Oh Melbourne International Film Festival time, you are my absolutely favourite time of year! And in order to soothe my soul that it is once again all over for another year (*sniff*), this post is dedicated to relieving some of the food adventures I had while scuttling around the city attempting to enjoy as many filmy delights as possible over 17 days (although my Werner Herzog/Gasometer adventure is to be saved for it’s own post, it was that epic).
When I was on holiday in the UK a few years ago I found it ridiculously hard to find any kind of East Asian food that wasn’t crap, or served with chips (ABOMINATION). When I discovered a Wagamama in Cardiff and had a bowl of vegie ramen that didn’t make want me to write a letter of apology to Japan, I was so happy I could have cried. But I hadn’t yet tried the Melbourne outlet until I discovered that it was a perfect halfway point between the Forum and Kino.
On my first visit I ordered a vegetarian bento box for $15 (only available at lunch) and it was pretty decent. The yasai katsu curry was delicious, with panko-crumbed pieces of eggplant, zucchini and sweet potato all slathered in this great not-too-spicy sauce, which I had great fun mopping up with my ball of rice. The vegie gyoza were not as successful, the filling was nice but the wrappers were a bit stiff and probably not steamed for long enough. The edamame were a little tough too, but still tasty. And I really enjoyed the fresh green salad augmented with red dashes of rubbery pickles, it was a good way to finish off the meal. It also came with miso soup, which is always a plus for me.
Unfortunately I had a dinner there later on in the festival which was frankly a bit nasty. I ordered a vegetarian soup which was basically just a giant bowl of soba noodles and bean shoots in a very average broth. There were a few token bits of zucchini and snow pea floating around, but all in all it was uninspiring and an outrage at around $18 for the bowl. I might return for another bento, but count me out for dinner.
83 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9671 4303
The blogsphere seems to have been suspiciously quiet about this place (or at least the blogs I follow have been, apart from Carla over at Easy as Vegan Pie who mentioned it in her one of her own MIFF posts). I hadn’t heard anything about it before stumbling over it when taking a short cut to the Forum via Hosiers Lane.
First thing that Hoboken taught me is that I can totally be won over by cafes that have pots of ornamental cabbages sitting outside their front doors. I LOVE cute pots of cabbages, it turns out. I also love cute barista boys who are all “Not sure what to eat? Here, have this giant roll filled with an omelette and coriander and peri-peri sauce, it is DELICIOUS,” to which I reply “You are correct, young sir, and also congratulations on your face” (okay, I only thought that last bit, I didn’t say it. But I thought it REALLY HARD, in the hopes that he might have had telekinetic powers). They also do a very hearty mocha, which I resorted to quite frequently during the festival. To have relied so heavily on caffeine as a crutch, how shameful for an avowed coffee dissenter like myself! But sometimes nothing else will see you through five films a day.
I am deeply intrigued by Hoboken, and hope to return for several more visits.
3 Hosier Lane, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9078 2869
Ahh Journal, such an old stand by. Sure, sometimes the staff hide behind that wall of a bar like it’s a medieval fortification designed to keep back the ravaging hordes of Genghis Khan, but the food is deceptively simple and oh so good. Where else could something as basic as avocado on toast be such a satisfying nibble? And they craft a good mocha as well, though enticing the staff out so you can get a second one sometimes proves difficult.
253 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9650 4399
I first discovered Chocolate Buddha during last year’s MIFF, so it seemed appropriate to visit again this year. And I was hungering for some sushi, as earlier in the day I had watched the divine documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi (watch that trailer and weep), so nothing was going to stop me from chowing down on sushi dreams after that. Chocolate Buddha had a chargrilled tofu nigiri special on offer, so I figured that would suit my longings perfectly!
They sadly ended up just a tad bland (chargrilling clearly doesn’t do much for the flavour of tofu if you haven’t let it soak in the flavour of something else first), but there was enough tasty interest in the form of the accompanying pickled ginger and wasabi to jazz them up.
My main of the tofu ankake don was a much more complete prospect, with greens like choy sum, bok choy and wombok mingling with shiitake, silken tofu, ginger, carrot, bamboo shoots and shredded up nori sheets over white rice. If there’s anything more satisfying than a big fresh bowl of vegies and grains, I don’t want to know what it is.
Federation Square, Cnr Swanston and Flinders Streets, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9654 5688
Did you know that ACMI Lounge does bang-up amazing soup for $11? I bet you didn’t! It’s damn huge, making it a really filling quick meal, especially when you’re a little pressed for time and have to do the film buff’s sprint to Greater Union. I ordered the potato and cauliflower soup one night, and while it was definitely stacked more on the starchy potato side of things in terms of overall flavour, it was delightfully creamy and warmingly pleasant. Best of all, it came with a piece of parmesan encrusted bread that was longer than the bowl itself. That’s how you win me over, with giant chunks of cheesy bread!
ACMI, Federation Square, Cnr Swanston and Flinders Streets, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 8663 2537
I honestly don’t know how I feel about China Red. It’s in a terribly convenient location, especially during MIFF when it was just around the corner from Greater Union and made a perfect pre or post film dining spot with friends. It also retains its novelty value with the touchscreens that you use for ordering; my friends and I still haven’t lost that sense of glee in pressing buttons and then having food magically appear. I just wish the quality of the food wasn’t so damn inconsistent.
I mean, how can you go from the sublime example of one of the most deliciously perfect desserts I’ve ever encountered, which pairs coconut cream, mango puree and delicate white pearls of tapioca like they’ve been plucked from the very gardens of the gods themselves (I don’t know why the gods are growing tapioca in their gardens, just follow me for the sake of the metaphor), to charging $6 for a ‘vegetable soup’ that essentially was a few green strands and some tofu puffs floating in practically straight-up water? I have no idea.
It seems like it’s the sort of place where you have to search out for the good items and then stick with them. The brilliantly green vegetable dumplings are pretty good (although their skins are probably just a touch too thick for my tastes, although it is a reassuring sign that they are handmade), and on our last visit during MIFF Joe and I shared this incredible pumpkin dish where sticks of it had been somehow crumbed in egg yolk and fried. The riot this caused on our tastebuds was too glorious to be described.
But then for every great dish there’s one that’s just disappointingly average (vegie spring rolls, I’m looking at your generic curry tasting arses) or outrageously bad (I can’t get over that soup, I just can’t). Oh, China Red, you are confusing and I am honestly not certain how I feel about you at all.
Shop 6, 206 Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9662 3688
Oh food and film, will there ever be a more perfect combination? No, no there isn’t, that was a rhetorical question. And as for the festival itself, what made me catch my breathe, cheered me, or utterly changed my life the most out of the 41 films I ended up seeing? Well, including the above-mentioned Jiro, let’s just say that if you were loitering in a cinema foyer and caught sight that they were playing Submarine, Attenberg, The Solitude of Prime Numbers, Melancholia, Tiny Furniture, or Bobby Fischer Against the World, you’d be doing yourself a great service to immediately purchase a ticket and a choc top, settle down in the dark, and prepared to be entranced.