It’s often described as one of the world’s ?most liveable cities?, but that hasn’t made Melbourne rest on its laurels. Beverley Fearis discovers some great new attractions to keep visitors entertained.
Not everyone wanted it, but now that it’s finally open, the architecturally controversial but unquestionably striking Federation Square (www.federationsquare.com.au) has been fully embraced by Melburnians. It has become the city’s favourite meeting place, with cafes, restaurants, shops and two museums.
The Ian Potter Centre houses 20 galleries over three levels, displaying 800 pieces of Australian art. Follow the “Icons of Australian Art” trail through the highlights of the collection and you’ll see “Footballer”, the famous work of 1940s Melbourne artist Sidney Nolan. Next door, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is a state-of-the-art facility promoting Victorian, Australian and international screen content from film and TV to games, videos and digital media. Much of it is interactive, including the world’s smallest cinema, where you can choose a short film, get your own 3D portrait and even become one of the characters.
Of all the eateries in Federation Square, Reserve is being talked about the most. Voted Best New Restaurant in 2003 by the Age Good Food Guide (Melbourne’s food bible), its 26-year-old chef George Calombaris was also voted Best Young Chef of the Year. Even if you decide not to eat there, it’s worth checking out the innovative menu ? confit duck and foie gras souvlaki, warm crepes with, wait for it, Ribena glaze and Fanta jelly, or how about roasted King Island crayfish, bitter chocolate ice cream, chocolate and hazelnut risotto, chocolate and herb salad? The desserts are equally experimental: vine-ripened tomato stuffed with a nut mousse, minty sorbet, and raspberry tea. If you’re not tempted, go downstairs for a drink at The Wine Bar, a popular spot for city workers. And if you find a wine you like (all sourced from local wineries) you can buy it at The Cellar next door (www.victorianwineprecinct.com).
National Gallery of Victoria International
The National Gallery of Victoria International re-opened last December after a four-year AU$168 million (£64m) renovation led by Italian architect Mario Bellini and Melbourne firm Metier3. The exhibition space was expanded and the Australian art was moved into the Ian Potter Centre, freeing up more room for the international collection. Recent exhibits have included Asian art, fashion photographs by Guy Bourdin and paintings by Caravaggio. Still attracting the crowds, though, is Thebanquet of Cleopatra by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Free entry. Open 10am-5pm daily; www.ngv.vic.gov.au.
Royal Botanical Gardens
Take a leisurely 30-minute stroll through the beautiful Royal Botanical Gardens, a lush 89-acre park that is home to 12,000 different plant species. Walk down Linlithgow Avenue and then along Birdwood Avenue and you’ll pass Government House and the Shrine of Remembrance, before coming out at Domain Road.
Moving on to a different sort of botanical, Melbourne’s hottest restaurant, the Botanical (169 Domain Road, www.thebotanical.com.au) has something for everyone ? even its own wine shop. The lunch menu has fresh, tasty favourites like crab and saffron tart with fennel and watercress, smoked spiced salt and pepper calamari with orange salad and almond alioli, and that’s just the entrees. If it’s a sunny day, sit outside on the pavement stools ? pleasant if you’re on your own, and if you stay until the after-work crowd arrives you’ll soon be making friends.