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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Melbourne: Flavours of Grand the Sams

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.


Maria@TheGourmetChallenge February 9, 2010 at 10:40 AM  

It really sounds like you had a fantastic time!! Must admit that does look like a pretty lame market....although I cant help but wonder why they would sell whole melons at a sporting event....except...maybe thats where those people who wear melon helmet get their supplies!! It suddenly all makes sense now.

Karine February 9, 2010 at 10:47 AM  

Ha ah!!! I loved the nickname of Victoria Azarenka! So true..

Anyway, I watched on TV while I was gym the match Nadal-Murray. I should have looked for you in the stadium! :P

Anonymous February 9, 2010 at 11:58 AM  

Sounds like a fun time! That trout looks really good and I'm curious about the cossack dressing!

Cakelaw February 9, 2010 at 1:07 PM  

Sounds as though you had a great time, even if the food wasn't always up to scratch. I like party mix too and hate the aniseed ones (black cats - bleh) but I didn't think they had those in NCC's party mix, just in Allens.

Conor @ HoldtheBeef February 9, 2010 at 1:16 PM  

Maria@TheGourmetChallenge - We so did! Ahhh, but of course, melon helmets! If only I had thought of this at the time..

Karine - she was so irritating! That was an interesting match, pity it ended the way it did :(

5 Star Foodie - the trout looked even better in person :)

Cakelaw - you are totally right!! Thanks for correcting me. I just assumed we had the NCC at the Hopman Cup too but clearly I was mistaken. NCC all the way!

Panamahat February 9, 2010 at 4:28 PM  

OMG, are you sure that is a sporting venue? Such luxury food choices!! Subi oval needs to take a leaf.....

Conor @ HoldtheBeef February 9, 2010 at 5:05 PM  

Karine, I'm so thick sometimes.. I only just realised the silliness of your statement! :D I can't believe you didn't spot me, I was the girl who looks like a food blogger, sitting next to an older girl who looks kind of like her sister!

Panamahat - I know, we're getting a pretty raw deal! I tend to take my own food to Subi Oval these days, there are only so many meals of lukewarm chips & sauce you can handle in a footy season.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella February 9, 2010 at 5:11 PM  

Woohoo! I LOVE this post! I've alwayas wanted to go to the Australian Open but haven't yet! LOL at camera envy-makes you want to wolf whistle at that camera equipment!

Agnes February 9, 2010 at 6:04 PM  

Hehehee - loved this post, Conor! Particularly Mr Eating Machine 2010. You should've asked him for a snack! Sounds like he had more than enough to feed you two! ;)

Trisha February 9, 2010 at 6:18 PM  

Ohhh the tennis & the food! I have Conor envy! One of my biggest dream is to see a quarters, semis, or *deep breath* finals Australian Open match. I keep saying "next year... next year..." but everytime a new year rolls in it's like AO creeps in slowly behind my back too and next thing I know it's AO time again!

Iron Chef Shellie February 9, 2010 at 7:17 PM  

Love it, love it, love it!!!

I just tried that flavour of icecream on the weekend and I fell in love with it!
Had poffertjes once... I ordered it by going.."I'll have a serve of dem things" and promptly pointed to where they were being cooked. The lady taking my order didn't even know how to say it :P

How lame of a market was that! First time they have had it I think, never seen it before.

Maybe I'll go next year too!

mademoiselle délicieuse February 9, 2010 at 7:31 PM  

Bit of a hit and miss with food at such large sporting or entertainment events but looks like you had a superb time anyway =) And yay for spotting Mr Matt Preston!

Anonymous February 9, 2010 at 8:24 PM  

Conor, can I just say again HOW envious I am? :-)

(Mr. Neil)

penny aka jeroxie February 9, 2010 at 8:30 PM  

I don't really eat that much when I head for tennis matches. Hmmm... it seems that you have loads of fun so that is really good.
Till the next time.

NikiTheo February 9, 2010 at 9:25 PM  

Well, I can tell you right now, Chicago is getting a raw deal w/ our sporting events. We have hot dogs, overcooked hamburgers, and overly fried foods. So jealous!

MaryMoh February 9, 2010 at 11:32 PM  

Lovely food and of course so great to watch tennis. I had to watch it on TV.

Pam February 10, 2010 at 12:23 AM  

What a fantastic time! I would totally go back next year too.

Anonymous February 10, 2010 at 3:17 AM  

Wow, what a wonderful event! Sorry the food sucked though - although I am glad I stopped by - I never thought of doing a white bean puree before - looks delicious!

Emma @CakeMistress February 10, 2010 at 1:17 PM  

Awesome day out. Yay for spotting Matt Preston. He always looks so ponderous... And those camera lens *sigh*...and Roger Federer *dreamy sigh*

Krissy @ The Food Addicts February 10, 2010 at 1:44 PM  

wow, the Australian open huh?? lucky you!!! that's funny you guys actually purchased the sushi... with no wasabi?! what the heck is that?

Stacy February 10, 2010 at 2:19 PM  

Looks like you had a great time! How fun!

Anonymous February 10, 2010 at 2:41 PM  

Sounds like fun! I never knew I could miss those 'fastfood' sushi rolls until I've left Melbourne. They DID make eating a sushi a whole lot easier.

Evelyne @ CheapEthniEatz February 10, 2010 at 10:40 PM  

It definitely sounded like quite an experience on a tennis level, not so good on a food level. Funny how sporting events serve up bland and caloric food...things that make you go hummm!

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite February 11, 2010 at 12:17 AM  

I was laughing so hard halfway into this post thinking you were going to ONLY blog about the food available at the tennis when you finally got around to addressing the sporting event! What a recap!

Trissa February 11, 2010 at 2:23 AM  

Talk about Australian open envy! Amazing blow by blow account. I enjoyed reading everything. Even about the family that could eat a stadium!

オテモヤン February 11, 2010 at 5:13 AM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
A cupcake or two February 11, 2010 at 5:41 AM  

Oh Roger. He is the ultimate athlete. I really want to go to the Aussie open. Perhaps we can meet up next year.

Belle@Ooh, Look February 11, 2010 at 8:02 AM  

I got a lot out of this post, but the thing I will take away with me is how to pronounce poffertjes. I always call them 'those Dutch pancake things', so, thanks!

Conor @ HoldtheBeef February 11, 2010 at 9:17 AM  

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella - thanks :) You have to do it, really you do, I can't recommend it enough! Oh yes, I had to hold myself back, hehe.

Agnes - thank you!! He was absolutely incredible, I still can't get over his skills. Not sure he would've been willing to share, though!

Trisha - hehe, haven't heard of Conor envy before :D Well, it was one of my dreams too, and now that I've done it once I think I'm addicted. Do it next year!

Iron Chef Shellie - :D thanks :D Oh yes I can't have that ice cream in the house or it magically disappears in the blink of an eye (or scoop of a spoon, as it were). Damn Dutch and their confusing consonants, making us feel dumb! Come next year!

mademoiselle délicieuse - we surely did, and even half decent food was better than what we were expecting. My sister spotted Matt, she actually has a track record for spotting MasterChef dudes, it's a skill.

Mr Neil - you should be. It was awesome :D (also, I'm impressed by your results prediction skills! Not as impressed as I am by your penguin impersonation skills though)

penny aka jeroxie - you think the heat of sitting there would have put a hold on my hunger but nope! Yes, lots o' fun :)

NikiTheo - it sucks when you have to choose between a tiny handful of options that you would rather not eat any of, but you gotta get something in your belly to sustain you through the sporting excitement. I've been known to eat hotdogs without the dog when necessary (those bright red sausages frighten me)

MaryMoh - Indeed :) We were lucky to be there!

Pam - We just can't help ourselves :)

biz319 - Yes, I was pleasantly surprised by how good the white bean puree was... tasted super clean and had a nice texture to go with the tender chicken and silky pepper :)

Emma @CakeMistress - Doesn't he! Resting that hand up to his face, looking like he's weighing up the worries of the world. I know, totally sigh worthy... one day I'll have an impressive lens.. and a tennis player? Hmmm.

Krissy @ The Food Addicts - So lucky! It rocked. Well, the sushi filled our bellies in a healthy way even if it didn't actually fill our mouths with flavour. I know, sacrilegious not to have wasabi!

Stacy - we surely did, thanks! :)

vickys - My sister and I couldn't believe how cheap they were to buy in the city. Perfect fast food! I guess the ones in actual sushi places in the city would have some degree of flavour to them too :)

Evelyne @ CheapEthnicEatz - I'm so psyched about my tennis coaching now, trying to maintain the momentum of the tennis excitement! I know, it does make you go hmmmmm, how we sit around somehow forced to eat chips and hamburgers and drink beer while watching athletes push their bodies to the limit.

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite - haha!! I know, I was thinking the same thing as I wrote it..."hmmmm, guess I should actually say something about the tennis even though this is technically a food blog"... managed to get quite a few great tennis photos with my modest little point & click. Thanks mate! :)

Trissa - thank you! :D I'm even slightly envious of myself too, wish I was still there! That family was a sight to behold.

オテモヤン - no idea what you said but given that the word "SEX" was in there I can only assume it was not a legitimate comment. Although, you may have been referring to Roger Federer,....hmmm..

A cupcake or two - Oh Roger, indeed. What a guy. Yes yes you should go! We can meet over a bucket of ice cream!

Belle@Ooh, Look - thanks! :D me too, I just hope I actually remember the pronunciation next time I need to say them. It is nice to know other people were as clueless as I, I felt quite ignorant :)

Karen Harris February 11, 2010 at 10:37 AM  

What a great concept for a food stall, sushi and sparkling. That would have been my pick too. Sorry it wasn't as fab as it sounded. After that I'd have to track down some of the ever present tiny doughnuts dusted in sugar. Mmmmmm, my favorite sport or antique show food. Great post Conor.

Kitchen Butterfly February 12, 2010 at 3:26 AM  

Love love love the sushi and the chicken on bean puree........wow!

Adrian @ Food Rehab February 12, 2010 at 8:08 PM  

Yeah, that market looks pretty lame indeed. I was at the Rafael vs Murray game! Packed house but was cut short.

Sometimes I don't mind the centre of the pancake being a little undercooked- but only if I'm making them at home. Undercooked pancakes when bought is just wrong! LOL

Sook February 13, 2010 at 1:00 PM  

Hi first time here!! You have a great blog! Will be back soon.

Mr. P February 14, 2010 at 1:13 AM  

Love Melbourne! I would even endure the tennis to go back there.

I'm not sporty. I try. Actually, that's a lie. I don't. :)

pierre February 14, 2010 at 4:08 AM  

hi conor
Lucky you to be in melbourne during the tennis event I masure it was a kind of experience !! now i hate you to have such a beautiful weather hate you ! hate you !! PIerre

Simply Life February 15, 2010 at 8:16 PM  

oh that sushi looks incredible!

Conor @ HoldtheBeef February 16, 2010 at 9:40 AM  

Karen Harris - I know, it was perfect! Well, perfect in theory anyway :) Thanks Karen!

Kitchen Butterfly - yes I think I'll have to start mashing some beans myself, it was a nice texture and I guess it's handy to stop the chicken from sliding on the plate ;)

Adrian @ Food Rehab - lame city! Ha, I wonder if we saw each other. Yes, there are certain things that are acceptable in your own kitchen but not when you're paying good money for something!

Sook - welcome, and thank you! I've just been looking at yours and can say the same thing. You take great photos!

Mr. P - ahhh me too, but Melbourne and I have a love hate relationship as it keeps stealing my friends away from Perth. Good reason for a holiday though. You don't need to pretend, embrace your non-sportiness! Who needs sportiness when you have pie making skills, say I!

pierre - haha! Hate me if you like, it doesn't change our weather ;)

Simply Life - if only they had wasabi. If only..

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