It’s a well-known fact that Melbourne has seriously great shopping to rival any of the world’s great cities. But the thing that continues to surprise me is the skill that Melbourne shopkeepers seem to have in curating their wares. Stores like Tarlo & Graham (my most favouritest store in the whole world), Montmartre Galleries, Hunter & Gatherer and Fat were a few I managed to visit, but making a list is futile as you will only miss out another stand-out magasin.
If there’s one thing I love more than anything else, it’s free parking. And in Melbourne, it’s everywhere, especially on the weekend. Nothing more to say really. Brilliant.
I ate out twice in two short days and each time left me salivating for more Melbourne flavours. First stop was ici in the back streets of Fitzroy, an oh-so-Melbourne café with its dark floors, pierced wait staff and healthy, innovative brunch fare such as scrambled eggs with prawns, or the summery fried eggs piled with rocket, balsamic tomatoes, freshly grated beetroot and horseradish. Dinner was at the much-lauded Attica, where the standout dish was John Dory on a chorizo and red pepper emulsion, topped with a fun twirly whirly crunchy squid-ink shoestring. A close second was smoked trout broth, crackling, basil seeds and fresh smoke, presented in a theatrical way with a bowl of smoke lifted from each dish by a flamboyant waiter. This is serious food that doesn’t take itself too seriously, just like Melbourne itself really.
Omigod, I almost forgot how good Melbourne coffee is. I don’t know if it’s in the water, the barista gene pool, or a really good barista school, but nowhere in the world can you find consistently great coffee, with as much depth and character as a fine wine, served with passion and a smile. Sigh.
Melbourne has some great watering holes which is a refreshing change coming from a town littered with sticky-carpeted booze barns. At Bimbo Deluxe, I actually sat in a hole, read a book and drank chardonnay (well, Rose, but humour me) without having a collective of bogans referring to me as “that poofter in the corner”. Come to think of it, what do you call a collective of bogans? A flange? Perhaps a litter?
6. House Prices
Flicking through the auction results in The Sunday Age, I began to feel slightly ill. Ill, because I slowly realised what we could buy for the same price as our shoebox in Sydney (albeit a very stylish shoebox). Like something three times the size, with parking (that old chestnut), a courtyard and, overhead, a 747-free sky. Prices in Melbourne, although rising, are still seriously affordable compared with their northern neighbour. And it makes me sick.
7. Public art
Public art in Sydney is limited to poo on sticks and a couple of matchsticks. Melbourne, however, is filled with seriously good public art. Many works line what would otherwise be hideous LA-style freeways, such as Callum Morton’s cartoonish Hotel, Ugo Rondinone’s eye-popping Our Magic Hour (pictured, top), and the sculptural Melbourne International Gateway. Others breathe life into what could be dreary office quarters, such as John Kelly’s hilarious Cow Up A Tree or Bruce Armstrong’s colossal Eagle. In fact, the Docklands area alone has 29 pieces of public art, a legislative requirement since the area begun its revival a decade ago. The result is vibrant urban spaces that are contemporary, relevant and surprising, which is what all urban design should aspire to achieve.
8. Street art
As if fabulous public art wasn’t enough, Melbourne is also brimming with amazing street art, despite the efforts of the asshole who poured silver paint over a priceless Bansky stencil in the CBD. It was feared that Melbourne would lose its well-recognised status as the global stencil-art capital by over-zealous councils trying to ‘clean up’ in preparation for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to have happened, with the inner urban area peppered with intelligent, witty artworks by Meggs, Sixten, Meek and countless others. As someone once said, I don’t claim to be an expert, but I know what I like. And I like Melbourne’s street art a lot.
I didn’t have time to do a lot of architecture-seeking on my latest trip, but in Melbourne, great architecture has a way of finding you. In two short days, I was stunned by buildings that have all been erected in the past couple of years, like the bold Chinese Consulate in Toorak, the RSPCA Kennels in Burwood (above), Metro Fire Brigade HQ in Burnley, Monaco House office block at the top end of the CBD, and the adorable Tube House in Carlton – Australian architecture at its finest; completely at one with its environment, but unabashedly inimitable.
Let’s face it – Melbourne people aren’t pretty. They spend nine months of the year either indoors or at the footy, leaving them with pasty skin and chilblains. Come December, they flee to the peninsula or Lorne or the Gold Coast or Port Douglas or just to the Carlton Baths, where they burn off those chilblains by lying in the sun for three straight months, only to emerge looking like something out of your local charcuterie. But they do know how to dress well.
In an hour, I saw at least 340* people who all looked completely unique and completely fabulous, including an 80s glam-rock number complete with sequinned leather jacket, a 1920s-inspired waistcoat and top-hat worn with tank top and pointy shoes, and white hot pants worn with an oversized hoodie – and that was just the guys. Melburnians dress with such confidence, imagination and just the right amount of satire that you don’t even notice the chilblains.
*not an exact figure
So there you have it. 10 Things I Love About Melbourne. Makes you think I’d move back there, right? And I would. Just not today.