Route 59: A cozy and delectable night of food and wine in MoPo
Not long ago, Moonee Ponds was another north-west suburb on the outskirts of Melbourne’s CBD. Labelled with a reputation, but a convenient location – via the 59 tram route – the area was more-or-less left to the locals. Affectionally known as MoPo, Moonee Ponds is also known for it’s historical mansions and native parklands along the Maribyrnong River. Once an area for the fringe of society now, a bustling hub – thanks to gentrification – of creative folks, young families and of course hipsters spilling in from neighbouring Brunswick. What is not so well known is the diverse and delectable foodie scene bursting to come out and play.
Along the 59 tram route alone, hundreds of restauranteurs have set up shop over the last 10 years to deliver fresh, locally driven food and drinks to people in the area. With that, a strong sense of community has developed, creating an overwhelming band-of-brothers, where local businesses provide a great range of products. By helping each other along the way, like a small town community, store owners are sharing their humble success together merely 20 minutes from the CBD.
The Valley Cellardoor is testament to MoPo’s sense of community. Brothers Tony and Mark Pendreich set up the store on Hall Street in 2009 off the back of their first successful business in Mordialloc. Together with Tony’s fiancé, Rose and chef, Alec this family run business is the perfect way to end a day, and start a night. With over 250 local wines to choose from as well as 65 craft beers – largely of the stout and dark ale persuasion – the Valley Cellardoor has a very specific focus on quality. The cozy, European style wine bar owns the Cheers vibe where Tony is proud that “everybody [really does] knows your name”. Tony did the fit out himself – a rustic, dark candle lit wooden interior, wall-to-wall bottles of wine, warm and comfortable with a large-open outdoor area perfect for summers nights.
As the business grows, Tony and his sommelier brother Mark have put together wine tasting classes run by the head wine makers at selected wineries. Running every six weeks on Thursday evenings, for $65 you can taste some of Australia’s best wine and have a chat to the hands behind the bottle. July’s session is already sold out but with the folks from Fowles coming down the Hume in August, it would be a shame to miss out. VCD is also one of a handful of places around Melbourne that allows BYO food – you can bring your take away or home cooked meal to the bar. In February, Tony expanded his premises, which now has a beautiful pizza oven serving rich, hearty and delicious pizzas and charcuterie platters. With a constant stream of people using the Cellardoor as a takeaway bottle shop or as their local watering hole, Tony has an inviting, friendly and family orientated business that is certainly here to stay.
A hop-step-and-jump away on Mt Alexander Road is Khao San Road Thai restaurant. Established five years ago, the restaurant is constantly run off it’s feet especially over the weekend. Khao San, means ‘raw rice’ and whilst you won’t find anything raw on your dining table, the restaurant takes the spiritual meaning seriously; delivering traditional ingredients with a carefully thought out modern spin on texture, flavour and style. The food is dominated by strong flavours of peanut and coconut – synonymous with traditional Thai cuisine but is matched perfectly with the creative use of chilli, lemongrass and coriander, all quintessential flavours to Thai fare.
For entree, the Miang prawn – a prawn wrapped in betel leaf, covered in chunks of chilli, coriander and peanut mixed with a sweet cut-through taste of ginger and lemongrass is an explosion of flavours to come. The restaurant favours fresh seafood, locally sourced and is liberal with their servings. The prawn tempura in tamarind sauce is an interesting dish, sending alarm bells to flavours in traditional Hong Kong cuisine, a balanced mix of sweet, sticky and sour with the subtle hint of the fresh seafood, served with pineapple and tempura capsicum.
The Mussaman beef curry is the most traditional meal on the menu dominated by coconut and peanut. The presentation is impeccable, served in clay pots over a hot flame. The slow cooked meat melts in your mouth, leaving a buttery taste as it falls away with a slight touch of the fork. Served piping hot, this curry is smooth and rich and perfect on a cold winter night.
Finally, for desert, and the domination of one flavour: coconut. There is no holding back with six dishes devoted to coconut – ice-cream, puddings, cake and crepes. A sweet yet small serving to end the meal over a hot tea seals the full Thai experience. As an added bonus staff can make a mean cocktail from classic martinis to contemporary Thai style drinks all for around $12.50.
The staff are focused, friendly and prompt, eager to discuss the menu and offer their full attention to all patrons regardless of how busy they are. The decor is authentic with heavy wooden tables and chairs neatly placed around detailed wall spaces decorated with clay pots and traditional cooking implements. You can almost sense the Bangkok humidity thanks to the careful placement of the kitchen and the warm lighting. Khao San Road Restaurant is truly a five-star Thai dining experience, a far cry from the dingy lit, laminex table corner Thai restaurant we’re so familiar with here in Melbourne.
MoPo is rapidly developing and their palate is light years ahead. The area is a hub of ideas, flavours and friendly locals that are welcoming to any east-sider prepared to make the short journey to the north.
The Valley Cellar Door is open from midday 7 days a week until late and Khao San Road Thai Restaurant is open from 5.30pm – 10.30pm 7 days with lunch hours coming soon.
The Global Rambler was a guest of Moonee Valley City Council hosted by the featured venues.