Eating Out in the UK and Australia: Reflections of a Melbourne Foodie who Lived in London
Back in 2010, this foodie (who’s been born and bred in Melbourne) hopped on a plane for 24 hour flight to London. Apart from the coming-of-age experience of upping sticks and resettling halfway across the world, I was anticipating an all British foodie experience. Like Oliver, I was thinking “food, glorious, food!”—visions of roast beef with Yorkshire puddings, trifle, fish and chips and high tea.
While I did have some very enjoyable food experiences in the UK, I really had to go find them. My highlights of the UK include the incredibly fresh fish and chips at Rick Stein’s and ice cream at Roskilly’s in Padstow; the sensory overload at Petersham Nurseries Cafe in Richmond; rustic breakfasts that they used to serve at Mudchute Farm at the Isle of Dogs; the homely afternoon teas at Royal Teas in Greenwich; and all the fabulous ethnic food at the Greenwich Market (which I hope is still there). In terms of franchises, which are more dominant in the UK, I do wish that one day that Wahaca and Strada open up in Australia.
In Australia, and in particular, Melbourne, you’re never far from a great meal, whether you’re going for cheap eats, mid-range or fine dining. In a sense, eating out seems to be more a democratic experience for everyone here – whereas in London, it seems like in order to have a great meal, one must have deep pockets.
In Melbourne, food trends are always evolving and chefs and diners alike are always quick to try something new. Mobile food trucks, pop-up dinners, another hidden hole-in-the-wall cafe are just some things that the Melbourne food scene offers. Currently, we’re in a midst of an explosion of Asian dessert houses and there’s been an influx of New York style eateries and Paleo diet menus.
Australia is made up of immigrants who bring with them their cuisines and attitude towards food. The melting pot of cuisines and the exposure to different types of produce and dishes is a boon to all diners. We’re pretty lucky, as population of four million, Melbournians have an established foodie destinations for almost every migrant group – Italian (in Carlton); Chinese, Japanese, Korean (city, Box Hill, Springvale); Vietnamese (Richmond, Footscray); Spanish (Fitzroy); Lebanese (Brunswick); African (Dandenong)…just to name a few!
One thing that overseas visitors ask me is where they can go for a quintessentially Australian meal. My answer is always is there’s no such thing. If you want an Australian food experience, you have to eat more than one meal! Melbourne has wholeheartedly embraced the love of food from the cultures that it’s made up of. As such, food is an attitude, a way of life. More than anything, it’s about finding the best produce and being open to trying something new. Having said that, here are a few pointers while in Melbourne:
Breakfast or brunch at an inner city cafe. These tend to be full of hipsters, but that’s just part of the experience. There’s many to choose from, including Chez Dre in South Melbourne; Foxtrot Charlie in Brunswick;Bayte in Collingwood; Auction Rooms in North Melbourne.
Lunch or dinner in a city laneway, including The Moat for Middle Eastern fusion; Silo by Joost, for virtuous eco-friendly meals; industrial hipster at Roule Galette for savoury buckwheat crepes and divine sweet crepes; a meal for less than $5 at WonderBao. If you get lost trying to find these laneways (even locals can have a hard time locating these places), remember that the harder it is to find, the better the food!
Coffee addicts rejoice – Melbourne is renowned for its coffee. Great coffee goes hand in hand with a hipster cafe. Try it at Two Birds One Stonein the city; St Ali in South Melbourne; Dukes Coffee Roasters in Windsor.
If you’re insistent on having an “Australian” meal, then steak or seafood is your best bet. Australia is renowned for both. If you want to try either, my advice is to go to a high-end restaurant so that you’re definitely getting the best quality. For steak, try the Railway Club Hotel in Port Melbourne and for seafood, try the seafood buffet brunch at Collin’s Kitchen in the city.
Tim Tam slam. Tim Tams are similar to Penguins but better. Nibble the opposite ends of a Tim Tam, dunk it into a cup of coffee, and slurp up the coffee through the biscuit. A messy but a guilty treat!
Vegemite sandwich – love it or hate it, you just gotta try it! Try it smeared on bread and toasted with lots of cheese. Or, my favourite, simply use it to marinade some chicken wings and roast in the oven. It gives the wings a lovely savoury flavour.