Australia is a country (and continent) popular with Singaporeans and Malaysians, be it to go on holiday, study or live in. A prime example would be the city, Melbourne. Melbourne has been voted by the Economist Intelligence Unit as the most livable city for the 7th year in a row, and it houses prestigious Universities like the University of Melbourne and RMIT. It’s no surprise that Melbourne is a popular destination. Me, I was drawn by the allure of cafes, and the sheer desire for a holiday! After my first hellish semester in my second year of Polytechnic wrapped up, I hopped on a Singapore Airlines flight to the land down under for my first ever trip to Melbourne!
My flight was on a Saturday morning, and it was the first time is years that I took Singapore Airlines (SQ), my favourite Airline!
All in all, I believe SQ’s service, food, comfort and experience is better than their rivals like Cathay Pacific, an Airline I used to take a lot (for its standard stopover in Hong Kong).
I landed in Melbourne in the evening (Melbourne is 3 hours ahead of Singapore) and bought a data SIM card from the Yes Optus store in the Airport. Now, you could get the ChangiWIFI Router from Changi Airport, but the cost for use in Australia is $12 a day. It was too expensive for my taste, and besides, I had a portable WIFI Router of my own.
The best way to get into the city would be the SkyBus, which will take you from the Airport straight into the city, Southern Cross Station, to be exact. A one-way trip would cost about A$20. Once in the city, you can take the Tram to get around, with trips within the Central Business District (CBD) free of charge. To get to the outskirts, you can take the Train, Cab or Uber (which I only took once to shift hotel).
Now, I have done and ate a lot while in Melbourne, and I will only be featuring those that I think is worth featuring.
Hungry Jack’s (a.k.a Burger King), multiple locations across Melbourne.
My very first meal in Melbourne was at Hungry Jack’s in the Southern Cross Station. The Australian franchise of Burger King, they serve burgers and fries. The beef is better in Australia, they say. Well, the burgers tasted just like the ones in Singapore’s Burger King. The sets are priced at around A$10, and they serve everything is a paper bag, regardless of whether you are eating there or taking away, there were no trays in sight. But well, do give it a try if you are a big fan of Burger King.
Royal Stacks, (CBD) 470 Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia
This is the closest I have gotten to that famous burger chain in the USA, Shake Shack. Royal Stacks is modelled after Shake Shack, and this is readily apparent to anyone who has tried or seen a Shake Shack burger on the Internet. This raised my already-high expectations for the burger, which was immediately met on my first bite. The patty itself was juicy, and the burger had a slight tang to it from the special burger sauce and pickles. The burgers range in price from A$9.90 to A$14.40, and you have to order the sides and drinks separately. I would recommend the Onion Rings, sweet and crispy, but the Chocolate Milkshake was too thick for my liking.
Pho Bo Ga Mekong Vietnam, 241 Swanston Street, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia
It should come as no surprise that in Melbourne, with a large Asian population, there is no shortage of good Asian food. Pho Bo Ga Mekong Vietnam is one well-known restaurant, serving hot bowls of Pho, perfect for a cold winter’s night. The broth is quite tasty, only slightly salty. I recommend having the bowl with tender beef slices, the classic. The Pho is priced at around A$13, add the chilli and basil to taste!
Hanaichi, Shop 13-15, QV Square, Central Swanston and Lonsdale Street, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia
A simple Japanese eatery at QV Square in the middle of Melbourne, Hanaichi serves Curry Rice, Udon and Ramen at affordable prices ranging from A$8 to A$10. I tried their Wagyu Beef Curry Don. They are extremely generous with their slightly salty curry sauce, but the rice was slightly overcooked. The beef was chunky and tender with just enough of a bite.
Korean Restaurant, 365 Queen Street (183 A’Beckett Street), Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia
On the corner of A’Beckett Street and Queen Street sits a quiet Korean Restaurant. I didn’t catch the name of the place, nor can I locate it on Google Maps, so I assume that it is relatively new. With Korean Servers, a Korean Chef and most of the customers Korean, one would have to assume it’s good, and it was. The Soy fried Chicken was tender and tasty, not too salty. The army stew was interesting, it starts out as a white, milky broth and turns red as your stir the paste in. It was a pretty standard Army Stew, apart from the broth not being too spicy, making it drinkable! A medium Army Stew and Chicken for 2 people would cost about A$40 to A$50.
+39 Pizzeria, (City) 362 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia
Where is the best Pizza in Melbourne? I asked myself the same question while researching on the best places to eat in Melbourne. One name kept popping up, +39 Pizzeria. Their pizzas are around A$20 dollars, and I tried the Margherita Pizza (above) and their speciality, +39 Pizza with Mascarpone and Prosciutto di Parma. The tip of the slice of Margherita didn’t hold up too well (too saucy), but other than that, everything was good! Their tomato sauce had the perfect balance of sweet and sourness, and the crust had a good crunch to it. Do try their pastas too!
Maccaroni Trattoria Italiana, 10/16 Manchester Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia
Hidden in a small lane sandwiched between two busy streets, Maccaroni Trattoria Italiana is everything you would expect from a cosy little Italian Trattoria. The atmosphere of the family-run restaurant just makes you feel like you are ‘back home’ in Italy. Give the Focaccia Bread a try with Olive Oil, crusty on the outside, soft on the inside. The mains are about A$20, and their Chicken and Mushroom Risotto was well-cooked, but lacking in cheese. But, a must try here is their speciality, Seafood Pasta cooked in a Tomato-based sauce. It was cooked to perfection, one of the best pastas I have ever had, amazing!
Operator25, 25 Wills Street, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia
On the site of Melbourne’s first switchboard, Operator25 stands at the forefront of being one of Melbourne’s best spots for brunch. Their pretty-looking dishes cost around A$20, and Citrus Cured Salmon (above) and BBQ Pork Benedict are worth a try. The cafe puts a interesting twist to their dishes, taking inspiration from places like the Philippines for their BBQ Pork Benedict. The food took quite a while to come, but the staff were kind enough to waive the cost of the coffee after their was an error with the system and our orders didn’t go in.
Max on Hardware, 54-58 Hardware Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia
Max on Hardware is just one of multiple cafes and eateries along Hardware Lane. They are an Italian Restaurant that serves breakfast/brunch dishes in the morning costing about A$20. I tried their Nutella Pancakes for something sweet in the morning. Surprisingly, the Nutella wasn’t an overkill eaten with the ice cream, it blended together well and it wasn’t too sweet.
Hardware Societe, 120 Hardware St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia
Hands down, Hardware Societe was the best place I ate at for brunch. It was a little cosy cafe, with a small open kitchen and a long communal table which I sat at. This place is packed for a good reason, with many ordering the cafe’s speciality, Eggs Benedict with Lobster. The black bun used was interesting, not the usual breakfast muffin that is served with most Eggs Benedict dishes. The star of the show were the eggs, cooked at a specific temperature of 64 degrees celsius for that creamy yolk and soft white. The Lobster came in small chunks, and it was soft and sweet, like any good lobster should be. The brunch dishes cost around A$20 each.
Hash Specialty Coffee & Roaster, 114 Hardware Street, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia
From the outside, Hash Specialty Coffee & Roaster looks like any other cafe, but inside, they serve up a very interesting Hot Chocolate Drink. Using Mörk’s chocolate, they serve Hot Chocolate in a beaker alongside a towering cup of cotton candy. It was extremely fun to marry the two, though it can get busy. The Hot Chocolate was extremely thick, but surprisingly, not too sweet despite the amount of Cotton Candy there was in the cup. The drinks range from A$5 to A$10 in price.
Mörk Chocolate Brew House, 150 Errol Street, North Melbourne VIC 3051, Australia
This place is considered to have the best Hot Chocolate in Melbourne. Mörk Chocolate Brew House has a small cafe up front, and a chocolate factory at the back, where tours can be arranged to see how they produce their chocolate. The menu offers different ways to enjoy their Hot Chocolate, from a regular cup of House Hot Chocolate to drinking it with a Matcha Stick. They even have something called Campfire Hot Chocolate, where you get a toasted marshmallow and Beechwood smoke trapped underneath a cup! Also, don’t forget to pick up a couple of canisters of Hot Chocolate Powder to take home, I would recommend getting the one at 70% strength with salted caramel! The drinks range from A$5 to A$10 in price.
While I was in Melbourne, I went on 3 different tours, back-to-back! It was extremely tiring, and I honestly don’t recommend it, especially if you have quite a number of days to spend.
So anyway, the first tour I went on was a Wine Tour of the nearby Yarra Valley, with the company, Yarra Valley Wine Tasting Tours (https://yarravalleywinetastingtours.com.au/). They do a truly professional tour with a knowledgeable guide/driver, multiple tastings and a rather comfortable minibus. The company picks you up from various points in Melbourne for the tour that lasts until about 4.30pm. The tour costs approximately A$130 if you book online, and it includes a gourmet lunch at a winery, visits to Farmhouse Cheese Shop and Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery.
You would visit about 4 wineries and you get to sample between 4 to 8 different wines from Yarra Valley, which specialises in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The tour wouldn’t consist of more than 16 people, so you would get a rather personalised experience as compared to tours with more than double the number of people.
The real reason to choose Yarra Valley Wine Tasting Tours? Simple, one of the wineries you would get to visit is the Chandon winery, which produces ‘Champagne’ (technically, Champagne is only Champagne when it is produced in the Champagne region of France). Chandon opened wineries in wine regions all across the world to cope with the increasing demand for Champagne. In the winery, you have a private tour to learn about how Champagne is produced, and you are then led into a private room to drink some bubbly.
In the private room, you are offered a choice between 4 bottles in Chandon’s premium range. You are talked through about the various flavours, and there will also be a description of the drinks in print, along with their respective prices.
I chose the Vintage Brut Rosé 2013, served in a flute glass that wasn’t too thin, allowing you to enjoy the aroma more clearly. Brut means dry, and it really was, and it had a long and fruity finish. It wasn’t too sweet, to my pleasant surprise, and I throughly enjoyed it. It’s no surprise really, I love bubbly and Rosé wine, combine them together and it becomes truly delicious.
While sipping on the glass of Rosé, I went for a walk around the scenic vineyard, taking in the beauty. It’s very surreal, drinking Rosé just feet away from the vines where the grapes grew. For those of you who don’t know, Rosé is produced by soaking the grape skins in the juice for a short period of time before taking them out, unlike red wine, where the skins are left on the grapes. It’s the best of both worlds, really.
Lunch was at the Rochford Winery, where you place your orders before heading for a wine tasting. Besides the Rosé at Chandon, the second most memorable wine is the Muscat Wine at this winery. It is a sweet dessert wine, which was quite thick on the palette, just like Ice Wine. It had notes of honey, caramel and raisins, which was truly enjoyable to me!
I ordered the Slow Cooked Oyster Blade of Beef served with pearled barley, parsnip & rosemary. It wasn’t too bad, but the beef could have been more tender. The barley was quite soft and was good mixed with the parsnip puree.
The final stop of the Wine Tasting is the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery, where you get to try about 12 different flavours of premium chocolate bars in a private tasting. There, you can shop for everything chocolate, and get some ice cream, hot chocolate or some coffee if you wish to sober up a little quicker?
I have to say, my first wine tasting where I could legally sample the wines was a fruitful one. A$130 may seem very expensive for one person, but if you truly love wine, it’s truly worth it. During the tour, I learned quite a bit about wine and how to sample them properly, like how you should rinse out your glass and why certain wines are served first rather than later. Yarra Valley Wine Tasting Tours is one tour I would recommend!
On the second and third tour, the tours are organised by the same company, Wildlife Tours Australia (https://wildlifetours.com.au). The second tour is called the Melbourne Snow Trip, which is a 1 day trip that runs between June and October.
On the tour, you get to experience snow on Lake Mountain, where you can enjoy snow activities like skiing and tobogganing, or just stand alone and experience the cold winds and icy wonderland that the mountain has to offer.
On the trip, you also visit some of Melbourne’s greatest and most scenic waterfalls, and pay a visit to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery, the same one from my Wine Tasting trip.
I would say, go if you like snow or activities related to snow. But, please remember to dress appropriately or pay to rent snow gear to stop any snow from getting in. It was an unpleasant experience, especially when the snow melted in my Nikes. The tour costs A$125 per person.
The third and final tour was the famous Great Ocean Road, in reverse. The rational is that, the reverse tour route will have less tour groups, and you would do the long, tough drive first.
The tour lasted for the whole day, starting at 7am when the driver came to my hotel and ending at around 9.30pm. Therefore, both lunch and dinner was provided. Lunch was a sandwich stored at the back of the bus in a cooler box, and dinner was pizza at a local pizza joint. Both meals were mediocre, which isn’t a surprise. I wasn’t expecting good food on a long bus tour.
The most famous spot on the Great Ocean Road would be the 12 Apostles. I could see why it was famous, as the rock formations were pretty unusual. But standing by the sea in winter to look at rocks was far from appealing for me.
But, at the 12 Apostles, I came across a cute Wallaby! It was just hopping around, eating some of the plants. It was totally unfazed by the throngs of people crowding around it, trying to snap a picture of it!
Somewhere along the trip, we stopped at a camping site and crawled under a fence to come up close with a family of Kangaroos! Well, not that close, as they can kick a human hard enough to injure or even kill. But, the kangaroos were calm and docile, and just like the Wallaby before, were used to having people around, coming up close and personal.
But, hands down, the best part of the tour, that made everything worth it, was finding a Koala! According to the guide, Koalas are hard to spot, and sleep 20 hours a day. So, finding one awake and with a little Koala cub munching on leaves made me feel like such a lucky boy! Unfortunately, it was extremely high up the tree, and this was the best angle to take a photo (despite the Sun shining in this very direction). The guide said the classic tourist shot of a Koala is of its butt while it’s asleep. So, once again, lucky me!
I would say the best part of the Great Ocean Road reverse tour was seeing the animals, that made the tour that costs A$135 per person worth it. But, if I take the Koala (and it’s baby) and Kangaroos out of the equation, it’s just a day’s tour looking at things, mostly in the freezing cold by the sea. I am honestly not that into scenery, to the point that I would travel far and wide to see it.
So, I guess what I am saying is, Melbourne has much more to offer than the Great Ocean Road and Snow Mountain. But, my favourite tour is, undoubtedly, the Yarra Valley Wine Tasting Tour!
While I was in Melbourne, I stayed in 2 hotels, the Vibe Savoy Hotel and Pegasus Apart’Hotel, and I would recommend the latter. The Vibe Savoy Hotel’s location was good, as it was right next to Southern Cross Station. But, the bed was small and uncomfortable, it was just a very mediocre hotel.
Situated on A’Beckett street, Pegasus Apart’Hotel is a service apartment with cooking facilities in the room and comfy beds. Just footsteps away from Operator25 and the Korean Restaurant mentioned above, the only thing the Pegasus Apart’Hotel is missing is a bathtub (but that’s just something I personally like in a good hotel room), and if I am nitpicking, it is a little out of the city area (Melbourne Central).
But, the famous Queen Victoria Market (which you should definitely visit) is just a short walk away, where fresh meat, seafood and produce is sold at extremely reasonable prices. You could go shopping at Queen Victoria Market in the morning, or early afternoon for better deals, and cook them in your room, like I did! Just be careful with the amount of smoke in the room, you don’t want to set off the alarm. Prices start at A$130 for a room at the Pegasus Apart’Hotel, and you can check out their website here!
Overall, my first trip to Melbourne was an interesting one. I can clearly see why it’s the world’s most liveable city, it ticks almost all of my boxes. It has 4 seasons, there’s good food everywhere, the alcohol’s cheap, it’s accessible with good public transportation, and nature is no further than a short drive’s away.
As much as I would enjoy a resort getaway, I think trips like this just reaffirms that I am, deep down, a city boy at heart. There is just, something so addicting to a fast-paced lifestyle. With its winter in the middle of the year and plenty of good universities, I am pretty sure that this won’t be my only trip to Melbourne. I am going to miss Melbourne, and this city has quite a beautiful way of saying goodbye as I took off on the flight back to Singapore…