Déjà Vu Melbourne…

We were in need of a pre-winter break so we packed our bags & headed to Melbourne to catchup with several friends and, of course, eat & drink! Melbourne is not too bad a town to spend a week or two…I often say it is Australia’s version of San Francisco with an overall awesome, energetic & creative vibe across multiple fronts – food & wine, culture, music & art, history, etc…

And we could not have lucked out anymore with the weather as most days it drifted into the low 20’s with beaming sun & the bluest of skies. And since we are serious walkers, it made our exploration all the more enjoyable to be free of many layers & no rain gear.

The Big Metropolis; St. Kilda’s Luna Park; Shrine of Remembrance

One of our first target destinations was one of our regular favourites when we lived in Melbourne – the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria in Fed Square). A stunning space to have a wander and experience a serious collection of art – and about 95% is FREE! And if the NGV ticks your boxes, then you need to toddle over to the NGV International just a hop, skip & a jump down St. Kilda Road (and it’s FREE! – except for special exhibitions).

National Gallery of Victoria

National Gallery of Victoria International

Besides revisiting our old friend the NGV, we made a point of checking out some of our food stomping grounds that left us with a vey warm & flavourful memory when we departed Melbourne for the UK. We are not really the ‘fine dining’ types, but rather prefer excellent quality food, cooked well, in a relaxed setting & so our big splurge was to lunch @ Cumulus Inc. Andrew McConnell knows a thing or two about food & restaurants & this is our fave out of his bevy of joints (Cutler & Co, Builders Arms, Supernormal & Canteen, Marion, Meatsmith, Cumulus Up wine bar). And it is always a delight for us to be seated at the kitchen bar & get a first hand, close up & personal view of the food proceedings. We had some fun chats with the staff who, despite a busy lunch hour, had plenty of time to answer our questions and offer some insights into Cumulus Inc.

Cumulus Inc.

Bundarra Pork Cutlet & Pickled Witlof & Butcher’s Sauce; Tuna Tartare, Goat’s Curd & Crushed Green Pea

Excellent Juice from Stephen Pannell – Tinto

And of course when in Melbourne, you must visit the markets…it is a habit we have no matter where we be to have a good squizzy at the local market whether an established fixture (e.g., Queen Vic or South Melbourne or Prahran) or a farmers market (e.g., Vegout, Abbotsford).

Prahran Market

I was always impressed & amazed at the range of goods on offer at the Melbourne markets. I swear there is a better selection of European goods like olive oils, vinegars, olives, etc…in the Melbourne markets than I could ever find in most of Europe.

Queen Vic Deli Section

And of course where there is great food, there’s great drinks…so we made the rounds of most of my old wine haunts (Cloudwine – fave for hard to find vino & great prices, Prince Wine Shop, Blackhearts & Sparrows various establishments with extensive choices, The Wine House, City Wine Shop – small but excellent selection & food is great too & Wine Republic – amazing selection & best new find) & scooped up a solid half dozen (New Zealand’s limit) examples of Australian’s finest. Yum…

Melbourne’s Wine Stores…

Another Andrew McConnell joint – Marion Wine Bar

One of the things on our ‘To Do’ list was to have some top notch ethnic food as Lyttelton/Christchurch New Zealand is not as solidly blessed with such an extensive immigrant community as Melbourne does in spades.

We had an interesting Turkish dinner at Tulum with mates from Balaclava but one of our go to places is Don Don, a Japanese restaurant that is fast as and super cheap (by Melbourne standards) and damn good! I ordered our 2 lunches & before I could put my change back in my wallet, 2 steaming bowls were before me!

We had also read some good write-ups for a place called Paper Plate (Vietnamese) where the kitchen was manned by one of chef Geoff Lindsay‘s ex-fellas of Dandelion fame, but at a far cheaper price point. Super crisp & clean flavours – you could see & taste that everything was made from scratch…

Paper Plate in Richmond; Vietnamese Chicken Salad & Vegetarian Pho; Hanoi Beer

One Sunday morning we met some mates for breakfast @ Industrial Beans in Fitzroy – excellent food but busts the wallet @ $90+ for 4! But post breakfast, our friends said we had to see the mural of our Prime Minister (Jacinda Adern) painted on a silo in Brunswick. So we piled into their car & off we went…very touching & excellent job.

Industrial Beans & Grace, Fitzroy

New Zealand Prime Minister Mural in Brunswick

Melbourne Street Art; Melbourne’s Booming Skyline; Melbourne’s Infamous Laneways…

So if you have never been to Melbourne – GO!!!!! It is a city that has so many nooks & crannies to explore you won’t get bored…and if you do get bored of Melbourne, head out to the country to visit the Yarra Valley wine region or the wonderful Mornington Peninsula or hit up Daylesford or Kyneton for a savoury food experience.

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Spanish Recipe from Movida in Melbourne, Australia

Braised Beef Cheeks & Cauliflower Purée a la Movida, Melbourne, Australia

Hound #2 has been niggling me of late to get back to some of my more ‘creative’ cooking, as here in Spain I have gotten a bit slack. Reasons being that: (a) it is way cheap and mucho fun to eat & drink out in Spain; (b) many of the dishes in my kitchen repertoire require ingredients (some are key & non-substitutable) that are very hard to find or are VERY expensive or do not exist at all here in the Basque Country.

So she paid a visit to Movida’s web site (an awesome Spanish restaurant in Melbourne that makes the real deal) and yanked a couple of their recipes that use local Spanish ingredients to make right here in our cocina pequeña. To make a long story very short — this was SUPER YUM SQUARED. We are a bit nutty for anything cooked long & slow, falling off the bone tender & in its own broth of flavoured juices. The sweet touch (in both meanings of the word) here is the use of the Pedro Ximénez sherry, which if you have ever had PX you know the deep, dark, nutty dulce flavour of which I speak.

Duck Confit with Leftover Beef Cheek Stew & Asturian White, Fat Beans

And we never, ever waste a good thing, so the next day Hound #2 took the leftovers & added some potatoes and some pre-soaked Asturian White Beans to push the stew-thing to another rich & dense level. And to push it to its ultimate pinnacle, day #3 found me pan searing a Duck Confit leg to sit atop the final remnants of the stewy goodness – pure duck & stew & bean heaven. Now for a siesta…

Braised Beef Cheeks with Cauliflower Purée

Serves 6

  • 1.5 kg (3 lb 5 oz) beef cheeks
  • 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) olive oil
  • 3 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic bulb, halved
  • 1 brown onion, sliced
  • 500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) Pedro Ximenez sherry
  • 500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) red wine
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 head of cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 185 ml (6 fl oz/¾ cup) cream
  • 40g (1 ½ oz) butter

1. Trim the beef cheeks to neaten them up and remove any sinew and silver skin. Season well.

2. Heat half the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over high heat. Brown the beef cheeks for 2 minutes on each side, or until golden, then remove from the pan.

3. Add the remaining olive oil, then add the carrot, garlic and onion and sauté over high heat for 12-15 minutes, or until well browned. Stir in the sherry, wine, bay leaves, thyme, sea salt and 500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) water.

4. Reduce the heat as low as possible, add the beef cheeks, then cover and cook for 3-4 hours, or until the cheeks are beginning to fall apart.

5. Meanwhile, put the cauliflower, cream and butter in a saucepan, season to taste with salt, then cover and cook over low heat for 35 minutes, or until very tender. Place the cauliflower mixture in a blender and process until smooth. Keep the puree warm.

6. The sauce from the beef cheeks should by now be reduced and glaze-like. If it needs further reducing, remove the cheeks from the pan, cover with foil to keep them warm and simmer the sauce over high heat until nicely reduced. Strain the sauce through a fine sieve and return to the pan; gently reheat the cheeks in the sauce if necessary.

Serve the cheeks and their sauce on warm plates with the cauliflower puree on the side.

Missing Melbourne’s Markets…

While on my New Zealand fly fishing sabbatical I managed to sneak in a wee side trip to my old haunt Melbourne to catch up with some great friends & re-acquaint myself with the marvel that are Melbourne’s markets.

MMQueenVicFish

Melbourne’s Old Lady – The Queen Vic Market

To say Melbourne is literally littered with markets might just be an understatement as they seem to be in just about every nook or cranny that will host one. I managed to make my way to three of my bog standard destinations – Queen Vic, the South Melbourne Market and the Prahran Market.

MMSouthMMkt

South Melbourne Market – Awesome Place

In my typical week while living in Melbourne I would visit at least one of these markets, and sometimes 2 or 3 of them to round up supplies & see what was in or coming into season. When we moved to the UK I was a bit giddy with food anticipation being just a stone’s throw from the likes of France, Spain and Italy (and old England too). But I would have to say that the selection of produce & fine foods in Melbourne’s markets beats what we have access to here in the UK. And I still have not figured out exactly why….one answer might be the seriously crushing dominance of the supermarkets who mainly stock their own ‘home brand’ products, thus blocking out the likes of artisanal Italian olive oils or risotto rices or French or Spanish charcuterie.

MMSouthMMktFruit

And I cannot really point to a cultural aspect to argue that Australia is more accustomed to or accepting of markets than the UK as the UK has an extensive history of actual market towns. Prior to the 19th century, people in the UK were mainly involved in agriculture and livestock farming and needed places to sell their goods – viola, market towns.

Or maybe you just have to be in the one of the Big Smokes (London, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, etc…) to have access to more specialised continental goods.

In the last 10 years or so there has been a bit of push back here in the UK in the form of farmers markets and a plethora of farm shops, but neither of these comes close to the diversity and range on offer at Melbourne’s markets.

MMSouthMMktFish

Seafood Galore @ South Melbourne Market

And though my backpack was stuffed to the gills with fishing gear (I was 4kg’s over weight), I managed to squeeze in some ‘only in Melbourne’ goodies for my pantry in Frome…Melbourne, you do not know how market lucky & rich you are!