I managed to persuade my doctor to let me out of town for a week. With great relief I headed to Melbourne for a few days, and then visited friends in country Victoria. It was wonderful. The most exciting thing about Melbourne though, was seeing the soul return to Lygon Street. Once famed for it’s great Italian food, over the decades Lygon Street lost its lustre with low quality restaurants and mediocre dining. It also lost its Italian heart. I made the trek (a relative term, used to indicate the significance of the distance in accordance with my presently limited abilities) out there from Little Bourke Street to visit my favourite spice store, Gerwurzhaus (more on that later). Although Gewurzhaus was founded by Germans, it certainly meets the foodie pedigree required to enhance Lygon Street.
A few doors down from there, I stumbled across D.O.C. I was greeted in Italian when I entered, and was blown away by the wonderful, vibrant, quality produce on offer. The three gentlemen behind the counter were talking in Italian, and were happy and friendly. I was very impressed by the array of fresh vegetables, including pine mushrooms and slippery jacks that I was told came fresh, that morning, from the Mornington Peninsula. A wonderful array of dry goods lined the cabinets opposite the counter, and brown paper bags of apples congregated nearby.
The fresh sausages looked amazing and I couldn’t resist buying two flavoured with fennel. Other options included pork and chilli or garlic and wine. They are made for the deli by an Italian butcher. I was also impressed by the metal wheels on the counter-top, wound with little cacciatore. I absolutely had to have some to take home for pasta or pizza or some such yumminess. Very well aged, they were firm and dry, and didn’t need to be refrigerated. They were rich in flavour with remarkable depth. Don’t even start me on the selection of hams, available on platter to enjoy immediately. The array of cheese was wondrous. A blackboard announced the wheels that were being cut today, and platters of mozzarella were also for sale to enjoy right away. Tubs of fresh buffalo ricotta caught my eye.
I used to adore going to a little pasta shop called Donini’s, and was saddened when it wasn’t there. Unsure if my memory was mistaking me, I asked at D.O.C., and was pleasantly informed that Donini’s had simply moved across the road and down a few shops. I backtracked a little, excited to see the familiar beauty of colourful pasta strands and shapes, and little squares filled with savoury delights. For dinner, I hoped to be joined by a vegetarian friend of mine and decided the pumpkin and almond ravioli would be wonderful served simpley with a little olive oil and some of that buffalo ricotta.
Walking back towards the city I stopped in at Readings, the Lygon Street stalwart, independent, Australian owned bookshop of local infamy. I was delighted to see the front corner of the store filled with cookbooks of all descriptions. The titles included beauties by Ottolenghi, but also, much to my delight, the Whole Larder Love book. I’ve wanted that book since before Christmas, but I’m not one to buy online, especially if I haven’t seen, felt and smelt an object before. The same is true for books. I’m booked into one of Rohan’s workshops next month, and would love to have the book before I go. Upon expressing my excitement about the returned soul of Lygon Street, I was informed Brunetti cafe had taken over the Lygon Court site previously occupied by the maligned corporate bookstore, Borders. The Angelé family cafe first opened Brunetti in Lygon Street in 1974 and needed to move when Lygon Court was first built. The cafe now serves Roman pastries, woodfired pizzas and other Italian treats in Melbourne’s traditional Italian heart.