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Delaney Mes

NZ Bloggers

My delicious week in Melbourne began soon after checking into the Crown Metropol hotel with dinner at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. I’ve long been a fan of that crazy molecular mad amazing chef-genius, and I was very excited to finally try his food. The meat fruit was a must-try – a parfait of ridiculous silkiness, looking like a mandarin, with a fruity-gel encasing it. Ice cream churned to order with nitrogen at our table was another highlight, as was the tipsy cake served with charred pineapple. And the goat’s cheese cheesecake. A very excellent start.

Three square meals and discovering Melbourne on two feet

Food was definitely the theme on my trip. I managed to squeeze in breakfast at Top Paddock (a giant, cake-like hotcake and two flat whites, breakfast of champions) before the World’s Longest Lunch, a three-course Italian feast with about 1600 people dining in the hot sun along the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix race track, as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine festival. A brief hiatus in the afternoon was essential before an evening cocktail tour of Melbourne’s laneways.

Saturday started with breakfast at the highly recommended Cumulus Inc before my official duties of the day. I sat up at the pass eating crumpets with their rooftop honey, and downed a couple of coffees before our Hidden Secrets walking tour. We discovered some interesting tidbits about the early days of Melbourne, as well as some hidden culinary gems, like egg tarts in Chinatown and some of the best veggie samosas from what looked like a newsagents.

Lunch was at the highly recommended Supernormal, an eatery with modern, Asian inspired dishes on Flinders Lane. By the time I rolled off my perch it was time for some serious pavement pounding. I enjoyed drifting along Brunswick Street, and managed to squeeze in a couple of late afternoon pints of local craft beer with friends from NZ at Forester’s Hall.

Dinner was at the Press Club Projects, the next-door offshoot of George Calombaris’ fine diner the Press Club. It’s the test kitchen-turned private dining room where a chef prepares ten delectable courses steadily increasing in size, and serves us right then and there, complete with wine matches and cheffy-technique-secrets. I was just about ready to move to Melbourne and marry a chef on the spot. It was experimental, and interesting, and had flourishes of Calombaris’ Greek heritage, but with a focus on Australian produce too.

I managed to follow that beautiful ten-course dinner with a game of pool and jugs of beer in a Northcote pub with a mate from school.

In case you can't tell, I really love breakfast and Melbourne is one place in the world that just does it so well. The next morning it was St Ali. The coffee in the large, industrial style café was excellent and the brunch menu was so interesting and inventive that I wanted to eat everything.

Following the food trail to the High Country

Breakfast set us up well for our road trip to the High Country. First stop, lunch at the Brown Brothers in Milawa. It's a stalwart of the region and is now run by the third and fourth generations of the family. Their Epicurean Centre sports a beautiful menu, and a two-course lunch complete with prosecco to start and house-baked bread with mustard butter was our perfect introduction to the High Country.

The historic town of Beechworth was next on the itinerary, and the adorable sweet store and the old-fashioned ice cream parlour were tempting, but as you may have already noticed, I hadn’t stopped eating since I’d arrived. We stayed at the Planetrees Lodge, run by the vivacious and hospitable Genevieve. It was wonderful to have all the comforts of a luxury home in a quiet rural setting, especially with the natural swimming pool and an enviable vegetable garden.

Dinner was in Beechworth at the two-hatted Provenance. A beautifully high-ceilinged dining room and impeccable food by chef Michael Ryan made for a very special dinner indeed. My venison entrée – smoked venison carpaccio on watermelon with pickled rose petals was a delight in texture, temperature and flavour, and was one of the most memorable dishes I’ve had in a long time.  

Touring on two wheels and well-deserved pampering

We had breakfast of tea and toast, muesli and fresh-picked fruit with Genevieve. After a quick coffee in Beechworth we headed to Bright, where we set off on electric bikes to tackle part of the Murray to Mountains rail trail in the Great Alpine Valley. Riding an electric bike is like someone is giving you a gentle push as you pedal along.

We had lunch along the trail at Ringer Reef winery, owned by Annie and Bruce Holm. Bruce makes the wine and Annie manages the cellar door, and she made as a beautiful platter of local cheeses, olives, fruit pastes, and house-baked bread while we overlooked the mountains and basked in the sun.

Later we got settled in the Bright Brewery for a welcome post-cycling craft beer. Their Blowhard Pale Ale was my pick. It was then back to wine at Boynton’s Feathertop Winery, where we were staying for the night, right on the vineyard. A wine tasting, spa treatment massage and a platter of fresh produce while the sun set over the mountains were the perfect wind-down after our e-bike adventure. Oh, and wine.

Speaking of wine, the next morning began with a trip down prosecco road in the King Valley. First up was a prosecco tasting at Dal Zotto winery, where brothers Christian and Michael gave me the full range before 11am. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite have time for a game of bocce before I had to head a few hundred metres along the road for a masterclass in gnocchi at A Tavola! - the cooking school at Pizzini Wines. Pizzini, like many vineyards of the region, has a special focus on Italian varietals. After perfecting the art of perfect potato dumplings and dousing them in duck ragout, we sat out in the sun overlooking the vineyard with sparkling water and stunning Sangiovese. It was as dreamy as it sounds.

The final meal

I basically had to be rolled back into the car for the trip back to Melbourne to check into the Sheraton and iron a dress and whip out my heels for a fashion show at the Museum.

I was determined to sneak in one more meal before our early morning flight home and I did, at Coda, another place specialising in modern Asian-fusion plates to share. It's one thing Melbourne definitely does extremely well, and my confit duck leg curry, killer slaw, and amazing spicy green beans didn’t disappoint. One more local craft beer meant I went home very happy.

Melbourne was an absolute overload of delicious eating and drinking. There were lots of laughs and many great people, and unless I move there to marry a chef, I simply can’t wait to return.