Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


A night in town.

We checked into the hotel around midday.

First, lunch at a favourite Asian cafe - Wing Loong - where the congee is superb. The waiter brought out a tiny dish of chile and dried anchovies. The chile was off the scale and the fish flavour was intense. (It reminded me of the little packets of dried squid that my older brother used to bring home when we were kids - one of his schoolfriend's family ran a Chinese restaurant in the city - I loved that dried squid.)

We finished our congee and drank several more little cups of jasmine tea. Well, the waiter kept filling up the pot.

Then, shopping. The meter's on - I'm good for an hour or two. Fortunately T. is the same and we tire of it about the same time, look at each other and say 'let's get outta here'.

We wandered through the arcades and into the department stores. Mid-afternoon, sat at the window bar of the Myer Food Hall overlooking Little Bourke Street with coffee, watching Melbourne walk by. Then we drooled over the chocolate display. The cheese counter. The smallgoods section. The bakery. The cakes - so many cakes. You get the idea. When I was working in town I used to come in here and buy a couple of bread rolls and a slice or two of cheese or ham or whatever for lunch.

Later, we rode a bus up to the top of Lygon Street so we could walk back to our hotel past the scores of Italian cafes. Where to go for dinner? Too many choices. Little Italy. Chinatown. The Greek precinct on Lonsdale Street.

Six in the evening and it was still 30 degrees. A gin and tonic in our room and then we headed out. Can't make a decision, we'll just eat where we end up. In the end, we walked all the way to Rathdowne Street where Paris Go has been there forever. It used to be called Bullfrog in the seventies when it was a raffish French bistro with dark nooks and corners, bare candles on timber tables, a man playing French tunes on a violin in the corner, old black and white prints of Paris on the walls and - best of all - the full-on pre-'nouvelle cuisine' French menu. I used to go there as a student. You would stink of garlic for days afterwards. The escargots used to come in little individual earthenware pots filled with butter and garlic; the steak roquefort was topped with the genuine item - half an inch thick - before its importation was banned into Australia; and dessert was a magnificent creation called Coupe Mont Blanc, some kind of chestnut puree topped with cream.

Today's Paris Go is brighter and leaner, the tables and chairs are a little more 'severe' but otherwise it's much the same. We ate simply - T's steak-frites was perfectly cooked (which for her is well-done) with perfect fries and a crisp green salad. My filet bearnaise was superb. I like it rare: 'blue, thanks waiter, just walk the cow through the kitchen then cut a piece off' . T. had started with lobster bisque and I had the snails, minus the lttle earthenware pots. Still plenty of garlic butter, however. Bread accompanied, delicious French style baguette slices, so good for mopping up garlic butter! Glass of red as recommended by the waiter. He's the expert, I'm not. It was nice, whatever it was.

Dessert - T. had the lemon tart and it was exactly that - tart yet sweet, with a generous yellow blob of double cream and nothing else. No jus, no half a strawberry or dusting of sugar or artistic squiggle of chocolate or mint leaf. T. apparently enjoyed it. She was making noises. Oohs and aahs. I wouldn't know - she scoffed it without offering me a taste. 'Is that what ten years has done to us? Huh?' I teased. 'You are so not having any of my cheese platter!'

We had coffee and I had cognac and then we walked all the way back to our hotel past the cafes and restaurants lining Lygon Street. It was still hot and it seemed all of Melbourne was out eating, drinking, talking, walking.

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