Melbourne. 1am. I am in search of sustenance
The night is cool, but not frigidly so, allowing me the rare luxury of walking the city’s lit streets with just the one jacket.
Opting for the cheapest airline to get me over was a mistake, with an “exciting menu revamp” leaving passengers with nothing to eat, even if they had the extra cash.
As my legs take me down the picturesque streets, and my ears are met with the expected whoops and cheers of the Friday-night revellers, my stomach growls.
I left from Perth at that awkward time when the cafes are all closed but restaurants aren’t quite open, and grabbed only a packet of crisps to sustain me through the evening. Now here I was, prowling the streets in the earliest hours of the morning, hoping for a feed.
“Unheard of”, I hear you Perth naysayers call, “Time to give up and go home”.
But not in Melbourne.
Believe it or not, I easily locked down a dinner date with a local, and we agree to meet at 1.30am at Sushiyama — by far the best ramen joint in town.
When I get to Russell Street, it’s more like 2am, but lucky for me, the popular late-night watering hole, Heartbreaker, has kept my mate more than busy.
I join her for a bevvy before we walk over to Shujinko and try to open the door inside, but to no avail. “Aha!” I hear you say, “Closed! I knew it was too good to be true”.
But it wasn’t closed. It was crammed. In fact, the door wouldn’t open because of the line sweeping around from the counter to the restaurant’s back corner. The waiter pushes past the eagerly awaiting guests to greet me, and tells me hurriedly it’ll be a 20-minute wait.
The air of the 24-hour ramen joint is thick with the smell of broth and roasted meat, with tables of two to six filling the small space.
“Oh well”, I think. “No choice but to wait”. But as I begin to find a comfortable spot leaning against the outside wall, my friend pulls me impatiently on the arm up the road.
“We’ll go somewhere else, we can come back again,” she says.
Sure enough, I haven’t walked more than 50m before reaching floor-to-ceiling windows looking into a brightly lit, slightly bigger diner, again chock-full of people, obscured by script lettering that spelled out Stalactites.
We walk in and are immediately seated by admirably perky and lightning-fast wait staff of the Greek restaurant, who recommend immediately the mixed meat platter with pita bread and caesar salad. We oblige, pick a bottle of white wine, and settle in.
It’s only then I notice the ceiling. Despite the modern interior, the ceiling has been made to look like the inside of a cave, complete with — you guessed it — stalactites pointing down at us.
There’s no reason I can think of why a Greek restaurant would be styled this way, but neither can I come up with a reason why it would be open this late. It was such a “normal” establishment, not like the fluorescent-lit joints that come to mind when I think “late-night feed”.
The platter of pork, beef and chicken that was placed in front of us within 10 minutes was served on a huge dish and easily could have served three.
I scooped up the shredded morsels, which fell apart on my tongue. We heaped the chicken, pork and beef onto our ripped pieces of pita with the salad, laughing over our wine glasses, inevitably leaving a portion of the exceptionally cooked meat behind as we left the restaurant.
Besides 24-hour joints like Stalactites and Shujinko, there are dozens of other eateries open until the early hours of the morning.
A prime example is Bodega Underground, a downstairs restaurant open until 3am every day and serving up a suite of Mexican delights and strong varieties of Mezcal to wash them down.
The tastes of the globe — from Greece to Japan to Mexico — are not only alive and well in Melbourne, they practically never sleep, making it hard for visitors to do the same while visiting the thriving city.
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