Anyone who has followed this blog will know that, as well as visiting other countries, Maggie and I like to explore various corners of Australia. The most recent, and shortest, of these adventures was to spend an afternoon, evening, night and morning in and around our home city of Melbourne.
Firstly, we responded to some gentle prodding by the Accor group by booking a night at the Ibis Styles in the old Hotel Victoria in Little Collins Street, one of the nine streets that comprise the east-to-west length of what is known as ‘the Golden Mile’. Being a Thursday night, the rate was barely more than $100, for a spacious, clean and up-to-date room.
After checking in right on 2pm, we headed out to explore some of Melbourne’s renowned arcades and laneways – all dating from the boom years in the second half of the 19th Century – a blend of old faves and new discoveries. In one of the latter, we found Smooth, a clothing business established by two Sydney women in 2000. They specialise in designing and making clothing for mature women. The Melbourne store opened only recently – lucky Maggie, who found a top she will be happy to wear out of an evening (it’s the one in the first row, r-h side, if you follow the link).
From Smooth, my beaming wife led the way to Hopetoun Tearooms, Melbourne’s most famous cafe, popular with locals and visitors alike and now the setting for hundreds of ‘selfies’ every day of the week.
After a brief viewing of the eye-candy in the window, we joined a not-too-long queue to wait for a table. (Be warned – on weekends, the queue is often very long.) Once seated, we ordered a leaf-tea each – from a delightfully varied range – and, mindful of our ambitions for the evening, we shared one piece of cake. Our fellow-customers comprised visitors – women of all ages, mostly Asian but we met a woman from Brisbane who was there for the third day in a row – and locals – some men but many small groups of women, some needing a rest from shopping, going by the bulging bags!
Our next stop was Hosier Lane, renowned for its graffiti or street art.
There are some stunning examples and it is certainly another popular spot for selfies, but we found it a little underwhelming and in need of a dose of TLC. Perhaps we have been spoilt by our various cultural experiences in Europe?
We poked our heads into another couple of laneways – said to be interesting, found to be ho-hum – and then we realised that it was nearly wine c’clock. It was one of those balmy autumn afternoons of which we have had too few this year, without any wind to deter us from placing ourselves at a table on the wide foot path out front of the famous Florentino restaurant complex. Despite the hour, traffic was light, thanks to a nearby stretch of pedestrian mall, so we were happy to spend the better part of an hour sipping on Italian wines – a white each, then a red. Our waiter was courteous and attentive but, to my surprise, he did not respond to my ‘grazie’ with a ‘prego’; Eventually, we discovered that this ‘garcon’ was actually French, from Nice, and in Melbourne for the experience and the income. An animated discussion ensued about an outstanding seafood meal we had enjoyed in Nice in December 2009 and, yes, he had worked at that restaurant!
We returned to our hotel, well-satisfied with our afternoon adventure, and freshened up our faces and outfits in readiness for an evening meal of fine Italian food at Il Bacaro restaurant. We had chosen Il Bacaro on the strength of a positive newspaper review, which Maggie came across soon after we had booked our hotel. Happily, the restaurant was only a few doors up the street from the hotel lobby.
The two hours we spent at Il Bacaro gave us one of the best dining and wining experiences of our shared life. The restaurant had a cosy ambience and gentle acoustics. Our waiter was knowledgeable, attentive and courteous. The list of wines by the glass catered for most palates. And the menu was varied and enticing. Here is what we had (no photos, we were there only to dine).
From the antipasti section, Maggie chose venison carpaccio with black garlic aioli, mustard fruits, pink peppercorns and saltbush; for me, a plate of tuna crudo (cured) with diced cucumber (remarkably firm and green), fennel, green tomato dressing (heavenly) and herb emulsion. For company, a glass of nebbiolo for Maggie and a dry white from Italy’s Le Marche region for me. For secondi, I chose braised goat with porcini, pink fir apple potatoes, baby carrots and truffle pecorino, while Maggie went for the special, a plate of chargrilled kangaroo fillet, with a beetroot puree, buffalo mozarella and micro herbs. My second wine was French, a glass of Petit Chablis, which had some sweet notes that went well with the flavours of the goat meat; on our waiter’s recommendation, Maggie chose a smooth, rich red wine from the Puglia region (she was still drooling about it the next morning).
We went to bed very content and renewed in our sense of good fortune to be a resident of Melbourne. That said, we don’t kid ourselves that our city has no ugly blemishes, and we know that many families who live in suburbs on the distant outer fringes of Melbourne have little opportunity or capacity to do as Maggie and I did on this occasion. So, we are grateful for our lot in life.
In the next, shorter, post, I will describe what we did on the following day.