TRAVEL: Melbourne – Australia’s Cultural Capital!
I often wonder why my Greek parents never settled in Melbourne. Half of Greece did, so why didn’t they?
This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I hate the cold weather. I love long summers, the rays of sunshine beaming down on my face and refreshing swims in the glorious blue sea. And sure, we can have all of that in Melbourne, but there seems to be more cold days to be had down south.
Putting that aside, I love to travel to Melbourne for short stays and taste the good food on offer! Seriously, where else can you get such authentic Greek souvlaki (except in Greek homes) in Australia than the wonderful and celebrated Stalactites on the corner of Russell & Lonsdale Streets? Or the luscious and well-liked restaurant Universal on Lygon Street where the food is delicious and the staff are warm and friendly?
On a recent short visit to Melbourne with my partner in crime and long lost Greek relative I found in Newcastle, NSW (that’s another story for another blog!) we hit the streets running to discover all we could in record timing!
First night and we get lost!
It didn’t start off too well – we took a wrong turn and ended in the ghettos of Melbourne city. We were hungry and cold and all we wanted was to find our way to the Greek precinct of Melbourne CBD!
Finally we found the last tram stop, hopped on and headed back into town, laughing at ourselves as we kept saying to each other, “I’m pretty sure it’s this way,” but somehow we kept going the wrong way…ever done that?
As soon as we stepped into the Stalactite Restaurant, it was like coming home. The aromas that were wafting through reminded me of my visit to Greece many years ago and the yeeros you could buy for a mere $2 euro. Promptly one of the staff escorted us to a small table by the window and the friendly waiter with his heavy-accent greeted us warmly and with a bottle of water.
Knowing how generous Greek people are with their food, my friend and I opted for one serve of a souvlaki plate and some feta and olives and pitta bread on the side. Good call because no way we could have eaten our own serves. They sure live up to their reputation and the flavours were amazing.
My friend was born in Greece, is in Australia studying a degree and has really missed her mum’s cooking or the readily available home cooking in local cafes. One bite of this food and she was transported back to her apartment in Athens with her mum cooking moussaka or souvlaki in their quaint and modest little kitchen.
Back in the day!
When I think of my parents, and the many migrants who came here many decades ago seeking a better life for themselves and their families, it must have been a shock to their system when they wanted to purchase ingredients to cook their beloved food but there was no Greek yogurt available, no Greek feta available and did someone say dolmades? I bet there were a lot of tears being shed in those early years!
I remember moving to Woy Woy on the Central Coast of NSW in the late 80’s and visiting our local supermarket and feta cheese, olives and our beloved herb, Rigani, was a total luxury! But then again even chicken breast fillet was hard to come by!
But Melbourne, oh Melbourne what a food heaven you are!
Brunswick Street Baby!
We took a quick trip to Brunswick Street (on the outskirts of Melbourne CBD) and it was like walking through Newtown in Sydney. Hip cafes, street art and a diverse community, this place was a fun place to visit. We struggled to decide where to rest our weary legs, there was so much on offer but finally we veered off into a side street where a fabulous little café with it’s eclectic and rug covered courtyard beckoning us to come in.
And we were not disappointed!
We ordered a Grubby Bunny – freshly juiced orange, carrot, coriander, turmeric and ginger drink! I was a little suspicious at first, the deep orange colour with a celery stick sitting in my glass seemed like it may be a little too much! But nope it is one of the best juices I’ve ever had and I was pleasantly surprised that neither the celery nor the carrot overpowered the flavour of this delicious drink. Not only that, the wait staff were wonderful, friendly and engaging – true hospitality right there!
Exploring on Foot!
The hard decision was, ‘were we going to stay here for dinner or would we stick to our plan and head on over to Lygon Street and experience the taste of Italy?’ The eccentric cafes lining Brunswick Street were tempting – there was Greek, Italian, Spanish, Moroccan, Indian, Nepalese, Middle Eastern, Vegan Vietnamese, Malay, Thai and the list goes on. But dinner was a while away and we decided we would head back into town seeing we were on foot and check out places closer to the CBD.
Once we made it back to the free tram sector, we hopped on a City Circle tram and sat speechless with feet throbbing from our hours of hitting the pavement. What I like about this tram is that when you stay on it for the whole trip right around the CBD, you get a great overview of what’s on offer and it does help you get your bearings!
Hopping off near Russell Street, it’s a short walk to Lygon Street and then the fun begins with where is the best place to eat that will be authentic, reasonably priced and not a long wait! We settled for Universal Restaurant, it was highly recommended and I would give it an 8/10. The staff were friendly, the atmosphere was warm and the food was delicious. We ordered a Calabrese pizza (tomato base – salami, olives, chilli and mozzarella) and a Milano pasta (fettuccine with bacon and chicken in a creamy sauce) to share. To say we were stuffed at the end of our meal is an understatement! They had to roll us out of that place! Suffice to say, we were very satisfied!
The following day, our flight was scheduled for 12.10pm departure so being the daring ladies that we are, we opted for a quick breakfast in one of the laneways of Melbourne CBD. We looked and we looked and we looked, but we struggled to find what we were looking for until finally in a little laneway tucked away off an unknown street we found a quaint little place filled with local business people. It was buzzing with life and there was one table left for us.
I was glad we found this place with its friendly atmosphere and scrumptious breakfast foods. But we were strapped for time (it was 10am and we needed to be at the airport by 11.30am..at the latest!) so I ordered sour dough toast and a juice – beetroot, carrot, ginger, berries and lemon…hmmm…the thought was there! My friend ordered a colourful looking porridge with a raspberry soaked pear plonked in the middle. She gave it the thumbs up!
But it was 10.40am by now and we calmly set off for the skybus and hopefully make it in time to board our plane. We had schemed a plan B in case we did miss it! It’s great having connections in Melbourne, all those Greeks that did settle here…
I am happy to report we reached our plane with many minutes to spare. Our whirlwind escape to Australia’s cultural capital, was worth getting lost, putting up with throbbing legs, discovering new places and tasting the glorious food on offer! Yep, we are already planning our next visit – but maybe this time we’ll take a map and settle for warmer weather!