Wednesday, 24 June 2009

In search of palatable goods

One of the things that I love most in life is eating. Anywhere I go, I try to find good food that also comes easy on the pocket. In Melbourne I was able to do just that - no matter how busy our trip went, and regardless of the amazing home-cooked meals my lovely aunt prepared for us during our stay.

My cousin recommended for me to go have lunch at least once in Pellegrini's Espresso Bar. It's an Italian restaurant on Bourke Street, and it's actually been there for decades. In fact, it is also in Lonely Planet's Melbourne Encounter book. The place makes you feel like you're in Italy:

Dining here doesn't come expensive, but it does come really good and in very generous amounts. Also, while waiting for your meal you get warm sourdough bread with butter. It comes well in handy if you choose not to get antipasti.

I obviously indulged on this one.

Anyway here's a rundown of what we had for lunch:

My aunty's seafood marinara: I like the fact that the noodles were cooked perfectly and the flavours left a nice aftertaste but the sauce was a little bit too watery, and the mussels tiny.
I wonder if they're the canned kind... Hmm.

My gnocchi: It was absolutely lovely. The presentation's obviously not the best, but once you bite into the gnocchi pieces, ah, it will just make you smile. The sauce was nice and thick and the flavours were just very well balanced. Apparently, Pellegrini's makes their own chewy-yet-melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi once every week.

My friend Nadine's risotto: one of the 2 things I wasn't able to taste but she sure looked happy (not to mention quiet - a sign of enjoyment, in my opinion) while she was eating this.

My friend Erick's bolognese: okay, honestly, who can go wrong with bolognese? It was divine. I'd have to say it had the best sauce among all our dishes and it was made to perfection. :-)

It's funny how I didn't even get the chance to photograph my friend Brenda's ravioli but she told me it was really good! For taste I'd give Pellegrini's a 4.5, 3 for presentation (we could all do with more appetising plating!) and 4.5 for price. All the mains we had cost only about $12-14. Not too bad for a generous amount of authentic Italian food!

Pellegrini's is open daily from 11am-11.30pm. Bookings aren't necessary.

As I have mentioned in my previous entry, The Tea Room in NGV is also an amazing place to have a nice, sit-down snack or just a cuppa, whichever you prefer. I didn't expect to find a food haven inside an art gallery, but I'm thankful I did!

The Tea Room is an extremely busy humble-sized cafe. I was able to take this photo just before my camera died on me and just after a large group of more than 10 left:

My friend Nadine & I each had a plate of Smoked Salmon, Cucumber, Dill, Crème Fraîche ($8):

One of the best sandwiches I've ever had in my entire life. The smoked salmon tasted just as I imagined, and the dill gave it such a nice flavour. The best part is that it was layered with crème fraîche! I can eat this all day - especially with the very light bread they used (I reckon it's light rye). Very very yummy! It was simply divine.

On the other hand, my friends Brenda & Cathy got Salmon Gravadlax, Vol Aux Vent, Cucumber Spaghetti, Dill Mayonnaise (termed simply: salmon marinated in herbs, cucumber spaghetti and dill mayo in really light but savoury puff pastry - $11):

I had a lot of Brenda's food because she didn't like it so much, but boy oh boy, did I enjoy myself! The salmon was fresh as anything! It's deceiving because at first it tastes bland but after quite some time, it bursts with flavour in your mouth. The herbs in the salmon & the butter in the pastry just mesh so well that I wish I'd order a whole thing for myself!

Last but not least, dessert! Nadine and I made a deal that we'd definitely get scones ($8) after our sandwiches. It was well worth it:

The scones were lightly dusted with caster sugar, and these things just melt in your mouth so beautifully. Especially with a dollop of cream and jam! Phenomenal stuff I must say, and it totally went well with my rich Italian hot chocolate (pictured below)

It came in a nice shiny cup :3

A drink worth trying though, is their chai tea latte ($5)! I'm absolutely raving about this one. It had the most amazing blend of cinnamon, cloves & ginger. If the chai tea latte I had in Badde Manors was good - this one will definitely blow you away. Honestly I've never had such a good brew of chai before.

And it comes in this quaint little tea pot!

The Tea Room feels so homey with its good food and drink and its wonderful staff. The African guy's definitely one of our favourites! Discovering this place was like finding sugar cubes, warmth and happiness all in a little jar.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Seeing sights pt. 3

And on the third day, we rested. Not.

Having woken up late from the night before, we decided it was Southbank that we wanted to come see. I found it a totally different scene, more quiet and less stressful than any other part of the city that I have been to. Needless to say I had to come back into the busier streets by the end of the day (lol it rhymed), but there are quite a number of spots that are definitely worth the visit as well.

We found that the best way to get to the Southbank was to get off at Flinders Street Station and just walk over Princes Bridge to get there. However due to my not-so-street-smarts we ended up walking along the Southgate footbridge. (i.e., as a handy travel hint: learn how to read maps properly!!!)

We just kept walking southeast (as far as I know) and we ended up seeing these strange mural-esque structures:

Since Crown Casino was on the way we just decided to take a look inside (I hear the club's really good but we didn't get the chance to go at night! Boo) and use the toilets yet again haha. It's a simple building; I don't find it particularly interesting on the outside but the interior was rather nice. I especially liked the ceilings where they used steel casts (?) with warm yellow lighting. I'm a sucker for those.

Unimpressive exterior, in my opinion

Lovely ceiling decor

Soon afterwards we thought we'd take the parallel street to see Southbank from the opposite side. It was good because we were able to pass by Sandridge Brigde, which is actually the first steel bridge over the Yarra joining the city and Port Melbourne! On it are glass panels that list the different cultures that are present in Melbourne.

I like love the fact that they showed how multicultural Melbourne is

After which, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) was our next destination. Just like the Melbourne Museum you need a lot of time to absorb the beauty that is in this gallery. By far, this is the biggest gallery i've been to and it's so enriching. It's located on St Kilda Road, and it's simply impossible to miss.

The side entrance
(yes, I walked across the bushes and things just to be as close as possible to the sign)

The front entrance, featuring Dalí :-)

I haven't got photos of the inside, and for that I deserve a beating!!! It will forever be etched on my memory how much I enjoyed this place. Too bad my (aunty's) camera died on me. Maybe next time. In this gallery, I can say I got lost and got found again. It's not as grandiose as the Louvre or the Hermitage museum (N.B. I haven't been to either) but as a mere spectator I can say I was more than impressed. This gallery is free for all to visit except the featured exhibits, in this case Dalí's Liquid Desire which I remember costs $18.

We had late lunch at The Tea Room, which is inside NGV as well and I'd have to say - it was an exquisite experience. :-) I'm one very satisfied customer, thank you very much. Save that for the next entry. Patience is a virtue, food lovers!

We spent so much time at the NGV that it closed up on us just before 5 in the afternoon, but we weren't done with Southbank just yet. The girls & I took a walk in the park just as the sun was going down. We went to Queen Victoria Gardens which is right across NGV, then walked all the way through King's Domain to the Government House and had a little peek at Alexandra Gardens as well.

We persuaded the nice Park Ranger Leilani (sp?) to try and pry the Government House open with our best efforts to no avail (lol) because it's only open to the public once a year. So, neither did we get into the government house nor find wombats on our way back although it was dark enough for them to come out and play. Tough luck, I'd say. But it's all good, it was a great day overall anyway.

That said, I'm finally done with Seeing Sights! Hooray! Next up, wining & dining Melbourne style! :-)

Melbourne, I love you and I can't wait to come back.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Seeing sights pt. 2

With limited time, my friends and I knew that we had to move fast, and we had to know where exactly we were going throughout the entire day. We hastily planned our trip but it still went great, thanks to Melbourne's great public transport system. We got the day pass which only costs $6.80 and it covers all train, tram & bus rides. Talk about extremely cheap means of travel (Sydney sucks at this!!!).

Based on that lesson learned, here's a handy travel hint: if you ever go on a weekend trip, plan it out couple of weeks beforehand and make sure you've got the maps & means of transportation together as well. Know exactly what you want to see, and make sure each person has a contribution to the list of places to visit - this makes it all the more fun because it involves a mixture of different interests!

Anyway - I always end up going on a tangent here - my apologies.

On our second day, we first headed to St Patrick's Cathedral, which is in East Melbourne. We took the train from our place, getting off at Parliament station. It is a beautiful early 19th century structure, still very gothic, I would say. Here are some photos I took -

Cathedral's entrance

Side view


I'd have to say, St Patrick's looks really beautiful both on the inside and out, and it is well maintained. We didn't hang around for the mass but we all said our little prayers then headed for other equally worthy spots.

Our next stop: the Parliament House of Victoria (right across St Patrick's). It was still closed when we arrived, so we just took photos outside. It's another one of those classic buildings which (I suppose) has Roman influences, there being the presence of columns and such.

Approaching the Parliament House

The part I love most about the Parliament House's exterior: Mosaic-like tiling!

My 15 seconds of fame with Australian media. & I don't even know what channel it is. Oops.

Our next stop definitely isn't in any travel guidebook. We made a (rather long) trip to the toilet in Sofitel Melbourne. It isn't your regular toilet, I promise you that. Situated on the 35th floor of Sofitel, it has a really great bird's eye view of the city, where you see the Yarra, and all the other things Melbourne has in store for its visitors.

The 35th floor toilet view of Melbourne

The Yarra in sight

Now, with that view, who would pass up a chance to go have a toilet break here?!

Sofitel's atrium - isn't it lovely? :-)

When everyone was done with their business, we knew we had to explore the rest of the landmarks in East Melbourne. The City Museum was in sight, and that had to be next. It's actually in the Old Treasury Building of Melbourne, right next to the Victorian Marriage Registry:

We actually witnessed someone get married that day - cheers to that!

What the Old Treasury Building looks like across the street

Me sizing up my height against the City Museum sign.

The City Museum is the perfect place to go if you really want to learn about the making of Melbourne. Artifacts in the permanent exhibit go as far back as 1835, from old dentist chairs to vintage bicycles, the governor's toilet & clothes back in the day. It also shows the life in the Old Treasury, specifically, its old caretaker John Maynard & his family. In the basement is another permanent exhibit is Built on Gold which shows visitors the story of Victorian gold in 8 interactive "vaults".

Being a group of 5 we were able to avail of the Family ticket which costs $18. I reckon it's worth it. We spent heaps of time there just learning about Melbourne and its rich history. Get ready for an information overload as well. To avoid that though, follow my mantra: "Take photos now, read later". Haha.

After lunch (which needs to be reserved for another entry), we decided it was perfect weather to go for a stroll. The closest one was the Carlton Gardens which led straight to the Royal Exhibition Building as well as the IMAX & Melbourne Museum.

Me & my friend Erick in the background. Lol

I find this to be astounding, what do ya reckon?

At the end of the path is the Royal Exhibition Building. It's one of the oldest remaining pavilions in the world.

Right around this building is the IMAX theatre & the Melbourne Museum. Both of which are post-modern structures.

My friends Erick, Brenda & Nadine walking towards the museum

Exhausted after trying to tour the whole place in an hour

Yup, we came around the museum too late. You need a good 2-3 hours to see everything in this building, maybe even more. The perk is that if you're a student, you get in for free so long as you're able to present your student card. :-)

This is how our 2nd day in Melbourne ended, getting closed up on by the Melbourne Museum. Feel free to try the same route on your next visit, but maybe spend less time walking and hop on more onto the buses & trams, especially if you've got the day pass anyway. Then again, walking, getting a tad bit lost and seeing everything is so much more exciting. :-)

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Seeing sights

Melbourne is such a beautiful city - full of art, life and history. I was blessed with another chance to come visit again this year, but this time I went along with some friends. It was a great experience and this time I got to know the city a lot more.

We flew in really early on the 4th of June (and I mean we took the 6.15 am flight). Melbourne was bound to have a beautiful day:

This is the aerial view of Melbourne just a little past 8am.

Right after breakfast we decided to visit Queen Victoria Markets which is comparable to Sydney's Paddy's Markets. It has everything, and I mean everything in it, from shoes to boomerangs to flowers and food. I reckon it is much, much larger than the Sydney one, though I can't be too certain. One thing I know that is worth heading to while in the QVM area is this mobile doughnut place:

I assure you fresh & hot doughnuts, for an affordable price (6 for $3.90). It's certainly a classic and nothing too complicated. You can pick from a plain sugar sprinkled one, and a jam-filled one. Both are good and it's even better if you have one after the other, alternately ;-)

The Queen Victoria Markets are open from Thursday-Sunday, with varying opening & closing hours.

Afterwards, my aunty gave us the idea of taking the City Circle Tram so that we'd get to see the entire place then just choose to hop on and off wherever we wanted to go after the ocular inspection. It seemed to be the most practical idea since we wanted to maximise our time to explore the entire city, so we did that. It's good because the City Cirle Tram is a free service that takes tourists (and locals just the same) to the different hotspots in the city. If you're the impatient type (like me) you will love this service because it comes around every 12 minutes, and it runs from Flinders Street to Spring Street and back. It's easy to find compared to the normal pay trams because it is small & very vintage-looking (and more importantly, labelled City Circle, lol).

I find that the best place to come back to after a long day of going around Melbourne would be Flinders Street as it has the train station for one huge landmark:

See what I mean when I say it's a landmark? It's one of my favourite spots in the city, as it is always busy and Flinders Street Station is just a lovely sight. Right across it is something extremely modern, the Ian Potter Centre:

If in any case you get lost this is the side that you have to go to because this is where the really big information centre is complete with all the train, tram & bus routes, events lists, tour booklets, maps & of course, friendly volunteers to help you find your way.

As for my friends & I on the first day- we hopped on and off everywhere (& sneaking cat naps on the tram), took a walk at the Docklands, ate at Flinders Lane (parallel to Flinders Street) & ended up doing some shopping at Bourke Street Mall where the biggest Myer is located. I'd have to say - it was a pretty long & exhausting day, especially if you hadn't slept at all.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Seems like a jetlag

I haven't updated in so long that I feel guilty.

A lot has transpired within the last two weeks - uni exams, a weekend in Melbourne, and my 21st birthday. I haven't got any idea where to start off because I've had so many stuff lined up to blog about. I was hoping to write up on good shopping spots here, which I reckon would be extremely helpful for all the shopping aficionados. I also wanted to write a whole lot about Melbourne (my favourite Australian city by far, ever since I've first been in 2008!) but I reckon that might need an actual outline as I've seen so much this year compared to last! Also, my 21st has been quite eventful but the festivities aren't over yet so I'll have to save it for another time.

However, I really feel the need to put something up. I reckon I really just missed writing on here. Actually, there is something of interest to me now... This year, Darling Harbour celebrates its coming of age. The harbour has been there since the late 19th century, but it was only reopened to the public in 1988 after its redevelopment.

This year, different events have been organised to celebrate Darling Harbour's 21st. I've been to some of them, the first being Australia Day on the 26th of January this year. The only thing I was able to take part of was the fireworks:

Another event that I have witnessed (in passing) was Hoopla, where Darling Harbour turned into a circus playground for families to enjoy. At first my friends and I thought it was just something really random but I looked it up and it's actually done in conjuction with the Easter long weekend.

This is a really bad photo of it but the performances we've seen (mostly acrobatics and other street acts) were pretty cool! Or maybe I just haven't seen enough of circus acts when I was a kid... Who knows.

And of course, how can one say that one has fully celebrated one's birthday without having CAKE?! :-)

This is Darling Harbour's massive 21st birthday cake placed in the middle of Cockle Bay Wharf. I reckon it's an amazing cake and definitely spells P-A-R-T-Y!!! That said, wait for the blog spam coming your way within the next couple of days. I assure you it will be fun!!! :-)

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Good morning

I should've posted this yesterday, but I just wanted to say:


Monday, 1 June 2009

Wine me, dine me.

Last Friday, I went to out into the city to hang out with my aunty & cousin. I had no idea what we were doing that night; all I knew was that I was sure to be in for a new taste of the city.

When we all got together, we talked about whether we should get a drink or food first. Hah, not being alcos at all, we chose to go for a drink. They took me to Marble Bar - located in beautiful George Street, it's on the basement of the Hilton. It's such a classic place, as it was built in 1889. It was refurbished in 2005, still upholding that really dark, cozy & classy atmosphere. I feel terrible I haven't got any photos. :-( My new camera hasn't gotten into my hands yet, pardon me. Anyway, I had a Vesper Martini - very James Bond inspired. It was a pretty good drink, though I would say it lacked a little kick (salt maybe? But that would ruin it, I suppose). The Vesper costs $16, and most cocktails are, on average, from $16-18. Not too bad for that great an ambience.

After drinks we decided we were hungry. It was a tough decision to make, to be honest. We knew that we were having Asian for dinner, but the problem was where to get it. The consensus was to grab grub at DinTaiFung, as I've never eaten there before, and because it's supposed to be a really good place to get XiaoLongBao. It's at the top floor of World Square, that is also along George Street. We ordered heaps of stuff, and I mean heaps for 3 ladies. Hahaha. People stared at how much we had on our plates, and that is no exaggeration. Just a quick rundown of everything:

Steamed pork dumplings
Steamed crab meat & pork dumplings
Steamed shrimp & pork dumplings
Shrimp & pork shao-mai
Fried rice w/ eggs & shrimp
Green beans w/ mince

Obviously we didn't get that in just single orders... It's my secret to keep how much we really had. Hahaha. It was an AMAZING dinner, and definitely worth the (45-minute) wait (outside in
the rain). I was really, really, really pleased & for all of that we paid around $80-something. Not too bad. I can't wait to go there for dinner again :-) In my desperate attempt to show you guys how amazing the food there is, here's a photo from GrabYourFork (who happens to have amazing restaurant reviews, glad I discovered this site tonight!!! Subscription-worthy, people!):

After much catching up (and me thinking of where to head for dessert), we caught the bus from World Square to Glebe Point Road, which has got to be one of the streets I favour going to more often than usual. The food places on that street are just GOLD! That night we picked Badde Manors to indulge in mind-blowing dessert. We got 3 different cakes - carrot cake, Italian baked ricotta cake & sticky date pudding. To match, we got mokka, chai tea (the real deal guys not powdered stuff) & hot chocolate.

The carrot cake was good, it had a nice thick cream cheese icing and the actual cake wasn't too sweet. Definitely matched the fresh cream garnish and the good thing about it is that it had fruit & nut to taste. It does the job but it's not the best, maybe because it was a little bit dry. The Italian baked ricotta cake was fantastic. It's the first time I've ever tried it and it was good. It was powdered with cinnamon and confectioner's sugar and garnished with fresh cream. But these two don't compare to the sticky date pudding! It was a perfectly-sized one, topped with fresh cream and surrounded by a pool of mouth watering toffee sauce. Ah, it was heaven!

The drinks were pretty good too. The hot chocolate was not too thick and had the perfect amount of sweet & bitter fusing in every sip. The chai tea was brewed beautifully - there was a perfect amount of cinnamon & ginger in it and it's all about feeling warm all over ;-) As for the mokka I forgot to try it cos I was too busy with the sticky date. :-\ I'll try again next time. All that for about $35, I can't complain.

Badde Manors was the perfect place to end our girls' night out but my food adventure doesn't end there.

On Saturday night my aunty, uncle & I agreed on eating at Deli's Thai after church. It wasn't a first time for me, as we all personally love this humble restaurant down at Glebe Point Road. I told you, that road is gold. Lol. Our staple spring rolls & money bags were ordered for appetizer, and for mains we had the usual fried rice & pad thai, but this time I ordered chicken pad cashew nut sauce. Their spring rolls are always palatable, stuffed with vegetables and really thin noodles. The money bags are my favourite; basically they're deep fried minced chicken and dessicated coconut with beans and other good stuff. We devoured the fried rice in a flash and took some time to get to know the chicken pad cashew nut sauce. It's nicely seasoned, not too salty and not too spicy, and had lots of vegetables. I can't say I'd put it in the list of stuff I would re-order but it's definitely worth one try. :-) Deli's Thai offers amazing Thai food for a reasonable price. For all of that we paid around $35.

I may have gained good 5 pounds from this weekend, but it was definitely worth it! :-)