Not even a month had passed since my previous visit to Melbourne before I was back on another aircraft heading down there for a quick work trip. The usual procedure involves flying down on Friday afternoon, working all day Saturday and spending an extra night for a leisurely Sunday morning before flying back home. Last year I found the Sunday was more about checking out of the hotel and impatiently killing time, constantly watching the clock and wishing I was home already. This time around, thanks to my carrier allowing me to change to an earlier flight to Melbourne, I pretty-much had the entire Friday to do whatever I wanted, without watching the clock.
An overnight stay meant no luggage. Just my usual shoulder bag with the absolute basics and, of course, the Nikon. Too easy. Plane lands, SkyBus heads into Spencer Street and I jump into a cab directed for Footscray. I already had a plan. Where to go, where to eat.
I chose Footscray because I’d never been there before. It’s an inner west suburb that, on first impression, reminded me of Sydney’s Cabramatta. Just smaller and quieter. It does appear to be very Vietnamese but scratch the surface and it’s hard to not miss the African and Middle Eastern eateries and services. A real cultural melting pot and an area worthy of more exploration than what I gave it. One of the main attractions is the Footscray Market, a large indoor market brimming with fresh produce, household goods and seafood.
The moment I took out the camera and snapped one photo I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Excuse me sir, no photo’s” the security guard politely says whilst pointing at the “no camera’s” sign at the entrance. Damn. How am I meant to show something to my readers without images? In retrospect, I should have come out with the line a restaurateur once said he heard muttered from a blogger. “Um, I’m an independent food blogger” [insert inflection and a hair-flick when saying blogger].
Bitchiness aside, my camera went back into the bag and I walked the markets like any other normal civilian. It isn’t a blow-your-mind kind of market but interesting enough to explore for a little while.
Near the train station entrance is a joint I’ve learned is a bit of an institution. A little place that, thanks to public outcry, survived the redevelopment of Footscray Station. Olympic Doughnuts resides in a small sheet-metal van and has been frying its sugar-coated and hot jam-injected nuggets of goodness for more than 30 years. You can have them straight-up but, for me, seeing that jam-impregnating dolphin in action was half the split-second fun. The verdict? Soft, crunchy, warm and a little bready. These are real doughnuts. Not those iced and mass-produced ones you get at Krispy Kreme and its ilk.
A couple of blocks from the station is Little Saigon Market, a collection of 30-odd vendors crammed into a building bustling with shoppers out to stock up the kitchen and pantry on fresh and inexpensive fare. An Asian supermarket is a key tenant and surrounding it are bakeries, butchers and fish mongers, photo booths and a couple of restaurants. I hadn’t had my first coffee of the day as yet so I took a load off at Thanh Han, warming myself up on a cà phê nóng (3) before hitting the people-congested aisles and corridors of the market.
A few of the bakeries sell tempting hot take-away foods like crunchy fried chicken and octopus tentacles. I was partly wishing I didn’t scoff that big bag of jam doughuts before discovering the octopus. One thing I love about the market is how the fruit and vege shops offer free samples of different fruits. Try before you buy will always get your attention as you snack your way around the market. My favourite – slices of green mango dipped into chilli salt. Man, that gave me more of a sensory slap than the Vietnamese coffee and condensed milk did.
Across the rail tracks via the funky new tubular pedestrian walkway was my lunch destination. The Croatian Club. I couldn’t help but stop in at the Footscray Milking Station for a quick macchiato before being the first one in the door for an early Croatian lunch at the club. I’ve never chased a strong coffee with a beer but I couldn’t help myself when I spotted Karlovacko on the drinks list, a brew I drank 10 years ago in my parents hometown of Osijek, Croatia. Who cares about it being 11am. I wasn’t working and I was in the Croatian Club!
The menu wasn’t as exciting and extensive as I’d anticipated so I settled on the mixed grill (16.9), or what is usually referred to as pola pola (half half). Half cevapcici (skinless sausage) and half raznici (grilled pork). A mountain of chips and some grilled onion and capsicum also came to the party and thank god I only went for the small serve. It was huge! At least that made room for a cheese palacinka (4). All soft and warm and rolled with cottage cheese. Heart-warming and nostalgic stuff.
My dinner-for-one, later that evening, involved walking up to Little Lonsdale Street to be first in the door for some Korean fried chicken action. They may open their doors at a relatively-early 5pm but come 5.15 and there’s a full restaurant and a queue at the door. Popular, much?
A gradual procession of GaMi house beer kept me lubed whilst I nibbled on the complimentary crisps, awaiting my first dish. Corn cheese (9). Had the cast iron skillet been any larger I’d have jumped in and started doing backstroke in the warm, sweet corn kernels blanketed in oozing mozarella cheese.
The chicken comes three ways at GaMi – original, sweet chilli or sweet soy garlic. A full serve was just too much food so I opt with a half of the sweet soy garlic (17). Oh man. The thing that makes Korean fried chicken stand out from the rest is that crunchy golden crust that gives way to the juicy flesh beneath. The addition of garlic and sweet soy only heightened the pleasurable experience as I dove in with sticky fingers making a big old mess of myself. Slurping on beer, tossing chicken bones into a rapidly-filling bowl, the occasional cube of pickled daikon or shredded cabbage as well. Lip smackin’ good!
The following morning I needed to be at the Exhibition Centre at 9am so I raced up to Hardware Street for a quick breakfast at Silo by Joost. I’d visited the Greenhouse pop-up in Sydney last year so when I read about Joosts’ permanent Melbourne digs I stuck my head in for a gander. It’s all the same drill with recycled bits everywhere you look. Nice to see there’s no repeat of that wasteful and teeth-grating wooden cutlery we had to endure at Sydney’s Greenhouse. Great coffee and chirpy urbanites running the show.
The breakfast menu has the smallest selection of items I’ve seen – toast, oats with fruit & yoghurt, porridge and coddled egg (14). I went with the egg, yes there’s just one egg rather than two, beautifully coddled spilling its golden innards over a piece of toasted sourdough, some sautéed oyster mushrooms and a healthy scattering of citrusy wild oxalis. As I tuck into my egg I breathe in the aroma of freshly-baked muffins cooling on the kitchen counter.
No time to get comfy, it was time for work, but that you don’t need to hear about.