After browsing through my newsfeed on Facebook, it’s obvious that football season has begun at home. Australians, much like Americans, love football. However, football is different here. It’s not soccer. It’s not rugby. And it’s not American football. It’s the AFL (Australian Football League), also known as “footy.” I’ve really started to enjoy watching it, which helps me fit in more because Aussies live and breathe footy. The AFL finals, like the NFL playoffs, started this past weekend and Izzy and I went to see the Western Bulldogs play the Adelaide Crows with a group of friends. Interestingly enough, Izzy’s boyfriend, Kallum, has a flatmate who plays for the Dogs. So weird – we hang out with a professional athlete. I haven’t met the rest of the team yet, but I’m working on it.
The game took place in the MCG, Melbourne Cricket Grounds – an iconic stadium in Melbourne and home to the Melbourne Cricket Club. The MCG is the 12th largest stadium in the world behind mostly college football stadiums in the States. America! Kallum was able to get Izzy and me really good seats at the game on Saturday. We were only 2 rows from the field! It was so fun and we felt like VIPs sipping on our Carlton Mids and nomming on cheeseburgers and chips (fries). Carlton is akin to Budweiser – a super light lager that tastes like water. At footy games, you can only purchase Carlton Mids (mid-strength) to take with you back to your seat because they are very low in alcohol (3.5%). This helps reduce the number of crazy, intoxicated, Aussie men that get into fights and do other stupid, manly things at the stadium. The Eagles stadium in Philly should take note. Unfortunately, the Dogs lost to the Crows 102 – 109 on Saturday. It was a really close and exciting game and we had a blast regardless of the loss!
This past Friday, we had a girls’ night at UNCLE in St Kilda. Izzy and I went to this trendy Vietnamese spot with 2 other friends named Maggie and Stephanie. Once we opened the door to UNCLE, we were in the cocktail bar and one of the staff directed us upstairs to the dining room. Izzy said there is usually a queue all the way up the stairs, but we only had a few people ahead of us and we were able to get seated quickly. This is very serendipitous as I was quite hungry having skipped my afternoon snack. The lighting was dim and the music was pumping. Iz commented that she read a few reviews online that were polar opposite depending on the age of the reviewer. This is definitely a young and hip joint for people in their twenties to late thirties. We were seated outside on the deck that was semi-covered with an awning. Spring is in the air! It felt like a Vietnamese rooftop garden complete with bamboo accents and lanterns. The tabletops were tiled and had a small cubby with all of the cutlery, napkins, and condiments we’d need for the evening. It fostered a very exciting dining experience that also encouraged a family-style dinner, where lots of dishes are ordered and everyone shares.
We arrived before Maggie and Stephanie and went ahead and ordered cocktails and 2 starters. Fun fact: in Australia the term entreé is actually used to describe the 1st course. Appetizer is not used in Aussie language. I ordered the Ho Chi Mama – a citrusy gin cocktail with lychee. While I liked all of the ingredients that were listed under the drink, I think I was really just sold on the name. I’m a sucker for marketing, but luckily the cocktail didn’t disappoint. It wasn’t too sweet and sparkled with effervescence from a splash of Prosecco. We shared the salmon & barramundi rillete and chicken steamed bao for starters, as suggested by our server. The rillete was served in a dish made out of a rice cracker and reminded me of tuna salad, but better. If any of you know me you know I don’t like tuna salad, but I really enjoyed this rillete. It was light with nice acidity, while still being rich and creamy. The consistency was similar to pâté. The chicken steamed bao was equally delicious. Chicken tenderloins were lightly breaded and fried then served with steamed bao (buns), Vietnamese mint, and pickled vegetables. You basically make your very own Vietnamese-style Chic-fil-A sandwich and drench it in Sriracha and hoisin (Chinese BBQ sauce). It was yummy and so fun to eat. I could’ve had 5 of them, but Izzy and I shared the 2 on the plate like ladies. Our moms would have been so proud. I ordered fried rice from the side dishes for my main course to try and save money as my backpacker’s budget wasn’t compatible with UNCLE’s $33 mains. Lucky for me the fried rice portion was huge and only $10. Mixed in the rice were bits of beef brisket, dried shrimp, and pickled cabbage. It had a lot of flavor and I doused it with a nice helping of Sriracha and hoisin to make it even better. The rice was perfectly balanced with the salty, umami kick of the dried shrimp and the briny pop of the pickled veg. All of the girls at the table were surprised by how much of the mountain of rice I was able to eat. My dad doesn’t call me “pork chop” for nothing. The rest of the table got mini-bowls of pho served classically with sprouts, lemons, and plenty of basil. Izzy and I have a great pho place we go to and, unfortunately, UNCLE’s didn’t measure up to Saigon Street Eats. She said that the meat was tender and had good flavor, but the broth didn’t have as much going on. And any pho fan knows that the broth is where it’s at. While UNCLE did have a full house, the service still should have been a little better. Our waitress was extremely nice and helpful once she first came over to us, but we didn’t see much of her for the rest of the night. We weren’t even asked if we wanted to put another drink order in until we were about to get the check (it’s Friday – I want more than 1 cocktail with dinner)! Nevertheless, we had a wonderful night full of laughs, a great (single) round of cocktails, and classic Vietnamese dishes that had a mod-twist in a young and vibrant atmosphere. I will definitely visit UNCLE again and maybe even check out their first floor cocktail bar – I had my eye on a couple of other drinks that I should probably give a taste.