Billy Pereira enjoys the eclecticism of Brunswick Street, gets some exercise on the Tan while appreciating the art installations and heads off to the Dandenong Ranges for a spot of tea.
Browse around Brunswick
A hot pot of eclectic cultures, Brunswick Street is a magnet for the cool, the hip and the bohemian. Just like Melbourne, it welcomes all kinds of visitors – smart executives, cash-strapped students, artist types, young or old – and shops here cater for all. Wander around and take in the colourful cafés, restaurants, bars, boutiques flogging bijoux jewellery by Australian designers, bookstores and antiques.
Food is good. Try the Vegie Bar (380 Brunswick St), a top choice even with non-vegans, featuring an extensive menu. It turns Indonesian speciality gado-gado into a bestseller with the locals and makes fascinating dishes using tofu, roots and tubers. At night, many cafés and eateries turn up the heat with live music entertainment including jazz. Mario’s (303 Brunswick St), a popular café, reportedly turned away comedian Jerry Seinfeld as it was full house – so show up early.
Jog along on the Tan
Just five minutes’ walk from the Melbourne Arts Centre, south of the Yarra River, is King’s Domain, an ideal spot to de-stress during lunch break or after work. The manicured gardens, consisting of 36ha of lawns and pathways set among exotic and Australian mature trees, is where many executives do away with their suits and don track suits to go on a run on the Tan (jogging circuit). It’s also a favourite of mums pushing prams.
But for most Melburnians, grassy open spaces dotted with art installations at King’s Domain provide great picnic spots. Adding a special touch to the gardens is the Children’s Farm near King’s Domain main entrance, where okra, bok choi and pumpkin plants tended by local school kids grow among scarecrows. Open daily from 0730 to 1730 (May to Aug), 2030 (Nov-Mar) and 1800 (Apr, Sept and Oct).
Have an Italian cuppa
Change is not in the vocabulary of Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar (60 Bourke Street, open daily from 1100 to 2230), but it has worked to its advantage. People flock to this Melbourne coffee institution to experience its warm Italian hospitality despite worn-down walls and the faded photos of Italy. In fact, it is exactly this outlet’s ability to retain its charm, without undergoing a makeover since opening in 1954, that has attracted the crowds.
Once you have settled down and adjusted to the chaos caused by the never-ending shouts of orders to the kitchen, order a pasta dish from a small menu. The taste is average but portions are generous. It will get better with the popular apple strudel and either the macchiato, cappucino or latte.
Take the back lane
One of the best ways to discover Melbourne is to explore some of its quirky back lanes. It’s like lifting the lid on one of the city’s best-kept secrets.
This cobblestone strip features some 15 eateries and cafés. For example, Centre Place offers enough seclusion for a good respite from walking along the busy city streets. Once there, visit Hell’s Kitchen (20A Centre Place), reached by a discreet and dimly lit stairway. The red-hued interiors create a cosy hangout, a far cry from its name. Even its snack, Wasabi Peas, spells “cool”, so don’t expect Smiths crisps. The bar serves vodkas infused with chilli, lime, honey and ginger, all made in-house. Simple meals such as rice with lentils and smallish tapas are also available.
Pick up a work of art
The main draw of this Sundays-only attraction at the Melbourne Arts Centre (100 St Kilda Road, open from 1000 to 1700) is the quality of items available. It is more an artists’ event than a flea market.
Whether the walk begins at the market or ends there after a stroll along the Yarra River and Southbank, visitors find enough interest at the stalls to keep them there for over an hour. Many of the vendors travel from countryside Victoria to display the fruits of their talents, which include beautifully handcrafted wooden clocks, funky knits and avant-garde porcelain. Stop and chat with the friendly Aussies about what inspires their creations. For certain, you won’t leave without picking up something, either for yourself or loved ones back home. Beats buying those passé koala bears or tram tea towels.
Take tea with Miss Marple
The quaint cottage in Sassafrass in the Dandenong Ranges with a large sign saying “Miss Marple’s” (of Agatha Christie fame) will immediately catch your eye, as will the long queues outside it. If curiosity still makes you want to see what’s within, then squeeze through the crowd and leave your name with the patient staff.
That’s right, this tea room never takes reservations – it does not need to. But the wait is worth it (some can go for as long as an hour and a half!) – the scones are to die for: warm, soft and really melt in the mouth. Plus, the cream and berry spread prepared in the kitchen adds to their moist, fresh taste. Also worth trying are the chicken and pineapple fingers and beef pie, all served piping hot. Especially during the cold seasons, robe yourself warmly for a nice walk along the winding country roads and complete your visit of Sassafras at the Dandenong.