Alright so, my housemates have left and I went out to dinner at a place called I Love Pho 264 in Richmond, which serves up massive bowls of value deal pho, with toppings that include beef fat, tripe, ox tail and more. You can order whatever you want and it’ll probably never breach $15 somehow. It was also really good. When I had it, I made the comparison that it was kinda like Pasteur in Sydney, just cheaper, bigger and with better toppings. The most awesome thing they had was this jar of chilli sauce that was the bomb. Apparently, they sell em for $25 bucks a pop. It’s so good, I want the recipe. They also sell t-shirts which is something I think a lot of Sydney could learn to do better, merchandising.

Dessert time was Helados Jauja, Argy style gelato owned by a Malaysian! To be honest though, it doesn’t matter who owns it anymore, it’s really good but a touch pricey. I like the flavours they have on offer and really enjoyed the Yerba Mate the most. Texture, flavour and quality were all really good and there’s also some Malaysian stuff too, like durians. All the fruit flavours are actually made with real fruit too and I totally tasted Queensland Thai Mon Thong in a sample. I think it was $11-12 for 3 scoops. Worth it for an indulgence.

I spent the next morning working at Luxbite, with a coffee at The Final Step nearby, which was pretty pretty good. It reminded me a lot of Barefoot Coffee Traders in Manly only with better beans. It’s a tiny little place and they do coffee plus some bagels and sweet stuff. Lovely local place with an exceedingly high standard of coffee. I then pop into Luxbite, where I get to work, giving the guys a hand with whatever simple jobs I could do.

Lunchtime arrives! Or rather, it’s time for me to buy Luxbite lunch. So it’s off to Smith Street in Collingwood and Huxtaburger. Huxtaburger is the burger outpost for Huxtable. It’s a tiny little place, with a little bit of counter seating, like 8 I think, and a few tables outside. For the most part, people just takeaway and there’s always a queue. The menu is explicitly small, just 5 types of burgers (one kid’s sized), all using the same wagyu beef patties, the same buns (apparently outsourced from Breadtop!), and variations in size and toppings that include jalapeno, sriracha mayo, egg, bacon, beetroot… They also do crinkle cut chips that you can get sprinkled with chipotle for a bit of a spicy kick.

I got the regular Huxtaburger, which is just lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayo, ketchup, mustard and a single pattie. The burger isn’t really big but at $8, it’s good value. Actually, would’ve been better value to get the Theo, which has double patties, double cheese and bacon + BBQ sauce at $11. Flavour wise, it’s a good, sloppy style burger. Nothing special, nothing amazing, just a decent burger. Personally, I’d pick these guys over Rockpool Bar & Grill any day of the year. As a side, I also got some chipotle chips, which were pretty good with a can of beer. You gotta love the American diner style decor, even if it’s extremely minimalist. Actually, the place looks very low cost with the exception of the stainless cladding on the walls that have a puffed diamond pattern on it that might cost a bit more than just paint. This is like one of those weekly visit places for me.

I order more burgers but instead of waiting, I walk down a little to Proud Mary, which serves some damn fine espresso. I think out of all the Melbourne coffeeshops, Proud Mary is one of the best for me. I just had a double rizzo which had distinct malic acid/apple type flavours particular at the end that wasn’t overtly sour. The place itself is hella busy, loads of people crammed into the kinda industrial chic decor that plagues modern Melbourne but at the end of the day, it’s still cool regardless and is another weekly type of joint for me if I lived in Melbourne. You gotta spread out the coffee.

At round 4pm, my mate hustles up and we head out to get some groceries at Prahran market. I like the place, it’s big and bright and you really get to see the colorful produce. It definitely doesn’t feel anything like a market in Sydney, which tends to be a lot more drab. Here, there’s flower shops mingling with fresh fruit and veg and the seafood and meat are segregated away. The food looks decent to good with maybe only the seafood not as good as Sydney and a mite pricier too. I also loved Market Lane Coffee. I had one 2 strong lattes and 1 double rizzo plus one more double rizzo here, which was brilliant. I would come again tomorrow, just for the hell of it and had a short conversation with the barista about Melbourne and light roast coffees. It’s not really my thing but I know what they’re driving at. When I mentioned I preferred it big bang up dark roasted, he kindly suggested Atomica, which I will surely do so in future. One interesting thing about Market Lane is that they use Schulz milk, a boutique dairy producer from Victoria that does organic, small batch, high quality milk. Somehow, I managed to pass up drinking it and only got a sip of my mates latte, which was sweeter than usual even if there was no sugar in it. This is another one of those weekly visit joints yo. Almost forgot to mention the 6 group Synesso, custom formed by joining 2 3 groups together. It’s massive.

If you’re sensing a trend, you’re correct, there’s a shitload of amazing quality coffee in Melbourne. Sydney might have Single Origin, Mecca and Coffee Alchemy to name my faves but Melbourne has… a shitload. The following are places I’ve been hugely recommended but not had the opportunity to try: Atomica, St. Ali, Brother Baba Budan, Seven Seeds, Naked Espresso… I’m sure there’s heaps more I just haven’t collated everything yet. Melbourne is like insane level coffee geekery across the board. I can’t say that Sydney’s best are any poorer but I can say, across the board, the sheer number of great, not just good, places for coffee in Melbourne is simply astounding. I suppose it is kinda hipster in the extreme but hey, if young people wanna get serious and make some good joe, I ain’t got no probs with that.

For dinner, we head to Richmond again for some Japanese this time, at a place called Maedaya. I’m told the owner just got in some blue beer from Japan and I was like seriously? That Abashiri beer? Yes the one and the same and I introduce the owner to the green and red ones too. Small world concept. Maedaya is pretty much an izakaya where you can store your bottles of sake in the wall and eat lots of stuff, some on skewers, like the complimentary chicken skin skewers we got or the tsukune set of 5 chicken ball skewers with a variety of sauces. Then we had nanban chicken and piri kara chicken as well as some roast buta, gyoza and tofu. All in all a pretty decent meal. I mean, it’s good and reasonably priced but the biggest thing to get there is really the sake, which we skipped cos I’m driving.

But we did at least get one drink in, at The Melbourne Supper Club, one of the few places open late with good food. My friends demolish an assorted entree platter with stuff like fried polenta sticks to foie gras to prawn lemongrass wontons which all seemed pretty decent. I just swooshed down my highly drinkable 2011 Clonakilla Viognier Nouveau. Really good mouthfeel and texture, peachy on the nose and mouth and just so easy.

Ah my final day in Melbourne. I was supposed to do a coffee course here but couldn’t get into contact with the school, so I decided it was better to just spend time doing nothing. I wake up late and get some brunch at a place opposite Luxbite, it’s called French Fantasies and rather than Audrey Tautou lying naked next to some frites, I saw croissants and the like. They are a bakery/cafe after all. I settle for some tea and a croque monsieur. Pretty damn hefty at $11 for a ham and cheese sambo even if it was nice.

Next up is another trip to Prahran market and Market Lane with a popover at Luxbite just for kicks. I get another coffee and it’s bloody good, a doppio as suggested by the helpful dude behind the counter. I wish I had a place like that, just making simple stuff and feeding it to people and talking about all and sundry. I chill out and contemplate my future culinary adventures and soon, it’s time for the last hurrah, a trip to the city and Cumulus Inc.

Of course, it’s friday night and Cumulus Inc. is one of the hottest tickets in town at the moment. Andrew McConnell is the “man with the magic touch” who is responsible for this casual eatery with a focus on shared plates and a relaxed atmosphere. I’m been told shitloads about this place so it was gonna be the big splash this trip. Well, at the end of the day, it was quite affordable really and money well spent if you ask me. But we had almost an hour to kill whilst we waited so what else do we do but head to one of those hidden laneway bars Melbourne is so famous for. Eau de Vie is in this nondescript little lane through this rather large door with an ornate handle but otherwise nothing else to yell out it’s location. Inside is like some kinda 1920s speakeasy or somesuch. I didn’t much care for the seats, which were awfully uncomfortable but the place had a nice vibe. The menu is mainly cocktails and pretty big. Every one comes with a bloody story and it felt like reading a book. I ended getting suggested their house martini, which is really a liquid nitro cooled martini. I suppose it tastes colder and less diluted than a martini and it is sorta fun maybe but it’s a bloody martini. Elsewhere, my other friend gets a massive tropical trophy shaped cup.

I guess it’s the sort of frivolous fun bar that I wouldn’t mind going to but I was kinda expecting infused whiskeys or smoked this or nitro poached that. Maybe too much to ask? Sure there must be one of these places in Melbourne. Anyway, it’s Cumulus Inc. I’m really interested in. Ok, so we get seated, four to a tiny table. The service is ok, the waiter stuffed up a coupla minor things but whatever. The concept is shared dining so you’re supposed to fight fork and knife with your companions for the stuff. For drinks, we get some San Pelle and a bottle of 2005 Chateau Lucas Cotes de Castillon which is a pretty biggish red. Good but could probably wait a little. Onto the food! We start with some nice bread, then move onto some oysters. I didn’t really care much about my rather tasteless claire de lune oyster but apparently it’s from Moonlight Flats, which is a small premium oyster producer with branded oysters like the one I just had. Next! The grilled octopus arrives with basil mayo and paprika and it’s a tasty little number. The texture of the occy is pretty good for grilled, not tough in the slightest but it’s the flavours of the dish together that are what makes it good. I can tell already, this is the type of meal I’ll enjoy. It’s not classic Italian or mediterranean, it’s mod aus but it’s the type of mod aus that isn’t shit. It actually tastes good and is just really simple. Next! We get some onion and cider soup with smoked ham hock. Really good. The front end feels like regular onion soup but then the cider kicks in and you get this slightly appley bend to it and the brightness comes out so the soup changes tastes. The ham just adds the necessary savouriness to marry everything. Ok, some raw fish now. Big chunky tuna with peas and goat’s curd. Not a combo I’d immediately go for but it’s pretty nice, clean and refreshing with the curds and the tuna is nice and fresh. But one of the stars has to be the foie gras parfait, which arrives with four triangles of brioche that we ask for more of. The parfait is exactly what one should taste and feel like. Just enough sherry/brandy to give a certain sweetness and it spreads wonderfully smooth. My good friend wishes he could have this shit every morning for breakfast. I could too but I ain’t got that money son. Back to reality now, we get to share a plate of ox tail, grilled with some pickled chilli and parsley and I love it. It’s cooked well, to a great texture, good bite but not chewy. The flavour is good too and this actually goes reasonably well with the big wine.

Then finally, the piece de resistane arrives at last. It’s the slow cooked lamb shoulder. One massive hunk of meat cooked in the oven for 12 hours until fork tender and just goddamn tasty. It’s really simple and it’s really good. It comes with some lemon and sliced spanish onions left to marinate in lemon juice for a bit and it goes really good together. As a side, we got a plate of brussel sprouts with butter and parmesan and it is awesomesauce. My favourite savoury thing this trip. Cooked till crispy and dark, possibly deep fried even, it’s just bursting with flavour and the umami bang of the cheese. It’s so good we get another plate. I am stealing this one broseph. To finish, we get one single dessert to share because we are stuffed. It’s baba au rhum. The waiter comes with a havana club and leaves it on the table first. We contemplate shots but they come back with the cake, well baked with a barely burnt top and fluffy interior sitting on a bed of chiboust. You pour as much rum over it as you want. Since I was busy taking photos, I ignored my friend asking me to say when so we end up with rhum au baba. It’s really nice and light but it’s not the kinda thing I’d die for. The brussel sprouts though, shit son, I’mma whack some up myself soon.

But all good things must come to an end, it’s been a fun 6 days or so in Melbourne and I gotta head back to Sydney, alone, at 110km/h on the Hume highway. So we get one last drink at a bar called Campari house, then a nap and then I wake at 6.30am, pick up macarons from Luxbite and hit the road.

So from Cumulus Inc.’s brussel sprouts, I progressed naturally, onto McDs and KFC until I finally reach my detour, a pilgrimage of sorts to Clonakilla winery in the Canberra Hills district. I bring home a bottle of 2011 Viognier Nouveau that I loved from before, a bottle of 2011 Viognier, which was oaked and has a much more complex smell and different character. The last bottle was an 2010 O’Riada Shiraz. Now unlike most other shiraz in Australia, Clonakilla makes a strikingly different, transparent light maroon, cold climate shiraz. It’s still got peppery notes and spices like cloves and nutmeg but it feels closer to a pinot noir. This 2010 version clearly needed some time to mature but it tasted really good already. Also, at $35, it’s a fucking steal. Unfortunately, the timing of my trip isn’t the best and I obviously missed out on their Shiraz Viognier, which is their flagship wine. They had magnums available but they are also $190 and a very serious wine.

So I drove to Melbourne under the influence and I return to Sydney under the influence. Well, if you consider a sip and spit under the influence. I actually got stopped by a cop just before the winery visit so perfect timing. I didn’t dare swallow too much though. Real pity. Going back when they release next year’s stuff if I can.

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