a long weekend in melbourne
by Mei Leong
Brekkie at Chez Dre.
K was working in Melbourne for the week so I begged for Monday off and popped in for three days of eat-shop-eat. (Notice – more eating than shopping – not that my credit card knew the difference.) With my sister C as our guide, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend three days, really.
(Directory’s at the end of the post.)
Seafood peddler at the South Melbourne Markets.
South Melbourne Markets
A short tram ride from the city, the South Melbourne Markets are a less touristy alternative to the QV markets. It’s gritty, but overflowing with food. It’s busy too. Money’s changing hands everywhere – even in the middle of thoroughfares – and it’s crowded with locals going about their business. There’s nothing like a market to immerse you in a city.
I didn’t take as many pictures as I’d like (too busy drooling) but the markets show Melbourne’s character to a tee. Here creativity and individualism trumps sterility and uniformity. Like, there’s a guy in stall the size of a shoebox, selling seafood on the pathway. He’s there permanently. That’s not something you’d see in Perth. (There was also a paella stall on the pathway too.)
There was a lovely stall that sold only potatoes, pumpkins and onions. Just those three things and it was going gangbusters. The stall was dimly lit, warm and fuzzy with dried bunches of eucalyptus leaves hanging from the ceiling. It just transported us to a cellar, somewhere far away. So yeah, that’s how you sell potatoes…(they did have a huge range of spuds, including Peruvian purple potatoes.)
Emerald Deli’s pies.
The overflowing countertop – they even had caneles! Loooook.
There was one particular deli I was enamoured with and did not want to leave. Not only did Emerald Deli sell pies, cakes, Greek cookies covered in mountains of icing sugar, but they had a CHEESE ROOM too. (Love!) The cheese room was tiny, floor to ceiling crammed with wheels of cheese. And oh my, the SMELL. The most wonderful smell in the world is the aroma of a cheese room. Hard cheeses, soft cheeses and blues, they had them all, and if you’re lucky enough the cheesemonger would carve off tastings too. Sigh.
Emerald Deli’s tiny but amazing cheese room.
Chez Dre’s croque-madame.
After working up an appetite at the markets we headed to Chez Dre for breakfast. I never knew how literal Melbourne’s ‘hidden laneway cafes’ were until we rocked up at Chez Dre.
Which, looking down its alleyway, looked like a kingdom of wheelie bins. But no, I couldn’t have been more wrong. As we entered the cafe (which was quite huge – where does all this hidden space come from?) it was heaving with people. Cosy and painfully trendy, Chez Dre is not only a cafe, but a patisserie and boulangerie rolled into one. So you can imagine the smell in that warm space. Just delicious.
Pushing breakfasts out as fast as they can.
Pastries….look at those eclairs!
After a ten minute wait, we get a table. Being so busy, the coffees take their own sweet time, but when it arrives it’s worth the wait. The first coffee of the trip – a soy one at that! – is smooth and creamy. Our meals arrive in good time but sometimes choosing the most ‘adventurous’ thing on the menu can bite right back. I’ve picked the breakfast special of mushroom brioche with black pudding and egg which comes with a big, big chunk of black pudding.
It fact it’s the biggest piece of black pudding I’ve ever laid eyes on! The back pudding is too sweet, too spicy and doesn’t sit right on the (also sweet) caramelised onions. It’s out of whack… However the mushroom brioche is warm, fluffy and buttery and the egg is perfectly cooked. I’m also partial to the soft grilled tomatoes. For the better part of my plate, I am satisfied.
Black pudding with egg and mushroom brioche.
Cheese souffle with avocado salsa and smoked salmon. Yum!
K’s croque-madame is a ham and gruyere toastie with an egg as a hat. It’s not bad. However my sister’s cheese souffle is heavenly. It’s light, cheesy and proudly puffed up. Served with an avocado salsa and slices of smoked salmon, it’s a sophisticated breakfast.
When we finish brekkie Chez Dre is still full house. On leaving, my only regret is not trying that awesome eclair with the crown of salted caramel cream.
Chez Dre’s steak sandwich breakfast – with potato hash, pickled beetroot and turkish bread.
Just across the road from Chez Dre and the South Melbourne Markets is Chef’s Hat. Chef’s Hat is nirvana for cooks. It’s packed with kitchen goods, from cutlery to bakery tools and packaging.
Frequented by chefs, there’s all sorts of hard to find stuff like slicone canele and macaron molds, gigantic rolling pins and a $4500 (!!) pasta machine. Could spend all day in here.
Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio’s interactive wall.
Burch & Purchese
This patisserie may look familiar, it’s been featured on TV quite a bit. Driven by curiosity, we popped in to see what the fuss was all about.
With assistants in frilly aprons, It’s all very pink and caramel, like a surreal Alice in Wonderland. There are gold dusted salted caramel chocolates (complete with credit suisse markings! How cute!), thin slabs of white chocolate with vibrant dried strawberries and gorgeous cake pops that would be gone in a single bite. Like works of art, little portions of cake and pastries are lined up for sale. (We bought one éclair that was quite well packaged – upon opening the box, there’s a label reminding us exactly what we bought. How thoughtful.)
C doing what she does best: shopping!
You can even peer into Burch & Purchese’s entirely open plan kitchen. It’s spotless and yes, it’s quite pink too. Burch & Purchese is definitely worth a visit just to see the shop. Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, the goodies here would make marvellous take home pressies.
The Burch & Purchese kitchen.
For those who love spicy food, don’t pass up an opportunity to eat at Dainty Sichuan. Dainty is famous for it’s Szechuan food that’s simultaneously very hot and numbing. The menu is traditional which means offal, offal and offal. In fact if you don’t eat offal or non mainstream meats (i.e. pigeon, rabbit, quail) about 50% of the menu is off limits.
Luckily for the not-so-adventurous K, they do some mean lunch specials. Typically for a Chinese restaurant the service is slack but it’s nothing a strategic flailing of arms can’t fix.
Szechuan hot beef noodle soup.
K’s bowl of hot beef noodle soup arrives with lethal looking, scorching red chilli oil floating on its surface. Obviously it’s spicy, but not in the gum numbing sense. It’s a slow heat that builds up and eventually K is sweating. The noodles are silky in the beefy broth that’s bobbing with tender beef brisket. It’s a good choice for winter.
Compared to K’s soup, my Kung Pao chicken is tame. Upon first bite, I quickly discover the version I cook at home is absolutely nothing on this (presumably) authentic version. Tiny tender chicken pieces with tonnes of crunchy fried peanuts and little kicks of vicious heat from dried chillies are tempered with vinegar. It’s a heady, intensely flavoured dish and fabulous with a bowl of plain white rice.
Some of our dinner at Izakaya Den: Den fried chicken and truffle butter scallops.
Down a flight of stairs, through a curtain – then more stairs – and we arrive at Izakaya Den. It’s dark, noisy and the place is pumping at full house. On first impression, Izakaya Den is seriously cool. A long bar runs the length of the basement and like most popular places in Melbourne there’s always a queue (though it’s nothing on Mamasita’s..!). But when the queue involves lounging around and sipping a cocktail it’s really not so bad.
I didn’t take many pictures of our dinner but pretty much everything was great. Highlights were the Den fried chicken which was O-M-G good, the literally melt-in-the-mouth kurobuta pork and truffle butter shell scallops. I’ve included an extra photo of the chicken just to emphasise its greatness.
O-M-G good Den fried chicken. There’s some secret ingredient (like bonito or miso powder) on the chicken I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It was like karaage chicken sprinkled with gastronomic ecstasy.
Even after 6 years, Izakaya Den is still a hotspot and that goes to show that consistency and amazing food keeps bringing in people. There’s going to be an informal version of Izakaya Den opening soon – with tonkatsu burgers on the menu!
La Petite Creperie
Is that a teeny tiny newspaper column? Well look again! It’s a crepe stand!
One thing about Melbourne is there is food everywhere, you just have to open your eyes… Really wide.
The column barely fits the two crepe pans let alone the chef and his assistant. It’s a tight squeeze but somehow they manage to flip crepes, take money and do it all seamlessly.
La Petite Creperie on Swanston Street.
The flavours are all very French like lemon juice and sugar, salted caramel and chestnut paste. Mmmm. To keep the crepes moist, the chef rubs a stick of butter on to the cooking surface of each crepe, making it even more lusciously lubricated. On a cold Melbourne night, the soft, steamy crepes – especially the salted caramel ones – hit the spot.
Cutting out the doughnuts in the American Doughnuts van.
American Doughnuts at QV Market
Okay, I finally got around to eating these donuts. They are hot, straight from the fryer and there’s always a queue for a bag of these little babies. They’re cheap (something like $6 for 6), filled with hot jam, speckled with sugar and greasy. They’re not the best donuts but I can understand the queue. Eating a bag of these warm babies is just lovely on a cold Melbourne morning.
Jam injection time.
Huxtaburger’s burger production line.
If there’s just one place I want you to remember from this goddamn long post, it’s Huxtaburger. (Thanks for reading this far!)
I’m going to sound like a country bumpkin (I can be seen in Bourke Street Myer, jaw agape) but it would be hard, almost impossible to find a burger this good in Perth. Whereas the burger movement in Perth has trended towards wholesomeness, Huxtaburger has gone straight past go in the other direction. Straight to fantasy junk food heaven.
Give me one right now.
Like a cartoon burger, Huxtaburger’s bread is tanned, glossy and shiny with sesame seeds. Apparently the bread is supplied by Breadtop* which would explain the sweet and fluffy texture. The beef I’m convinced is something uppity (Black Angus or the like), because it’s incredibly moist and fatty enough to form a crust on the hot grill. While on the heat, the patty is crowned with cheese that oozes and melts.
Meanwhile, the heel and crown of the burger is toasted so with each bite so there’s initial softness, then crunch from the buttery toast, fresh salad, sweet sour pickles, mustard, tomato sauce and mayo, then perfectly pink, cheesy beef. These burgers are perfection. Even better with a bucket of spicy chipotle fries. Oh yeah baby.
If I lived in Fitzroy, heck even Melbourne – I’d be tempted to wolf one of these done every week at the least and be (at least) double the size.
By the way, did I mention I have fallen in love with Fitzroy? See reason below.
Browsing inside Books for Cooks.
Books for Cooks
I thought we hit the jackpot with Huxtaburger. That is, until we walked into Books for Cooks. It’s a bookshop that’s floor to ceiling with new, second hand and old edition cookery books. It makes my collection of cookbooks look like a drop in the ocean. Split into two rooms, there are antique cooking implements scattered about, the cutest postcards and book related event posters.
You know those shops that pull you in and you never want to leave, this is one of them. For a quiet moment, I could almost imagine owning a bookshop just like this. Meanwhile, I’ll be regularly checking out their blog.
After working the credit card (blame Melbourne Central for my debt levels), C and I needed a stop gap snack. Dessert Story (if you haven’t guessed from the typical name in English that does not make sense) is a cafe specializing in Taiwanese and Hong Kong style desserts. These mostly soupy desserts have legumes, nuts and glutinous rice, which are eaten for both texture and sweetness. If you haven’t grown up exposed to these desserts, the concept of sweet soup seems weird but it’s refreshing and satisfying.
The soups are versatile, they can be eaten cold in summer and hot in winter, plus are supposedly good for you. (Well it’s got to be better than ice cream.) At Dessert Story, you order and they pluck all the various ingredients together and assemble the dessert. We had the red bean hot dessert that came with pieces of yam, orange blocks of glutinous rice and barley.
Hot red bean dessert.
They also do a wicked peanut cream – think of a huge bowl of fluid, silky peanut butter that’s sweet. Mango shaved ice was also popular at Dessert Story. It’s a mountain of shaved ice so large three people could share it, covered in chunks of mango and way too much condensed milk. Definitely having that one next time.
To put it simply, Flower Drum is extremely expensive. However I can see why it constantly lands in the top restaurant lists. The service is superb, personal and professional. The restaurant is gorgeous with curves of dark wood and a hushed atmosphere. It looks totally different from the usual Chinese restaurant.
The food is high quality and that’s easily seen from the flawlessly cut vegetables in the stir fries, though I’m not sure that justifies the prices. Not surprisingly, the two stand out dishes were the specialties of the house. First up, the entree of barramundi noodles. The noodles are made from minced barramundi fish and are either extruded or hand rolled as they are wiggly shaped. Delicate but a little bit bouncy, they are cooked in a reduced, light fish stock. The flavour is succinctly fish but with the bouncy texture of noodles. It’s kind of amazing they made noodles from fish! I’d order this again for its uniqueness but its resemblance to fish poo (sorry) was disturbing.
I have a theory that if we all stuck to ordering entrees and desserts, we’d be happier for it. This is the case at Flower Drum. Main courses were good but nothing to rave about. But the dessert… well that’s another story!
In line with the rest of the meal, when it came to dessert, a trolley was wheeled out. But this trolley carried only a bowl of iced water. It sat there for a couple of baffling minutes when suddenly our waiter and two bus boys appeared. One of them holding a plate of piping hot deep fried dumplings, covered in very hot, molten toffee.
In the blink of an eye the dumplings are dunked in the ice water, instantly hardening the toffee. The other busboy dips two forks into the plate’s pool of rapidly hardening toffee and wrenches out strands of toffee, lifting up and over, bending the fine strings of sugar into a fine toffee net.
Flower Drum’s excellent toffee apple dessert.
This happens under a minute, so when our spoons snap through the glassy toffee, the apple dumplings are still crispy, splitting open to reveal still steaming, delicate pieces of cooked apple. With organic vanilla ice cream, there’s a luscious contrast between hot and cold, the sinfully fried batter against clean, brittle toffee that makes this one of the best desserts I’ve ever had in a Chinese restaurant. This dessert almost justified the massive bill, though K thought it was too sweet. Each to their own, but I thought it was awesome!
Hardware Societe (again)
This place is still fantastic for breakfast. I’m surprised at their consistency because even though they’ve doubled the floor space, the food and the service remains so calm and friendly. They also served the best coffee we had over the long weekend.
K had the boudin blanc with a duck pithiver and two quivering, poached eggs. The boudin blanc was plump and the pithiver flaky and buttery. I had massive plate jealousy when I saw his brekkie and had to stop myself from raiding it.
No chance of my breakfast being raided because I had the breath unfriendly sardines on toast! Mixed with a curly snow pea tendrils, the sardines were broken up into chunks and served on a huge hunk deliciously crusty olive bread. Yum.
The only place that can compare in Perth is the Tuck Shop Cafe and understandably, both have queues, so come early or be prepared to wait.
Baristas working hard at Brother Baba Budan.
Brother Baba Budan (again)
This shop is tiny, always packed and as a result, always too warm. But I’ll bear the lack of personal space to get my paws on their well rounded Seven Seeds coffee. If one coffee isn’t enough of a caffeine boost, there’s also Manchester Press around the corner (yep you guess it, it’s down an alleyway) who also do great coffee.
By they way, Baba Budan’s Seven Seeds coffee is the perfect souvenir to bring home. They’ll grind it down for you and surprisingly, our Aeropress turns out pretty good cuppa, almost as good as their machine. So in that way, we can bring a little bit of Melbourne – minus the crap weather – back home with us.
South Melbourne Markets
322-326 Coventry Street, South Melbourne 3205
T: (03) 9209 6295
South Melbourne Market is easily accessible by tram. See the website for details.
285-287 Conventry Street, South Mebourne 3205
T: (03) 9690 2688
131 Cecil St, South Melbourne 3205
T: (03) 9682 1441
Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio
647 Chapel Street, South Yarra VIC 3141
T: (03) 9827 7060
114 Russell Street Melbourne VIC 3000
T: (03) 9654 2977
La Petite Creperie
Corner Swanston Street and Little Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
T: 0404 002 341
American Donut Kitchen (the Donut Van)
Outside ‘I’ Shed, Queen Victoria Market
513 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
T: (03) 9417 6415
W: www.facebook.com/AmericanDoughnutKitchen or https://twitter.com/QVMDoughnuts
Books for Cooks
233-235 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy VIC 3065
T: (03) 8415 1415
17 Market Lane Melbourne VIC 3000
T: (03) 9662 3655
Note: Reservations essential.
Brother Baba Budan
359 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
T: (03) 9606 0449
120 Hardware Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
T: (03) 9078 5992
* Breadtop is the best Asian bakery in Australia by far. It’s not related to the Breadtalk brand popular in Malaysia/Singapore but it does have a dubiously similar name. Anyway, I always get buns for the flight home – especially their pork floss buns. Breadtop’s owner has a pretty amazing story, he arrived in Australia with only $100 and worked his guts out. The Elizabeth St store is one of their largest.
55 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
add a comment.
You may use Markdown syntax in your comments.