Eating in Melbourne
Tuesday, August 30th , 2011
I used to visit Australia fairly regularly in the late 1990s, but have not been for over a decade. At that time Melbourne offered some good value Vietnamese and Greek food and some decent mid-range places, but little at the high end of the dining scene (such as Stephanies, now defunct, and the Flower Drum, a merely pleasant Chinese restaurant). Things have really changed with the passing of time.
At the everyday level I enjoyed Chin Chin, a modern Thai/Asian place that produced very capable food. I was impressed with MoVida, a tapas bar that would compete well anywhere, other than with its lighting, which was murky in the extreme. Hare and Grace served up a rather mixed bag, with a lovely braised beef dish but also some oddities, and at a high price point.
One thing to note as a visitor is that wine in Australia is surprisingly expensive. This is not just a matter of exchange rate: the government attaches two taxes to wine with an effective tax rate of 41% on local wines, with an extra surcharge for foreign wines. This means that wine prices in restaurants seem high even compared to London, and indeed when I checked the prices of a few wines at a local shop, some wines were 30% higher than the retail price you would pay in the UK.
At the high end of things Melbourne now has some serious restaurants. Attica was the kind of ultra-modern place with complex dishes and unfamiliar ingredients that I was not really looking forward to, but in fact it was excellent. The dishes were not only pretty, but the components made logical sense together on the plate. The chef’s emphasis on foraging also meant that the vegetables had good flavour, which was generally a weak link that I noticed here. I spoke to a leading vegetable supplier here and he confessed that the quality here was generally low compared to Europe.
Vue de Monde now has a serious view in its smart new premises, but the food is the star here. Considerable effort went into sourcing, and dishes were not only very pretty (one is pictured) but had excellent flavour balance. Service was superb at both Vue de Monde and Attica, and both are world class restaurants.
Next week I will write about the Sydney dining scene.