Seeing home in a new light is classy cuisine
VISITING a city you grew up in, long after you have left it, is exhilarating.
Melbourne's museums, theatres, restaurants and bars did not receive my patronage during the three decades I lived there.
Now as a visitor I trawl the museums, get lost in the city lanes and check food guides to see what is hot.
I go to St Kilda to look in the continental cake shops in Acland St, visit Myer and David Jones, stroll the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Wherever you go, no matter how often you get lost, you are never more than a few minutes away from substance of the food and drink kind.
Melbourne is synonymous with food. But it wasn't always so. In the 1960s the culinary landscape was bleak, but there was one place I remember as a beacon of gourmet hope.
In Collins St, it was called South Pacific ... or maybe South Seas ... and through its doors at the bottom of a narrow stairwell, it was an oasis of tropical splendour.
Fake palm trees and artificial rocks, synthetic plants and an imitation pond, dim lighting and plastic pineapples (I vaguely recall even a papier mache crocodile peering ominously through the palm fronds) - all created an island fantasy unknown to most Melburnians then.
I lied my way into a waitressing job there as a 16-year-old, telling them I was experienced when I had never even cleared a table at home.
The menu items all had cutesy names. A frothy sundae dessert called Papuan Piccaninny stands out in my memory because I spilt one down a customer's back.
The customer took the "mishap" with grace, but not so the severe madam manager who sat high and haughty in a box on a podium near the crocodile, overseeing the floor.
It was agreed I would leave on the spot.
That desolate culinary backdrop of Melbourne in the '60s changed with the arrival of immigrants from Italy, Greece, Malta and Sicily, bringing their cuisines with them.
Then came the Vietnamese with their vibrant fare, and well ... now you are so spoilt for gastronomic choice, it is bewildering.
FIVE MELBOURNE MUST-DO'S:
- Visit the Emporium Melbourne in Lonsdale St for shopping and events.
- Take a tram ride - you know you want to.
- Join a lane and arcade walking tour, there are many to choose from.
- See Les Miserables at Her Majesty's Theatre ... the beautiful old theatre has been staging shows since 1886.
- It's almost spring racing carnival time - no better time to visit, especially for the biggie, Melbourne Cup.