An odd relative who isn’t easily forgotten, Australia’s most eccentric, culture-hungry city consistently builds upon its rich history, engaging locals and visitors alike. Melburnian Sheridan Wright has the cheat sheet to what’s happening right now in the city you’ve been dying to meet. This time, the inner-sanctum: The CBD and Southbank.
Unlike many of its interstate cousins, Melbourne’s CBD is not all business and no pleasure. The laneways are as tempting as ever and this city still has its finger on the pulse. Pulse of what however, is anyone’s guess; she’s an eccentric ol’ dame after all.
Skip the morning rush and start your day off late with a brief trip to Paris via La Petite Crêperie (corner of Little Collins and Swanston streets). Despite being ‘to die for’ good and served direct from the cutest little street stand you’re likely to find (complete with French music) they also happen to be ridiculously cheap. This, of course, leaves more money for shoes or a real trip to Paris. For $4 you can treat yourself to a sugar and lemon classic or for $5 you can savour the chestnut puree; order three.
If you prefer your brunch at leisure and served by some of the best wait staff in Melbourne, head straight to Cumulus Inc. (45 Flinders Lane). Whether you have the house-made crumpets with whipped ricotta and rooftop honey or the Shakshouka-baked eggs with roasted peppers, it’s impossible to go wrong. If it’s racing season (or you don’t need an excuse) it’s also the perfect place for a champagne breakfast.
If you take your coffee seriously you should walk off your crêpe or Cumulus feast with a stroll to Patricia (Little Bourke Street), which arguably serves the best coffee in the CBD despite being standing room only.
For all the initial aesthetic criticism, Federation Square (Corner Flinders and Swanston streets) is a highly utilised space. ACMI offers films, exhibitions and even vintage video games (remember Pac Man?). It’s a perfect place to kill time and hide from the fickle Melbourne weather. Alternatively, skip across the square to the NGV: Ian Potter Complex, offering more than 20 galleries displaying work by Australian artists.
Shopping in the CBD is a case of trash and treasure. If you’re after brands and lots of them, then head up to Melbourne Central (Corner Swanson and La Trobe streets). Here you’ll find everything from Armani Exchange to Witchery. The entire centre is housed around a light-filled atrium encasing a beautiful brick tower (a former ‘shot’ factory, as used in early weaponry) built in 1888. Who said shopping and historical education don’t mix?
If you prefer your treasures a little more ‘limited edition’, head to Christine Accessories (181 Flinders Lane). This ode to fashion is the basement brainchild of Christine Barro, and it’s the best-kept secret (well, was…) of the truly stylish. Don’t let the humble name fool you – this is where your new favourite piece of jewellery is waiting.
Next, head up nearby Bourke Street and into Crossley Street to Madam Virtue & Co. It’s decadent vintage couture like you’ve never seen, lovingly curated by owners JC Lloyd-Southwell d’Anvers and Dean Hewitt (under the astute observation of lady-of-the-manor ‘Maude’, a well-dressed Sharpei). Be prepared to be draped in luxury and fussed over – don’t fight it.
Now that you’re on a roll, head to the Paris end of Collins Street (north of Swanston Street) for some above-the-line decadence. You might need to re-mortgage your house first, but Miss Louise Shoes (Shop G4, The Westin, 205 Collins Street) offers walls of satisfaction for those with a fixation on footwear. From Jill Sandler to Valentino, it’s the sort of store that would give Carrie Bradshaw convulsions… not to mention that Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermès are all within a stone’s throw away. Fingers crossed for a sale.
Needing some post-shopping sustenance you should take yourself out of the hustle of mid CDB for some reprieve and head towards Southbank. The Atlantic (Crown Entertainment Complex, 8 Whiteman Street) offers a damn fine oyster and champagne bar, or if seafood isn’t your thing, touch base with Neil Perry’s star offering Rosetta (also in the Crown Complex). The Italian-style menu is only made better by the stylish (leaning towards decadent) décor of chandeliers, marble and floor-to-ceiling windows.
Revived and ready to go back into the fray, head back city-side to visit Lily Blacks (12 Meyers Place). She is a lady with serious cocktail tastes.With one of the more impressive collections of bitters this side of the border, it’s got bartender credibility in spades. Sit at the bar, talk to your tender, and watch your ice being hand-chipped from a giant block.
Next, it’s straight from serious to salacious at Madame Brussels (Level 3, 59 Bourke Street) located just around the corner. Named after a real life madame from the 1880s, it’s a virtual wonderland of beautiful young things in tennis outfits. If it’s a hot day sit on the deck, grab a monogrammed parasol, order a gin garden and enjoy the view (both human and skyline). Continue the silliness with chive, chicken and mayo sandwiches for dinner… then cupcakes for dessert. Pure Melbourne.
Finish the evening with some of the artistic x-factor our cultural capital is known for with a show at Chunky Move (111 Sturt Street, Southbank). This contemporary dance company is on par with some of the best in the world and new artistic director Anouk Van Dijk is taking the already respected company to thought-provoking heights. They tour extensively, however a chance to see them perform in their home city should not be missed.