HOT: Collection Tour, NGV International, 180 St Kilda Rd, Southbank

I had originally planned to attend a Henry Purcell lecture at NGV International, but when it was cancelled at the last minute I decided to take a collection tour instead. I’ve never actually explored the permanent exhibition spaces of the NGV and the free tours are a good way to get a taste of what’s on offer.

First stop was the huge stained glass ceiling by Leonard French. I had always assumed that the patterns were abstract, but my guide pointed out that the design actually contained symbols representing different belief systems such as the Celtic cross, doves of peace, a turtle and a snake or rainbow serpent.

I’d also never realised that the emanciated figures lining up behind the water wall were made by Antony Gormley, one of my favourite sculptors.

In an hour we covered many different eras and styles of art. We cantered through medieval paintings and religious triptych, two Rembrandts from his early and late periods, Van Dyck’s aristocratic portraits, Flemish landscapes, Dutch portraiture, counter-reformation Carravagesque paintings and the famous Tiepolo painting of The Banquet of Cleopatra.

Once outside in the sculpture garden I was immediately captivated by the stunning bamboo sculpture by Tetsunori Kawana, a master of ikebana. It is a shame that Five Elements – Water is only on display until 26 July (and then probably mulched!). It’s a dramatic and beautiful work which captures the awesome power and rhythm of crashing surf, even down to the sprays of foam. The sculpture was particularly remarkable given that the flowing waves have been constructed using thick and relatively inflexible sticks of bamboo.

The sculpture garden also contained a seated woman by Henry Moore, another one of my favourite sculptors and a bronze cast of Rodin’s haughty and windswept Balzac.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of the the surprisingly broad collection, so it’s my aim to return to the NGV to take as many tours as I can while I have the time.

HOT: Palomino, 236 High St, Northcote

The design brief for Palomino seems to have been ‘stylish kitsch’. Look around and there’s tacky porcelain ornaments randomly resting on the ledges and dotted around the boxed wooden shelving. The backdrop though is a stylish royal blue feature wall, fern wallpaper and hanging round orbs of soft light over the bar.

Only Anita tried the food and hot chocolate, but Palomino is the kind of low-key cafe that I’d like to hang out in all the time. It seems that Northcote residents and visitors feel the same way, as there was constant traffic in and out of its cosy warmth on a Sunday afternoon.

HOT: Northern Exposure, High St, Northcote

Anita and I met on a windy, chilly Sunday afternoon for a stroll around Northern Exposure, Northcote’s visual arts festival. The exhibitions included traditional hangings in galleries such as Kick and the grand dame Northcote Town Hall, combined with displays in High Street shopfronts.

I have to admit that I wasn’t too excited by much of the art on display but I did think the delicate wrought iron hanging in the bay window of Palomino (Freya Pitt) was particularly eyecatching. Mostly though, the festival gets a HOT from me because I want to applaud the business and creative community of High St Northcote for their ability to work together to organise festivals for my enjoyment!

NOT: Cho Gao Restaurant & Bar, Level 3, Melbourne Central, Melbourne

I had suggested Cho Gao for Saturday lunch with my long-lost high school friend, despite my misgivings about its shopping centre locale, because I had heard about its expansive view of the State Library. Unfortunately, it was too cold and cacophonous (protests about the Northern Territory intervention) for us to sit on the balcony for a pleasant catch up, so we picked a corner table indoors in the dim oriental wood styled dining room.

We each selected a roti wrap from the express lunch menu – beef for me, pork for Emily, plus a soft drink each. My wrap was extremely unappetising, containing the sort of nasty shredded corned beef that you find in sub-standard sandwich bars and slathered with gloops of processed mayonnaise. Emily declared her roast pork wrap with spiced apple compote delicious – or maybe she was just being polite as I had picked the restaurant.

On the basis of my meal, I don’t think Cho Gao will ever be able to fill its cavernous dining room, and during our lunch there was only one other lonely pair of diners. The silver lining to lunch was that the damage to my wallet was limited to $10.

HOT: Sonsa, 152 Smith St, Collingwood

When Tranzie moved to Islington, they were so excited to discover their local Turkish grocery store that they insisted I should be introduced to Mr and Mrs Yassar when I landed in London.

Now that they’re in Collingwood, they must be really excited about Sonsa – Yassar’s on a larger scale. The family business lives in the shadow of the behemoth Woolworths on Smith St, so I always try to buy my produce there to support a small business. Currently the bargains in their pavement display are ginger ($7.95 a kilo) and navel oranges ($2.99 for 3 kilos). In the plain flourescent-lit interior you’ll also find nuts, pulses, grains, spices and dips. I can vouch for their Turkish bread, delicious with homemade hommus and Tranzie tell me that their carrot dip is also fantastic.

HOT: Macro Wholefoods, 153 Bridge Road, Richmond

Ladies and Gentlemen, witness the demise of Victoria’s largest natural and organic store.

Macro Wholefoods opened in Richmond with much fanfare in 2005. However, it seems that even the chi-chi, health-aware foodies of Melbourne don’t shop there, so it’s holding a closing down sale until 21 June.

To be honest, I’m not surprised. Firstly, I’ve noticed that Australia seems to be quite behind the UK and Europe in terms of the availability of and demand for organic food. The widest range of organic produce in Melbourne is available at Queen Victoria Market, which contains only three organic produce stalls and one organic butcher. Walk into any supermarket in the UK and you’ll find an organic version of pretty much every fresh product. Further, on my return from London, I was shocked to discover that in Australia the prices for organic food are regularly double or even triple the prices of non-organic food. Sadly, that means I can’t afford to buy organic meat anymore (opting for free range and hoping for the best) and I rarely buy organic fruit and vegetables unless they are wildly fresh and are to be eaten solo ie I wouldn’t use organic potatoes to thicken a soup.

The added difficulty with Macro’s business model was that its products (not all of it organic) were generally even more expensive than the stalls at the fresh food markets, the health stores, the bulk food co-ops and the national supermarkets.

However, a week before closing, it was Everything Must Go! I snaffled:

Two days before closing the shelves had been stripped absolutely bare except for a few lonely bulk items on trestle table. I loaded my panniers with walnuts (walnut meringe cake), cashews (stir fry), almonds (couscous), linseeds (muesli) and pine nuts (pasta). We will be eating a lot of nuts in the next few months!

HOT: Strangers Corridor, Parliament House, Spring Street, Melbourne

Continued unemployment means that every day is a potential duvet day. I have ample opportunity slump around the house in tracksuit pants and a food-splattered fleece, so any excuse to dress up and get out of the house is always welcome.

On Tuesday I decided to take my ladylike self to high tea at the Strangers Corridor. I donned a spotted silk dress, slipped on a pair of demure heels, pulled on my embroidered gloves and then topped my outfit with a plastic bike helmet to cycle in an elegant manner to Parliament House.

The restaurant isn’t as it sounds, like some dark windswept outpost in the back corners of the building. In fact, it’s a cosy wood panelled room filled with padded chairs and delightful little alcoves, perfect for whiling away an afternoon sipping tea and leisurely scanning the newspapers.

The quality of the food was equal to any of the delights served by the Windsor Hotel high tea, without the high cost. The large platter contained two bumptious sandwiches (smoked salmon and cucumber), an enormous featherlight scone served with homemade jam and thick double cream, various small quiches and three mini cakes ($27.50). In addition, the personal service was exemplary; from the moment I was escorted from the Parliament front desk to my chair by name, to the regular enquiries about whether I wanted more tea and then an offer to join a Parliament tour and to visit the back balcony.

It’s a shame that the restaurant is only open to the public during Parliament’s non-sitting weeks and only during weekdays, as it’s such a wonderfully soothing and refined experience that I’d love to return again and again.