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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cycling Through Melbourne's Hidden Places

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If London has Thames river, Melbourne reserve the right to be proud of Yarra river.  I like to sit around on the river side, to clear up my dreariness. But I won't sit for a long time this moment, because I'm gonna cycle around town with Real Melbourne Bicycle Tours!

Why cycling (around the town)? If you really need some reasons other than health purposes, well here you go: because walking around the city consumes more time and riding vehicles could give us hard time in find parking space. 

So don't worry, we don't need to brutally pedal nonstop, they make lots of happy stops, either for just staring down the shimmering bluestone laneways or just to grop some beautiful red leaves in the Fritzroy park! That's all? No, we'll get more than that excitement! 

The bicycle tour is guided by Murray Johnson, a journalist and photographer. He'd love to tell us some of historic stories, such as why Melbourne was formerly called Batmania (taken from one of the inventors name: John Batman) or why Lygon St. is known as little Italy (you have to find out by yourself!).

I couldn't hold myself to not sneaking around during breaks! Brunswick, Smith & Gertrude St are crowded by bohemian houses, street arts, bookstores, vintage stalls, ice cream shops, cafes and there's a barbershop that gives us an Aussie free beer for every haircut!

Books for Cooks, Gertrude St. for your cullinary business
An adorable eclectic cafe at Moor St: Grub Food Van!
Suddenly there's a banana tree!

There must be something special when the ice cream shop is full house on a cold day!
But Gelato Messiina's indeed delicious.

The Royal Exhibition, constructed in 1879-1880, added to the UNESCO world heritage list in 2007.
Carlton Gardens 26 acres

Cycling tips in Melbourne from Mr. Murray:

- Although there's a bike lane, watch out for parked cars. In several cases, a cyclist shoved by the driver or passenger who suddenly open the car door and fell. 
- Please keep cycling in line of the group, especially in crowded streets. It sounds easy, but I often tempted to cycle side by side with a friend for the sake of chatting or asking my friend to photograph me. Sorry, my bad! 
- While it's so exciting to see the beautiful city sights, it'd make us cycle slower and block other cyclist. So, please keep cycling in the moderate speed or make a full stop if you really need to.
- Be careful when cycling through a tram lane, it could make a bicycle wheel twisted. And I've proved it! So embarrassing as it squeaks loudly. Again, my bad.

Me & Mr. Murray Johnson

So get your own experience with Real Melbourne Bicycle Tours, please call +61 417 339 203 or e-mail & don't forget to share your story with me!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Melbourne’s Sweet Surrender: Hunting Sweet Delicacies

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I pretend to ignore the brochures’ warning which I read right before the tour began. Actually, I got a little bit worried as just last night I had a pasta party in DOC Lygon St, then this morning, I had 3 croissants & 2 choco muffins for my breakfast.

But as a sweet craver, I will not recoil! I guess I have lots of space in my stomach. So, take me to your cake kingdom, Mr. Andrew Prior!

Andrew Prior is the owner of Queenie's Food Tours. He is also our guide for this morning cake hunting. When I saw him for the first time, his face looks so familiar. Hey, I’m not delusional. As I secretly googled his name, apparently he’s a contestant of Masterchef Australia 2013. 

Taken from  Masterchef Australia's website
“Welcome to Sweet Dreams Walking Tour! I have spent months looking for the best patisseries & the most delicious cakes in Australia! Now let’s make our way through South Yarra. the dessert capital of Melbourne.”

Among the reddish brown leaves tossing around with the cold wind, I observed to the way Mr. Prior walked. One of the articles that I came across the internet said, “Prior hurt his right knee on the first episode of MasterChef when contestants had to run out onto the Melbourne Cricket Ground.” 

We stopped at LuxBites, a patisserie cafe at Toorak Rd.  My vision was suddenly robbed by the pastries in the display rack!

Baby Let Me Love You Let Me LOVE YOU LONG TIME!

Fully concentrating to the sweet art. 

The creator of  LuxBites; Bernard Chu, is Malaysian. Chu's reputation skyrocketed when he succesfully managed to win the challenge of MasterChef producers; to create a cake recipe combining six classic Australian lollies – mint leaves, bananas, red skins, jaffas, freckles and musk sticks.

Bernard had also generously telling his secret weapon of substituting ingredients, such as replacing spearmint leaves—which has a shortcoming: it coagulates when its hot—with mint flavored cream; made ​​from cajuput oil! I never imagined before, my favorite body oil could mixed into some delish cakes!

“This is my favorite cake!” Andrew pointed to the choco cake named Be My Love, made by chocolate milk mousse, raspberry cream, dark chocolate sprinkle, chocolate glaze & freeze dried raspberry.


After drowning on sensuous delightful tasting of Be My Love, I decided to interview Andrew.

“I just read an article about your injury. So how are your knees, are they allright now?”

“My knees are much better now. I feel some pain every now and then but they won't stop me doing food tours.” 

“So how did you decide to become a chef and get involved with Masterchef?” 

“Well I'm certainly not really a chef – more a home cook with a passion for food. I had just returned from a year in Paris and I really didn't want to go back to my job in insurance and wanted to pursue a new dream. So I felt that applying for Masterchef could bring new opportunities, and fortunately it did.” 

Our conversation paused for a while as we said goodbye to Bernard. Then we went on walking to the next store, still on Toorak Rd: French Fantasies. Some of its sidewalk chairs has already filled by the breakfast lover.

Just when I stepped my right feet into the room, the smell of bread wafted wildly. “Like the French people, we make bread so serious!” Joked one of the employees of French Fantasies while offering a variety of delicious breads & cakes. I then continued my series of curiosities.

How hard are the Masterchef’s challenges? Do you get any guidance or given recipes for the challenges?”

“No, not at all. You get no help whatsoever with the challenges. And, as you know, some of them are very difficult. But they are a lot of fun as well.” 

“What happened on the set when camera's off? Were those personalities on the show real? Please give me some of reality TV secrets-you-don't-wanna know!” 

“They certainly are real. In fact if anything they probably toned down what you see on TV. I can't really say too much but if you come on one of my tours there are a lot of stories I can share - in between cake and chocolates of course.” 

From Toorak Rd, we strolled the streets strewn with maple leaves. I thought of the symbols represented by each corner of the maple leaf: strength, simplicity, warmth, romance, and faithfulness. And I suddenly wanted to ask Andrew about loyalty to that famous show that made his name.

“Would you go back on the show or consider auditioning for another cooking competition?” 

“No, not now. I've set up my food tours business here in Melbourne, Queenie's Food Tours, and am very happy with the change in my life. If they wanted me to return for something special, for charity or to set a challenge for new contestants, sure I'd consider it. I miss the great kitchen they have.” 

We arrived in a dazzling kitchen of Zumbo at Claremont St. A fancy pink neon sign reminded me of Miley Cyrus' album cover.

According to Andrew, Adriano Zumbo is a patissier and chef who likes to challenge all of the Masterchef contestants to emulate his crazy cake creations such as Croquembouche Tower (a dessert consisting of choux pastry balls piled into a cone and bound with threads of caramel), V8 cake (8 layers and textures of decadent chocolate) and fairytale gingerbread house.

Foto dari website Zumbo
Oh God, no. If I were the contestant, I might have backed off already. 

So let us eat this carrot cake instead.

Secret Carrot's Business Cake!

Everytime I see something related to carrot, I constantly picture my childhood. Probably because my mom used to welcome me home after school with a bowl of vegetable soup filled with chunks of carrot.

“What are your unforgettable food memories from childhood?” 

“My grandma’s roast lamb with beans that she grew in her own backyard.” 

Aah, for the moment, I felt the warmth of a grandmother who wants to make her grandchildren happy.

Are there any foods you won't even try?”

“I will try almost anything at least once, but I'm against some food which contains animals that are not treated well.” 

“Is there any food that would make you think “It's so delicious it should be illegal?” 

“Definitely chocolate and also custard. I love a good custard.” 

Oh, I imagined it with double pleasure: A custard covered by melted chocolate!

We continued the tour through the increasingly cold wind. I guess the sun was also having a tour; cruising another galaxy. 

As Andrew slowed down on Chapel St, we veered to Burch & Purchese.

Entering this store made my hands tremble. Not only that its wall was fully decorated by everything chocolate fancy, the room were also surrounded by lots of jam jars! 

Among all these delicious jars, I picked salted caramel sauce. I couldn't wait to spread it on a warm wheat bread, along with my cup of  hot coffee. 

The Burch & Purchese owner; Darren Purchese also frequently appeared in various episodes of TV cooking shows such as MasterChef Australia, The Circle, and various other events. Suddenly I felt lucky to have a chance of meeting lots of Aussy foodie celebrities!  I immediately was so jealous of Andrew's work. 

“What do you enjoy most about running business of Queenie's Food Tours?” 

“Mostly I love being my own boss and working with my partner, and another thing is getting to meet great food producers throughout Victoria for a living.” 

Ah, Andrew knew that he’s walking on a dream wheel. He's infatuated with his own work. Or as the French say; A La Foile; a term to express madness in the sense of falling in love. Love sick. Love to death. Like the love of Mercede-Coubard; the next cafe owners we visited, who creates cakes in French style.


So, if you have this feeling of A La Foile to macaron & petits choux, don’t hesitate to visit 589 Chapel St and get ready to be ambushed by atmosphere of Paris. Even her employees are native French!

Mercédé Coubard has a warm smile as she greeted us while presenting a variety of colorful macarons. With sparkling eyes, she described her effort to open this business. She started out by making cakes exclusively for her family,  until she was finally confident to sell the cake to other people.

And surprisingly, that “other people” are often the celebrities she admired so much.

Taken from A La Foile! Instagram
“Michael Buble came to my store twice! Last visit was yesterday afternoon!” Mercédé was really cheerful when she mentioned her idol, while I quietly watching the entrance; stay alert in case Buble would come again! 

We chatted while our fingers busy taking pistachio macaron; made ​​from high-quality Iranian beans. Its peanut flavor was so strong, yet sweet with a creamy blend that tasted soft.

“I remember when the very first time running this business, I had to waste dozens of macarons because it didn’t match my expectation!”

My dear Lord, Mercédé, I don’t mind chewing your failed macarons! 

My taste buds did a very busy work analyzing crushed crisp-tender and the cream flavor explosion while my fingers took matcha & redcurrant variants. Again, I was struck by the mixed flavor sensation; each flavor complements without eliminating other flavor; like two divas give each other the spot light on the stage, rather than being dominant. 

Mercédé  then excused herself to serve other customers.

“Be ready for another sweet invasion!” Andrew teased us, wearing a sweater, a sign to us to move on to another place. We were herded into a cafe that smells like happiness; Chocolate Ganache at 250 Toorak Rd! 

The smell of chocolate burst at every step, hypnotized us. And like starving cartoon cats, we staggered up to the second floor! 

Upstairs, a man beamed as he welcomed us, "Anyone want a chocolate ball?"

O YES!! I shamelessly grabbed not only one, two,… almost half of the bowl! 

Behind the kitchen, some people was engrossed with their chocolate batter. It turned out that Chocolate Ganache has a Chocolate School! How cool is that?
But I bet if they have any of scholarship program, I definitely would be blacklisted because I might spend most of the study time for slurping the chocolate!

While gossiping about all kind of chocos, we were treated to taste an assorted of delicious beverages and savory dishes. One of my favorite was croque monsieur. It gave the luxury savory flavor after all of those sweet invasion. 

Andrew also seemed to enjoy his lunch, probably because it’s the last treat on this Sweet Dreams Walking Tour.
Hey, but my interview session is not over yet!

“What makes Melbourne a great place to go to culinary scene?” 

“Melbourne is one of the world’s great multi-cultural cities and it has every type of cuisine imaginable. It’s the mixture of the widest range of different cultures and the wide range of inexpensive choices that is fantastic for a foodie like me.” 

If you could only eat one cake or food for the rest of your life, which would it be?” 

“It would have to be the Lolli Cake from LuxBites of course. Only Bernard can make it better than I can — oh and my fellow Masterchef contestant Christina apparently.” 

Bernard Chu & Andrew Prior
Any predictions on which of the new cakes will be 2014's best selling?” 

“I’m tipping the Petit Choux is going to be big.”

If Melbourne were a cake, what would it be and why?” 

“Good question. I’d say an Opera Cake, as it has so many delicious layers.” 

Oke I lied! One more question: If current-Andrew meets with the 10 years ago-Andrew, what would both Andrews say?” 

“Well the older one would probably be jealous of the younger one’s hair and the younger one would probably advise the older one not to wear T-shirts of TV. That’s age for you.”

Oops, his answer had made me suddenly clutching my hair. I hope it’s still there for the next 10 years!

Now I've got a question for you Valiant, if you don't mind.” 

*Gulp* “Okay, of course I don’t mind!”

“What did you love most about Melbourne? And what did you most enjoy on my sweet dreams walking tour?” 

I sipped my double shot. I quickly summarized all that interesting stuff I found since my first setting foot in Melbourne.

“Well, what I love about Melbourne is how Melbournians are real passionate about what they have & what they do. These proud citizens make the city more energized. I can see the sparkle of love from how they draw the walls, how they brew a delicious espresso, or even how they ride a segway when exploring the vineyard.
And 1 of passionate people I admire in Melbourne is you.  In addition to enjoying delicious pastries and acquainted with great people behind the door, you make the walking tour very pleasant, thank you for all the good memories!”

As my extra gift for you, this is your favorite Kylie Minogue song, Andrew!

Actually, there’s one thing from this tour that amazed me.  The business people I met in Melbourne are very supportive towards each other, they are very keen to collaborate.
In fellowship, we shall win together.
Or lose alone. Our choice.

Thank you & sweet dreams! 

Foto by Alex

Hey, Melbourne cruising is not over, I will take you to Yarra Valley and riding a segway around the wineries!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bersepeda Ria Menguak Rahasia Melbourne

Click here for English language

Kalau London punya sungai Thames, Melbourne pun boleh bangga dengan sungai Yarra. Sejenak duduk manis di pesisir sungai Yarra mampu memecah gundah.
Namun kali ini duduk tidak akan lama-lama, karena kami akan bersepeda ria keliling kota bareng Real Melbourne Bicycle Tours!

Kenapa bersepeda keliling kota? Karena jalan kaki pegel, naik kendaraan bermotor sering ribet kalau sering-sering parkir.
Kan, keliling kotanya sambil lihat jalanan bebatuan biru berkilauan ala Melbourne atau sambil raba-raba daun merah berkemilauan di taman Fritzroy!

Yang mengasyikkan, kami bersepeda dipandu oleh Murray Johnson, seorang jurnalis & fotografer. Jadinya selain berhenti di sudut-sudut asyik yang fotojenik, Mas Murray seringkali menceritakan kisah-kisah sejarah tempat yang kita hinggapi, seperti kenapa dahulu Melbourne sempat dinamakan Batmania (diambil dari salah satu nama penemu: John Batman) atau kenapa Lygon St dinobatkan sebagai little Italy (mari jelajahi sendiri saja :p).

Saya sering curi-curi jajan saat rehat kilat. Abis bayangkan, sepanjang jalan Brunswick, Smith & Gertrude dipenuhi perumahan bohemian, seni lukis jalanan, toko buku, kios vintage, kedai es krim, cafe dan bahkan barbershop yang memberikan Aussie beer gratis setiap potong rambut. Sayang rambut saya masih cepak.

Ini sedikit dari banyak penemuan asyik yang sempat saya potret saat bersepeda gembira.

Books for Cooks di Gertrude St. Bekal buat bisnis kuliner, nih!
Ada cafe eklektik menggemaskan di Moor St: Grub Food Van!
Gimana gak gemes, tiba-tiba di dalem ada pohon pisang!

Pasti ada yang istimewa kalau di hari yang dingin toko es krim masih dikerubutin. 
Gelato Messina ini memang lezat!

The Royal Exhibition, dibangun 1879, merupakan UNESCO world heritage.
Carlton Gardens seluas 26 hektar. Puas berputar-putar!

Kiat kilat bersepeda di Melbourne dari Mas Murray:

- Walau ada lajur khusus sepeda, awasi mobil yang sedang parkir. Ada beberapa kasus penyepeda jatuh terpelanting karena terdorong pengendara yang membuka pintu mobil dengan kencang.
- Bersepedalah dengan berbaris, terutama di jalanan padat. Tapi saya sering lupa diri jadi bersepeda berendengan demi asyik ngobrol atau minta difoto. Haha, maaf!
- Kadang saking asyiknya lihat pemandangan, bersepeda jadi lambat. Kasihan yang di belakang jadi terhambat, apalagi saat di persimpangan jalan saat lampu hijau segera berakhir. Suka lupa, yang bersepeda di kota ini kan gak cuma turis ya.
- Hati-hati saat melalui lajur tram, karena bisa bikin roda sepeda nyelip. Dan saya sudah membuktikannya! Malu deh, soalnya saat roda sepeda bersinggungan tramline, bunyinya keras banget dan bikin oleng. Untung sigap lompat!

Me & Mr. Murray Johnson
Nah, nanti jalan-jalan di Melbourne pakai sepeda saja, yuk! Telepon saja +61 417 339 203 atau e-mail
Jangan lupa bagi-bagi penemuan asyik versimu ya!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Jelajah Perkebunan Anggur di Rochford Winery Australia

Pagi itu kami dikawal angin dingin menembus jantung Yarra Valley, sekitar 50 km dari Melbourne. Sepanjang jalan dedaunan berhamparan di tanah seakan menegaskan bahwa musim gugur sedang bergegap gempita.

Beruntung dingin tidak merajarela, karena kami kemudian menempati sebuah ruangan hangat di Rochford, walaupun ada yang membuat mata saya terbelalak.

Agenda kami adalah pelatihan kilat khusus mengendarai Segway, kendaraan roda dua yang sekilas mirip otopet, tapi bermotor. Yang membuat terbelalak, sebuah layar menampilkan demonstrasi cara pemakaian Segway yang tak diperkenankan; seperti badan yang terlalu mendongak ke belakang atau saat terlalu bungkuk saat melewati lobang. Akibatnya fatal, bisa terpelanting. Yah, sama seperti naik motor, kalau terjerembab ke daratan keras kan bisa-bisa hilang nyawa. 

“Santai saja! Saya di sini akan memastikan kalau kita akan bersenang-senang!” Kelakar sang pemandu bernama Beck, menyadari raut wajah kami yang berubah horor.

Kami lantas digiring ke sebuah tenda besar di samping rerumputan, tempat para Segway berjajar rapi.

“Segway adalah kendaraan superpintar, ia bisa mengerti ke mana arah tubuh kita ingin melaju,” Beck mencontohkan cara menaiki Segway. Tampak mudah, “Hati-hati bila ingin turun, pastikan Segway telah berhenti sempurna, turunkan satu kaki dahulu,” kini ia mencontohkan cara turun. Ah, gampang! 

Tak sabar, Saya lantas menjejakkan kaki ke pijakan Segway. Tapi begitu kedua kaki sama-sama berada di pijakan dan tangan mencengkeram setang, kok terasa oleng dan gemeteran ya? Mendadak kalut.

“Tegakkan badan, perlahan condongkan ke depan,” Becky memperingatkan.

Pelan-pelan, ketika badan tegak sempurna, Segway pun ikut stabil. Saat condong ke depan, Segway pun perlahan maju. Wow, mendebarkan! Kapan coba terakhir kali mengendarai kendaraan bermotor dengan cara berdiri?

“Wah, bagaimana menghentikannya?” Teriak saya mendadak lupa pada ajaran teori di ruangan hangat tadi.

“Kembali tegakkan badan dan lemaskan genggaman pada setang!” Teriak Becky dari arah belakang.

Benar, saat poros setang menegak, Segway perlahan berhenti. 

Setelah Becky membiarkan kami bersuka ria mengelilingi padang rumput, ia mengajak kami menuju kesenangan yang sesungguhnya; menjelajah perkebunan anggur!

Di perkebunan ini chardonnay (anggur hijau) tumbuh terlindungi dari angin dan es oleh bukit. Biasanya mereka panen di minggu ketiga Februari. Anggur dihancurkan dan dipadatkan, disimpan di barel-barel sampai belasan bulan untuk proses fermentasi. 

Langit mendung dan rintik hujan tidak menghentikan ambisi kami menjelajah segala medan, walau agak ngeri juga saat Beck menantang kami melewati jembatan kecil yang menyeberangi kolam.

“Hati-hati jangan tercebur. Kolam ini agak dalam. Kuharap kalian semua bisa berenang!”

Oops, saking groginya, segway saya terantuk batu berlumpur! Untung kaki sempat refleks melompat, hingga akhirnya cukup terperosok manja saja ke dalam kubangan lumpur. 

1,5  jam yang diberikan kepada kami untuk menjelajah kebun anggur usai sudah. Rasanya cuma 15 menit. Ah, saya ingin mengendarainya seharian! Mengendarai Segway ini dari ragu sampai menggebu-gebu, ibarat bercinta dengan pasangan yang mengerti tubuhmu. Ketagihan!

“Harga Segway ini berapa ya?” Tanya saya iseng, membayangkan bisa memakainya di sekitar kompleks rumah.

“Sekitar 200 juta.”

Oh, bayangan itu mendadak pudar! 

“Mau beli?” Goda Beck.

“Mmh, kayaknya mau beli edisi yang ada kursi dengan roda menyamping deh, alias sepeda motor!” Kelakar saya. 

Usai berjelajah ria, kami dimanjakan berbagai hidangan istimewa ala Rochford. Salah satu favorit saya: slow cooked wagyu beef cheek yang lama masaknya hingga 24 jam! 

Diam-diam saat mengunyah daging empuk supernikmat itu, saya masih berharap menemukan Segway dengan harga lebih murah. Pasti ada versi made in China-nya, deh!

Tapi kalau dipikir-pikir ulang, kalau punya Segway, saya pun harus punya perkebunan anggur ini agar penjelajahan selalu menyenangkan!

Kalau gitu, ngider lagi, ah! 

  • Klik sini untuk rute nyetir ke Yara Valley dari Melbourne & bandara atau klik sana kalau mau pilah pilih bus tur.
  • Untuk info lebih memukau seputar Segway Tour, intip sini  untuk intip intim Rochford intip sana.