My first day in Australia ended up being one of my busiest/booziest/latest/greatest and an intentionally packed day. After 15 hours on a plane what’s a guy to do. Sleep? Hell no. Eat and drink and not even look at a room with a bed? Yes. It’s the best way to fight jetlag.
After landing in Melbourne, I headed straight to a Neil Perry restaurant to have my mouth numbed with Szechuan peppercorns. Then to Huxtable and finally to meet up with two of the members of Australian art-pop band Architecture in Helsinki, Cameron Bird and Kellie Sutherland, who were cool enough to meet me for a drink at Fitzroy restaurant Gorski and Jones. We talked about their city’s ridiculous restaurant scene. It’s redic.
We’re sitting in a bar on Smith Street in Fitzroy. This is your neighborhood. What a great neighborhood.
Cameron Bird: Twenty years ago, the inner north of Melbourne was the artistic hub of the city. And though many have been forced out, there still is an alternative edge to this area with galleries and all sorts of creative work being done. But now, food has taken over a bit. Fitzroy and [nearby] Collingwood have become the center of a dining movement in Melbourne.
What was it like here five years ago?
CB: There was nothing. On inner Smith Street, there were a couple places. A couple bars.
So what are your go-to places in Fitzroy?
CB: There are so many mid-priced, forward-thinking places here. There’s Boire, which is a simple French, market-driven kind of place. There’s also Josie Bones, Huxtable, Easy Tiger, Cutler and Co., Charcoal Lane, Gigibaba. There are so, so many places in this neighborhood.
Before I visited, a lot of people told me that Melbourne was the food capital of Australia. True?
Kellie Sutherland: It might not be the food-growing capital, but for restaurants I think it’s great. I must say, Sydney is giving us a run for our money. There’s this massive wave of Mexican food hitting that city.
You’ve traveled the world, including to Mexico. Does it compare?
KS: (Laughing). Well, no. It’s more Tex-Mex.
CB: With only a few exceptions, Mexican food in Australia is pretty overpriced. Like $20 for a burrito. Australia has a very small Mexican population, like under a thousand people.
Cameron, you lived in Brooklyn for awhile. How would you compare the dining scene?
CB: I lived there five years ago and every time I go back there are so many new places. It’s a great restaurant city.
KS: You can’t get slices like that here, that’s for sure.
CB (In Italian accent): The real New York City slice.
Does Australia have a national dish?
CB: No! I mean, every time I answer this question it comes off as super lame. Australia is such a young country and very multicultural and an amalgamation of many cultures. After the Second World War, there was a lot of immigration with Italians and Greeks. And over the past 20 years, there has been a massive influx of people from Southeast Asia. It’s a massive blend of everything.
KS: Something that identifies us is Vegemite.
Is that food?
CB: Yeah, is that food?
KS: It’s sort of a food by-product I guess.
And I cannot end this without posting a couple of the band’s crazy group dance/think music videos: