26 March 2009

Melbourne Foodspot

I was in Melbourne last week for a conference and since then have composed this blog entry in my mind about a thousand times. Should it be about being away from home & family? Should it be about the quirks of corporate travel?

I decided it all comes down to food. Melbourne is widely recognised as the food and wine capital of Australia, although now I'm sure I will hear strong protests from Sydney and other capital cities. However, as a self-accredited foodie, I can definitely support Melbourne's claim. Every meal I had in Melbourne was good, even though I was not expecting it -- for example, the catering at the conference was good. So was the dinner at a corner pub, which normally would (by its appearance and location) have led me to expect a stodgy steak and potato menu, unenthusiastically dished out. And I mean good by foodie standards, not just "good enough" for non-foodies. I wonder if Melburnians feel disappointed when they eat in other cities?

On my last evening in Melbourne, I was left to my own devices, so I decided to seek out the Greek precinct. Melbourne once had the second largest Greek population of any city in the world, exceeded only by Athens. Considering Melbourne's food reputation, I thought that I would easily find a restaurant to surpass my favorite Greek restaurant (ever), Sofi's in LA.

Unfortunately, the Greek precinct (one block of Lonsdale Street) is now embedded within the Asian restaurant scene which sprawls like wild ivy creeping out from Chinatown just a block away, taking over streets in all directions. Therefore, during my quest, I passed by many crowded and delicious smelling Asian restaurants -- Korean, Thai, Japanese, Indonesian and Chinese, to name a few. In addition, on my way to Lonsdale Street, I happened across Hardware Lane, with busy Italian cafes on either side of the pedestrian-only laneway. Feeling amazed at how many restaurants there were, and how full they all were, especially for a Tuesday night, I steeled my resolve and continued along Lonsdale Street.

I found a paltry three Greek restaurants in a row and one Greek bakery. The bakery looked scrumptious, but hardly dinner-worthy. I saved the thought for later. Going window to window, I compared the menus of all three restaurants and peered at the empty rooms with only two or three tables taken in each one. Nothing looked terribly inspiring. I thought about the Chinese restaurant that had snagged my attention earlier, with a photo of the chef making handmade noodles. Noodles, especially handmade ones, are one of my favorite foods.

Circling the neighborhood, I considered various Asian offerings, but in the end went back to the place with the handmade noodles: Dumplings Plus. It broke several of my rules around restaurant selection, with decor (too fancy for a lowbrow Asian restaurant), name (sounds like a franchise), and signage (big plastic monstrosity) but I couldn't resist the appeal of handmade noodles. I ordered Northern style noodles (served in a sour spicy broth and garnished with pork mince and pickled vegetables), stir fried mushrooms and seasonal vegetables (a lovely assortment of mushrooms, not just button mushrooms), and steamed man tou.

And, of course, it was good.

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