It's Sydney or the bush for me. A lengthy stint in the jungles of Papua New Guinea was interrupted in 1969 when I renovated a Victorian shop and residence in Balmain. In 1994, back in Melbourne after recovering from divorce, illness and economic reversal, I bought a front and a half freestanding weatherboard cottage in Yarraville, four minutes walk from the railway station - fifteen minutes from Flinders Street.
Balmain, Yarraville is not, but the comparisons are there. Both suburbs have Aussie battler roots and are inner city with historical links to the waterfront and assembly line manufacturing industries. Both have largely escaped the creations of bad taste developers though Yarraville has suffered a few architectural scars inflicted by some of its early, well-intentioned Greek residents.
In 1994, I saw Yarraville's potential for real estate growth and tipped it to my mates. The local real estate agents tipped it to the workers at the new casino and the results paid off. The homosexual community has now discovered Yarraville after sending in advance scouting parties in the early 1990s and current prices reflect the increased interest and demand. The yuppies have arrived.
I grew up with food, had a good cook for a mother, enjoyed parent funded lunches and dinners during the heydays of The Latin, Society, Florentino and Molina's Imperial Hotel; was a student patron of Jimmy Watson's and Pelligrini's and then, during decades of bachelorhood, became handy myself in the kitchen. So the lack of even a proper coffee shop in my early days in Yarraville was reason for some serious concern.
George, the Greek ex-wrestler and his charcoal grill was about all there was on the local landscape. Two Greek cake shops and a pizza outlet had espresso machines but, like George's place, their patronage was very parochial.
Yarraville was a gastronomical and caffeine wasteland.
In 1994, Gloves, a restaurant, opened in Ballarat Street then closed. Quickly filling the breach was Penelope's, a vegetarian cafe at the other end of the street,which is still operating. The converted glove factory reopened as Worth Eating and for a while, Yarraville had a cafe-coffee shop similar to the early pioneers in Brunswick Street. During this period, Java (no relation to the CBD group), was established in the restored art deco, Sun movie theatre and moved a lot of its seating out onto the wide protected footpath. Yarraville was starting to come of age. Worth Eating then became Fidama which did a u-turn and headed back down the standard restaurant track.
In 1999, Yarraville village is poised on the brink. Patrons can choose from more than ten outlets. Jillian's, a large restaurant with music afternoons and open windows to the street, has been operating now just over a year. Feedback and the Alfa Bake Shop are recent starters. Costa's is flying the Greek flag but seems to be uncertain whether to go up or down market. An Asian restaurant is gettting ready to open but all eyes have been on the Cut Paw Paw which has finally opened after two years of fighting council regulations and spending a fortune on renovations. On the railway line and with an adventurous outdoor deck, just cappucino foam blowing distance from the tracks, Cut Paw-Paw is out of a Chapel Street egg. It seats ninety and will have to star to survive, given the 'to hell with the expense' attitude behind its creation. The service, presentation and quality of the food is impressive. So far, the locals and out-of-towners love it.
There have been no chefs hats or Michelin stars presented to Yarraville eateries so far but who knows? One day a Mietta's may be discovered! Everyone is doing their best and one hopes that all will be rewarded but as the hardheads know, the marketplace has no heart. One has to wonder if there will be enough bums to sit on all the seats to pay the rent and all the other profit savaging overheads? As for me, there is no Italian bistro where I can seek solace. The ocker in me tells me that I might have to wait for Pauline Hanson to come and save me by bringing one of her fish and chip shops to Yarraville!
Also, see this piece on Yarraville
© John Pasquarelli 1999