Along Those Lines: Route 86

Regular readers of my blog (i.e. my mum, my partner and my mum’s cats) will have noticed I haven’t been blogging much lately. I’ve got a new blogging project in mind, still in very early stages, but that and lots of travel have kept me away from northmelbournelife for a few months.

Given how much travel I have been doing (I wrote most of this blog on my new iPad in Ho Chi Minh City) and plan to do in the next year or two, and the fact that I may not be a North Melbournian for much longer (scary but exciting!), my new blogging project is going to focus on life outside the north side of the Yarra. There’s going to be a lot more travel reviews and probably a lot less baking. But more on that in later posts.

On a recent weekend in Sydney, I had a conversation with a Sydneysider where I bragged about the benefits of the grid layout in Melbourne. But, as they pointed out, it does get messier when you venture beyond Spring, Flinders, Spencer and La Trobe streets. How do locals like me divide up Melbourne? Of course, there’s a north side versus south side of the river thing happening, but really, when a suburb, street, restaurant or attraction is mentioned, the way I normally think about it is in terms of which tram line(s) it is located on.

Trams are pretty unique to Melbourne. Other cities, such as Vienna, New Orleans and San Fransisco do have trams, but they’re really a tourist novelty, rather than a legitimate means for locals to commute to work or get around on the weekend. According to Yarra Trams, we have the largest operating tram network in the world, consisting of 1700+ tram stops.

Since I don’t drive, I love the trams and I use them a lot. So I’ve decided to do some blogs with reviews of tram lines. First stop: the route 86 tram from Docklands, through the city, up Smith Street and north to Bundoora.

According to Yarra Trams, ‘attractions’ on this line include Melbourne Assessment Prison, Costco and the Eye and Ear Hospital. Errrrrrrr…well, to be fair, they are on the route 86 line. But for those not needing an ophthalmologist or to visit a relative in remand, here’s my top ten attractions along route 86:

1. Panama Dining Room (Level 3/231 Smith Street in Fitzroy) has a great buzzy feel most nights. There’s a delicious dinner menu (book a table) with items like lemon potato gnocchi with (optional) spanner crab or tarte tatin with Calvados ice-cream, or just go for drinks and enjoy a view through ceiling-to-floor arched windows to the hipsters in the street below.

2. Messina Gelato (237 Smith Street, Fitzroy) because I love gelato and there’s a reason there’s almost always a line at this place. Apparently their white chocolate and salted caramel gelato is their best seller, and it is excellent, but I’d recommend the banana split (caramelly banana goodness with little hits of peanut) or, if it’s on the specials list, their No. 2 gelato, which has a salted caramel base and big chewy chunks of chocolate brownie throughout.

3. Saint Crispin (300 Smith Street, Collingwood) – I had a bit of a fancy girls’ night dinner there recently and it’s very slick with beautifully presented dishes, though maybe a little overpriced (we had the $90 tasting menu) given there’s limited wow factor. The mandarine cheesecake in a jar (it is in hipster-central after all) was very special though and meat lovers will appreciate dishes like the fresh oysters, charcuterie board and Flinders Island lamb.

4. Trippy Taco (234 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy) is cheap and fun and a good place to grab a quick Mexican inspired lunch. Obviously they sell tacos, but also have a fairly extensive range of quesadillas, burritos, tamales, nachos and sweets. You order at the counter and are not out of place if you want to just eat on your own at the bar stools which overlook Gertrude Street and Little Smith Street.

5. Books for Cooks (233 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy) is what is says on the packet – they sell books for cooks. It’s a cute and inviting little store that looks a little jumbled but actually has an amazing array of cookbooks. They also have an online store, but the shop itself is worth a visit on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

6. Mud Australia (181 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy) sells pretty ceramics in shades and shapes that make you go ‘ooooohh’! I’m always a little scared I’ll break something in the store, but I still love going in. It’s all handmade in Sydney, so if you’re a visitor to Australia, a few carefully wrapped pieces would make a nice gift or souvenir.

7. Builders Arms Hotel (211 Gertrude Street) is the definition of gastro-pub, with the funky, polished floor board bistro serving up sophisticated meals and plenty of beers on tap. For something a bit special, try Moon Under Water, their upstairs dining room.

8. Spring Street Grocer (157 Spring Street, City) – is another great spot for late night gelato, including vegan varieties and a few off-beat combinations. They sell cheese and select groceries there too, during the day. And yes, I’m aware there is a lot of gelato featuring in this list…

9. The Melbourne Supper Club (Level 1/ 161 Spring Street) is one of my favourite post dinner drink spots. It’s all very dignified with chesterfield type couches and wood panelling and a very long wine list. If you ask, they’ll make you almost any cocktail you like. The cheese boards, chocolate coated almonds and other snacks are definitely worth squeezing in, even after a delicious dinner.

10. Movida Aqui (Level 1, 500 Bourke Street) is upstairs, tucked away opposite Pacos Tacos (also great, but the service is sometimes rude…). It’s business-lunch style Spanish – hearty flavours with sexy plating. The potato tortilla with caramelised onion ($5.50) will leave you wishing it came in mains size and while the menu is pretty meat-heavy they can fairly happily accommodate vegetarians.

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