Not on your Nellie

Out in the beautiful Yarra Valley, I came across a winery I had seen on one of those TV travel shows.  But not just any old winery – Coombe Estate.  Dame Nellie Melba’s Coombe Estate.  One of the largest AND oldest family estates in the Yarra, Coombe was established in the late 1800’s by the great Dame herself, and was named after a home she had rented in England whilst performing at Covent Garden.  She paid just $2,165 for the 61 acre piece of land and It is still owned and operated by her descendants.

DSC02020

Nellie was born Helen Porter in 1861.  She was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a musician and was one of the most famous singers of the early 20th century.  She trained and performed in Melbourne (though probably not in the Bourke Street Mall I’m assuming!) before she headed to Europe to embark on her singing career.  Nellie found success in Brussels and performed in most European cities before she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1893.

Most famous for her role in the Barber of Seville, she was known for her flamboyance style and surrounded herself with many a celebrity friend – artist, actors, royalty and the like – even chefs (most notably French chef August Escoffier who went on to create Peach Melba, Melba Toast and Melba Sauce in her honour.

DSC02030

Dame Nellie returned to Melbourne in 1912, where she taught singing at the Conservatory.  Coombe Estate has a wonderful small gallery of Nellie’s memorabilia, including paintings by Hans Heysen and her Louis Vuitton luggage – made by the great man himself.

Nellie died in 1931 in Australia.  The world came together to mourn the death of the ‘most famous woman in the world’ and her funeral was a national major event.  Cheers Nellie!

DSC02026

Oodles of Noodles

Ok, so gotta get out of the house and I remember that the Good Food Month Nightly Noodle Markets are on down at Birrarung Marr, just a stone’s throw away (of course!).  Opened in 2002, Birrarung Marr plays host to all sorts of festivals and events such as this, and a quick walk from Federation Square, it’s easy to get to and the perfect spot for an after work meal, while the good weather is on display.  It’s only quite early, the market having been open only an hour or so, but you know instantly where the markets are by following the crowds streaming there.

DSC01463

An oversized inflatable neko greats you at the entrance to the markets and from there, it’s a total feast for your senses in every direction you look.  Incredible smells and people carrying boxes of incredible looking food, it’s all you can do to stop yourself from asking everyone you see ‘what is that, and where did you get it?’ while mopping the drool from your face.

DSC01466

Where do you start?  Japanese, Indian, Indonesian or Korean?  Korean.  Fred loves Korean.  And so do I.  So I line up for one of their pork bau.  Grabbing a beer, I head up over the pedestrian bridge to grab me a spot of grass.  There are chairs everywhere, but there are also people filling them.  This appears to be a popular spot.  The salad, a mix of spring onion, carrot and cabbage is fantastic.  And so is the bau.  Nice doughy bau filled with gorgeously cooked pork, coriander, crushed peanuts and refreshing cucumber.  And a hint of something that tastes a lot like aniseed.  Yep, this is good.

DSC01470

I also take this opportunity to crack open my fortune cookie.  Proceeds from the sale of these $2 fortune cookies goes to support charity, so just buy one – OK!

DSC01473

I purposely tried to ignore ChinChin and Kong this time, because they are some of the biggest names in town and, aside from having eaten at ChinChin just last week anyway, there are so many other good little places to try, that I feel they deserve pride of place on my menu tonight.  So I head back over the bridge and check out another section.

There’s so much food it’s really, really hard to make a choice about what to try next.  But hey, I haven’t had Lao before, so that’s where I’ll go next.  Lao Lao is selling three kinds of tacos at its stall tonight, so I decide to try the whisky beef taco.  Finding myself a table, a lucky spot and a bit of a jog to grab a vacating table, tricky task with a camera, beer and food tray in my hand.  Unfortunately this dish isn’t anything to write home about.  It’s just really some beef, not really marinaded that well, surrounded by rice noodles and veg.  A bit bland, but I think that entitles me to try another dish (just as well it was also on the small side).

DSC01476

 Ok, so the yakisoba is looking good, but so are the beef roti rolls at Lankan Tucker, so only because the queue is small at Lankan, I grab a roti roll.  Biting into it, I can already tell it’s a winner.  A nice amount of spice and vegetables mixed with beef in a nicely crisp roti sleeping bag.  It’s wrong to eat this much, but I keep telling myself, it’s for the blog.  And as I mentioned, thank goodness these are tasting sized portions (at most stalls anyway), so I reckon I can do one more – just for you, of course.

DSC01479

DSC01509

It’s only the second year this event is being run.  Last year it was such a success that it was fairly under catered for, with people reportedly queuing for up to an hour to sample some Asian delights.  This year, they have tried to make up for last year’s lack of seating (although clearly there’s still not enough) by hiring every available type of chair in Melbourne and inviting more vendors.  There’s also bars for wine, beer and iced tea, toilets and ATM’s.  I love how it’s set up in different sections across the park – it makes for an interesting evening browsing around, and gives you a bit of exercise to try and walk off some of the food in between courses.  Or you can choose to stick to one area – so will it be Lucky Cat Corner or Tiger Kingdom?  Plus there’s a host of entertainment for the evening as well.  Tonight were three gorgeous (and gutsy, if you ask me) oriental ladies floating through the air on bendy poles.  Absolutely fascinating and a good distraction from the world of food for a few moments.

DSC01504

DSC01495

DSC01487

DSC01484

As mentioned, there’s room for just one more thing.  Well actually, there’s not.  But we all know sweets is digested by a different stomach, so when I spied Shimbashi’s stall selling Sake Pudding, my hand was in my pocket for a fiver, quicker than you could say, well ‘sake’.  I could only imagine how jealous my brother-in-law would be right now – so this one’s for you Mike.

DSC01483

Light and custardy with a dried citrus layer on top, it really was the perfect way to end the evening.  Almost like a crème caramel, but drenched in sake.  The only thing that would make it better, would be… a shot of sake.

There was no way I could try any more food tonight, even though there were so many vendors and wonderful looking foods that I wanted to try.  It’s just as well the markets are running every night until the 30th of November.  That’s dinner sorted for the next week then!

I can see why the locals love this event.  With the sun setting on the city and a warm evening in the air, where else would you possibly want to be?

CBD Love

I’ve never lived in the city before.  I’m a suburban girl through and through.  But when I moved to Melbourne, I didn’t want to be anywhere else.  I wanted to be on the doorstep to everything.

I have just about reached the end of my first week here, and so far, that’s exactly where I seem to be.  Great coffee?  Three minute walk.  Live music?  One minute walk out the back door.  Podiatrist?  Ten minute walk down the street.  Tram?  Out the front door.  Hairdresser?  Ten minute walk down the road.  Art galleries? Five to ten minutes out the door.

There’s something to be said for having everything you need at your fingertips.  In the long run, is it going to make me go to the dentist more often?  Or buy my Christmas presents earlier?  I’m not sure.  But at first glance it seems all the things I never had time for back in Perth (apart from my job taking up my whole life), because living in the suburbs these things simply weren’t in my face.

I can’t describe the feeling of thinking to yourself ‘what cuisine do I feel like indulging in today?’ and having it be so close at hand.  It’s brilliant to be able to choose from more than just Hungry Jacks or Chinese.  Within a five minute walk from my new home, I have Peruvian (actually I don’t even have to leave the building for that one!), meatballs, Sushi, Italian, Indian, pub fare, coffee, sandwiches, salad, new yawk bagels, Greek or Asian.  That’s just in one block.

And it’s just as well, because for the first time since I acquired the skills to drive a car, I am without one.  I was panicking at first – lack of control staring me in the face – but really there is no need to have one.  I have three trams right out the door (including the free city one) and two feet.  Of course it takes some getting used to, not being able to load up your car at the shops and then conveniently unload it in your own private driveway, but it also makes you think about what you need to buy and whether you really, really need it.  Because let’s face it – at the end of the day, do you really want to carry it home?

I do find myself heading in and out of my apartment all day long to pick up bits and pieces, but I’m lucky I can (and think of all that incidental exercise!).  And there is a range of businesses out there that cater for this and provide delivery services – you just have to be prepared to wait around for deliveries.

Back home, you were limited to the number of places even playing good live music, and to be honest, it was a bit of a pain in the rear end trying to work out how to get there and back if you wanted a few drinks (and being a female by herself late at night if you couldn’t manage to drag someone out with you).  And it’s not just a being in the suburbs vs city thing either.  Perth on the weekend or after hours (unless you are talking Friday arvo drinks) is very quiet.  Shoot a gun down St George’s Terrace quiet.  Melbourne CBD certainly has its quiet spots and days (Melbourne Cup), but generally speaking there is always something on.

However, there is no substitute for being able to just pop out the door and down the road to see live music.  And for me, that’s what it’s about.  Ultimately, it’s all about the music.

The Day of Bore/aks

This morning we have a well deserved lay in, yes even me.  Leigh and I get out of bed and into our workout clothes for a nice little walk.  We head out down along the Flagstaff Gardens (apparently Melbourne’s oldest), down to Spencer Street, along the self-proclaimed ‘New York end of town’ and back along William Street, chatting and taking in our surroundings.  We stop off at Brother Thomas for a coffee, but when we set our eyes on their fresh breakfast bagels, we decide to grab one of those to share also.

Brother ThoMAS

Back at the hotel, fed, showered and ready to go, we meet up with Mum and Dad and head in the direction of the Queen Victoria Markets.  Closed again today, thankfully this is not our final destination.  We are actually heading to a shop called Ambiance.  I’ve visited this one a couple of times and Mum and Leigh have also become recent fans of what we affectionately call ‘the Christmas shop’.

One of the most special parts of Christmas was when the presents from the Eastern States arrived from Aunty Joy and Uncle Ron.  They were always exquisite little packages of expensive looking wrapping and ribbons and they always smelt divine.  Inside was always a special treasure – whether it be a beautiful book with a hand written inscription or a piece of Aunty Joy’s stunning needlework.  We would all gather around the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve because this was the special present we were allowed to open before Christmas.

Room after room of pink, gold, silver and Christmas coloured balls, bells, glitter, glass, candles and other magical items awaits you when you walk in the door.  We are looking for something special for the family to place on their Christmas trees in remembrance of Aunty Joy, but it’s hard to believe that even in this overabundance of Christmas magic, we walk out empty handed.  The perfect piece must be awaiting us elsewhere.

Walking around the streets, we pass Boreks Bakehouse, which we think is hilarious because Dad’s other name/nickname is Borak.  So of course, we have to stop and have a borek.  Basically it’s kind of like a Turkish bread, with different sorts of fillings, sweet and savoury.  We tell the shopkeeper that we are here to eat boreks cause our Dad’s name is Borak and she also thinks its hilarious.  So we grab a bunch of boreks and walk off down the street munching on this newfound goodness.

Borak at the Borek shop

More Boreks

Next we catch the free city circle tram to Harbourtown down on the waterfront.  Normally Dad wouldn’t have a bar of going to the shops with us, but he hasn’t seen the Harbour area redevelopment since Uncle Ron drove us around here several years ago.  As it is, we spend a lot of time in the Jeep shop throwing all sorts of outfits at Dad to try on.  He doesn’t do clothes shopping very well, but he has a trip to Europe next year and I’d like to think that now he will be fully equipped to be a well dressed traveller.  The very cute shop assistant spent quite a lot of time making suggestions and generally laughing at the debacle that is the Keller family shopping.  I’m sure we made his day.

Shopped out, we stop for lunch at the Harbourtown Hotel.  Great special meals for $15.  It’s great to sit and have conversations with each other and reconnect.  It’s rare that you take time for these things in the course of every day life when there’s so much going on.

Leigh leaves for Perth tonight because there’s only two days left of the school term in Perth before holidays and as you have to book your own replacement when you go in leave in the education department, she was only able to stay for a few days.  It’s sad to see her go because she’s really great fun when she’s not snoring.

Waving her off, and still missing out on cooking a meal for ourselves due to the market not being open again today, we decide to try The Mint Hotel for dinner.  We are in luck as they have $12 special – a nice piece of steak with some home cooked chips and salad.  Perfect meal for a perfect price.  Finally tonight, we get a nice early night.

Empty Mint

Mourning in Melbourne

I know the title of this post sounds a little maudlin, but it is actually the reason I find myself heading to Melbourne tomorrow unexpectedly.  My dearest great aunt, Aunty Joyce aka ‘Tiny’, ‘JoJo’ or ‘Little One’ has passed away just shy of her 92nd birthday.  She, along with her husband, who unfortunately passed away 5 years ago on his 92nd birthday, has always been a rock to my family.  Always interested in everyone and everything, they were always there to make you feel special and like there was no-one else in the world like you.  I remember whenever we visited, and returned from a day shopping, they were there at the door, ushering us in with words of excitement – ‘what did you buy, come on, bring it all out’, and ‘oh goodness Joyce, look at this outfit Michelle bought, isn’t it just stunning’ and ‘oh what a bargain – you are such a good shopper!’.  They knew what your strengths and weaknesses were and what your dreams for life were and they always tried to cater for that on our trips.  My grandparents were unwell for most of the time I knew them, and although they didn’t have to, Aunty Joy and Uncle Ron always filled the void and made us feel like we were special and had a place in the family.

So now that both of them have gone, it is with bittersweet feelings that I find myself returning to Melbourne this week.  To say goodbye to a wonderful part of my life and to remember all the good times, all the laughs, the great jelly fight and all the amazing experiences and times we spent with our special little Jennings’s.

I don’t know what this trip will bring.  Probably it will be a little trip down memory lane, hopefully it will mean catching up with beloved family members and perhaps it may even bring a glimpse into a side of the Melbourne we have not yet had the chance to see.