Thursday, May 11, 2006

Food Destinations: St Kilda

I've placed myself at a few different points on the map but these days I identify with Australia enough to call the country home, even while I'm off exploring another continent. Maki at I Was Just Really Hungry is calling on other food bloggers to map out their favorite hometown menus and I've obliged with the following account of my Australian stomping ground, St Kilda.

St Kilda
(Melbourne, Australia)
St Kilda was once a luxe beach retreat for turn-of-the-century vacationers and has finally come out of its drug-induced haze to be posh again. The neighborhood is called a "suburb" by Melbournians, but--from the live music to the extra-long wine lists, the hookers to the souvlaki--it has more in common with the East Village than it does with Scarsdale. The neighborhood is accessible by the 16, 79, and 96 tram lines, and the Sandringham train line stops at the nearby Balaclava Station. The beach-front area, Acland Street, and Fitzroy Street are easily walkable. For more more detailed directions, go to this St Kilda map.

Acland Cakes (97 Acland St)
The storefront window of this oft-copied Acland Street icon displays all the old-fashioned desserts on offer, including the distinctly Australian vanilla slice and the transplanted European Sacher torte.

Cacao (52 Fitzroy St)
A great stroke of luck put this contemporary chocolate shop within walking distance of my house. The ultramodern truffles and enticing hot chocolates are made with standard-issue Callebaut couverture, but it's genuine couverture nonetheless.

Cicciolina (130 Acland St)
Cicc is a fine dining establishment for hipsters. It doesn't matter what you wear as long as you know your way around the Italian menu accented with local produce and wines. The antipasto platter is a local tradition among gourmands.

Claypots (213 Barkly St)
Named after its alluringly rustic serving dishes, this byo haunt is the most coveted seafood restaurant for miles. The blackboard menu always includes monstrously-sized fresh shellfish, a range of delicately-flavored grilled whole fish, and several richly-spiced stews.

Dog's Bar (54 Acland St)
When St. Kilda started to turn from sleazy to snazzy in the 1990s, this was the first wine bar to open its doors. The quiet outdoor tables are still ideal for enjoying a glass (from a list of 150 bottles), and the bar now offers wine-tasting courses.

Greasy Joe's (64 Acland St)
The burgers are the real thing and they're perfect before--or after--a long night out. The "Aussie Burger with the Lot" comes complete with sliced beets and a fried egg.

Il Fornaio (2 Acland St)
On the quieter end of Acland Street, this organic eatery serves low-key (and affordable) breakfasts and lunches, more inventive (and expensive) dinners from a local seasonal menu, and then turns into a bakery at night to produce some of the best sourdough bread in town. The neighboring cafes Azalea and Chinta Ria Blues make this spot a logical choice for indecisive diners.

Lentil As Anything (41 Blessington St)
In this vegetarian and caffeine-free bohemian cafe, the menu comes without prices and bills are settled on a "pay what you wish" basis. Only a couple of signs, almost shyly posted in inconspicuous places, explain that the establishment takes in less than it puts out and relies on bursts of extra generosity to survive. The curries and chutneys are worth it.

Topolino's (87 Fitzroy St)
My boyfriend's favorite pizza is the Topolino's Special, draped with shredded ham, pepperoni, onions, olives, and bell peppers (capsicum). When there isn't any of that one leftover, I go for one of the perfectly fused Italian-Australian gourmet pizzas, with toppings like pumpkin, goat cheese, and artichoke hearts.

Further Reading:
Beyond St Kilda, the city of Melbourne provides gastronomic pleasures in every direction. And food writing is taken just as seriously throughout the city. The local paper The Age takes an authoritative stance on all things edible in its weekly Epicure section (published every Tuesday). Melbourne is also home to a proliferation of inspired food blogs, including Tomato (whose blogging from Vietnam recently pointed me toward a couple of great meals) and The Apprentice Patissier (whom I hope to meet and ask for a chocolate-making lesson).


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