I am in the brazenly modern Federation Square, a warren of exhibition spaces and galleries linked like a Rubik's Cube with triangular shards of glass, sandstone and zinc. Melbourne is a city with cutting edge fashion, art, architecture, food and music; where you have to be a forensic artist and delve deeper to ferret out its little secrets. Fiona Sweetman's 'Hidden Secrets' is an innovative attempt to guide visitors through the laneways of Melbourne -- narrow streets between the city's broad thoroughfares, filled with eateries, bars, shops and restaurants and offering a parallel city, so to speak.
I am taking the CafÃ© Culture walk, which is just not about coffee alone -- but brings you up-close with many independent businesses and local enterprises.
"Melbourne is a city founded on an entrepreneurial spirit and wealth from the Gold Rush, and even today small businesses are major players in sweeping in big changes," says Fiona. The city does not tolerate 'chains' and it's a telling point that Starbucks had to close three fourths of its shops in 2008, a few years after entering Australia!
Fiona speaks about how the Italian immigrants were the ones to introduce espresso in Melbourne. And when they could not find good beans, they would even use ground chicory or acorns. There is the iconic Pellegrino's Expresso Bar, which imported the first Gaggia machine in the 1950s. Crossly Street is the lane of boutiques and small innovative businesses. We peer in to the windows of Lucy Folk --a quirky jeweller who specialises in her 'foodie jewellry.
There are food-inspired pieces ranging from popcorn and pretzels to tortilla chips. The mecca of the caffeine world is Degraves Street, lined with cafes with umbrellas and red plastic chairs. We have a coffee here at Degraves Expresso, which uses recycled cinema seats and benches from a magistrate's court!
We swing past Hardware Lane, famous for its line of open-air cafÃ©s. La Belle Miette is a French patisserie that serves divine macaroons in little boxes designed by a graphic artist. It's run by the daughter of a perfumer, who uses unusual scents to flavour the macaroons.
There are also small cafes with character, in large corporate buildings. There is Truffula Seed hiding in the Steel House building on Spring Street, a name inspired by Dr Seuss's book The Lorax! Their USP is the ethically sourced beans from the Social Roasting Company delivered on green bicycles and carry-home cups that you can re-use.
The Manchester Utility building is a beautiful Art Nouveau structure designed by the famous architect Marcus Barlow in 1932 and built in nine months to counter the effects of the Great Depression with the first escalator in Melbourne.
What we are here to see is the Switchboard Cafe, imaginatively run out of the closet space that housed the building's telephone system! The Tuck shop in the foyer of the NAB building at Bourke Street derives its name from the name given to comfort food at school lunches. It's a small cafÃ© that serves a myriad salads and luscious hot dogs along with coffee.
Our walk ends in Manchester Press on Rankins Street -- one of the newest cafÃ©s located in an old printing press building and very popular with the young crowd -- they have amazing open bagels. It's another link in a city which is using its old spaces imaginatively in new endeavours...