What’s On The Menu In (And Around) Melbourne?
What’s On The Menu In (And Around) Melbourne?
Lunch that’s an art-form, fruits with a tractor ride, tea served in exchange for honesty…Kiran Mehta finds that in Victoria, Australia, food is more than the taste on your palate; it’s an experience that stays long after you’ve wiped the plate clean.
Discover Australia just the way Kiran did..
I could write the story of my life in food. I gave up Gems at eight when my cousin lodged one up his nose and had to visit the emergency room. Burgers bring to mind a college crush who won an ‘all-you-can-eat-in-one-sitting’ bet. Camomile tea is synonymous with a former editor whose intake of the calming chai increased as we got closer to print date. Flavours, for me, trigger memories and I am not alone in this association. In fact the food industry in Victoria, Australia seems to be making its bread and butter off this strong link. So a food tour of Victoria is aimed not just to tantalise your tongue. It’s about dishing out an experience that you can’t get enough of, even if you’ve had your fill. It’s something you take back, without a doggy-bag. On a recent visit to the region, I did just that. I added several more chapters to my story. Here are a few bite-sized servings from my food tour:
The Edible Art Cafe At The Hummingbird Eco Retreat
I enter an enchanting forest, home to koalas and kangaroos. I stand under a 100-year-old manna gum tree. I walk the gardens and a squirrel flits past. I bend down to smell the roses and scare away a butterfly. In the midst of these woods lies the Edible Art Cafe.
I spot a man checking-in on a vegetable garden which sports ripe tomatoes, baby cabbage and radish. This is Scott Davies, the owner and CEO of the eco-retreat. A nature-lover, he built this place to reflect the goodness of the soil. On these sprawling grounds, chemical free fruits, vegetables and herbs are grown. Only home-grown foods are served within the cafe.
I enter the cafe and find a woman at work. She tells me her name, but I forget immediately as I’ve re-christened her Dharma (of Dharma and Greg). She has a quirky sense of style, much like Dharma’s. Since she works in an eco-retreat I assume she worships nature. We talk and I know I’ve met Dharma – she’s a pure vegetarian, and she swears by yoga. When the conversation ends, she scurries into the kitchen to bring out plate-upon-plate of art. Suddenly the name of the cafe makes sense. Salad that resembles a giant rose; vegetables fashioned into intricate, abstract art. I look at the food that’s a painting and I don’t want to destroy it by biting into it. But even if the paintings were destroyed, my memory of living inside a fairy-tale stays.
Fact-file: Located in Red Hill, the hinterland of the Mornington Peninsula, a 60-minute drive south of Melbourne city. The retreat also offers eco-friendly rooms for rent, styled under nature-inspired themes.
Tractor Tours At Rayner’s Stonefruit Orchard
“It’s a Lamborghini”, said Farmer Len Rayner, the owner of the orchard, as I looked at the intimidating tractor. “Hop on”, said Len and I did, only to pose. Then I was ushered into the back, a trailer attached to the tractor that seated me and 15 others who had signed up for the tour.
The tractor droned into action, and off we went into the orchards. Len and his wife bought the land 35 years ago and today they grow 300 different varieties of fruit—apricots, nectarines, pomegranates, strawberries and other juicy fruits.
We make our first stop, walk into the orchard, and I pull off a ripe peach. Stop after stop, more fruits are plucked off trees. And right there in the middle of the field, the sun shining down on us, the smell of the earth filling our nostrils, we enjoy the bounty of nature. We compare flavours and pick favourites out of the 12 varieties this tour affords us.
Len parks next to a cherry picker and the chosen ones from the group hop onto the cherry picker, one at a time, and soar several feet into the air. The view from the top is magnificent—open fields as far as the eye can see, with just a hint of brighter hues from the fruits. The flavours may fade. But my first time on board a cherry picker won’t be forgotten.
Fact-file: Located in the Yarra Valley, a 60-minute drive east of Melbourne city. One-hour tractor tours operate from December 1st- late March, and cost AUD 21/16 for adult/ child.
Yarra Valley Chocolaterie And Ice Creamery
I walk into the chocolaterie to the smell of melted chocolate. I look around and don’t know where to start—fruity pastilles, inviting fudge, colourful macaroons… I walk further and spot the ice-cream section where happy children hold cones topped with colourful dollops.
Once the sugar rush gets manageable I spot the factory beyond the glass enclosure, where trained chocolatiers create handcrafted treats. I feast on the free samples and invest in a sinful bar of dark chocolate loaded with hazelnuts. It takes only one bite to remind me of my diabetic grandmother who once tried to convince me that she could eat a toffee, or three, as long as she took her insulin shots. The sweet with the bitter as she put it.
Fact-File: A 60-minute drive east of Melbourne city, in the Yarra Valley. Entry is free.
Cup Of Truth
Tucked away in the Degraves Street subway, every true Melbournian raves about this cafe. I stroll across the subway, a tourist hotspot as it was built to accommodate the crowds of the 1956 Olympics. Despite looking for the cafe, I almost miss it. The words ‘Cup of truth’ bring my attention to this hole-in-the-wall.
The menu offers tea, coffee and pastries. I order a hot cuppa, but there’s no bill. I ask for one and am told to check the price and drop the required amount into an oversized cup. Any change I need I fish-out from the cup. It’s a hot, comforting cup served in good faith. Truth be told, this may have been just a cup of coffee, yet its concept makes this one of my favourite stops on this tour.
In the spirit of honesty I must admit that this food memoir brings you just a few delicious crumbs. Believe me when I say that the state of Victoria offers you a lot more to chew on.
Fact-File: The subway can be accessed from Flinders Street Station.