Friday, 23 May 2014

The Joys of Moving in Melbourne

We are moving out of our first Melbourne flat today. Exciting, but a bit sad, and shocking to realize we have been in this flat for almost 16 months, which means we've been in Melbourne 16 months. Crazy how fast time flies. In four weeks we will be heading to London and Spain for 3 weeks to see our friends, Andy's family, and to go to the wedding of one of Andy's childhood friends. I am so so so looking forward to the trip. But first things first, we must get through this move.

The pool in our old flat... I will miss this!
The area we are moving to is called Prahran, which is the suburb just south of where we live now (in South Yarra). So, it's not a huge move in terms of location, about 1.5 km south of where we are now. Our main reason for moving is we are tired of not having any outside space. There is a communal area outside our building for residents but it is not the same as having your own private area. We also have absolutely no view, our flat looks onto the roof of the Woolworths at the bottom of our building. We have been missing out on way too many beautiful Melbourne sunrises and sunsets. The third reason is that our landlord is trying to sell our flat so there are people constantly coming around for viewings. That in itself is pretty annoying, but we also didn't know if it would be another investor buying the flat or someone wanting to actually live here, so we might have been kicked out at some point anyway. Interestingly, we have found out our landlord is having a very hard time selling... I'm sure the view onto the roof is not helping things. He bought it about 2 years ago brand new for over $500,000 and we overheard the real estate agent saying he is willing to accept around $460,000. I was surprised to hear that, as it seems the real estate market is pretty healthy here in Melbourne. Just goes to show that real estate is not always a sure investment, especially if you find yourself in a bind to sell. 

Ah, a lovely view of a roof. I will not miss this!

Nice rainbow, crap view. This was taken by Andy, I am not tall enough to see those buildings over the roof!
Our new place is in another new build, I think this complex opened in August 2013, so we are only the second tenants. The rent is cheaper, so we will be saving some money, and we are on the 9th floor with a nice big balcony and uninterrupted views out to the bay (I sound like a real estate agent...). The flat itself is small, although pretty comparable to what we have now. I think we have realised since moving here that we don't actually need that much space or that much stuff (and if you have a lot of space it just compels you to buy more stuff). I constantly shake my head at all the things we shipped here from England only to throw away or give to charity. Having outside space was a priority when looking for a new place, and we also wanted to save some money, so this place ticks those boxes. Oh, we also have WINDOWS in the main bedroom which we don't have right now. I know, bedrooms without windows, how awful. They are surprisingly common in the new builds around here. 

I really really hope we like this place to stay for a few years as moving pretty much sucks. First of all the process of flat hunting here is just ridiculous. I long for the days of flat hunting in London, which I found pretty dire at the time - however I didn't know how good we had it. Oh, to walk into an estate agent, give your budget and specifications, and to be taken around to view flats (sometimes the agents would even drive you there). Sure, you saw some crappy flats, but there was something nice and personal about the service. You felt the estate agent was actually doing something to earn their commission. Ok, maybe I didn't feel that when we were in London, but I do now!

Here in Australia you spend hours on websites like or looking through the rental listings. Don't even bother going into an estate agent as they will just tell you to look online. Each flat will have an 'Open for Inspection' which is a 15 minute time slot where the 'estate agent' will open up the flat so you, and anyone else who is interested, can have a look around. Sometimes there are 40-50 other prospective tenants there for the inspection. I am not sure what the purpose of that estate agent is, except to unlock the door, as they never have any additional information about the flat. Sometimes they don't even turn up or they turn up with the wrong keys, and the whole thing will have been a major waste of time. Usually it will be the first time they have been inside the flat themselves. With older places the flat barely resembles the pictures on the website, as pictures have all been retouched or taken years ago when the flat was in better condition. In one case Andy questioned the estate agent as the flat looked nothing like what was advertised online and she admitted they had used pictures of a different flat. Surely that can't be legal?!

If you like the flat, you then have to fill in a lengthy application form, detailing your salary, current and former places of employment, current and former residences, and a few references. They are a pain to fill in, although some places now use an online form through the website which takes a while to fill in but then can be used for multiple applications. The process is fairly competitive if you are applying for a popular place, and people often say they are willing to pay more than the asking rent in order to secure the place. We have never done that, but we know people who have offered an extra $25 per week for a place they really liked. Other than extra money and secure employment, I'm not sure how the tenants are chosen. Before we found our new flat, we applied for one other place we didn't get, and we felt pretty rejected! For this one, after some prompting from Andy, I called the estate agent a few days after we put our application in. The agent happened to go to the school I teach at now, so we had a nice little chat about that, and he said he thought we'd be good tenants and would phone the landlord to check. Half an hour later, the flat was ours. If we hadn't phoned who knows if we would have got it. So, if you're reading this and flat hunting in Melbourne, it's always good to phone the estate agent after you apply. 

Moving is also ridiculously expensive as you usually have to get the flat professionally cleaned - including steam cleaning the carpets. I don't mind that too much as it also means you move into a nice clean flat. It's also usually necessary to hire movers as most flats are unfurnished and so moving furniture yourself (including fridge and washing machine) is not really doable unless you have super helpful friends who don't work during the day also happen to own large vans. So even though we are saving on rent it will be about 2 months before we start saving if you count all the moving costs.

Ok well I'd better get back to it - the movers will be here in about 4 hours and Andy has had to work for the morning so it's just me doing all the last minute things. I have just finished my coffee so its time to pack up our beloved Nespresso machine. I think I am mostly done but want to be prepared for any last minute jobs. I am looking forward to a nice wine tonight on our balcony (that is, if it stops raining...)

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Le Grande Cirque

About a month ago while I was in India I got a text from Andy reading "Just saw MANU!!!!!" For those who don't know, Manu is a celebrity chef here in Australia, one of the judges on My Kitchen Rules. Yes, ok, so we've been watching the show rather religiously, which is a bit embarrassing to admit, but there is just something that about the show that makes it hard to stop watching. Perhaps it is the sexy French chef, Manu? Who knows...

Anyway turns out he has opened a restaurant about a 3 minute walk from our house with fellow celebrity chef George Calombaris (of Masterchef fame). The location is on the former site of Mama Baba, where we took Alison to eat when she visited last July

So of course we had to book reservations at Le Grande Cirque to check it out for ourselves. Andy has a 'man crush' on Manu that I didn't quite grasp the extent of until we visited his restaurant. We took our friends Alan and Aaron with us, who before going seemed unimpressed with the whole 'Manu' thing, as they aren't as into My Kitchen Rules as we are (probably a good thing!)

We had an amazing table right across from the open kitchen and to our surprise Manu was actually working! He was like, right there, coordinating all the orders, occasionally cutting up bread faster than I've ever seen anyone cut bread before, and at times having a strong word with some of his chefs. (To be fair, from my days of waitressing in fine dining, he seemed pretty calm and relaxed compared to the chefs I have worked with.) Well, if Alan and Aaron were not fussed about eating at Manu's restaurant they certainly changed their tune once they saw him! The three of them were totally embarrassing as they tried to covertly snap pics of him on their phones.

Pretending to take a pic of Alan

The food was 'down-to-earth French food' that was meant for sharing - sort of a tapas style french menu, if that makes sense? The food did not disappoint, it was all amazing, especially the 'Friture de Crevettes' (crispy prawns with aioli) and the 'petites betteraves, carottes & chevres' (baby beetroot, carrot and goat's curd salad). Aaron and Alan were doing a 'detox' so we tried to stay on the healthy side, although Andy and I did order the beef special which came with a blue cheese sauce (not healthy but soooooo good). We also didn't order any dessert, however they looked amazing and so we will definitely need to go back. Good wine list as well, and the prices were pretty average for Melbourne. 

At the end Manu came and took a few photos with us - he was a pretty good sport about it and was taking pictures with lots of customers when he had a chance. He was very funny and chatty and even pretended to kiss Andy in a photo once he heard about the man crush (I was cut out of this photo!) We also got his cookbook which he signed, which was totally an impulse buy but I will enjoy trying out some of his dishes.
Me, Andy and Manu

I was cut out of this one