No one could believe I had never been to Melbourne. I've lived in Auckland for a total of four years now (I'm British), and for most of that time have spent both my working and free hours thinking and writing about food.
I felt like I'd been to Melbourne, because I've been to cafés, restaurants and food events directly imported or inspired by the culture of this food-obsessed city. I've interviewed countless New Zealanders who relay the same story of moving to Melbourne, discovering soft brew coffee, the best burger joint or an informal style of shared dining that would work just perfectly on this side of the Tasman, and more often than not, do.
I was therefore overwhelmed at the prospect of a week in the city. I wanted to run before I could walk, I wanted to be the first to discover a secret, newly opened Andrew McConnell pop up chicken wing/dumpling/donut/ramen restaurant/eatery/dive just by chancing upon an abandoned factory in a cobbled side street.
It actually feels as though this could happen at every corner in Melbourne, and so I quickly realised I needed to put away the three-page list of recommendations I'd collated and simply step outside the door of my hotel, a hotel which just so happened to face Supernormal, Andrew McConnell's Asian fusion restaurant that opened this time last year. It also happened to be top of the three-page list, after Dish Food Editor Claire Aldous visited during the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival earlier this year.
Supernormal was much more super than it was normal (I wonder how many dads have left exclaiming this?). A specific brand of classy fun infiltrates the experience. Nothing is strictly themed or heavily laboured, yet there's still somehow cohesion in eating a New England lobster roll alongside traditional Chinese pot-sticker dumplings.
The decor is thoughtfully minimal; instead of candles, white plastic lamps provide a cool ambience atop a long kitchen-view bar, while neon signage, a basement kareoke bar and Japanese vending machines provide playful touches of Tokyo in an otherwise exposed breezeblock and timber interior.
The wine on offer is so extensive it's more of a library catalogue than a list. You can peer through glass doors at a seemingly infinite cabinet of exotic bottles, and there are at least three sommeliers that work every shift to ensure you find your perfect match. Ours was a crisp West Australian Pinot Grigio blend by Laissez Faire, which held up against the robust flavours of runner bean kimchi with Roast Western Plains pork, belly and loin.
We were too full for pudding, but ordered it anyway because peanut butter parfait, soft chocolate and salted caramel sounded too delicious to make excuses. If I could go back hungry and finish the lot I'd be a happy woman, each mouthful was delightfully chewy with sweet and salty bursts. I instantly wanted to return (spoiler alert, I did – more to come on that next time) to eat everything I'd watched prepared in front of me from my view of the open kitchen; a raw bar serving delicate plates of seabream with white soy and ginger; salads of ox tongue, pickled chilli and pigs ear and big dishes of slow cooked Szechuan lamb with spring onion pancake and coriander paste.
I practically rolled across the street to bed afterwards to the Adelphi Hotel, which was kindly provided for one night by Tourism Victoria so I could experience Melbourne on foot from its central Flinders Lane location. I felt like a queen when I returned to my room to find the blinds lowered and a single macaron on my pillow from the Adelphi's well-known dessert bar, Om Nom. Thoughtful touches like this and a handwritten note on the mirror made a new city feel very welcoming, and a morning swim in their rooftop pool was an unforgettable experience I feel no end of lucky to have had!
In part two of my Melbourne blog, I get lost in laneways, read here.
Supernormal is open Sunday - Thursday 11am-11pm and Friday and Saturday from 11am - Midnight at 180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne. For more information, visit www.supernormal.net.au. For more information and to book a stay at the Adelphi Hotel visit www.adelphi.com.au.