Lights, camera, action. After being closed for two years for a $40-million-dollar redevelopment, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) has just reopened in Melbourne. In an enthralling permanent (and free) exhibition, you're led through video montages, past costumes and sets, to interactive areas that rewrite the rules on what a museum should be. After a year where we've spent so much time on the couch staring at a screen, it's nice to be reminded of what the moving image should be - a window into our world, not an escape door from it.
There are traditional flipbooks; the metal armour used in True History of the Kelly Gang; the Interceptor from Mad Max; arcade machines that bring back memories of my childhood (who remembers The Simpsons game?); and even social media mashups.
"That idea of high culture and low culture, I think they're kind of ridiculous terms now," ACMI's director and CEO Katrina Sedgwick tells me. "We're all really sophisticated consumers of culture of all kinds, and I think what's really exciting about this museum is how it juxtaposes those things."
That sentiment could probably be expressed about Melbourne more generally and it's encapsulated in Federation Square, where ACMI is based. There's also the National Gallery of Victoria's Ian Potter Centre, dedicated to Australian artists, and, while I'm in town, thousands of people flowing through on their way to the Australian Open tennis. Sport and art, together as sophisticated culture, not high or low.
A new restaurant within ACMI called Hero takes a similar approach, with chef Karen Martini using local produce and straightforward presentations, but creating dishes full of inventive flavours that turn a museum cafe into a destination in itself.
And, at the back of Federation Square, on the terrace near the Yarra, is the latest incarnation of Joost Bakker's Greenhouse, a self-sustaining pop-up powered by solar, with mushrooms growing on the walls, pumpkins hanging off the roof, and barramundi swimming in tanks (plus plenty of other innovations).
It's currently home to chefs Matt Stone and Jo Barrett, who are preparing meals using only the ingredients they can grow (they make a 'soy sauce' out of crickets, for instance!). It means the three-hour Future Food System dining experience might include dishes like a yabby with tostada made from sorghum, fermented rice risotto with vegetables, and a cake using tiger nuts instead of wheat flour.
"You become much more creative when you're restricted," Matt explains. "It actually makes us create a whole new cuisine, an urban cuisine, because there's nothing quite like it."
One of the aims of the project is to make people excited about growing their own food in the city... but I didn't come to Melbourne to not eat the food of this city's chefs. Even throughout a pandemic, new restaurants have been opening. One of the most anticipated was Gimlet at Cavendish House, a European-style bistro and cocktail bar with leather booths and a black marble bar. Created by Andrew McConnell, it lives up to the hype, with the evening service offering both caviar and roast chicken, aimed at a sophisticated diner. Neither high food nor low food.
My time in Melbourne is full of good meals, Gimlet being just one of them. Another new restaurant already impressing foodies is Lollo, which just opened this month. With the indefatigable Adam D'Sylva as the creative director, you can see influences from his Indian and Italian heritage - don't be surprised to find duck curry and duck lasagne next to each other on the menu. The large modern space has its own personality but fits seamlessly on the first floor of the new W Hotel.
If you thought opening a restaurant during the age of coronavirus was difficult, just imagine launching a 294-room hotel in the centre of the CBD. But the W Hotel already feels like a natural part of Melbourne, with a design inspired by its Flinders Lane address, and artistic flairs throughout the building that would warrant its own tour! A highlight is the stunning indoor pool and bar, called Wet, that I predict will soon be making regular appearances on your social media feeds. If you're looking for cool luxury in the heart of the city, this is it.
Presumably, the W Hotel was built with an international market in mind (it's just a five-minute walk to Crown Melbourne, for example) but it's perfectly positioned to welcome domestic visitors as we enjoy the opportunity to explore our own country. Popping down to Melbourne for a couple of nights on flights booked at short notice reminds me of how things used to be.
Visiting our big cities doesn't need to involve a lot of planning and it doesn't need to be a stress to fit it all in. A stay at a new hotel, an afternoon spent exploring the exhibition at ACMI, dinner at a nice restaurant, and a stroll along the river (with a decent coffee in hand, of course) makes for a perfect weekend in Melbourne - and almost feels like normal again.
WHAT TO DO:
WHERE TO EAT:
- Although it doesn't have an official end date yet, Future Food System at the Greenhouse won't be here for long and is a special experience.
- After seeing the museum at ACMI, head to Hero for a meal.
- Make sure you book in advance for a dinner or a drink at Gimlet at Cavendish House.
- Open for every meal of the day, Lollo at the W Hotel won't disappoint.
WHERE TO STAY:
And another new offering, the Lancemore Crossley St has old-school glamour fitting its location in the theatre district.