We were getting used to this now. The twenty-hour flight was at the back of our mind and felt like seconds compared to the equivalent bus journeys through Thailand and Vietnam. The introduction of western culture was a shock after the small food shacks, potholed roads and kamikazi mopeds of Asia, though in many ways a relief. We settled on St Kilda, one of the beach suburbs of the city, to pitch a base, checked into a hostel and decided to have a look around via the usual means of a pub crawl. Melbourne is trendy, very trendy, in fact if you don't have a sharp haircut and a sleeve tattoo I swear they wouldn't serve you at the many graffiti-clad rooftop bars.
When morning arrived we decided to take a walk and have some breakfast, for which there was a lot of choice. The diversity of culture here means the selection of eateries is vast: Italian, Greek, Vietnamese, sushi bars, falafel shops and, to my surprise, an overwhelming amount of fish and chip shops. There is so much to choose from but one thing was sure, it wasn't cheap! The 50p bowls of noodles were long gone…
We checked into a cheaper hostel on the second night, which had to be one of the most disgusting places I have ever seen, let alone lived in. 16 to a room, with one bathroom and a kitchen shared by all, for a mere $200 a week. Drunken teenagers crawling back at 4am, possums helping themselves to items in the shared kitchen and regular visits from the police ensued over the next weeks. This was becoming normality, in short we needed to get jobs and get out quick! Dave instantly found a job working in a busy restaurant by the beach, and I opted for somewhere interesting on the end of St Kilda pier. Having discovered the theme of the coming circus production is based around the sea, I needed to cook some seafood! Joey turned up after a couple of weeks and we moved into an old Victorian apartment with leaks, damp and well interesting neighbors, but my, it was an improvement! Joe managed to get a job at Circa, a restaurant in which my friend Matt Beardshall at Wild garlic in Nailsworth used to work, and highly recommended.
The pier meant an amazing walk to work. There would be kite surfers flying over, joggers on their morning route and eager beach goers looking for a bite to eat. We sold flash squid, fish ’n’ chips, and oysters literally by the bucket-load. We would frequently receive whole kingfish directly from the ocean that we quickly filleted and sold as ceviche with fresh coconut, lime and chili, how better to have it?
Working and eating in Melbourne, we noticed similarities in all the menus. There are some amazing restaurants down under, but the sheer diversity of cultures that are here make it difficult to define what specifically is Australian cuisine. If the restaurant isn't of a specific type you will find different ingredients and styles from all over the world, east meets west... a (former) British colony that is close to the orient and a boat ride to the Americas, there is nothing to can't get here.
Brunch is big here: eggs benedict, royal Florentine, bubble and squeak with corned beef, and of course things like quinoa super food salads, smashed avocado and acai fruit bowls are everywhere due to the huge number of vegetarians and vegan diets. I mean some people are so scared of meat here you could rob a bank with a pork chop... There are no high street coffee shops here, just very good independent cafes with more than one blend, stunning coffee art where they have to adjust the settings according to the temperature and humidity of the day. The selection of seafood was amazing. South Melbourne market hosts an array of fresh oysters shucked to order, fish straight from the boats, surprisingly cheap butchers, and fruit and veg fresh from the farms that a lot of our friends are working at - which seems to be the travelling trend for the European traveller at the moment. We couldn't help ourselves, we just had to have lobster for Christmas lunch, cooked surf and turf with Asian braised beef ribs and Vietnamese mint. It was worth it (I tell myself), even if it meant not eating for a week afterwards... I mean I accidentally spent a whole pay cheque on them.
Before we knew it three months had passed and we hadn’t seen a Roo, something had to change!