1 Beach Street Port Melbourne, VIC 3207
|Opening hours||Tuesday to Friday, 11.30am-10pm Saturday and Sunday, 9am-10.30pm|
|Payments||Visa, eftpos, AMEX, Mastercard, Diner's Club|
|Phone||03 9646 6706|
I've done a lot of dinners for one because I used to work as a guidebook writer, darting around the world, stopping only to check bus timetables and stuff my face.
Mostly, it was good. I enjoyed the Russian salad on a Bulgarian mountain. I wolfed the vegetarian thali in a Calcutta train station. I loved the pork po'boy in New Orleans, until I saw my barbecue sauce moustache two hours later. The conch fritters in the Caribbean were ace, but I wasn't so comfortable being the scungy spinster in a sea of pointing, whispering honeymooners. Turkey was also challenging: I couldn't order soup without it somehow translating into, "Yes, young man, I probably will go home with you if you ogle me long enough.".
Back home in Melbourne, I enjoy the odd meal out on my lonesome. A paperback makes fine conversation and it can be relaxing not having anyone you know bear witness to your order ("extra bearnaise, please"), your behaviour (spaghetti slurp-a-rama) or take the coveted last dumpling.
BelleZain is a good place to come as Scott Nofriends: it's relaxed and the food is pretty good. The restaurant is in the base of a flash apartment block, with the concrete and glass to prove it, but it's softened by cushions, linen and a dramatic flower arrangement. There's a staunch regular crowd, but ring-ins won't feel as if they're interrupting a clubby pow-wow. Tables are snug which makes for better eavesdropping and prevents solo diners from feeling marooned on a dining desert island. The best loner-friendly restaurants have something to look at: here it's the bay, the boat to Tassie and, in summer, beachy moochers and their pooches.
The menu is one of those easygoing all-day affairs with a mostly Italian skew: expect things such as whitebait, eggplant pizza, chicken saltimbocca and affogato. I started with a couple of oysters, causing something of a discombobulation when I asked what sort they were. The waiter asked a kitchen worker who looked taken aback then checked with the chef. "Tasmanian," was the eventual reply.
Anyway, the (Pacific) oysters I received were good, served with a citrus salsa. The lamb cutlets were prettily pink, but lacked flavour; cold onion jam piled on top battled with a flat-tasting dukkah. Much better was the layered pasta, a joyous loose lasagne with grilled eggplant, capsicum, zucchini and heaps of tomato sauce slathered over nice, thick pasta sheets. A bit of oven crispiness and crumbled cheese topped the dish off. I was very happy not to have to share it. The cinnamon chocolate mousse was properly fluffy and creamy; the berry compote that came with it was so fruity I could pretend it was healthy.
Apart from the oyster incident, service was fine. The waiter didn't raise an eyebrow when I asked for a table for one. My food came quickly, though not so fast that I thought they were trying to get rid of me.
I think I did notice a flicker in the brow region when I ordered tiramisu to take home and I almost blurted out that it was for somebody else, that they mustn't imagine me gobbling it in front of Australia's Next Top Model. But I bit my tongue. Part of the joy of eating alone is that you don't have to answer to anyone, especially when their questions are imaginary.