Being unemployed means I can while my days away driving 10-12 hrs from sydney to melbourne with my housemates. The gf is also unable to make it this trip so I get some time alone. Everything that could suck sucked on the drive. Two of would share driving duties and we left home round 12.45am or so. This was gonna be an epic overnight rally kinda joint. To be honest though, the Hume highway that connects australia’s biggest two cities is reasonably decent and probably already australia’s best highway. It’s not impossibly narrow and there’s even lights from time to time. Another plus: the big divider for the most part between opposing lanes. It’s relatively straightforward, not too much weaving around. Cruise control would make things really easy.

But I was on about how it sucked. First we left past midnight and I’d maybe closed my eyes for an interrupted hour and a half or so prior to departure. I was probably not in the best physical condition. Next it was foggy as all hell. I’d put the high beam on and I’d see less. The fog just reflected the light back. So tired dark plus low visibility at 110km/h. I must be foolhardy. The music selection shifted between a mix of kpop faves like Busker Busker and Big Bang to an English poprock mix of Adele, Oasis, Maroon 5 and Coldplay. Not really my thing. The last time I drove 10 hrs was a trip to Coff’s Harbour where I almost fell asleep to Portishead beacause someone thought I’d appreciate it. I dunno why I never raise any complaints. Then there were the dead animals. Possums and birds and rabbits and shit all over the place. The worst was a kangaroo higher than a hump that had me really worried as I went over. The fog meant I saw it really late and I almost panicked and swerved but opted to just go with it instead. I think I missed the main body. That’s probably the first kangaroo I saw on the roads in australia. The thing that irked me the most though were the endless mumbles of fear from my passengers everytime I had to put the brakes on or when a trailer passed right next to us. Hey I was trying to stay calm and careful but them panicking was seriously annoying.

Eventually I make it until sometime just before 5am with a stop at 2am and a messed up detour at 3am. I thought i was gonna find a rest station but it ended up being closed and the road didn’t send me back on the highway. Shoulda probably turned around but I followed the GPS which is a useless POS. I get an hour or two of rest and then takeover for the rest again, driving til noon when we reach the Yarra Valley. Here to add to the potent mix of tiredness, lack of sleep, depression and uncertainty, I added a good dose of alcohol.

We hit up 3 wineries in total. Yarra Yering is pricey but interesting. I got a bottle of chardonnay that was brisk and appley peachy. Next was a big producer that sucked. Cats piss heavy on the nose pinots that were kinda naff. Also pricey at over 30 bucks for what tasted like 10-15 dollar bottles. Then we got scolded by another big producer when we accidentally went into what was private property. I blame them leaving the gate open and not stopping us until we got all the way inside. The last stop was Coldstream Hills where I picked up a bottle of their reserve pinot, which was textural and delicious, still tart acid but will surely mellow. Dude behind the bar was also hella nice which is always a plus.

We finally arrive in Melbourne unscathed but I am bushed. Our accommodation is a special hookup, a room inside a house in a suburb half an hour from the cbd. The house had a big for sale sign outside which left us wondering if it was right. But it is and I get to slum it on a mattress on the floor with my mate while the girls took the bed. To be honest, I was fine with it given it would cost all of us $65 a night and the toilet was clean.

Anyway, we get a little bit of a rest and make our way towards South Yarra, where we’d finally get to meet our friends in Melbourne. Some friends of mine run an awesome little patisserie shop, Luxbite and another friend helps them run the breakfast. I’ll detail more about them in another post but you should go there if you have a sweettooth. So we get doled out free drinks and macarons and an eclair which we smash before going for dinner across the road, at a place called Red Hot Wok. Melbourne has a reasonably large Asian community and in particular, there’s quite a lot of Malaysians and Singaporeans who call it home. Red Hot Wok is the kind of slightly dingy, unmodern Malaysian Chinese style eatery where we consumed stuff like sambal kangkong, flaming pork ribs, Thai basil eggplant and the more curious apple chicken. It’s good, delicious and straighforward. The ribs really do come flaming, with a gentle glowing blue flame enveloping the meat, which is dumped onto some aluminium foil.

Dessert was a short drive into Chinatown, where we hit up Dessert Story, a Taiwanese style dessert shop that’s all the rage in Melbourne at the moment, not unlike Meetfresh in Sydney. You can get taro and sweet potato gnocchi, shaved ice desserts, herbal jelly, red bean soup, glutinous rice soup and more but we get a coupla snow ices to share. Unlike regular shaved ice, snow ice is a lot finer, like uh, snow. One of the mango snow ice desserts comes with mango juice/puree plus a mountain of snow ice, some jelly and shit but best of all, little balls of spherified mango. I don’t know for sure if it was really spherified but it was fun.

Day 2! We’re in Melbourne and after 12 hours or so on the road, we’ve finally reached our destination and what do we decide to do? Drive again! Woohoo! It’s another 3 or so hours as we head towards the Great Ocean Road and the famed 12 apostles. But before that, we at least have the sanity to get breakfast, at a wonderful little place called The Duchess Of Spotswood, which is actually in Spotswood. It was recommended by our mates so it had to be good. The place itself is on a quiet street with tree lined streets and little traffic. The front facade has full glass windows and a framed glass door so you can see clearly in and out. There’s a table outside but it’s bloody cold so inside’s the best right now. A La Marzocco lines the coffee counter and there’s a small display for cakes etc plus there’s a small space for the chef’s to work. In the back, there’s a much bigger prep kitchen plus outside, there’s even a space for a BBQ and the toilets are brand spanking new. It really feels like you stepped inside someone’s house, only someone’s house feels like a little British bistro. The Candyman house blend coffee is roasted by Small Batch and they also offered another option, a single origin if you wanted. I got one of each and didn’t much care for the Candyman but the standard of coffee was top notch. One of us got a scrambled eggs with green tomato chutney and chilli/pork/fennel sausages. The rest of us got pork jowl with fried eggs and truffle jus. I got myself some black pudding on the side. The food was delish. Just really good, rich and hearty fare. It was the kinda joint I would eat at like once a week if I could. I could eat the whole menu, from the sweet stuff to the savoury. They’re even open for lunch and dinner too. I just loved the place. It felt close to perfect for what I wanted for my own in the near future.

Once fed, we hit the road son. Long, winding, bumpy and horrible once you get to the Great Ocean Road. You’re not always driving next to the ocean but it is remarkably beautiful. At times, the crashing waves threw up a foamy substance that looked like god just did his laundry. Some of it got thrown onto the road in one or two spots. We stopped halfway for a gander at the big blue beyond and it is really beautiful. The drive winds around from hugging the coastline to tucking into lush forested areas and little beach towns and such. We finally arrive at the 12 apostles where the 2 girls decide to take the helicopter ride for $95 each and fly around a bit. The guys, decide to grab a drink and chill. So The Apostles aren’t even apostles at all. They’re limestone rock stacks formed by erosion as the waves crash against the land. They used to be called the Sow and Piglets. Then they changed the name to get idiots like us out here to the middle of nowhere and throw money at helicopters. There’s not even 12 stones. There’s only ever been 9 and one collapsed so there’s 8 now. Honestly, why did you lie to us Australia?

Alright, we head back but instead of using the dreadful Great Ocean Road, we use the highway, which is a lot faster and simpler. I still get the girls screaching when trucks pass but it’s become numbing at this point. A quick feed at McDs works wonders as we head back towards the city. Dinner was gonna be at Rockpool Bar & Grill but before that we head to Lygon St, home to a zillion Italian joints. I swear I ate at one of these places when I was 14, on holiday with the family. Anyway, we go inside Brunetti, a very famous Italian Dolce shop that has everything from cannolis to gelato and macarons. It looks alright and it’s also massive. But really, we’re not gonna eat anything. This is just a meeting place for the girls to meet their friend and have dinner on Lygon St whilst the guys grab a beer and meet up with the Luxbite crew to head to Crown Casino. We park outside and walk over into the very posh building and inside the very very dark Rockpool. I’ve got this on/off thing with Rockpool. Neil Perry isn’t my favourite chef. I don’t hate him, I just don’t like the ponytail and the Chinese food. On the other hand, he’s not really cooking all that much. It’s really the guys under him that do and I know a few who have worked there and they’re all pretty cool people. When you walk into the place, the only significantly lighted areas are the meat displays with loads of aged beef and shit and the kitchen itself. The rest is super dark and perfect for evil plotting. Anyway, the menu is this massive A3 sheet of paper with a cow printed on one side. It’s also a big painting on a wall. The menu is nigh unreadable so we pop our phones to see better. I was told this was a burger party so I order the Full Blood Burger for $24. They also offer a Mishima burger at $22. Other people get a pie, a steak, some fish and we share some onion rings. The onion rings were supposed to be good but really, the tomato sauce it came with was good. The burger was alright, pretty big and all and they even ask for preferred doneness. I opted for rare. They said it’s kinda thick blah blah. Rare girl, rare! Ok. I find it isn’t charred or seared enough to my liking. The flavour and toppings are good. The brioche bun is good but the whole is alright. Certainly not worth $24 for me. Dessert was a pavlova and a chocolate tart. The tart is tiny. Like one of those $4 ones you can get at a really nice pastry shop. But it’s $23. Comes with some choc sorbet but it’s $23. It was very nice, with light crispy shell topping and all. But it’s a ridiculous $23. The pavlova was the perfect version of a classic pavlova but it’s $21. This stuff isn’t anywhere close to being worth it. Despite the fact that we had regulars in the party, I felt the service was a little sub standard. I didn’t get asked if I wanted a drink and the waitstaff were a little pushy when putting plates down. Sure most of us were going for the bar menu but still, I got excellent service in a breakfast cafe in the morning. If I’m paying $23 for a tiny tart, I want good service to go with it.

Day 3! Today’s the last day really. We go into the city again. Breakfast is at The Auction Rooms, which is hipster central. I mean, everything from the decor, to the beanie donning, plaid sporting coffee dudes to the Johnny Depp-ish waiter to the crowd and the Bon Iver soundtrack screamed too cool for school. Thankfully, the coffee was good. Again, they had the Candyman from Small Batch but I opted for the other option, some Columbian SO. The food was like yesterday morning, quite awesome indeed. Less British pubfood, more elegant but still big and bold. I got a lamb stew which came with two poached eggs and some flatbread, olives and fetta. The heat from the stew melted the fetta into a gooey mess which you mopped up with the bread. Someone else had brioche with poached quince and complicated sounding but simple tasting anglaise. It think it was supposed to be pear, walnut & espresso but it really tasted like regular anglaise. The dish as a whole went nicely together. The vege option turned out to be braised silverbeet, beetroot relish, poached eggs and toast and it too was very good. The only dish that came close to besting my stew had to be the two strips of Kaiserfleisch encasing a piece of toast and dropped into this creamy onion soup with two poached eggs. The maple glazed fat bacon strips were just too good. On the whole, everything was presented really nicely and the service was superb, for a cafe. Considerably a much better experience than Rockpool last night even if their margins are that much smaller.

The Queen Victoria Market, where every tourist goes to buy macadamias or some shit is closed so we walk towards Flinder’s St and check out the laneways of Melbourne. There’s some nice graffiti on the walls, lots of little lanes and all, tucked away from the main thoroughfares and it’s this bit of urban Melbourne that you can say has a distinct character. There’s guys belting out rhymes on a microphone and a set of speakers over some cool beats and there’s Asian dudes with high shaved sides and ponytails sipping coffees. It comes off feeling quite alright. Hip to the core and so cool, I feel like I’m out of it all at last. The one thing I felt most was how much realer it felt compared to Sydney. Maybe it’s cos I was on holiday and going to all the cool places but there’s just something about Melbourne. Maybe it’s the trams and the hook turns and the people getting off in the middle of the road. Maybe it’s the multitude of great, not just good coffeeshops and cafes. Maybe it’s the myriad amount of low to mid end dining options that astounds. Maybe it’s the State Library of Victoria, which is splendid, inside and out. There’s a big grassy lawn with people laying about. Inside the architecture is a seamless blend of old and new, with the wonderful La Trobe reading room right in the middle. I wished I coulda spent time in places like these when I was in uni. We saw a Ned Kelly exhibition as well as some other stuff about Melbourne’s history in general but I’ll be honest and say I didn’t read shit. Just looked at stuff and moved on. Opposite the library is one of the RMIT buildings, Building 8, which is covered with some green shit. It looks funny but much of Melbourne feels the same, just more colourful and more fun.

Lunchtime is MoVida time. It’s right near Federation Square and it’s in an alley where the walls are all painted over and stuff and their signboard isn’t immediately obvious. Thankfully iPhones work well in this regards and we find ourselves seated in a rather inviting interior. Chic, modern but not uberly hipster, MoVida does tapas. So there’s a few parts to the menu. The tapas you can order in ones. Like you say you want three of these or five of them or even just one is fine. The raciones, are little shared plates that run from small to big. Then there’s specials and other stuff too which the Asian waiter rattles off too fast for me to remember. We start with some bread and I get a glass of Paco & Lola Albarino (stone fruit, quaff status, delicious) and it’s quite good. The first thing to arrive is the squid ink croquettes, lightly crumbed, sat on some aioli, micro basil and draped round with a ribbon of squid with some black salt to top. It was sublime. Really good shit. The cerdo, some crumbed pork with garlic and a pickled chilli confirmed that again. Then they brought out a single serve of pollo escabeche, like a spicy chicken mayo sandwich filling placed between two thin croutes. Next up was the cold smoked Spanish mackerel, which came in a tiny little cast iron pot with a lid. When they lifted it, the smoke spilled out and you see this little slice of translucent mackerel along with pine nut sorbet and pint nuts. I’m gonna go ahead and guess they used the smoking gun with this one. Even though I only got a tiny bite, I thought this was superb. The last tapa was some salt cod/potato fritters with a lemon emulsion. Again, just beautiful. Halfway as the tapas came round, we got the plateful of slow cooked baby leeks with butter and garlic, super simple yet super delicious. The last thing we got was some wagyu tartare, a spicy variation served with a tiny quail’s yolk and a generous number of wafer thin croutes. The tartare was clean, well seasoned and just bang up good. Actually, MoVida was just awesomesauce. We pop into Outre gallery and I ogle the shit by Heisuke Kitazawa and Kozyndan but buy nothing.

After this, I sent my housemates off to the airport, they’re gonna have the easy option home. Me, I’m staying a few more days and driving solo. Hehe.

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