had a chance to check in with you about what it was like – after 12 months living overseas – to return home. As you know, I had a great deal of anxiety about going back to Melbourne (would I realize how much I miss it and not want to leave? Would I realize how much I miss Munich and be super bummed?).
Actually there is a third scenario that I never considered. From the second I touched down in Melbourne, from the first time I saw the city skyline from the Burnley Bridge, when we drove into the driveway of my childhood home, when I knocked on my Aunt's door and was hug-mobbed by my screaming extended family (which brought me to tears), it honestly felt like I had never left. It felt like time had somehow stopped and Munich was a lovely dream I had just woken up from.
Granted, if I had stayed in Melbourne a little bit longer I am sure I would have discovered that a lot of things have changed (I was told one of my favourite restaurants has closed down, one of my favourite bars seemed to have changed hands). But for the short time I was there at least, it seemed as if I could simply slot back into my old life. There was a sense of “coming home”: the distinctly warm afternoons with a cool breeze and moody clouds; the dusty, piney smell of summer rain; the eucalyptus trees that come alive with creamy blossoms at this time of year, sending pollen into the air and clogging up my sinuses; the rude squawking of Australian birds, a constant and not entirely peaceful soundtrack in the background; being surrounded by a room of people who not only share my exact same sense of humour, but the exact same memories of my entire life.
The day before I left for Melbourne I had lunch with my friend Toni. I was telling her about my homecoming nerves, and she told me a quote she had read the other day in German. She translated it loosely as this: “You may think your heart can only know one home; but there is room in your heart for more than one home – it just grows bigger.” The third scenario is this: I am lucky enough to have two homes, two lives, two parallel universes I can travel back and forth between. My heart has just got bigger.
So, back to the two weeks in Melbourne… As you can imagine, my time was spent trying to squeeze in as much as possible. Seeing as many of my friends and family as I could, but also visiting as many of my favourite places as I could. I found myself putting together a little list, and although it wasn’t possible for me to get to all of them, I thought it would be useful to share the list here. If/when you visit Melbourne, this is how I would fill your program.
Drink the best coffee in the world outside of Italy
I don’t actually drink coffee anymore these days, and sometimes I think it’s because I no longer live in Melbourne. Melbourne is Australia’s most European city, and is renowned for both its café culture, and the quality of it’s coffee.
Sadly, some of my favourite cafes were closed during the Christmas break, but if you are visiting at any other time of the year, please try Three Bags Full in Abbotsford. Go for breakfast on a Saturday, but be prepared to wait a bit for a table. I don’t know which is more delicious here: the ricotta and berry pancakes, or the waiting staff... Probably the ricotta pancakes.
For coffee and cake you can’t beat Green Refectory on Sydney Road, Brunswick. There is a huge array of freshly baked cakes (the size of the cakes are as enormous as the selection) and if it’s a nice day you can sit outside in the courtyard. I have never been here and NOT tasted something incredibly delicious, and I have never left feeling even slightly hungry. Thank you Nat for introducing me.
If you are in the Melbourne CBD, then any café on Degraves St is good. This is one of the “hidden” laneways that Melbourne is known for, although once you see the hordes of people you will discover that it is not really a secret (at least for Melbournians). Just find a café with a free seat, and if you’re hungry, grab yourself a focaccia or a friand.
Sample Melbourne’s vibrant dining scene
If you want fine French dining, go to France; if you want to taste the world’s best Sushi, go to Japan. But if you want the best food in general, spanning a broad range of cuisines, using quality produce, at a decent price – go to Melbourne. In particular I think you would be hard pressed to find better Asian or contemporary food anywhere else.
Tom Phat is one of my favourites – also introduced to me by my friend Nat – it is a Thai fusion restaurant with French inspirations, on Sydney Road, Brunswick. A special favourite before I went vegetarian was the Orange Duck, and luckily I can still have the Peanut Butter Parfait, or the Roti pancakes – or share them both with Nat ;)
Melbourne is known for having some of the best dumplings outside of China, and from what I have tried in Shanghai I can totally vouch for that. Shanghai Dumplings is a Melbourne institution. A couple of years ago you needed to be prepared to wait in line before getting a table in this slightly shabby and unlikely looking eatery. I can imagine this is still the case. Box Hill is another great area for dumplings, and strangely enough you can even find fantastic dumplings in the outer Eastern suburbs at Yang’s Hot Wok in Bayswater.
When I was living in North Fitzroy, I couldn’t get enough of the Moroccan Soup Bar. Once again, this place doesn’t take bookings (sadly, none of the good places in Melbourne do) but if you start lining up before 6pm you should get a table. Moroccan Soup Bar has a set menu that changes every day (always Moroccan, always vegetarian, and not limited to soup as the name would imply!) – all you need to do is choose how many courses you would like (you will be totally stuffed afterwards, but get the three courses so you don’t miss out on anything). You can also get takeaway but you need to bring your own container.
Another North-side favourite is the Panama Dining Room in Collingwood. In typical Melbourne-style it is an unassuming door that takes you up some stairs to something unexpected and amazing: in this case a spacious loft complete with pool tables, grand floral arrangements, exposed brick walls and the most beautiful semi-circular windows. You can just as easily come here for a drink, but if you’re hungry you can order from the tapas-style menu. Once Nat and I ordered the Pannacotta with Raspberry Coulis, and we were guilty of asking for a spoon because the fork we were given didn’t allow us to scoop up the remaining coulis. The waiter was kind enough to pour the left over coulis into two shot glasses for us. Embarrassing, but true.
Side note: If you are ever in Melbourne, and want to lookup nearby restaurants or cafes, use Urbanspoon. It is a very useful and trustworthy user-review site. I would love to find something similar in Munich, but haven't stumbled across anything yet - any suggestions???
Get lost trying to find Melbourne’s best hidden bars
I have mentioned before that Melbourne is known for its European alleyways, and amazing bars hidden completely off the beaten track (I distinctly remember going to one bar in particular which could be found at the end of dingy alleyway, to the right of a dumpster).
The best bars in Melbourne (along with the best eateries) are a continuously evolving phenomenon, so I am probably already waaay out of date, but my favourite (semi)hidden bar in Melbourne will always be Madame Brussels. This is a terrace bar set up to look like an English garden party, complete with astro-turf, white cane garden furniture, and waiters dressed in polo shirts and tennis shoes. They sell cocktails by the jug, with Pimms and Gin (two personal favourites) featuring readily on the menu.
My Melbourne besties Kanika and Klara have been going to the Melbourne Supper Club for years. The patrons are a little more on the mature side, and we order wine and cheese rather than cocktails. But there is also a terrace area, and the wine list is really fantastic. You can also smoke cigars on the terrace, or order a Hot Toddy on cold Melbourne evenings.
Take advantage of Melbourne shopping
Back in my Uni days I used to work in a retail store on one of the busiest streets in the Melbourne CBD, and we would often get customers who had travelled all the way from Sydney for a weekend shopping in Melbourne.
There are basically two shopping districts in Melbourne (don’t bother going shopping in the CBD, the people who came from Sydney clearly didn’t know where to go ;)) – Chapel St in South Yarra, and Brunswick St in Fitzroy. Chapel St is more chic and sophisticated, whereas Brunswick St is a bit more edgy and alternative. And if you want a shopping centre with all the big stores make the trip out to Chadstone.
Come out to the Dandenong Ranges! (where I’m from)
Melbourne is a sprawling city, and the town where I grew up is right on the outskirts. Although it is technically a suburb of Melbourne, by normal standards I am totally a country girl. The Dandenongs are a range of hills and valleys, with distinctly green vegetation. After a year away, I came back even more besotted by the ferns and gum trees and the beautiful red, green and blue Rosella birds which are typical of the area.
Start with a drive up to the top of Mt Dandenong, where there is a lookout with views of the Melbourne skyline. On the way, stop off for some shopping and Devonshire Tea at Sassafrass (my favourite is Fortnums).
Breakfast is a real tradition in Melbourne, and there are some great places in the hills. Flippin Pancakes is an old pub converted into a pancake house (they even do gluten free, much to the delight of my coeliac Uncle). Kallista Tearooms offers a more typical Melbourne breakfast menu replete with poached eggs, crispy bacon, hash browns and avocado (there are also some vegan options).
Belgrave is a characterful town right on the foothills. There is an old cinema called The Cameo which does outdoor films (I went to see Grease singalong with my family on New Years Day). There is also an old doctor's surgery and gardens which has been converted into a restaurant called Earthly Pleasures, with delicious food and lots of vegetarian options. A couple of minutes down the road you will also find Grants Picnic Ground, where you can buy some birdseed and feed the Rosellas (although sadly the Rosellas seem to have been overtaken by the Cockatoos in recent years) and if you are really lucky you can see a lyrebird on one of the adjoining walking trails.
The Yarra Valley is home to some of Victoria’s best wineries, and although it is technically not in the Dandenongs it is not too far away. I would take you to my favourite, the French-style Domaine Chandon where we would sip our sparkling wine outside on the deck chairs enjoying one of the best views in the world. I would then take you for lunch at the Innocent Bystander in Healesville for woodfire pizza.
Finally, if you have overindulged during your trip to Melbourne, you should take a trip to the Thousand Steps. This is a memorial to the Australian soldiers who fought on the Kokoda Trail, but it has now become an institution for Melbourne’s fitness fiends. It isn’t exactly 1,000 steps, but it is several hundred steps leading into the dense National Park with a breathtaking view at the top (where you can recover from the climb). I remember coming here several years ago on the weekends and finding parking, no problems. Nowadays everyone seems to be doing the Steps and on a nice day it is practically impossible to find a carpark. The best time to go is during the Australian Rules Footbal season, when you can sometimes catch some players training on the steps ;)
So, Melbournians, help me out here – where would you recommend people to visit in Melbourne? What have I left off the list?