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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Good Food Month 2013 Night Noodle Markets, Melbourne

If you've read my blog before, you'll know how often I bemoan the lack of awesome, accessible Asian food in Melbourne (distinct as separate Asian cuisines) at everyday prices. One of the things I missed most about Sydney after moving to Melbourne was the Good Food Month Night Noodle Markets, held in Hyde Park every year since I was a teenager in the '90s. A central location, pretty lanterns, chilled music, and a few plastic chairs and tables was all that was needed to accompany a bunch of stalls selling noodles or grog to make what I consider a Perfect Night Out. So you can imagine my excitement when it was announced that this year's Good Food Month would be introducing Melbourne's inaugural Night Noodle Markets in Alexandra Gardens. Wheeeeeeeeee!

Along with half of Melbourne, I attended its first evening last night (Monday). Here are my observations.

1.  Expect a crowd. 
Melburnians really like food events, outdoor events, pop-up events, and anything considered even vaguely cool. Since this is a combination of ALL OF THOSE THINGS, it makes sense that everyone rocked up to check it out on the first night. After Googling where it was (that's Alexandra - not Alexander Gardens, in the city - not Kew - and not Queen Vic Markets! Basically, they're behind the rowing boatsheds on the Yarra, just over Princes Bridge from the city)*, I arrived just before 6pm to empty tables and expectant stallholders. By 6.30pm, the place was jam-packed, with slow-moving queues snaking from every single stall, at least a 20-minute wait for any kind of food, and nary an open space to stand, let alone sit.

Alexandra Gardens are just across the river from Fed Square

Turn left here! and go down the garden path...

...until you see a whole bunch of event stuff.

2.  Weather-proof yourself. 
Opening night happened to coincide with Melbourne's first 28-degree day in a while, and being a fair-skinned type, fortunately I'd remembered to slip-slop-slap (OK - minus the hat). BE WARNED: If it's sunny, you'll burn (slash tan, if you're the lucky type). There is very little overhead cover onsite; most seating areas are very exposed. I'm interested to see how the Markets fare over the next few days, with rain predicted. (Soggy noodles?)

Empty tables

Evil sun

Music rotunda

3.  Some big-name restaurants are involved. 
Think Izakaya Den, Longrain, Mamak, Wonderbao, I Love Pho, the Bahn Mi Boys... and so on. Desserts are taken care of by Gelato Messina (brand new to Melbourne with their first outlet now open on Smith Street, Fitzroy) and Serendipity Icecream. There are four bars onsite, offering Coopers beer, Rekorderlig cider, Tanqueray gin and Yalumba wines.

Stalls along "Lotus Avenue"

Yes, please.

Tanqueray tent chandelier

4.  The food is affordable and tasty. 
We tried the "Hot-and-sour salad of pork, glass noodles, peanuts, mint and coriander" from Longrain, $14, and a large "Den fried chicken" from Izakaya Den, $12. Just be warned, servings aren't massive. If you are forced to queue for a while, consider getting a few dishes from the same stall, to cut down on waiting times. Gin-and-tonics set us back $8.50 each (pretty good for Tanqueray... but with way too much ice!).

City skyline view from the queue

Filling up...

Den chicken!  *nom*

Icy G-and-T

5.  Only eat sweet if you can be arsed. 
After waiting for dinner-food, we really wanted to try one of the desserts from Messina, but waiting in yet another queue was so off-putting that we decided to stop at their new Smith Street store on the way home instead (which, incidentally, also had a queue - but one nowhere near as long).

Queues and people everywhere

As expected, overall the Night Noodle Markets are AWESOME, and I very much hope they will become a regular annual fixture on Melbourne's Good Food Month calendar. This year, they run from 18 to 30 November 2013, from 5pm weeknights and 4pm weekends til at least 9pm.

*The website provides a very handy PDF map of the Markets' location, along with menu listings for each stall.

Update: 22 November 2013

A second visit to the Noodle Markets last night afforded the opportunity to try more noodly goodness. I sampled Paperboy Kitchen's "Grilled salmon noodle salad" - surprisingly filling, and quite tasty - and tried bits of everyone else's food, too (cos that's how I roll). Here are some more pics, for those who only want to eat food when they've seen it:

Somebody else's prawny noodles

Pork dumplings

Indian something-or-other colourful and tasty

Samosa thingies.
(Sorry, should have written down what we actually ate. ...Dum de duuuummm)

On a Thursday evening, that *wasn't* Opening Night, and with less shiny weather than last time, queues were noticeably shorter (thank goodness). It was still a bitch-fight to nab a table, though. (We succeeded.)

Also, this time, patrons were treated to a Chinese (and/or Indonesian?) lion dance. Videographic proof!

The Night Noodle Markets run for one more week, until Saturday 30 November 2013 (inclusive). Get there while you can!