I lived and worked in Melbourne back in 2013/2014 in St Kilda, the small beach suburb southeast of the city. I’ve got very fond memories of this city that is filled with the weird and the wonderful. Visually, it reminded me of parts of California with art deco architecture vs the Victorian frontier architecture you could only imagine in a Wild West movie. Unlike many of the other Australian cities, Melbourne has seasons making it, in my opinion, a more interesting, conscious and varied kind of city/lifestyle. When I left, the city was in the midst of a foodie revolution, much like what London underwent several years ago, in which F&B was becoming integral to any business opportunity and lifestyle initiative e.g. it has recently played host to San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best (2017). Australians are blessed with having some of the best produce available: vast farming lands and perfect climates means produce is both bountiful and delicious. Melbourne’s hospitality industry is shit hot too. I met some of the most ambitious, talented and creative people here who shared their knowledge of service culture, bolstering my knowledge of the hospitality industry. Melbourne has created an environment for the hospitality industry to prosper. It is the success story of how hospitality should be viewed: as a viable, legitimate, beneficial, important, and proud global industry.
EAT & DRINK
This was my home while living in Melbourne. I walked in on the first day ÜNCLE opened its doors looking for a job. Since leaving Melbourne, Rene and Dai have opened their second site on Collin’s Street, firmly cementing them in the Melbourne restaurant scene. Dai, the chef, is Vietnamese who grew up in the local area and Rene, a Scotsman, leads FoH while compiling one of the most magical wine lists in the city – Rene introduced me to my favourite wine, Domaine Lucci Vino Rosso from winemaker, Lucy Margaux. Together they make a formidable team serving contemporary Vietnamese cuisine establishing a cult-like following for their pho’s, slider-size bahn mi’s and the best condiment selection known to man. Interiors are co-designed with Fools Cap Studios and there is an all-year round rooftop with retractable roof. But it was the intricacies behind service that shone the brightest here. Monthly tip tests meant that each member of staff knew the menu inside and out, fortnightly wine tastings, flexible working hours, creative independence and transparency on salary and benefit options made ÜNCLE a refreshing respite.
Behind the old façade of what looks like a Californian hacienda, the red brick exterior emanates warmth and character while inside, it’s more Tom Selleck’s 70s bachelor pad. The restaurant interiors are bold and sure of themselves: bright tartan carpets offset chiselled bare stone arches; some of the best restaurant wallpaper I’ve seen in a long time (the illustrations look like a doodle from a Stirling Cooper meeting circa 1940s); and leather swivel chairs; all confidently whisper sex appeal. This place is fun, night and day. Cocktails pack a punch and the wine list (then) focuses on Old World wines. Food is modern Mexican, using traditional techniques with local produce e.g. the Yucatan style wood roasted Wessex Saddleback pig with banana leaf wrapped shoulder, queso Oaxaca & jewelled rice prepared on the wood fried rotisserie.
I had heard of Andrew McConnell before I got to Melbourne. Cumulus Inc. is minimalist, a blank canvas in which guests are invited to colour with their own experience. There is surgical precision in the presentation, the staff look cloned (each waitress a brunette dressed in black) and there is no music. Total silence for the senses. I dined on my own at the chef’s counter and watched dishes like baked chilli mussels, the cracked wheat & freekeh salad and the Tuna tartare with crushed green pea salad be prepared, faultlessly. For dessert I waited for a freshly made to order Madeleine filled with lemon curd. Still to this day, I remember the warm moistness of that cake, something I’ve tried to replicate in many other ways since!
This place was right outside of my flat, on the way to St Kilda beach. Perfect late afternoon, early evening, or tequila stop before my evening shift, kinda place. It’s bar seating inside or there’s a small terrace outside. I had one of the best Margarita’s here, Margarita Celestial made with Tequila Calle 23 Reposado, Cointreau, coconut water and orange zest. Food is fierce Mexican plates: Cochinita Pibil (slow cooked free-range pork carnitas with frijoles, red onion and jalepeno pickles, and salsa arbol); Camaron (chipotle prawn and slaw).
Old St Kilda. Bikers, cheap wine, oversized portions of Chicken Parm, sticky floors, bad music, plastic flowers and sweaty men. A St Kilda institution that has to be experienced at least once.