My blogs are currently being posted on a 2-month delay. Please remember that Australia is still experiencing a devastating bush fire season as a direct result of climate change. Re-posting this article with links for local relief organizations to donate to, if you can!
We woke up to the faint sound of birds. I was hoping to visit the nearby “pick your own berries” farm because I’m a 32-year-old grandma, but it didn’t open until 11am and we didn’t want to lose a day in Melbourne. One last breath of calm before heading down the dirt road and back to the urban craziness. We returned our car to Melbourne Airport and settled in at the QT Melbourne on Russell Street, a location we chose because of the 10,000 restaurants within walking distance. Melbourne is known for its food—restaurants line the streets in thick concentration and with all genres represented. The plan was basically to spend our last two days eating and do almost nothing else.
Katie surprised me with a bottle of champagne in the room when we arrived, a bittersweet moment as I knew it was the last bottle of booze I could pop before lunchtime by using the “honeymoon excuse”. Brunch is always a good day-drinking excuse back home but the honeymoon excuse was successful in getting me 8:30am champagne for which I’m 0% sorry.
We wandered a few streets away in search of dumplings and found ShanDong Mama’s, a hole-in-the-wall spot that served monstrously sized plates of perfectly boiled dough-wrapped pork and chives. We struggled to finish a plate between us while an elderly lady reading the newspaper alone cleaned off her own plate in minutes. The dumplings were delicious, but the real treat was dinner to come that night. I booked a table at Vue de Monde for a 7-course meal in a rare splurge to bookend our trip. I’ll be on a budget for a year because of it, but there are few things better to spend money on than good food.
After a drink at the rooftop bar at our hotel (which was more enticing to us in our hotel selection process than the swimming pool at a competing establishment) we arrived at dinner. Upon learning that we were dining “in the dining room” instead of at the bar, we were quickly whisked into a personal elevator and led to a table. The immediate and extensive hospitality caught me completely off guard. Whenever I go to fancy restaurants I always feel a little like an impostor.
We were persuaded to pair wine with our courses and what followed was the most incredible dining experience of my life. Before we could take a sip of champagne, we were whisked off to the kitchen to have oysters hand shucked in front of us along with the chef’s favorite combination of citrus-based sauces. As the night went on, each course was served by a group of waiters who presented and placed our food in perfect unison while a sommelier explained the wine pairing in detail and left the bottle for us to stare at (or read? Or just to look fancy?). Whenever one of us would get up from the table, a server would immediately escort us to the bathroom and then back to the table when we returned to the dining area like clockwork. While similar experiences back in the U.S. would feel deeply stuffy and uptight, our servers were personable and truly excited by the different food and drinks. They came from all over the world and every course was “curated” by a specific chef.
We received cured king fish with wasabi “snow”, celeriac with grapefruit, chicken sausages cooked “on the barbie” (on a tiny BBQ at our table), crab with pesto and tarragon, marron curry, kangaroo with asparagus and garlic, lamb with sweetbreads and seaweed, and at least 3 rounds of dessert including espresso souffle and a tin full of Australian biscuits. By 7 courses, they meant 87. Every time we thought we were wrapping up, another plate appeared in front of us and our glasses were topped off. The biggest surprise was the parsley sorbet “palate cleanser”, served with fresh edible flowers that were freeze-dried with a pour of liquid nitrogen cascading over the tablecloth while we stared dumbfounded.
By the end of everything, my stomach was bursting, and I was feeling the effects of the zillion wine pairings of the past 2 hours. One of our servers told us they could pre-reserve a table for us in the bar area following dinner if we wanted (we were too buzzed to make good choices so we said yes). But first, we were offered a tour of the kitchen to meet the 15 or so food artists buzzing around a maze of open-air counter tops and hot plates. The whole crew gathered with us for a photo afterward and we were sad to say goodbye. The hospitality is unmatched by any place we have ever been.
An hour later, we were sipping espresso martinis (at our “reserved” window table) as the sun set and it was time to leave our temporary world of glamour behind. But not before a staff member came by once more and got our contact information so she could personally email us the menu we’d enjoyed that evening and thank us for the 150th time. When our elevator arrived at the ground floor, they were waiting with our coats in their hands. They even remembered whose coat was whose, without asking. My jaw is still on the floor.
We should have gone straight home. Our bellies were full of a minimum of 9 varieties of wine and a flurry of cocktails. But instead, we ended up at a nightclub frequented by early 20-somethings after the door girl asked if we were “students staying at the hostel” and we decided that we were looking fresh.
By the next day, we were not looking fresh. I dragged myself from bed and groaned at the sight of an unfinished midnight glass of champagne and mini-bar chips (how on EARTH was I still hungry?). Our neighbor back in NYC had recommended we go to ChinChin on the famous Flindler’s Lane for lunch, so we pulled ourselves together and dug into some tasty Southeast Asian food. The place was heaving with brunchers, but even the “honeymoon excuse” wasn’t enough to stomach a mimosa today.
The rest of the day was spent wandering and trying to see a small pocket of the city before we left it. We took a walk through street art heaven on Hosier Lane and then checked out the Immigration Museum built within an old Customs House before stumbling upon a giant food fair in Birrarung Marr park. I seriously needed 17 stomachs to eat all the food my eyes were craving during those short 2 days.
That night would be our last of the honeymoon before we jetted off for home. We went from once-in-a-lifetime dining the day before to communal tables at a quiet spot down a back street near our hotel, but my food brain was just as thrilled with either. The fish was fresh and flaky, and one glass of wine was more than enough.
It was surreal to be going home and no longer planning a wedding. The frantic prepping and anticipation are in the past, and we can finally just float. The next day, we got on an airplane that would land across the globe a day later but “in the past”, like time travelers, already looking ahead to the next runway.