Longer days, warmer nights and blossoming flowers are a sure sign of spring. It's the season of new beginnings, a reset of nature's cycles, a time of new life, and it's hard not to feel a change in your own energy. Except for this year, that is.
The lockdown lethargy is real, but with a few tweaks to your set-up at home and a couple of new habits under your wing, we reckon you can step into spring with gusto.
And because this guide features dozens of local businesses, what's good for you is good for our friends in hospitality, in the field and at the market. Win-win.
Best backyard barbecues
Sizzling season is upon us and while it would be nice to share it with friends, at least the barbie is located in our own backyard.
So. What's your flavour? Bia Hoi chef Jerry Mai is kicking off Vietnamese barbecue packs this week, supplying you with bamboo grills (usable inside or out), and starting off with nem nuong pork skewers, fish with turmeric and dill, wagyu and mushrooms to wrap and roll in rice paper or lettuce cups. In following weeks, they will upgrade to Kampot pepper pork chops, rib-eyes and a half chicken marinated in lemongrass. biahoibar.com.au
Robata's grill-at-home yakitori. Photo: Jake Roden
Newly opened stick joint Robata (the latest offering from the San Telmo group) is selling finish-at-home yakitori (chicken thigh and chicken meatballs with dipping sauces), and melting wagyu kushiyaki with the option to add some impressive sakes to the mix. robata.com.au
Looking for some top-shelf meat, delivered? Meatsmith goes statewide (and can put a jar of Tom Sarafian's new hummus in with your order), while Gamekeepers lives up to its name, supplying venison and pheasant along with your standard steak, and Gary's Quality Meats at Prahran Market is a go-to for organic meat and can source or prep what you need for any project. Want Mayura Station 9 score wagyu cut asado style for a Brazilian barbecue? No problem. meatsmith.com.au; gamekeepersmeat.com.au; garysqualitymeats.com.au.
For an extra ethical win, Provenir was launched in 2017 to ensure animals are both raised and die well. Teaming up with caring producers, they dispatch animals on site rather than sending them to traumatic abattoirs. They're currently offering grill packs, delivered across Victoria. provenir.com.au.
Whatever you're putting on the grill, one of the best tips we can give you is to invest in good, slow-burning charcoal such as Japanese binchotan. The good stuff burns low and slow, emitting an even heat and giving you a sweet smoky edge to your meat or veg.
Barbecue haven of the north, The Que Club, has the good stuff (plus rubs, sauces, specialty meat cuts and all the gear you might want for American-style smoking, too), or you can pick up a bag from Hinoki Japanese Pantry in Collingwood or at the Chef's Armoury in Richmond (where you can also buy a small hibachi grill if your only barbecuing option is inside on your kitchen bench). thequeclub.com.au; hinoki.com.au; chefsarmoury.com
The final countdown
There are mixed emotions as we see the AFL grand final, one of Melbourne's biggest calendar highlights, approach while lockdown remains. But consider this blinding ray of light: as vaccination rates rise, we might be in the grand finale of lockdowns. That's a reason to party every damn day.
Start with making Fridays pie days. Good Food's Dani Valent has teamed up with online food platform Cookaborough and the city's best bakeries and brewers to deliver premium pies to your door.
You've missed Collingwood's Falco and Mornington Peninsula's Johnny Ripe but coming in hot are English-style pork pies from Wildflour and Thai pies from Udom House. Add a Maker and Monger cheese platter and Brae restaurant's own beer to the mix for the win. cookaborough.com
Prefer a bread-based celebratory situation? Roving burger purveyor Goldieboy has created a DIY burger kit to be reckoned with.
Two Peter Bouchier wagyu patties, hi-melt cheese, potato buns, pickles and special sauce conspire to create a mess of a burger that probably matches your mood. goldieboy.com.au
Of course, if you are more of a sophisticated points kind of person, Peter Rowland's chicken sandwiches, the gold standard of Melbourne event foods for 60 years, can now be delivered with fizz up to 50 kilometres from the CBD. A celebration in itself. peterrowland.com.au
Taste the joys of spring
Perhaps you don't reliably know what day of the week (or even the month) it is any more, but even if we are trapped in a holding pattern, the seasons and its fruits are not. Get among the turn-of-season bounty to reorient yourself with the world.
Truffle season is over, but for fans of fungi's deep and earthy allure, now is the time to rest your hands on some morels. Unlike pine mushooms, the white stalks capped with what looks like a lacy, velvet witches hat are native to Australia, and while the prized specimens aren't going to restaurants, you have a rare chance to pick up a haul from Damian Pike at Prahran Market, and new Ivanhoe store Vinoshis Beverage Shop, where you can get them with Jura wines and comte.
If you're not quite sure what joys September brings, leave it to the pros. Get a produce box from great suppliers such as The Flying Zucchinis, Ceres and Northside Fruit and Veg, who report the turn of season has arrived. That means boxes stuffed with globe artichokes, asparagus, star fruit and peas so snappy they could take an eye out.
Morning Market has also just relaunched its produce packs this week, with a specific focus on new-season greens plus something from the store's pantry. If you collect in store you can also pick up a bouquet of magnolias and cherry blossoms.
Live regionally? Check the Victorian Country Market and Local Food Connect websites, which are invaluable resources, listing markets, food swaps and farms that deliver across the state. theflyingzucchinis.com; ceres.org.au; morning.market; viccountrymarket.com.au; localfoodconnect.org.au.
If you would rather just eat the bounty rather than cook it, catering company Cookes Food is creating weekly feasts for the home using their top-shelf suppliers.
This week, it's a vegetarian spring fling of new-season veg starring gnocchi with asparagus, fresh peas and ricotta; globe artichokes to dip in aioli and a rhubarb and cherry tarte tatin with double cream. Add a magnum of rosé, and for more veg inspo, a copy of Alice Zaslavsky's book In Praise of Veg. Quick, though. Orders close Wednesday at noon – but there is a Father's Day special coming up, too. Pick up in St Kilda or check postcodes for delivery. cookesfood.com.au
5 & Dime's smoked salmon bagel pack. Photo: Kate Shanasy
Take it easy
Clever shortcuts that win you time outside.
Nothing says warm weather like a leisurely breakfast outside. To make it truly leisurely, order a box of breakfast fare that's ready to be fried, plated or poured.
Rustica in South Yarra assembles morning buns, seeded or olive-studded loaves, freshly ground coffee and even prosecco – but only for local pick-up or delivery. rusticasourdough.com.au
Outside your five kilometres? St Ali brings free-range Burd Eggs, Uncle's bacon, Pepe Saya butter, Riverina milk, Ned's bread and St Ali beans to addresses 100 kilometres from Port Melbourne. stali.com.au
5 & Dime Bagel will deliver smoked salmon, capers and cream cheese with six bagels to schmear to your heart's content (15 kilometre delivery from CBD), while Armadale cafe Moby's box requires a little more prep but the pay-off is in buttermilk pancakes and bright breakfast salads you didn't make from scratch. 5dimebagel.com.au; moby3143.com.au
Make your morning coffee situation a non-situation by signing up to a coffee subscription that brings beans to your door every week, fortnight or month. Some of the best around include Market Lane (from $20), Stella Coffee ($20) or Proud Mary (from $24).
Two-litre pouches of St Ali cold brew ensure you're ready to serve tall and refreshing drinks when warm days strike. Just add ice. marketlane.com.au, stella.coffee; proudmarycoffee.com.au; stali.com.au
For a dinner saviour in a jar, you can't go past a great chilli oil or spice blend. Chilli oil is practically running down Melbourne streets, thanks to a collection of new local makers, set to rescue kitchen sink stir-fries or boring leftover soup.
Those who like extra texture will love Chotto Motto's Crispy Oil, loaded with garlic, spring onion and sesame seeds ($18.50, chottomotto.com.au) or Umamipapi, which also brings tonnes of well-rounded flavour thanks to star anise and cinnamon bark (from $10.95, umamipapi.com.au).
For those who like a more minimal drizzle, The Chilli Oil is less textural but no less punchy, adding toasted garlic notes to dishes from Italy, India and beyond ($12, thechillioil.com).
The growing number of quality spice blends, roasted and ground right here in Australia, mean shortcuts don't have to cost flavour.
Spice Zen grinds spices to order for maximum freshness, with loads of Indian masalas on offer. spicezen.com.au
Gewurzhaus' best-selling blends put comforting butter chicken, crowd-pleasing bolognese and standout grilled meats within easy reach. gewurzhaus.com.au
Elsewhere, Bodega Deli combines a chef's palate with careful sourcing in blends for butter chicken, Japanese curry and fried chicken worthy of the colonel. bodegadeli.com
Spice Fusion has a fantastic kid-friendly mix, Hurry Curry, that's super mild. spicefusion.com.au
Turn over a new leaf
Take a class, get outside or form a new habit.
LEARN A NON-ALCOHOLIC COCKTAIL
For those working from home, end-of-day rituals are important to put a line between work and play.
Keep your cocktail hour booze-free one night each week with this achievable drink from Michael Madrusan, co-owner of The Everleigh bar in Fitzroy.
For the best results, use a juicer to make fresh pineapple juice or, if you don't own a juicer, buy a quality cold-pressed juice such as Preshafruit.
- 90ml fresh pineapple juice
- 10ml fresh lime juice
- ginger beer, good quality such as StrangeLove
- pineapple leaves to garnish
- smoked paprika for garnish
- Add the pineapple and lime juice to a shaker with ice, and shake briefly.
- Strain into a tall glass with fresh ice and top with ginger beer.
- Garnish with two pineapple leaves and a sprinkle of smoked paprika.
Four Pillars is offering a virtual martini hour. Photo: Benito Martin
Keep in touch with loved ones or keep Friday night interesting with an online tasting. Four Pillars is offering virtual martini hour throughout September, an hour-long private session touching on the history of the drink and how to make a great one at home. You'll receive a pack with mixing spoon, Sicilian olives and fresh lemon plus Four Pillars Olive Leaf gin and dry vermouth. Minimum booking size is two people and maximum is 30 ($90 a head, email firstname.lastname@example.org).
This annual Prahran Market event goes online for the second year with deliveries of fab fromage and a livestream of the hugely popular Grilled Cheese Invitational.
Watch some of Melbourne's best chefs create their own idea of a perfect cheese toastie and put them in front of our city's toughest critics. October 15-17, prahranmarket.com.au
Make haloumi with OmNom's virtual cheesemaking classes. Photo: Supplied
We know, we know: virtual classes are so 2020. But while your brain might tell you to stay off Zoom, your heart actually needs social connection, even if it's on a screen.
Kelly Michelakis, founder of The Hellenic Odyssey cooking school, has seen it firsthand: "Classes are serving a greater purpose than building your recipe repertoire. People are looking to connect with people outside their home and see a different face."
The Hellenic Odyssey is your direct line to the secrets of Greek and Cretan food, from favourites such as spanakopita to sweets like loukoumades or all kinds of Greek biscuits (a great one for the kids, too). thehellenicodyssey.com
If the flavours of Thailand, Korea, Vietnam or China are more your speed, bookmark Otao. Its line-up ranges from two-hour classes to 14-hour multi-part masterclasses. otaokitchen.com.au
Relish Mama offers tutorials on everything from barbecue to Moroccan, plus classes priming kids and teens for the occasional family dinner. What's not to love about that? relishmama.com.au
And Australia's domestic goddess, Donna Hay, is bringing her magic to laptop screens in lockdown, offering free one-hour tutorials, including special kids' sessions, that prioritise simplicity over technique.
"It's a feel-good part of people's week," she says. Think four-ingredient treats that you can enjoy guilt-free or dinner ideas that require only five ingredients. Lifesaver. donnahay.com.au
Want more of a challenge to pass the time? With OmNom's virtual cheesemaking classes, you can gain a new skill. Haloumi, feta and stretched curd cheeses such as mozzarella and bocconcini are all within easy reach. Your spring menus just got a serious upgrade. (From $19.95, omnomcheese.com )
Spruce up your space
Getting your backyard or balcony ready for spring barbecues will chew up plenty of hours. Get tips and tricks via a virtual masterclass from Sustainable Gardening Australia, join Connected Au's virtual gardening club or see what your local TAFE is offering.
Little Veggie Patch Co have a huge library of videos on YouTube, along with their online store of planter boxes, seeds and tools.
Support green shoots
Click here for 25 hot and new-ish restaurants that opened mid-pandemic, only to close their doors and switch to takeaway menus.