Jul 12, 2012|
My recent trip to Melbourne was definitely not intended as a foodie quest, but that’s not to say I didn’t have a chance to sample some lip-smacking fare from Down Under. I think Melbourne’s one of those cities that’s really got it right when it comes to food culture; there’s less gimmick and more sincerity. From my experience, it seems you can get a decent meal just about anywhere—meaning that popping in on random establishments is less of a Russian roulette scenario than in other major cities, including Hong Kong. The price of food there is actually quite high, but if you can accept the fact that AUS$5 (HK$40) coffees are normal, then you’ll come to realize the difference in costs between finer diners and grungier eats is pretty subtle—and all the better. You might be shelling out AUS$9 (HK$72) for a bowl of soup at a food court, but you’re probably not going to be paying too much more, percentage-wise, for the same at a fancier restaurant. And the quality of the food reflects as much—you’re just as likely to get big fat prawn dumplings and juicy lamb chops at mom n’ pops and side-street shops than anywhere else. One other thing I noticed is that even the simple, down-to-earth restos tend to have great layouts and interior design. Or maybe I’ve just been inside too many hole-in-the-walls in Hong Kong and appreciate anything that’s not run-down and dilapidated.
A notable restaurant we dined at was The Atlantic (Crown Entertainment Complex, 8 Whiteman St., Southbank Victoria, (+61) 3-9698-8888, www.theatlantic.com.au). We were in the Crown Casino area, looking for a harborside restaurant facing the Yarra River. Most of the establishments were pretty empty that lonely, rainy weekday afternoon, but The Atlantic’s swanky interior and titillating menu drew us in for a lunch to remember. All of us had fish for mains, as the server kindly informed us that this was the restaurant’s specialty. All in all, there were four types: barramundi, tuna and mulloway—all wood fire-grilled—as well as a pan-fried cod. We were all blown away by the grilled dishes—you could taste the charred wood element in every bite, and the fish were all perfectly seasoned and cooked to their ideal textures (which meant the tuna was nearly raw underneath the surface). The stack of vanilla macarons for dessert was a sweet tooth’s dream—who knew fig ice cream (which complemented the vanilla) could taste this good? The Atlantic also has a dedicated oyster bar; we sampled a dozen briny Cloudy Bay varieties (the cheapest on the menu) and couldn’t complain.
We also made a trip to Livingroom (12-18 Claremont Avenue, Malvern, (+61) 3-9576-0356, www.lroom.com.au), an acclaimed restaurant in the Malvern area that’s owned by my sister-in-law Carol and her father Alan. Despite the absence of Michelin reviewers in this part of the world, Australians have a strong foodie culture and local publications publish reputable dining guides regularly—The Age (a Melbourne newspaper) puts out an annual Good Food Guide using hats as a metric, and Livingroom made it in as a one-hat restaurant this year. This is no small feat considering 649 restaurants were reviewed and only 81 hats total were awarded. The highest rating is three hats, and there are only four restaurants in the whole city granted that designation. Back to Livingroom: the ambience is just as you might expect; it’s a warm and cozy venue with mismatched-yet-matching chairs, sturdy wooden tables and simple, homey décor. The menu is European with a Mediterranean bias, with fresh—and most importantly, local—ingredients playing a huge part. On the night we went, we sampled an amazing range of starters, from savory and sharp polenta-coated sardines to a refreshingly light beetroot-cured salmon. Our mains were wide and varied, from monkfish (which was what I ordered; it was also covered in polenta like the sardines, but proved a much gentler rendition) to duck and rabbit Wellington. There were pasta options, too, but everybody went for the meaty selections (understandably). The menu changes often, so you’re likely to experience something different on a different day. If you want to get a taste of what Melbourne’s top restaurants have to offer, Livingroom is a perfect example.
And now we’re back in Hong Kong. Lamma residents rejoice, because the new Lamma Grill (18E Tai Yuen Village Back Street, Yung Shue Wan, Lamma, 2982-1447) is up and running with a takeaway that serves everything from burgers, ribs and grilled chicken to striploin steaks. Run by Caroline Collins and chef James Glatzmayer (who graduated from Toronto’s George Brown College, which is well-known for its culinary course), the eatery aims to outdo all the other meat-on-a-stick places in Lamma by providing high-quality cuts that cater more to Lammaites’ palates than to the average wandering tourist’s. Bonus: you can also get soft-serve ice cream here!
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