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.

Irun – A World of Markets…

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Mercado Mercairun, Irun, Basque Country

The Hounds have made several Irunian forays for a variety of reasons but we had a ‘reminder’ note to venture back to have a damn decent squizzy of a covered market we’d discovered on out first outing. Post a quick Google search to track down the market’s exact location, we soon discovered Irun has not just 1 market (Mercado de Uranzu), not just 2 markets (Mercado Mercairun), but 3 (Mercado de Urbanibia)!!!!

Due to a rather late rising, we decided to make a beeline for Mercado Mercairun which is the 2nd Irunian covered market we’d yet to lay our eyes on or to sample their wares…

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Anyone for a Steak? Seriously Aged Beef Here…

Well it’s all here in spades folks – pick your section & be prepared to be excited & also overwhelmed. As it was Saturday, and late in the morning, the market had probably already seen its early dash but mucho folks were still queued up at the most popular stalls filling their trolleys with everything from succulent steaks to a charcuterie cornucopia to gleamingly fresh seafood.

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Fresh Off Da Boat…In Every Shape, Size & Colour

Although Spain certainly has its share of supermarket chains like most other Western countries (and they are heavily utilised too), it is refreshing and awesome to see a community or town or city that wholly embraces a market(s) & heartily shops this way. Markets like these provide the best of all food worlds: like a supermarket, they offer the convenience of one-stop-shopping, but with the mega advantage of choosing and buying from small, independent businesses (in many cases artisanal) that actually may give a shite about the products they sell. And clearly long term vendor/customer relationships were in evidence here with some stalls having folks stacked 3-4 deep with quick & snappy banter being fired across the hall.

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Not To Be Outdone, The Veggie Section On Splendid Display…

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Top Notch Charcuterie…Pata-Negra de Belota Is As Good As It Gets!

In the up & coming Local Food Hound posts there will be one about the 3rd market – the Mercado de Urbanibia – which I stumbled upon pretty much by accident. It is an outdoor market that is held in the massive Plaza de Urbanibia with more than 150 stall holders selling everything from socks & shoes to superb charcuterie, cheeses & olives….you know an outdoor food market is good when the temporary stalls need to employ a ticket turn dispenser! I really wanted to buy some olives but the last number called out was #62 and my ticket was #85! Next time…

And I’d be a wee bit remiss if I did not mention & include a follow up post on the stupendous Vinoteca Mendibil – easily one of the best vino stores I have visited since moving to España!

Miller’s Farm Shop, Kilmington, Devon

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Miller’s Farm Shop is our true local – just a hop, skip and a jump through the back lanes & a scary crossing of the A35 and you will find yourself, as the web site proudly proclaims, somewhere ‘absolutely splendid’. We love farm shops that are seriously food focused (e.g., Washingpool) and Miller’s is mos def in that category. It has a tiny amount of kitsch (we actually found some super Land Rover cards there) but that, thankfully, is kept to a bare minimum so that the food component shines.

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As it is our local, we have been to Miller’s numerous times and everything (veggies, deli products, meats, cheeses, etc) always looks top notch and the service is excellent too – we’ve never been there when someone has not offered us assistance or insightful advice as we wandered the aisles. It is really nice in this day & age of overbearing, impersonal Big Box Superstores that you get to experience a family run business started in 1985 by Malcom Miller & is today absolutely chocka with his kids.

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When you first walk in you are in the full on veggie section which has all the usual suspects but also a few nice twists. Need some seriously hot chillies? The Habaneros are here. Recipe calls for a bit of fresh lemongrass? Miller’s has got it. And we also like the fresh looking (vs. tired Tesco’s), well priced, rightly-sized herb offerings.

MFSVeg4

And if you are tired of Tesco’s Finest or your local CostCutter plonk, well Miller’s has a decent selection of good quaffers at a fair price. And if beer or ale or cider is more your thing, you’ll be alright at Miller’s as they carry a good selection of local beverages.

MFSWine

MFSBeer

We are huge fans of ethically raised meats and it pleases us to no end that Miller’s has a very good offering. We have used the Otter Valley Poultry free-range chicken on several occasions with superb results. And it is wonderful to see the Wyld Meadow Farm meats on offer as we first encountered them at the Bridport Farmers Market and were suitably impressed with an amazing Sunday roast of rolled lamb shoulder.

MFSChicken

MFSMeat

And the deli & larder side of things is not at all forgotten at Miller’s Farm Shop. If you are short of spices or need the odd condiment or your olive oil is low or you are craving some great pasta tonight – it is here at Miller’s. It is really nice to see quite a few items that you will not or ever see in Tesco’s, which appears to be mostly fixated on making you buy Tesco home brands. It has been one of our small surprises since moving back to the UK that our specialty food goods choices seem to have been far more extensive, half way across the world in Australia, than here.

Keep up the great work Malcom & Crew – we’ll see you soon.

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Darts Farm – Farm Shop and More

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On our way to explore Exmouth we got sort of sidetracked into the town of Topsham and stumbled (you really cannot miss it!) upon Darts Farm.

Darts Farm started in the 1970’s as one of the small farm shops you would find dotted around East Devon, selling it’s local produce at the end of the farm gate. Well, it’s not small anymore. It is a giant retail complex of mostly food (though there is an Aga showroom, outdoors store, tile & paint shop, florist and a spa). Though big, it is still run by the 3 sons of founder Ronald Dart and claims to “continually endeavour to keep to the original values at the heart of the business…(Darts Farm) is the product of passion for farming and providing good quality, local produce to a community that cares about its cultural heritage.”

There is a cafe (which we might have gone to for lunch, but for the enormous queue) as well as what is regarded as or heralded as one of the best fish & chip joints in the country – the Fish Shed.

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There are all sorts of food stuffs and a great deli section (where Hound 3 stocked up on her favourite chorizo).DartFarm-charcuterie

And you will find the Gerald David & Family Master Butchers in residence (Hound 2 is always drawn to the butchers… as would Hound 1 be if he had been allowed out of the car). These folks have won Devon Life’s Best Butcher Award 3 years running and it was not too hard to see why. We learned in a brief chat that the beef we were perusing was raised & slaughtered (they have their own abattoir) on the Dart farm. DartFarm-butcher

DartFarm-meat

Having gotten accustomed to the Seaton retail world, our one visit was kind of overwhelming – we will return.