With its hidden street art, clandestine restaurant entrances and concealed rooftop bars, there’s more to Australia’s second city than meets the eye
Author Jacqueline Detwiler Photography Mark Roper
DAY THREE | You may have been tipsy enough to eat a pie with a face on it last night, but you don’t make idle promises. So after breakfast at the hotel’s Om Nom dessert bar and restaurant—banana bread with vanilla mascarpone cream, a passion fruit–poached banana, vanilla ice cream and caramel syrup—you hire a driver to take you to the Yarra Valley wine region, located about an hour northeast of the city. As opposed to the sweltering Barossa Valley in South Australia, which is known for fruity shirazes and heavy cabernets, the more temperate Yarra Valley produces pinot noirs and sparkling varieties, which you intend to taste.
You’ve been told by friends that if you don’t snap a picture of a kangaroo while in Australia, you’re not to come home. Luckily, Healesville Sanctuary, a zoo and animal refuge in the valley, is home to dozens of photogenic red and gray kangaroos—along with wallabies, wombats, koalas, dingoes,Tasmanian devils, platypuses and all manner of colorful birds. Given the heat, you’re surprised to find most of the animals capering in their enclosures; only the wombats are sleeping (“They do that a lot,” says a park attendant). Even the koalas are having a romp, climbing on each other’s backs and heads on their way to better perches.
Watching the koalas munch eucalyptus leaves makes you crave salad, so you have your driver stop at Innocent Bystander, the glass-walled restaurant at Giant Steps Winery, where you order a pseudo-niçoise, with anchovies, green beans, potatoes, olives and an implausibly breaded soft-boiled egg, alongside a brisk rosé and a plate of thick truffle and parmesan frites.
Now it’s time to fulfill some promises. At Yering Station, you find your buddy from last night driving a forklift before the purple panorama of the Dandenong mountain range. What a place to work! By the time you air-kiss goodbye, your hands are full of bottles you’re not sure how you’ll pack. You also stop at TarraWarra Estate, where you stroll among the vines, breathing in the scent of steaming fruit. There’s an art gallery on the grounds, inside which you fall in love with a painting of a gruff bushman surrounded by parrots.
The ride back flashes by and you emerge sleepily in front of your hotel. What you need is an invigorating dinner, and you’re in for one. Back in the CBD, a short walk west, you are swept up to the 55th floor of a perfectly ordinary-looking office building and released into Vue de Monde, a succession of dark rooms bordered by windows. White neon lights on the walls echo the twinkling city below and the stars above, and there are so many mirrors that you get lost on your way to the bathroom. Twice.
Your table is set with an array of rocks and twigs that morph into knife stands, plates, a mortar and pestle. Your meal includes perfectly flaky fried barramundi collar with lemon myrtle salt, followed by a pine mushroom with figs that tastes the way a forest smells. There’s plenty of red wine, and plenty of white. Dessert is a eucalyptus ice cream that reminds you of a better, creamier Vicks VapoRub.
By the end, you feel like Alice in
Wonderland—loosed from the earth and not entirely sure which way is which. You can be certain only that you are somewhere in Melbourne’s hidden otherworld, where everything is more than it seems.
Former Hemispheres senior editor Jacqueline Detwiler has never actually tried to eat Vicks VapoRub, but she did sniff it really intensely once.