As most foodies will know, finding the best eating destinations when you travel usually requires getting advice from a local. I’m sure we’ve all pored over “Destination X’s Ten Best Burgers” when travelling, but featuring in these lists often requires money to change hands, and they can be written by someone who isn’t passionate or informed about the subject.
A walking food tour is a great way to discover places you might not otherwise visit when you travel. On our recent trip to Melbourne we were lucky enough to be invited on such a tour by new company Tip Top Tours.
Tip Top Tours is operated by friendly and remarkably well informed Jimmy Stojkovski and his partner Stevie. They currently operate four central-Melbourne based tours: Fabulous Food, Charming Chocolate, Delicious Dessert and Buzzing Bar.
Jimmy invited Renay and I to join a tour, a kind offer that we accepted on the last afternoon of our Melbourne stay in November. We went on the Fabulous Food tour, which visits five venues over three hours at a cost of $69 per person including food at each venue.
I took way too many photos over the course of the afternoon. See at the end for more from each of the five venues we visited.
Our first stop was Red Spice Road, a South East Asian communal dining-style restaurant. It’s a stunning venue, with a granite topped bar and several large dining rooms.
Our first dish for the afternoon was this gigantic plate of twice cooked lamb ribs with chilli jam and coriander.
The ribs were cooked perfectly, and slid off the bone. They weren’t too aggressively spiced, despite the apparent amount of chilli. A great start.
Our next stop was La Belle Miette, a specialist macaron patisserie with four retail outlets across Melbourne. We were each able to choose a macaron to take home and enjoy later.
We visited La Belle Miette’s store in busy Hardware Lane, which also contains popular breakfast spot Hardware Société and newcomer White Mojo, the home of my new favourite breakfast dish. But that’s another story…
Our third stop was the punnily named Mama’s Buoi, a Vietnamese restaurant which occupies two sides of a laneway.
The name is a reference to owner Bao Hoang’s Mother and Aunt, whose home cooking inspired the menu. The “Buoi” is a large grapefruit, and the mainstay of Hoang’s family table.
I don’t normally feel qualified to comment on the authenticity or quality of Asian food, but in this case I don’t care – it was frickin’ delicious. These five-spice and chilli-lime glazed chicken ribs were possibly the best fried chicken I’ve eaten anywhere. The spicing was delicate and perfectly balanced.
We also enjoyed some fried spring rolls, which you can see in the pictures at the end.
Mama’s Buoi also serves cocktails with a Vietnamese twist, and their delicious take on the Espresso Martini is based on Vietnamese coffee.
Jimmy told us that Mama’s Buoi is one of the most popular restaurants on their tour, and I can see why. It will be one of the first places we visit on our next trip to Melbourne.
Wondering how much more we could eat, our next stop was Bar Ampere. Situated on top of an electrical substation and named after French physicist André-Marie Ampère, the bar contains a secret entrance in the bar to the Gin Palace located behind!
Thankfully the walk between each venue wasn’t too long, but enough to provide some respite between courses. Jimmy had plenty of stories to tell between stops, and there was lots to look at and learn about along the way.
At Bar Ampere we were tried an unusual dish of slow cooked duck crepes with slaw and a maple & anise sauce.
This sounds like an odd combination but the crepes were soft and this was a light and refreshing dish.
Our final destination – and the biggest meal we were “forced” to endure – was a good example of a place you probably wouldn’t go to as a visitor. The entry, halfway up a lane in the middle of China Town, looked dubious even in broad daylight. And that was after all the vans moved so we could get to the door…
Up two dodgy flights of stairs and into Belleview we went.
Belleville is a bar that specialises in chicken, with the kitchen housing a Brazilian rotisserie that can hold up to 90 birds at a time.
We were treated to half a rotisserie chicken with chips and a serving of green papaya and coconut slaw. The chicken was beautifully moist and full of flavour. The chilli concoction you can see on the right of the picture was their “Liu Kang fireball” sauce and my nose could sense the Trinidad Scorpion long before I tasted it. This is fiendish stuff and the papaya salad had a decent kick too, as you would expect.
Belleville’s menu includes a range of chicken and Asian tapas dishes, from Karaage popcorn chicken to lobster mac ‘n’ cheese “bombs” (with japanese mustard & bacon jam…) and 12 hour XO lamb shoulder with charred carrot puree and lamb fat crumbs! We were also treated to a duck breast dish that was in development, which you can see in the pictures below.
If you haven’t already guessed, you’ll need to bring your eating pants on a date with Tip Top Tours.
In the interests of full disclosure, we were treated to a private tour as Jimmy’s guest. We would happily have paid for the afternoon, and in fact did offer to pay on several occasions because we weren’t expecting to get such special treatment.
We both agreed that our afternoon with Jimmy was the highlight of our week in Melbourne, and I can’t give a higher recommendation to the Tip Top Tours experience. If you’re visiting Melbourne, or even live there, this is something you really should do. I can’t wait to see where Jimmy takes us the next time we visit.
See below for more photos from our tour.