Round-the-world: Why Melbourne is the best city in the world, part two

There are lots of other arguments for Melbourne as the world’s best city: museums, parks, open spaces; good bookstores. Add all these things to the list I began on Sunday, and soon these posts on Melbourne will begin to look like explicit promotional material. As much as I dig the city, this is certainly not my intention. So let me acknowledge that there are downsides to Melbourne. There is a tendency among Melburnians to undervalue their city and, more disturbingly altogether, there is an unhealthy obsession with Australian rules football, a completely inexplicable sport. So there you have it. Not perfect at all.

Missing from my list on Sunday is one of Melbourne’s signature strengths, namely, its culinary scene. Melbourne is a remarkable place to eat at both ends of the budget scale. And while it may not be a cheap place to dine by US big city standards, it is far more wallet-friendly than Sydney.

I’d eaten very well in Melbourne on my last visit, and I made sure to do some pre-visit research. I emailed Melbourne-based chef Tony Tan for restaurant suggestions, and he responded quickly. Many of Tony’s tipped restaurants are pretty high-end: Cumulus Inc, Attica, Cutler & Co., Vue de Monde, among others.

We ended up sampling a few top restaurants: The Press Club, Cutler & Co, and Bistro Vue.

The Press Club’s “symposium degustation” menu is quite strong. Highlights include the starting snack of cold seafood skewers and an incredible rose-focused dessert course (titled “Aphrodite”) with berries, rose petals, and a fragrance component. This was a very good meal in a buzzing location with delightful servers.

At Cutler & Co, the degustation menu is even more extraordinary. Every course is deeply satisfying, though if I had to point to a single favorite course I’d name the crab, abalone and sweet corn soup. The palate-cleansing course of carrot granita includes puffed rice and sheep’s milk yogurt. It is like a heady, deeply considered breakfast. Dessert stars violet ice cream and provides a very pleasant shock to the senses. This meal is seriously amazing, studiously well-considered. It is, all things considered, a decidedly intellectual meal, though it is also fun and spirited.

Our third high-end meal is at Bistro Vue, an offshoot of the popular Vue de Monde. I eat oysters, house-smoked salmon with toast, and the day’s special, a hearty, rustic Toulouse-style cassoulet. It’s solid all the way through. The crowd is very upscale and very well-dressed, which that makes me regret momentarily my choice to wear my New Balances to dinner.

On the cheap side we are also completely pleased. We take advantage of the local Asian cuisine scene. Wandering around Footscray in the late morning, we spot a Vietnamese restaurant, Hung Vuong Saigon, packed at noon. We decided on the spot to eat an early lunch. The clientele is mostly Vietnamese. The offerings (vermicelli noodles for me and pho for Matt) are amazing.

We also visit Victoria Street in Richmond, a strip packed with Asian restaurants, and have a decidedly mediocre Thai meal. We have better luck in search of laksa, which has become a major local food favorite in Melbourne. We have ours at Chinta Blues in St. Kilda. It is delicious, though I note with a mixture of excitement and disappointment that some of Melbourne’s top laksa lists exclude it. Check out the entertaining delaksa for reviews of laksa at restaurants in Victoria, elsewhere in Australia, and beyond.

Tourism Victoria provided media support in the form of three meals in Melbourne. All opinions expressed are my own.

Check out other posts in the round-the-world Capricorn Route series here.