Melbourne: Flavours of Grand the Sams

February 9, 2010 · 40 comments

As I’m sure my regular readers and friends are well aware, given that I have not been able to contain my excitement and bragging, my sister and I were recently in Melbourne for our very first Australian Open experience. It was a week of awesomeness and our thoughts are already turning to next year’s trip.

As amazing as it was to have two massively solid days of tennis action, it was also a little painful to be forced to eat event food while in Melbourne. Luckily for me I’m used to buying food at Subiaco Oval when watching sport, so the options at Melbourne Park seemed quite good in comparison. At a footy match last year at Subi Oval I had a hankering for a stuffed spud (it is possible that I was needing to drown my sorrows in midstrength beer and soft carby goodness, I’ll admit it), so did the trek around to where the spud stuffers were hidden, only to be met with an incredulous look and told “they always sell out by half time” by a particularly surly lady that looked like she had eaten all the potatoes herself.

Food stalls around Garden Square, before the rush of hungry punters

On our first day of tennis my sister and I decided to enjoy our lunch sitting out in Garden Square, enjoying the sunshine and still able to watch the tennis on the big screens. We weighed up our options, easily discounting the “Gourmet Sausages” stall (which ALWAYS had the longest lines… seems people really like sausages) and decided to hit up the “Sushi and Sparkling” stall as it sold two of our favourite things. Leaving my sister to guard the table we had managed to find, I went to get lunch and chose Vegetarian Sushi Rolls and Teriyaki Chicken Sushi Rolls, which was not too difficult a decision as they were currently out of all other options, and a couple of plastic cups of Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir.

Vegetarian and Teriyaki Chicken Sushi Rolls from the Sushi and Sparkling stall

Both of the sushi rolls were unsuprisingly pretty bland, and they did not have any wasabi at the food stall, so we were thankful for the little fishy containers of soy sauce. The sparkling wine also helped considerably, as I find sparkling wine tends to do in most situations. We also thought it only fair to finish off our lunch with something sweet, given that the sushi was a bit of a non-event. My sister had her eye on the poffertjes stall, while I’d been eyeing off the Scoop Parlour for some cool relief after sitting in the hot sun for the morning.

A scoop of Cafe Grande and a scoop of Chocolate Honey Nougat please!

I went on my ice cream mission first, straining to see what flavours they had while I waited in line. My line of sight to the ice creams was compromised by a high density of green and gold sombreros, a common problem on Australia Day, but once I figured out that they had the usual Connoisseur flavours it was pretty easy to make my decision. The cost was $4.50 for a single scoop, or $6 for a double, and I’m sure you can guess which option I went for. Two scoops – one of Cafe Grande and one of Chocolate Honey Nougat. I did much better in my ordering than the old woman waiting behind me in the line who asked for a scoop of “Honey Cream”, a flavour which exists only in her head.

I was a little alarmed when I saw just how much ice cream was involved in a ‘double scoop’ but luckily my sister was willing to assist in finishing it off. We both felt a little queasy at the creamy overload on a warm day after we’d finished, but it was worth it. Those flavours rock, particularly Cafe Grande with its chocolate coated coffee beans.

Lamest. Market. Ever.

While I was still trying to get through the ice cream, my sister made her way to the poffertjes (which we couldn’t pronounce and found ourselves referring to as “poofy jesus”… apparently it’s actually “poff-er-chus” which is somewhat less offensive) stall for some Dutch deliciousness. She was told there would be a half hour wait for her order, during which time we finished the ice cream, watched the tennis on the big screen, and got in some quality people watching. I also took this opportunity to go have a look at “Flavours of Victoria” which I had seen signs pointing to, and had noticed on the map. Excited about the prospect of finding a display of Victorian food products (hopefully with free tastings) I followed the signs and found myself at one of the lamest markets I’d ever seen. They were selling fruit (whole watermelon anyone? I guess that’s one way to make friends), and a small selection of unimpressive looking muffins and biscuits which I suspect were made in a factory.

My sister’s poffertjes, which she ordered with maple syrup, were finally ready and we tackled them with the little stabby sticks. Sadly, although they tasted quite nice they were not entirely worth the wait as the insides were a bit goopy, like they had not been cooked for long enough. We decided to see what they would taste like with the leftover melted Cafe Grande ice cream, and found that maple syrup and Cafe Grande seem to cancel each other out, and you couldn’t really taste anything but the poffertjes. Is Cafe Grande the anti-maple syrup?

Poffertjes - much easier to eat than pronounce

Happily, lunch on our second day of quarter finals watching was much more impressive, as we were sitting over the other side of Rod Laver Arena and discovered Cafe Arena. The prices here were a fair bit steeper than getting a meal from one of the stalls, but we were happy to pay a bit extra for some decent flavours (of Victoria, perhaps?) and the ease of sitting at one of their tables. It was really difficult to decide what to order, as there were a lot of really tempting options, but we soon decided on “Wagyu beef burger with bacon, caramelised onion, cheddar cheese, baby cos leaves in a white damper roll with chips” ($22) for my sister and I chose “baked chicken breast served on a cannellini bean puree with baby spinach and red pepper coulis” ($23).

My sister went up to order, and while she was waiting in line she saw so many tasty plates of the trout salad go out that she changed her mind to order “smoked Goldburn River trout served with mixed leaves and asparagus topped with a Cossack dressing” ($22). I was a little disappointed at this, as I was looking forward to pinching some of her chips, but we decided to get some chips later for afternoon tea so all was forgiven.

Smoked Goldburn River trout served with mixed leaves and asparagus topped with a Cossack dressing ($22)

When my sister’s lunch came out, I understood why she’d changed her order. She really enjoyed this dish, and I can say that the bits she let me steal were fresh and delicious. I’ve not heard of Cossack dressing before, but can only hope it involves Cossack dancers out in the kitchen leaping around with oil and mustard.

Baked chicken breast served on a cannellini bean puree with baby spinach and red pepper coulis ($23)

My lunch was not as impressive on the eye but I really enjoyed the incredibly clean flavours, particularly the red pepper coulis which tasted beautifully roasted. The chicken breast was a little on the small side, but I knew that chips would be in my not-too-distant future so I wasn’t too upset.

My sister and I love our tennis, but aren’t blessed with magical boundless energy so needed a little sustenance to see us through the long days. I ate my way through a bag of apples and muesli bars, and we shared some Natural Confectionery Company jellies. Party Mix is the way to go with jellies, in my opinion, although there is always some wastage if you get the Allen’s ones and noone is willing to eat the aniseed ones. Some friends and I were at the Hopman Cup final matches earlier in January, eating some Allen’s Party Mix jellies and I accidentally ate one of the aniseed ones during a particularly tense game. Luckily one of my friends is a quick-thinker, and was at the ready with a handful of non-aniseed lollies for me to neutralise the flavour with. Having learnt my lesson I was very picky with my lolly selection this time.

Lol lols for sustenance

As much as I like to brag about how much I can eat when I put my mind to it, I well and truly met my match at the Australian Open. During our first session we were sitting behind a family of three, and it did not take us long to notice the eating prowess of the father. Every half hour or so he would fish another treat out of his bag – usually some sort of stuffed bun or pastry – and get stuck into it. We were so impressed by his abilities that I couldn’t help but capture him mid-bun.

My hero, Mr Eating Machine 2010, getting stuck into Bun #5

To our joy, we sat behind this family again during the second quarter finals day session, and discovered that this eating prowess was genetic when we witnessed both the son, and also a cousin who came down to swap seats with the father for a while, emulating the father’s eating skills.This family could easily have kept a bakery in business, it was truly amazing.

Another skilled eater graced us with his presence during the first quarter final night session – Matt Preston. He was resplendent in a horrid leather vest and light pink cravat, though sadly I was not able to eyeball what he was eating.

Why, it's Matt Preston! Nice vest, Matt.

And finally… the tennis itself. It was amazing, we were in awe to be so close to people we had been admiring on TV and poorly emulating on the tennis court. I was very happy to get to see my main man – Novak Djokovic – play, though sadly went down to the Frenchie Tsonga, and my sister was excited about seeing big Rog. I was not a huge fan of Roger Federer before.. I mean, I knew he is basically the best male tennis player of all time and he seems like a nice guy, but I didn’t quite understand the hype until I saw him playing in person. It is like watching Prince Charming playing tennis, he is so powerful yet graceful and I even started to like his floppy hair. From our vantage point, second row from the front, we could see directly across to his player’s seat (and up his shorts, as my sister put it), and some older women behind us were swooning in ecstasy the whole time. Thankfully we didn’t seem to be sitting near any older women swooning over Jim Courier.

During the second day session of the quarter finals we were sitting behind a young guy who had made a “I heart Venus” shirt, with a photo of Venus Williams in the heart. His catch cry was “Let’s go Venus, let’s go!” in a somewhat annoying yet endearingly passionate ocker voice. After his beloved Venus went down to Na Li and it was her sister’s turn to step up against Victoria Azarenka (aka Squealy McSquealer), he changed his shirt to one now saying “I heart Serena”, with Serena’s photo in the heart, and changed his cheers to “Let’s go Serena, let’s go!”. Again annoying, but we figured he was unlikely to change his loyalties again, so we’d only have to put up with it for another match. My sister and I did not get down to Melbourne Park for any of the semifinals sessions, but had Serena’s semifinals match on the TV as we were having an afternoon nap. Our restful naps were soon disturbed by heart-boy’s ocker twang calling out to us through the TV. We didn’t hear him when watching Serena’s final match against Henin but I’m sure he was there, crying tears of joy onto his Serena shirt.

Rafael Nadal (playing Andy Murray), Roger Federer (playing Nikolay Davydenko), Serena Williams (playing Victoria Azarenka aka Squealy McSquealer), Nole (playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga)

It was also quite impossible not to get camera envy….

This photo actually only shows a tiny handful of the courtside photographers. During one of Roger Federer’s service games my sister and I could hear a distracting noise just before each of his serves. We thought that someone in the crowd was trying to put him off, as it sounded like one of those clapper hand toy things. I then realised it was the sound of all the shutters going off, capturing his serves. It seems the photographers had also been taken in by his charm and floppy hair.

Oh and to explain the title of this post – my sister and I had ground passes to get into Melbourne Park to watch the finals matches on one of the many big screens, and chose to go sit in Grand Slam Oval for the Women’s Singles Final Match. Around the oval there were a couple of food tents, and from our vantage point it looked like their signs said “FLAVOURS OF GRAND THE SAMS”. Although we then figured out that they actually said “FLAVOURS OF THE GRAND SLAMS”, we preferred the former and referred to them as this from then on.

Totally going back next year.


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