Roger Federer has just won the Australian Tennis Open, his 18th grand slam victory and his first tournament since taking six months off to recover from a knee injury. He’s 35-years-old. Ancient.
Hearts bleed for his opponent, Raphael Nadal, who displayed more courage in the game and grace in defeat than the entire new crop of men’s hopefuls rolled into one.
I had to watch the tennis from my living room, but I did get to soak up some of Melbourne’s magic this weekend. Because I was there, eating polpette and polenta in the laneways at 10 o’clock on Friday night, then back in the morning for bircher muesli and coffee around the corner.
The Husband, The Ballerina and I booked an impromptu trip south to visit The Athlete and catch up with some friends visiting from Malaysia. We didn’t get to the tennis but we did revel in the buzz of finals weekend. Chinese New Year celebrations added to the vibe.
Melbourne turned on pristine weather – hot days and cool nights once the sun finally set around 9:30pm. The city was in party mode. Shops were busy and cafes were full. I’ve returned home with a heavier suitcase and a shocking sunburn, both signs of a weekend well spent.
The Athlete has changed digs and her West Melbourne neighbourhood offers new dining venues for us to explore. She was chuffed to find an outpost of a favourite coffee joint around the corner from home and took us there for lunch. I chose their version of green eggs and ham; two fried eggs with lardons and home-made potato gems swimming in a pea puree. It was fantastic. The waiter was hilarious. We’ll be back.
Seafood and Sweets
Later that evening we joined hundreds of people crowding Southgate promenade in search of sustenance. We found ours at The Waterfront where the menu lists nearly a dozen different oysters by type, provenance and flavour profile. Some have an iodine finish, others are creamy and sweet.
I love an oyster, but struggled with so much choice. What to do, what to do.
Easy. Have scallops instead, served on a cauliflower puree with beetroot cubes and witlof leaves. Delicious. And follow this with a risotto shot through with Moreton Bay bug meat and a hint of chilli. Then waddle home.
Or, option B, catch a cab to Carlton for gelato from a joint where customers queue down the street till midnight and there’s an in-store DJ working a turntable for their entertainment.
Day two in Melbourne dawned as brightly as the first so we left the city to meet our friends at the Abbotsford Convent, a collection of historic buildings by the Yarra river now housing cafes and art spaces.
The onsite bakery tempted me with its artisanal breads and decadent pastries, but I’m dodging wheat for a while and was happy with a corn and zucchini fritter laden with cherry tomatoes, poached eggs and fresh dill and mint. There was quinoa on the dish too, but the less said about that the better. Bloated anyone?
The neighbouring community farm sealed the deal for our under-ten-year-old companions, who braved the snake warning signs to feed horses and pat sheep. I’m claiming success on venue choice.
We waved goodbye to our friends after a few hours, urging them to take the kids to the museum and Luna Park, and made our way to Fitzroy where artfully dressed people sat reading books and drinking wine alone. In Gertrude Street we tried on hats and ran our hands longingly over handmade furniture. We drank lukewarm coffee and health shots made with cayenne pepper. I might have bought some digitally-printed silk from an environmentally conscious designer. The Ballerina bought socks.
Our walk back into the city took us down Russell Street which had been closed off for Chinese New Year celebrations. There was a dragon and stalls selling Chinese food and real estate and Mercedes Benz cars. There were firecrackers.
We managed to get through the rest of the afternoon without eating any more food, carried along by a sea of people down the Bourke Street mall and into the Royal Arcade. We bought a string bag and a clock made out of recycled cardboard and some shears made in Sheffield.
Finally spent, we dragged our flagging feet back up Collins Street to collect our suitcases from the hotel just as tennis fans were making their way to the stadium.
While Roger and Rapha warmed up I slept in the back of a taxi on the way to the airport. And I couldn’t eat my boxed supper on the plane. No room.