Gazi is hot right now. Everyone I talked to told me had to go, so I did, even though there’s nothing more likely to put me off a restaurant than someone saying that. When I arrived, I swear half of Melbourne was inside (reason to avoid ‘you have to go’ restaurants No.1). It was loud. The tables are also really close together but I was eating alone, and this made it easy to start chatting to the people next door – a personal trainer and his client. The woman (the client) had it bad for him (the personal trainer), but he had no idea. They were the kind of people who were fun to be around for the hour I was there but would drive me up the wall for any extended length of time; both very loud, brash and attention seeking, they were perfect company for someone who was lonely on the opposite side of the world.
The food turned out to be the best Greek I’ve ever had. Intense, inventive and fun, I’d even go so far as to say this was my favourite food in Melbourne.
Grilled calamari came with lots of dill and oregano, capers and crunchy toasted pine nuts. The real touch here though was pickled peaches; sweet ‘n sharp with the all the colour and giddy sun-drenched swagger of the Mediterranean.
Manouri cheese is like halloumi, but nicer; it grills well but is fluffy inside. This came with some pickled chillies, grilled spring onions and a pepper sauce so addictive it made heroin look like chamomile tea. It had obviously been laced with more addictive substances than one would find in Dionysus’ sample after a heavy weekend. One of my new pals on the next table bellowed, “FUUUUUUUCK, YOU’LL WANNA INJECT THAT SAUCE STRAIGHT INTO YOUR EYEBALLS, MATE!!”, before reaching over and swiping at it with a piece of bread, which was rather charming.
There was also a watermelon, mint and feta salad which sounds nothing new but the watermelon had been marinated in, oh I don’t know, say, the collective joy tears of a thousand unicorns weeping at the sight of kittens being born under a rainbow. Some lamb chops were unmemorable but grilled chicken, a piece of which I was almost literally physically forced to eat by New Pal No. 2 was back up there; succulent, salty and quite freakishly large. It came with lightly pickled walnuts which are something I’d only ever think to serve with beef. I want to rip off every dish I ate at Gazi, basically.
Gazi, 2 Exhibition Street, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia
2. Main Ridge Dairy
Did you know that goats’ meat is the most widely eaten meat in the world, and their milk the most widely drunk? I didn’t. That was one of the brain nuggets gifted to me by Bess Noxon, of Main Ridge Dairy. She also told me that beavers’ milk is the most similar to humans, but I’ve yet to see if that one checks out. I really do love a goat, though, so it was fairly obvious that visiting a dairy where they have over 200 of them was going to be a highlight of my trip. ‘The girls’, as Bess and her husband Damien call them, are a split herd of Saanen, British Alpine and Toggenburg goats. A split herd means that the two halves kid on alternate years, so they’re able to provide a supply of fresh milk every day of the year.
Goats are, apparently, a lot easier to milk than cows. They take only 1-3 minutes to milk out, they don’t poo everywhere during the process like cows do, and their milk is naturally homogenised, so farmers don’t have to do it themselves. They seem to enjoy milking too, which is a good thing, because goats are very sensitive creatures, and it’s not uncommon for them to just drop dead on the spot if they get too stressed.
I spent ages with the goats in the field – they are really affectionate, and can’t get enough head rubs. There is a dominant animal in every herd – in this case a rotund elderly granny goat with huge pendulous udders. She was entertaining. Every single one of them was adorable though, and the sight and sound of the baby ones bleating is almost too cute to bear.
At the end of a tour you can have a cheese tasting plate of young through to aged goats’ cheeses, which is obviously the only way a tour of a goat farm should ever end. I feared mine was in danger of ending with me smuggling a baby goat into the back of the car.
Main Ridge Dairy, 295 Main Creek Rd, Main Ridge, Victoria 3928, Australia
3. Melbourne International Street Food Festival
I visited this festival in its first year and I couldn’t believe the size of it. They had a bit of a nightmare setting it up too from what I could gather so I can only assume it will completely kick ass next year. Go if you’re in Melbourne in January.
I found out that the Brazilians do terrible things to hot dogs. This was a dog with French fry crisps and spicy mayo. I could only manage a bite. Still, I’m glad I know. I think.
These gozleme were really very good indeed.
Bao and a po’ boy were just okay; I think I should have been more adventurous on the day. Problem is I REALLY like bao and po’ boys. There were also stands selling Hare Krishna food, Tibetan food and just about any other food you can think of. Apart from anything British.
Melbourne International Street Food Festival, 25th-26th January
4. Charcoal Lane
This casual restaurant uses indigenous ingredients. Read my post about it here.
5. Smith and Daughters
This is a very well marketed vegan restaurant. Yes, I went to a vegan restaurant and yes, I am recommending it because my meal there was really interesting. At first it confused the hell out of me, because the menu listed ingredients like ‘tuna’ and ‘prawns’, but it turns out that S & D won’t list any ‘mock’ meat or fish items because of the negative connotations; they don’t want to be associated with the worthy, lank-haired lentil stirring vegans who make their dietary requirements their identity. Thumbs up No. 1.
Thumbs up No. 2 comes for the fact that the place looks good. If I remember rightly, Mo Wyze, one of the owners, has a background in marketing. It shows. The interior is all posters and filament bulbs, giant cacti, subway tiles, exposed brickwork and a very large and well stocked bar. They’re all over social media. They were in all the major papers before they’d even opened. The chef, Shannon Martinez, isn’t vegan, and nor are most of the staff (that’s thumbs up No. 3); Shannon just enjoys the creative challenge that comes with trying to make vegan food as tasty as possible, and I’ll tell you what, she’s really very good at it.
Okay so some things didn’t work. The ‘tartare’ made from gawd knows what (nuts? tofu? nail clippings?) was one of the most actively disgusting things I have ever eaten, and a ‘morcilla’ had a very unfortunate appearance, but other ‘substitutes’ were impressive. The prawns, for example, were made from konjac, which is the stuff zero noodles are made from. It’s basically a root which tastes of naff all, and so it takes on any flavour you throw at it. The texture is also firm and, similar, if not identical to, a bouncy cooked prawn. Once swimming in garlic, chilli and olive oil, these prawn pretenders were damn tasty. I also wish I knew what she’d used to make the tuna croquettas that did, genuinely, taste like tuna. The highlight though came in the form of ‘white truffle forest mushroom pate’ which may be the best pot of intense mushroom paste I’ve ever eaten, and yes, I have eaten a fair few.
Those weirdly fishy ‘tuna’ croquettes.
Clockwise from top left: white truffle forest mushroom pate, fresh herb and lemon ‘crab’ cake, those garlic ‘prawns’ and a seriously amazing and dense dessert of salted chocolate and ancho chilli caramel.
Smith & Daughters, 175 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy VIC 3065, Australia
6. Nhu Lan Bakery
I had some time to kill one afternoon and so got a taxi out to the Vietnamese area of town in search of a banh mi. I’d had a recommendation from someone who supposedly knew their stuff so it had to be done. The pork roll was excellent, the bread proper rice flour baguette and the spice intense. It would have been even better had I not got hopelessly lost on the way back. It took me an hour and a half of walking and attempting to hail taxis before I got back to my hotel.
Nhu Lan, 116 Hopkins Street, Footscray VIC 3011, Australia
7. Mornington Peninsula Vineyard Hopping
About an hour’s drive from Melbourne is the Mornington Peninsula, which has lots of cellar doors where you can taste excellent wines. The peninsula is (obviously, being a peninsula) surrounded by water, which has the effect of reducing the diurnal temperature range (the difference between minimum and maximum daily temperatures), which means that the vines don’t experience any of the stresses of either extreme. It’s a big region for pinot noir but you’ll also find other varietals like tempranillo, chardonnay and pinto gris. It’s staggeringly beautiful, too. A couple of places worth a visit are Green Olive and Montalto. Hire a local tour guide so you don’t have to spit.
8. Bowery to Williamsburg
This is as close as I got to all that brunch business in Melbourne. It’s a cafe, which does indeed cater for the coffee and eggs crew, but is also focused on turning out some pretty serious sandwiches (only available after 11.30 once they’re done with bloody breakfast, FYI). I had their reuben, which was pretty fine. Too much kraut, but otherwise excellent. It’s a shame, really, that I’ve now become addicted to the beef at Delancey & Co. because it makes all others pale in comparison. Still good, though, and I had a hard time choosing from a strong set of sangers.
Bowery to Williamsburg, 16 Oliver Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia
9. Queen Victoria Market
‘Queen Vic’ is Melbourne’s main market, and it’s fairly large. Definitely worth a look for the tourist. Annoyingly, I was there on a day after a public holiday, so a lot of places were shut, but I still got the gist of it. I’ll leave you with some snaps which I think give you a sense of the lively vibe. All the traders were mega up for having a chat, although that does sum up Australians in general…
Queen Vic Market, Corner of Victoria St and Elizabeth St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia