Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
Melbourne's Restaurants with a Difference
MELBOURNE, WITH OVER 3,000 RESTAURANTS, IS ACKNOWLEDGED AS AUSTRALIA’S GOURMET CAPITAL. BUT THERE ARE TIMES WHEN YOU MAY WANT A FUN EVENING – AND A DINNER WITH A DIFFERENCE. SO HERE ARE 5 RESTAURANTS THAT ARE VERY DIFFERENT – AND A LOT OF FUN.
TITANIC, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER
The crowd here is elegant – dinner suits and evening dress in the first class section – and it is obvious that many are here to celebrate a birthday or special occasion. Waitresses in 1900’s costume pour the wine, and take orders for dinner. Suddenly a ship’s horn booms out and over the loudspeaker a voice announces “All ashore please, the Titanic is about to sail.” No, I am not dreaming, but participating in one of Melbourne’s very different and fun-filled nights out, “Titanic, a Night to Remember.”
Located in the seaside suburb of Williamstown, The Titanic is a journey back to the 1900’s when the largest ship ever to be launched to that time set off on her maiden voyage from London to New York. Aboard were some of the wealthiest and most influential ‘Movers and Shakers’ of the era. The disaster that was to unfold seemed to be an unlikely subject for a night’s fun, but the original script and catchy musical score of the show that was presented this evening made for great entertainment. Performed by some of Melbourne’s best actors, the show was completely absorbing. From the moment guests arrived to be ‘checked aboard’ by authentically-uniformed ship’s officers and taken to the upstairs dining room which was a replica of the style on the original Titanic, everyone entered into the spirit of the evening. The elegantly-gowned hostess asked if we had sailed to New York before, the dinner-suited ship’s architect visited our table to explain the Titanic’s ‘unsinkable’ design, and the ‘ship’s dining room’ décor, right down to replica Titanic dinner plates and crystal glasses added to the ambiance.
Before the first act, evening-gowned and black-tied guests enjoyed a five course dinner in the First Class dining-room upstairs. Downstairs, “steerage“ passengers in appropriately less formal dress, were surrounded by the glass-fronted engine room “fires” and overhead pipes. The actors used the stairs as part of the set, incorporating the dramatic action in both sections very cleverly.
Guests were served dinner shortly after arrival, not like the ‘everyone-at-once mass food delivery’ usually found in theatre restaurants. With our pre-dinner drink, we enjoyed tasty and beautifully presented hors d’oevres, including magnificent oysters. These were followed by an entrée of either a seafood mousse or lasagne. Our main course choices included Poached Salmon, Saute of Chicken Fillet of Lamb with mint sauce and an excellent Fillet of Beef. If this is how the Titanic passengers dined on their last night, they did very well indeed!!!
After a suitable break, the show continued to its ‘watery’ and musically rousing finale. We finished our evening with a dessert of Chocolate éclairs and coffee. Truly a night to remember.
A DINNER IN THE SKY—THE ‘GOONEY BIRD’ DINNER FLIGHT
The Douglas DC3 – affectionatedly known as the ‘Gooney Bird’ by pilots – was the aerial workhorse of World War 2 and was the most reliable aircraft ever built. And one of the few beautifully-maintained survivors of this marque makes low level dinner flights over Melbourne every weekend (conditions permitting).
Melbourne’s weather can be somewhat fickle, and looking at the sky earlier that afternoon, we were not at all sure about our boarding card which read, “This flight is scheduled to depart at 8.30 pm”. But fortunately the clouds dissolved and we departed on time from Essendon Airport for a magical dinner flight over Melbourne operated by ‘Shortstop Jet Charter’.
The intending passengers on our flight first assembled in the Gooney Bird Lounge with a glass of champagne and had time to admire the mood-setting photographs and wall posters of bygone days, including one from the movie Casablanca, which was playing on a video screen in the corner. We also got safety instructions about walking on the tarmac and an admonition not to joke about security.
Our pilot, Capt Mike Falls, gave us a brief history of the plane, a 1945-built DC3 and where it had been flown, including a stint in the Air Force. It is now fitted out to take 30 lucky passengers on a unique low-altitude flight over Melbourne offering a spectacular bird’s eye view over the city.
After take-off we were served dinner, an airline business-class-style salad, curried chicken with steamed rice, and chocolate cake, with some excellent wine. At this point the plane was flying over the Bay to the Heads and there was not a great deal to see while we were busy with our dinner trays. But soon our pilot was advised by Melbourne flight control that it was clear for us to do a 2,500 ft high fly-over the city. And what a view that was! The average jet flies at 30,000 ft, an altitude where one can see little but a sprinkle of tiny city lights. But at our altitude every building was easy to identify and cars looked like tiny toys.
The city views could have been turned on just for us. The traffic flows were streams of red tail-lights and white-head lights. The MCG was lit up as if for a football game and the Arts Centre Spire was like a delicate fairy needle. The lights of Government House stood out in the otherwise dark Botanical Gardens and floodlit tennis courts and swimming pools were like diamonds in the suburbs.
The pilot gave a running commentary as we flew over familiar landmarks and all too soon it was time to land. Before we walked back to the Lounge, we were invited to inspect some of the small jet aircraft in the adjacent well-lit hanger. What a difference to our DC3, but these sleek, modern aircraft did not generate the same feeling of nostalgia. Coffee and port were offered in the Lounge before we drove back to today’s world after a memorable night of city lights and reminiscence.
DINNER ON THE MOVE - THE COLONIAL TRAMCAR RESTAURANT
Ding ding!!! Ding ding!!! All aboard for a great dinner and a ride around Melbourne’s attractive city and suburbia. This metropolis is one of the few that has maintained and expanded its excellent tram network. It is also the only city in the world where you can enjoy a gourmet dinner showcasing the best Australian produce and wine while touring the city sights.
The brown vintage tram that makes up the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant is a very familiar sight around town. It’s a favourite Melbournian venue for birthday celebrations and the like. And tourists love it too. The route takes in the Central Business District and some of Melbourne’s more interesting and exclusive suburbs. As we traveled, we heard a short commentary about the various areas of interest along the way.
After the journey started and we were sipping a pre dinner drink, we were offered appetizers of cognac pate and a spicy roasted pepper relish. Dinner began with a salad of Goulburn River smoked trout and avocado mousse adorned with crisp watercress and crème fraiche. This was followed by our choices of Prime eye fillet with potato gratin and Chargrilled chicken breast served with a Mediteranean vegetable risotto. I found it really impressive that such excellent quality food appeared as if by magic from the tiny chef’s galley as the tramcar was moving through the city streets.
The next course highlighted Australia’s premium cheeses which were served with pear paste and dried muscatel grapes. And who could resist a warm sticky date pudding or white Chocolate and passionfruit parfait. As our moveable feast drew to a finish we were offered liqueurs with coffee and tea. The Melbourne Tramcar Restaurant has become such a city icon that it is wise to book your evening well ahead.
DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY - RIOS BRAZILIAN RESTAURANT
If you love Latin music, and know a good Brazilian churassco (Brazilian barbeque of meat grilled on a sword-like skewer), and enjoy the joyous, noisy Brazilian beat, you don’t need to spend a fortune flying to South America. The charming, hard working Chilean owners, Rene and Sandra Mora, have brought as authentic a touch of Rio to Melbourne as I’ve seen in Latin America.
Rios Brazilian Restaurant is a good way to pay a brief visit to Rio without the long plane flight. It’s a bright, fun-filled night out with traditional Brazilian grills served from long skewers to accompany the huge variety of hot vegetables and salads available from the buffet. Meats were cooked on an authentic Brazilian grill – lean, rare beef, chicken drumsticks, spicy sausages, pork, and marinated chicken hearts were brought to the table by constant procession of waiters. And clearly all offerings were of excellent quality.
After the ‘as much as you can eat’ meal, buffet tables were rolled away and the music started. The venue – once a church but now decorated in Latin style – was filled with groups celebrating various occasions. The noise level indicated that everyone was having a great time. The floor show here is fabulous. Brazilian music has a very catchy beat and the flamboyantly dressed dancers gave great interpretations of dances like the samba and lambada. After the show, the floor was open to all to enjoy the rhythm, and show their own talents in the dance.
A VIEW FROM THE RIVER - SPIRIT OF MELBOURNE.
For those wanting a more sedate evening, a dinner cruise along Melbourne’s Yarra river is a relaxing way to view this city and some of its best suburbs from the water. This dinner cruise is, not coincidentally, very similar to the dinner cruises on the Seine in Paris, though Melbourne’s Yarra River – and consequently the cruise boat – are smaller.
Departing from Southgate on Friday and Saturday evenings, this three hour cruise is a perfect end to a busy week of sightseeing and shopping. You will enjoy a six course meal showcasing Australia’s best produce and prepared on board as you glide along. The lights of the city’s skyscrapers are reflected in the water, adding a touch of romance.
After savouring a platter of assorted antipasto delicacies, the peppered prime eye fillet I had was one of the best I have eaten for quite a while and I heard enthusiastic “mmm”’s of appreciation from my partner whose Tasmanian salmon was topped with a salsa of avocado. Dessert was a temptation of Chocolate bavoir or Apple roll with King Island double cream. This was followed by a platter of premium Australian cheeses and coffee. An outstanding selection of excellent wine, beer and spirits is included in the price and adds to the evening’s enjoyment.
The cruise boat slowly makes its way upstream from its inner city riverbank berth at Southbank and cruises past the elegant riverside homes of some of Australia’s most prominent ‘Captains of Industry’. The boat has illuminating floodlights mounted on its side in the same way as the French boats on the Seine, and so you will get a good idea of how the rich and powerful live in Australia. That said, you don’t need to be rich or powerful to enjoy some of the incredible restaurants in the area. It is easy to pick out a place to stay once you figure out what restaurants you’d like to visit. There’s absolutely no harm in simply going online and seeing what’s available. It only takes a small amount of time, and you might have some unforgettable meals ahead of you.
All of these special dinner venues must be booked ahead.
1 Nelson Place, Williamstown
Ph. +61 3 9397 5101
Gooney Bird Dinner Flight
Gooney Bird Flight Silver Clipper
Ph. +61 3 9379 9299
The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant
PO Box 372, South Melbourne 3205, Victoria, Australia
Phone +61 3 9696 4000 Fax +61 3 9696 3787
Rios Brazilian Churrascaria
316 Church Street, Richmond, Victoria 3121
Ph. +61 3 9428 9787 Fax. +61 3 9428 0235
Spirit of Melbourne River Cruise
Melbourne River Cruises
Vault 11 Banana Alley, Flinders Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3000
Ph. +61 3 9614 1215 Fax. +61 3 9614 1252