Melbourne’s adorned laneways aren’t exactly a secret. Neither is the city’s vibrant food or shopping scene. It would be so easy to pay homage to its Victorian roots or compare it to the megatropolis of New York City. I’m not a local (although I’d jump at the chance to be one) and nor would I want to insult Melbournian’s with an outsider’s lowdown on their beloved treasure. But I am a lover of this wonderful city. So much so that I can’t believe it’s been over three years since I’ve ridden its trams and stumbled along its cobblestoned alleys.
I arrive to glorious sunshine; a welcome change from stormy Perth where it was raining so hard
my fireplaces were pouring. I long to dump my bags and explore but I’m distracted by the welcome pack and my upgrade to a two-bedroom ibis suite which also includes a living room and balcony on the second storey bigger than many an urbanite’s apartment. On the ground floor I have a kitchenette, dining room, powder room, bathroom and two bedrooms consisting of two singles in one room and a queen in the other; all part of the “Sweet beds by ibis” range. Perfect for families or a group of friends and it’s just around the corner from the Queen Victoria Markets where I’m sure the ingredients for a many feast have been sourced and enjoyed in this very apartment. Especially with those 11th floor views of the city going about its business.
Located on Therry St just off the intersection of Victoria and Elizabeth streets, the ibis is far enough away from the CBD to avoid the chaos and close enough to wander into whatever adventure you so desire. Trams run along Elizabeth, Victoria, as well as Swanston and LaTrobe streets a short walk away easily expanding your journey to St Kilda, Chapel St, Docklands and beyond. The Skybus shuttle service from Melbourne Airport (Tullamarine) delivers passengers at the Southern Cross Station which is two blocks over on Collins St from the Elizabeth St tram but there is also a shuttle bus from the Southern Cross Station directly to the ibis. The Skybus is $30 return per adult and a taxi will cost approximately $40 one way.
As the city is fuelled by its insatiable appetite, which I fully intend on indulging
in, I decide walking will allow me to still fit into my jeans by the end of it. Plus, the city is just so walkable. I join the bubbly Bettina for the Foodie’s Dream Tour of the Queen Victoria Markets where we eat our way through the markets while learning about its history and unusual ingredients. As Bettina takes us through the historic dairy and meat halls, and the organic, fruit and vegetable sections she regales us with tales. It’s easy to visualise how the market once was (and smelt with the lack of refrigeration and open sewers), and still is, the central food hub of the city. The markets opened in 1878 and she points out the tiny doors which are still the only entry point into many of the stalls, how the old-fashioned abattoir hooks are still used to this day, why the ghost tours are so popular and what a hive of activity the markets are in the wee hours of the morning while the rest of the city obliviously slumbers. Then she feeds us with cheese, dips, sourdough, tortellini, French nibbles and handmade chocolates. Even if you don’t join one of the many market tours they’re open every day of the week except Monday and Wednesday with Melbournians and restaurateurs travelling from all over the city to buy their fresh produce.
I’m eternally grateful to the Italian immigrants for bringing their coffee machines after WWII and
setting up shop on Lygon St, aka “Little Italy.” This is where Australia’s coffee culture all began and just a few minutes away from the ibis Lygon St serves coffee and Italian fare day and night. For a caffeine hit closer to your bed, the hotel restaurant has a very respectable coffee machine and a little further away is coffee roastery Market Lane Coffee on Therry St on the opposite side of Elizabeth to the ibis. Down Guildford Lane (between LaTrobe and Lt Lonsdale St) and contained within the century old rustic warehouse Krimper Café causes screams of mushroom, truffle oil and manchego delight with its Mushroom Scram; along with screams of surprise at discovering the toilets are unisex. Grab and go coffee is cutely identified by the chairs hanging off the ceiling (since you won’t be needing them) at Brother Baba Budan (359 Little Bourke St) and it’s also standing room only at Patricia (493-495 Little Bourke St). At 361 Lt Lonsdale Street in a former motorbike repair garage Thousand £ Bend not only serves coffee but also showcases artworks and films. The Journal Café appealed to the writer in me as did its fresh bruschetta and suckling pig lasagne.
A woman can’t live on coffee alone…apparently. If something more substantial is required Movida (1 Hosier Lane off Flinders St) has been keeping gourmet bar-flies satiated for years with air-dried Wagyu with poached organic egg and truffle foam, silky croquettes, churros and Spanish sherries. If the line is off-putting you don’t need to go any further than next door at Movida Next Door or any of the other Movidas around town. Head south of the border at Mamasitas (Level 1/11 Collins St) boasting some of the best Mexican tapas outside of Mexico and why not dispute the matter over the extensive tequila menu. While we’re sharing in the south, decide for yourself if Chin Chin’s (125 Flinders Lane) south-east Asian cuisine lives up to its hype. You know it’s going to be tasty and cheap by amount of Korean students crammed into the artsy Darac (53 A’Beckett St) and it’s kinda fun to fill in the form with your selections like octopus balls, pork shabushabu and the Korean hamburger steak at shared tables. Greek food ought to be eaten with gusto and Gazi certainly provides plenty of vibrancy, dips, wood fired deliciousness and horoscope inspired cocktails. Mine would be a Taupos (Taurus) consisting of gin, vassinada, citrus and herbs – if anyone’s interested next time I’m in town (hint, hint).
After all this goodness and walking I’m feeling a little tender and although I wouldn’t have any trouble finding a pedicure or massage in the city, something a little unorthodox will not only take care of my feet but my entire body. Requiring a loss of inhibition I surrender to the warm waters of a traditional Japanese bathhouse at Onsen Ma (Level 1/12-18 Meyers Pl). I might be shedding every stitch of clothing but not with abandon; afterall there is an etiquette to taking a Japanese bath. Firstly, you must remove all your clothes, soap up and rinse with water, enter the 40 degree bath and relax. Intersperse the bath with a sweat in the sauna but don’t forget to repeat the cleaning process before returning to the bath. Don’t panic, the water is treated with pumps to control the chemical balance and the baths are segregated by gender unless you’ve booked a private bath where you’re welcome to bring your family and friends to enjoy this ancient Japanese tradition. Finish off with a shiatsu massage, Japanese for “finger pressure” designed to assist further with the relaxation process and improve the flow of energy.
Okay, I have to confess I didn’t walk back to the hotel after the bathhouse. I was just too relaxed and clean. I floated back on a tram and reluctantly packed for my flight home compliments of Tiger Air. Given the weight restrictions, this required much concentration after my trip to the newly opened designer precinct Emporium. With hand luggage only consisting of two pieces weighing no more than 10kgs combined (and, yes they checked) and check-in luggage restricted to 15kgs, think carefully before splurging or over-packing in the first place. Each kilo extra costs $25 each but since the flights start at $129, who’s complaining? Given the speedy check-in process with new Web Check system, short flight time and cheap flight, it’s a breeze to return Melbourne on a more regular basis.