To quote the tumultuous Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, “These are dark times, there is no denying”. While they might be describing a wizarding war, they have an air of 2020 to them.
But – despite the stay-at-home orders, daily press conferences and seemingly eternal uncertainty – there were some silver linings. Here are 35 great things that happened in Melbourne in a not-so-great year. Some were fleeting, others have stuck around, but they all made 2020 a little more bearable.
It was all about pivot power
The most popular move to bust in 2020: the pivot. Attica became a bake shop (and launched Attica at Home, with $60 family lasagnes, custard-soaked “mega pastry puddings” and “The Pavington”); Dexter became a deli; and Smith & Daughters became a daytime grocery store. And, while Poodle Bar & Bistro’s opening was pushed back, the team unveiled Rocco’s Bologna Discoteca, a pop-up Italian sandwich shop hidden in Fitzroy. (The head chef, formerly of Marion and Cumulus Inc, described it as “Italian Macca’s” – with cheesy, saucy rolls stuffed with fried bologna; meatball subs; bone-marrow garlic bread; and hand-cut fries.)
And then there are the now-permanent pivots. During lockdown, Andrew McConnell’s Marion transformed into a grocer, but the concept found a forever home a few doors down as Morning Market. Similarly, Maha’s Shane Delia launched Providoor, a new kind of takeaway service with restaurant-prepped, finish-at-home dishes from leading Melbourne diners. And it’s now expanded to Sydney, Adelaide and other parts of Australia.
The takeaway was top tier
In a year of disarray, it was takeaway – and “fakeaway” – that kept us going. Some of Broadsheet’s highlights: Minamishima’s stunning, kaleidoscopic sushi; Stokehouse’s extravagant, Bollinger-inclusive seafood platters; Ishizuka’s triple-decker bento boxes; the return of Shannon Bennett’s classic French diner Bistro Vue; and Leonardo’s Pizza Palace’s text-🍍-for-Pina-Coladas initiative.
Plus, these 21 iconic Melbourne dishes got the takeaway treatment, and Philippa Sibley, one of the city’s most celebrated chefs, got a dinner-delivery service happening. And for those whose five-kilometre radius left them in the edible lurch, Lune and Hector’s Deli put different suburbs on their delivery roster every day.
Visa holders inspired us
Restaurants were hit hard this year, but perhaps not as hard as their migrant workers – left behind by the government, which denied them the safety net of its welfare programs. But the tenacity of Melbourne’s international visa-holding chefs, many of whom lost work, was awe-inspiring. After being stood down, Italian-born Grossi Florentino sous chef Andrea Vignali launched pasta-delivery service Al Dente, and he’s just picked up the keys to its new bricks-and-mortar home. Finding himself in a similar situation, Sunda sous chef Nabil Ansari turned to selling refined Indian takeaway from his tiny Carlton apartment. And, for these three out-of-work Indonesian chefs, delivering spicy, lesser-known Balinese dishes was a way to stay afloat. All the while, dozens of Melbourne restaurants rallied together to feed workers impacted by Covid-19 through charity initiatives such as Attica Soup Kitchen, and Hope Delivery by Neil Perry’s Rockpool Foundation.
Wholesale went retail
With hospo in lockdown for half the year, there was a surplus of restaurant-quality produce with nowhere to go. So, some topnotch wholesalers decided to go direct-to-consumer – and we reaped the rewards. Sydney-based wholesale butcher Vic’s Meats – which supplies Vue de Monde, Stokehouse and Scott Pickett’s Matilda and Estelle – opened its online store to Melburnians. This crop of local meat suppliers did the same. Switching to seafood, these excellent wholesalers began delivering A-grade sashimi, Appellation oysters, wild-caught fish and more – otherwise destined for the likes of Attica, Kisumé, Supernormal, Brae and Nobu. (And with seafood prices down, Talay Thai’s takeaway offshoot arrived with standout mud crabs and chilli-jam clams.) Meanwhile, Fresho – an online ordering platform for restaurants – shook up its B2B model, allowing anyone – not just the hospo industry – to buy up big from wholesalers in their area (and have it delivered).
It wasn’t all about delivery, though. The second most used C-bomb of the year – after “coronavirus”, of course – was “contactless”. And Macca’s drive-throughs weren’t the only ones getting a workout; some of our favourite venues launched drive-throughs of their own. Among them: Moon Dog World, “arguably the best-placed venue in town to launch a drive-through”, as then-Melbourne editor Ellen Fraser put it; Welcome to Thornbury (with help from a bunch of popular food trucks); and even South Melbourne Market. Plus, a former Stokehouse chef opened an Asian street-food drive-through with “drunken” dumplings, and Mount Zero Olives’ quarterly warehouse market morphed into a disco drive-through where orders were delivered by colourful-leotard-clad rollerskaters.
The booze was supersized
Snazzy, single-serve bottled cocktails from top Melbourne bars abounded this year. But bulk buys seemed to be the more lockdown-appropriate choice. We saw a flurry of fancy goon sacks – or “bagnums” – hit the market. Plus, Capitano was delivering Negroni and Bellini magnums, Old Palm Liquor’s punching-well-above-its-weight house wine was available by the litre, and a Victorian winemaker started selling two-litre flagons of “Vino Quarantino” for less than 30 bucks.