MELBOURNE, DEAR MELBOURNE.
We’ve all changed over the past two years, but my old home town just keeps getting more and more Melbourne, with brilliant pho, coffee, cocktail snackery and the coolest hotel in town.
Everyone has their own Melbourne. Yours might be cobbled laneways and great coffee, or churches and bookshops. Mine was formed over twenty years of growing up over countless pho noodle soups, Greek dips, Carlton pastas, laneway cocktails and cafe breakfasts. It re-forms itself with every visit, swirling and swilling around fennel negronis, honey and sesame seed buns, duck sausage sangers, and silver teapots.
I only had a couple of days there just before Christmas, but Melbourne was generous, giving me all the feels, all the feels. And everywhere - the smartest, nicest, most professional hospitality people at every level, working so hard to engage, connect, anticipate. It’s a tricky time at the moment, for them and for us, but the many joys of Melbourne will be waiting. Throw yourself at them, when it’s the right time to do so, and have fun.
FIRST STOP, COFFEE
Could not walk past Maker in Little Bourke Street/Hardware Lane, because it looked so clean and new and beautiful. Loved the coffee, the attitude, the light, the secret little meeting-room, the Madeleine Simson art and the spiced-up cinnamon bun from @sotbymork. Dropped in the next day, and Ally recited our coffee order, just like that. Yup. Melbourne.
Look at that welcome mat of green herbs – it’s a unique point-of-difference that makes the pho at Pho Thin (licensed from the Hanoi original) a joy. Queue to order, scramble for a table out in Hardware Lane, have the Pho Nam with fatty brisket, add a fried dough stick, get your tray of goodies, and dig in.
DATE NIGHT WITH THE BUNNINGS SNAG AT ARU
The chain mesh curtains, the high-energy coals and fire, the banh mi pate en croute and the dry-aged duck would be enough. Then there’s the leather-bound wine list, the ‘Bunnings sanger’ of smoky, honey-glazed duck sausage in soft white bread, and the intuitive use of acidity via quandong, Davo plum and friends. Sunda’s newish sibling Aru is Melbourne right now - young, smart, serious, Asian-Australian. For everyone who loves the fire-driven Embla, we now have its Asian soul-mate. Lucky us.
THE WINDSOR, A SLOW HOTEL.
The Windsor is the coolest hotel in Melbourne. Built in 1883, it pre-dates The Savoy in London, The Ritz in Paris, The Waldorf-Astoria in New York and Raffles in Singapore, for heaven’s sake. And it’s beautiful.
Wander the meticulously restored, colonnaded hallways, sink into a comfy leather armchair, fall in love with the carpet, and rejoice in the fact that you can draw a curtain in your room by actually dragging it across the window manually (clearly written by someone traumatised by the fancy high-tech rooms of the top hotels of the world).
As with all great hotels, staying at The Windsor is a two-way street. You have to dress up, play the part. Speak properly. Add-on an afternoon tea or breakfast in the Dining Room, where the tea is made with leaves, and comes in polished silver pots via one of the most delightful service teams in Australia. Above all, you have to take your time.
This is A Slow Hotel (my claim, not theirs, but they should claim it, proudly). It will take time to check-in, and check-out; to get your luggage to the room, to bring your car from the garage. Conversely, they will not tap their watch if you stay at breakfast for hours on end, or be too busy for a chat.
And the best thing – the Stay Over deal will be back as of Feb 1, 2022. If you book a weekday lunch or dinner at Aru or Sunda, you can also book a room for the night at The Hotel Windsor for $150, which includes valet parking. Deal!
BREAKFAST AT SHAMBLE ( I THINK)
This is such a Melbourne story. I was out hunting breakfast in the CBD - and doing it fussily, rejecting café after café. But when you find the right one, you know. Clean lines, bare woods, highly focussed staff. No real kitchen, just a sandwich press that squishes a ham and cheese croissant into something mighty, and a few pastries that immediately catch my eye for being slightly left-field. This one in particular: a honey sesame and sea salt twisted pastry that is both soft and crunchy, sweet and salty. Wowsers, it’s good.
So I go to tell you all about it, and I don’t have a name, an address, nothing, can’t even remember if it were Little Collins or Flinders Lane, I covered so much ground. So here’s the thing: I THINK it’s called Shamble Coffee Brewers, I THINK its at 423 Little Collins Street, and I THINK the miraculous pastries come from an associated business called Bakemono Bakers, which might have something to do with Little Rogue in Little Lonsdale Street as well. All I know is I’ll be back.
LA DOLCE VITA, WITH EXTRA CAKE
The Christmas lunch crowds spilling out of Grossi Florentino in the late afternoon are pure Fellini. Fizzing with festive spirit, they insist on having photos taken with owners Guy and Carlo Grossi, who are both there – of course they are. It’s that sort of place. “Impeccable” says one to Guy, blowing him a kiss.
What a gift to Melbourne that was, when the Grossi family took up the mantle of Florentino in 1999. They have done it proud. And the people-watching terrace on the street is just the perfect place to perch with a fresh little strawberry crostata and a glass of wine, an espresso, a spritz or a cup of tea, at that strange time of the day when you don’t quite know which one you can cope with.
So chic, so extravagant, so mouth-fillingly rich. It’s all you want from a cocktail snack when it’s late at night, and you should be in bed. Meet the one-bite Caviar Pretzel at The Lounge, the swish walk-in bar at The Society at 80 Collins Street. Pair it with a fennel negroni or martini, because there’s little point in being sensible at this stage.
That leaves so much Melbourne left for me to do, especially the new Di Stasio Pizzeria in Carlton, which I swear I am just going to move into for 24 hours straight when next in town. I’ll be the one in the corner with the Negroni and the margherita, hugging a pillow, like a kid not wanting to go to bed and miss anything.
And special thanks to my right-hand man, Terry Durack, for organising The Windsor/Aru Stay Over as my Chrissie present.
Thanks for reading – feel free to add a comment, or share with a friend, or subscribe for more Jill Dupleix Eats in your inbox every Thursday.
I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands and waters upon which I work, live, cook and play; the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. I fully support the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice to be enshrined in Australia’s Constitution.