Living like a local in Melbourne’s west

A few of my Travellingguy followers have asked me to do a little investigating into Melbourne’s West as they look for an alternative to the CBD.

Others mentioned that as they had to spend time travelling and working in the area that they would like some options when it came to accommodation  and good dining alternatives.

Well I hope to have answered the call right here. My suggestion when visiting or working in Melbourne’s West is to “live like a local”.

I recently returned from a work trip in and around Moonee Ponds, Footscray and Caroline Springs, the latter being a fairly new satellite suburb.

I find that the local cafe or pub are always a good source of local knowledge and just by having a chat with the bartender or barista you will often get an opinion on the best dining options or accommodation choices.

Well that was my excuse anyway and I was happy to have a coffee and a beer in the name of research.

Within an hour at both venues I had more than a dozen possibilities to explore. My MC gigs were in Caroline Springs so I took the trusty barman’s advice and set up camp at The Quest Apartments, which was positioned right next to the lake.

To be honest I was a little surprised that the area had a couple of big brand hotels, still my room at The Quest was perfect for what I needed and if you choose it for your accommodation I believe you will appreciate the comfort and the fact that it won’t cost you an arm and a leg for a decent room.

If you are on a work gig, the boss will certainly love that. They have studio apartments, one- and two-bedroom apartments, they also have a little luxury on offer with the executive spa apartments and they are all self-contained so if you want to cook, you can. Not me! I took advantage of the Quest's live-like-a-local deal where they give you a card to flash at certain dining venues and the bill gets transferred onto your account to settle when you check out. A nice touch.

The hotel is situated right in the heart of Caroline Springs giving you plenty of venues to choose from and it is a few minutes from a lovely little man-made lake with some interesting art installations and plenty of life, including families of beautiful black swans.

An exercise track circles the entire lake and after a couple of laps you would have smashed enough calories to enjoy a hearty breakfast that’s for sure, and that’s what I did.

The Red Beetle Cafe is literally 30 seconds from the lake and is open for all day breakfast and lunch, and with a tremendous amount of choices to start the day I impressed myself with the healthy choice of the beetroot brekkie.

As I knew I would be surveying the areas gastronomical goodness my trusty barman had pointed me towards I racked up a few more laps of the lake before a freshen up at the hotel and made my way to Moonee Ponds. It’s all about deposits and withdrawals, my friends and I might run into Dame Edna.

On my arrival I noticed that there was a real buzz about. Plenty of inviting cafes and shopping options around the Puckle Street and the Moonee Ponds Central precincts. A few big high-rise housing developments taking place which just shows that the march west is real.

This is where I came across my lunch venue. The Valley Cellar Door situated in Hall Street and I implore you to ignore the construction nearby because you will regret not venturing into this inviting local institution.

Brothers and co-owners Mark and Tony Pendreich have created the perfect balance of looking after the locals while enticing visitors to the area with their unique venue. I for one have not experienced anything to much like it before and, to be honest, I fell hook line and sinker.

I guess you could call it an extensive wine bar with a twist. Over 400 wines, 150 craft beers and 20 choices of ciders. Very impressive, but what really grabbed me was the philosophy of giving the people what they want.

Starting out with the one premises there was no room for a kitchen, so they went with the unique idea that punters could BYO food and they would match a wine for you if you wished. On purchasing the adjacent building things expanded and a tasteful open kitchen was added to the mix and more dining space as well.

Now you have the choice as you can still BYOF or you can take advantage of delectable offerings now available.

I went with the Charcuterie board which was exquisite and perfectly matched glass of Champagne. The pizza was perfect, the definitive base versus toppings ratio and the wine pairing executed by the friendly staff made for an exceptional lunch experience.

By the way, VCD is also pet friendly, so don’t leave your best mate at home, bring them along and enjoy the alfresco courtyard for lunch, dinner or even a little snack and a tipple. You won’t be disappointed.

Last destination on my “living like a local” experiment was a dinner date at Philhellene.

Without a word of a lie, my dining adventure here was absolutely phenomenal. From the moment I walked in, the hospitality I received was warm and engaging.

Owners Susie and John are on hand to great and delight you. With 20 years at this current venue alone you will feel like a local no matter where you hail from. It is like you are dining at their house they are that welcoming.

It’s a family affair and both their mothers prepare the most delicious Greek dishes in the kitchen every day for you to delight in. Fresh as fresh, using whatever they have procured from the garden or their suppliers.

Please do what I did and let John and Susie make the food decisions for you as they know what’s best and they only want you to have the best time. They are continually winning awards with The Age Good Food Guide so seriously just leave it to them.

Just beg John for the Zucchini Flowers, the goat and the broad beans and all will be right with the world.

I don’t know if here is a better Greek restaurant in Melbourne? If there is, please contact me a let me know because I will be right there.

Philhellene provided an absolute authentic Greek gourmet exploration right across the board and I cannot wait to return. 

Do yourselves a favour my friends. 

For your exploration of Melbourne’s West have a look here.

  • Scott McRae is The Travelling Guy (www.thetravellingguy.com). Follow his travels @scottythetravellingguy on Instagram and Facebook