Melbourne cafes & restaurants
On the corner of George and Gertrude streets (part of the Gertrude Street boutique/shopping strip) is a smallish café which is part of the Seven Seeds stable [run by Melbourne coffee don Mark Dundon] curiously named De Clieu. Not so curious perhaps when you look into the taxonomy of Mark’s other café names [Seven Seeds, Brother Baba Budan] and see that they derive from the colourful history of coffee and its discovery.
The original De Clieu was a french naval officer who is celebrated for his claim to have introduced coffee to the French colonies of the Western Hemisphere in the 1720s. According to l’Année littéraire of 1774, he arranged to transport a coffee plant (or perhaps several) from the greenhouses of the Jardin Royal des Plantes [which had originally been given to the French King from Holland] to Martinique in 1720.
The story goes that water was rationed on the voyage and De Clieu was so dedicated to his mission that he shared his ration with the seedlings. The story may be apocryphal, but most sources do in fact credit De Clieu with the introduction of coffee to Martinique & thence the Caribbean.
But enough of history – De Clieu is a funky spot where everyone seems to hang out in black jeans [& black jackets, shoes or whatever] but this belies its class – it’s trendy, but it also serves good coffee and very good food.
The menu reveals an elegant simplicity as would be expected from the kitchen of Steven Carr (previously of the Healesville Hotel) and offers a slightly exotic take on otherwise prosaic items – our Pork Neck Roti [sweet roasted pork neck on a spring onion roti, with a fried egg and hoisin-flavoured BBQ sauce] was exquisite.
And the coffee – we had one shot which was excellent and one which was [only] good, which given the general state of espresso coffee, is still very good overall! Definitely recommended.
187 Gertrude Street
(03) 9416 4661
After hugely successful achievements in the Melbourne cafe scene [most recently Brother Baba Budan and St Ali] Mark Dundon’s latest effort brings new life to the warehouses of inner Carlton. Behind a slightly unprepossessing exterior lies a stylised and slightly cavernous cafe space, with the roastery visible through viewing windows out the back.
The decor is quite striking, with a bare, almost minimalist effect and metal chairs and military stencilled cutlery boxes giving unique utilitarian undertones. There’s nothing utilitarian about the coffee though, which like the simple but delicious food, is of a high standard.
With a selection of single origin and blends to chose from, the Rwandan Musasa had a juicy fruity acidity, a round, low body with a lovely aftertaste, while the flat white [Seven Seeds blend] enjoyed a velvety mouth feel with a full bodied flavour, hints of chocolate and nuts, a soft finish and a dark crema. Mark’s latest venture doesn’t disappoint!
114 Berkeley St
Carlton VIC 3053
Tel: (03) 9347 8664
Firmly entrenched as a leader in the third wave, and some would say in the vanguard of the ‘fourth wave’ of coffee evolution [where the method of coffee preparation is considered to be as important as the raw materials themselves], Market Lane is a great addition to the burgeoning Melbourne Cafe Scene.
Head barista and co-owner Jason Scheltus heads up an impressive team that includes co-owner Fleur Studd (Melbourne Coffee Merchants), and recent recruit Toshiyuki Ishiwata (Toshi), arguably one of the country’s finest roasters.
Perched on the ‘edge’ of the Prahran Market precinct, they have a focus on alternative preparation techniques such as ceramic pour-over, and have a keen eye for sourcing and roasting enticing beans. Recent examples on the menu include Carmo Estate from Brazil, with notes of blackcurrant and cocoa and Kenyan Mbee – sweet and complex, with notes of passionfruit, vanilla and rose hip tea. They also do 10.00am cuppings for enthusiasts. Highly recommended
Shop 13 Prahran Market
163 Commercial Road
South Yarra VIC 3141
Tel: 03 9804 7434
It seems that no expense has been spared when creating this elaborate space, from the standout powder blue coloured six group Synesso coffee machine – which is the only six group machine of its kind in Australia – to the quirky hand-crafted coffee handle door handles on the front door. Attention to detail is apparent everywhere and no where more so that in my coffee cup – which is where you would want it to be!
That’s the thought that was on my mind as I ploughed through my piccolo ($3.5) at Proud Mary recently. The barista behind the machine on the day was in fine form as the first coffee, made from the house espresso blend, exhibited notes of caramel and pistachio on a rich and creamy palate. And my second coffee – made from a Single Origin Costa Rican – featured aromas of almond, hot buttered popcorn and coconut cream, on a savoury palate with traces of tobacco and spice predominating.
Interesting menu touches such as a Seared tuna with grilled asparagus on a warm potato salad with a caper dressing ($17.5) make for appealing luncheon items, whilst items such as Crushed avocado on toast, served with a roast tomato salsa, rocket and lemon ($12.50) – available on the breakfast menu – also offer excellent value!
The space itself is wide and spacious, and filled with natural light due to its corner location, , and a swag of Mazzers on the counter, combined with the seemingly obligatory Clover and Syphon, Proud Mary’s coffee credentials are firmly stamped on the Melbourne scene. Was there ever any doubt?
172 Oxford St
Collingwood VIC 3066
Tel: (03) 9417 5930
You could be forgiven for not immediately noticing Café 120 on your trek to coffee nirvana [or someplace else] as it’s tucked away in a remote and somewhat obscure location – located as it is at the end of the 96 tram line, just around the corner from Ceres eco-village.
But to bypass the place altogether would be to do so at your peril, as the food good and the coffee is too. Serving Coffee Supreme, I enjoyed a well-made half latte, which was smooth, creamy delicately textured, with caramel and roast almond aromas, which followed through on a butterscotch-infused palate!
The space itself is small and compact but well-built with high ceilings, distressed blonde timber flooring, and whitewashed walls featuring eclectic artwork, such as a vintage collection of skateboards and related paraphernalia dating back, I would guess, to at least the 1950’s.
There’s also a good selection of panini with fillings such as smoked chicken with rocket, shaved parmesan, and Japanese mayo, along with plenty of vegetarian options from $8.00.
It’s all pretty stripped back at 120 with an unfussy menu and friendly service – which puts the emphasis back on the coffee – but with prices starting from $3 for a cup of Joe, this café is well positioned to meet the needs of those who have come to the end of the line. [PS]
120 Nicholson St
Brunswick East, 3057
(03) 9387 0010
Foxy Brown is one of those rarest of things: a cosy corner cafe in a former house that actually still feels like someone’s living room. Original 70′s furniture pieces provide a cosy backdrop in this long and narrow space, as does mood lighting and front and rear courtyards – which are just the thing for the kids to muck around in!
In fact the space itself has a long history servicing the local community, dating back at least until the 1920′s when it traded as a general store and in its most recent successful incarnation, as an eclectic community-based cafe run by a brilliant if somewhat flawed musician, prior to being taken over by Patrick Sloane, aka Askthecoffeeguy, of the Crema Forum.
Patrick spent six months fine tuning the coffee blend with master roaster Joshua Bailey, who, interestingly flies somewhat beneath the radar in Melbourne – roasting as he does from his lounge room on Errol Street in North Melbourne – and the blend is a combination of high altitude shade grown ingredients which are also available individually as ‘Foxy Bean of the Day’ components. Patrick pulled over 2000 coffees through his coffee machine prior to be opening, to be certain that it was working properly and to thoroughly assess the coffee that he is using – such are his coffee credentials.
In fact one of the first things that you notice about the place is the massive coffee blackboard which dwarfs the kitchen’s daily specials board – which says something about the emphasis on coffee here, as does the two page coffee menu which sits on top of the all day breakfast menu.
Foxy prides itself on being mostly organic and FairTrade wherever possible and uses a unique DEMTER certified biodynamic un-homoginised milk – which is in such short supply that Patrick had to go on a two month waiting list and was interviewed vigorously for several hours before passing muster, and the cafe is still one of only a select few able to stock this product. The milk itself is not cheap but is an integral part of the coffee equation and the coffee itself needs to be experienced to do it justice!
Foxy Brown Espresso Bar & Cafe
31 South Crescent
Northcote VIC 3070
I can’t help but think that the Camberwell establishment are being shaken to their core by the Collective consciousness of ‘third wave’ barista values in what is perhaps best described as a ‘second wave’ coffee heartland. Turning traditional notions of what constitutes good coffee on their head, the Collective applies industry best standards to produce the kind of coffee that is worth crossing town for.
The store has only been open for six weeks but you wouldn’t know it based on the relaxed, friendly and professional service that’s on offer here. In fact, the service here is ‘restaurant quality’ in a cafe environment, which is remarkable really considering that at present there is only a limited menu of savoury items – such as panini – on offer.
The guys from Collective tell me that they are in the process of putting a kitchen in and bringing in a chef to spruce up what they have on offer, which is probably a good thing as on the day I visited the pastries in the ambient display cabinet looked and tasted a little on the dry side; but then again who could’ve predicted a 27C day at the tail end of winter?
More importantly, the coffee at Collective Espresso is excellent. They use a blend of Five Senses coffee for milk-based drinks and a changing selection of Single Origin coffees for espressos. When you combine this with the proven power of the famed Synesso coffee machine/Robur grinder line-up – then what you are in for is some very fine coffee indeed.
Collective Espresso’s location is a little tucked away [in a side street] but it’s close to public transport and just down the road from a park and playground, which is just the thing for the kids to run off their excess energy after an almond croissant!
I for one know where I will be heading the next time I go to Camberwell market! [PS]
Shop 1, 3 Cookson St
Camberwell VIC 3124
(03) 9882 8995
Up the ‘wrong’ end of Ackland St, Il Fornaio has been a St Kilda institution as long as this reviewer can remember. They do a wide range of tasty offerings, but as the name suggests, the main reason you come to Il Fornaio [‘The Oven’ in Italian] is that they bake everything on the premises: from quiches, tarts and muffins to desserts, and of course, their own bread!
Lib had the Pizza with Onion Jam and Fetta, while I tried the Lamb Shanks. Both were excellent, although if anything, I thought I did slightly better with the Lamb Shanks, which were perfectly cooked and on a bed of mashed potato – excellent winter fare!
As for their scrummy-looking desserts, it was a difficult choice between the white chocolate tart, the berry and almond torte and the flourless chocolate cake. I went for the latter, which was very good, although suffered a little in terms of the final presentation – the accompaniments option was runny cream, which just didn’t do it for me; in the end I asked for ice cream, but since the cake was served cold, it really didn’t work either.
Coffee, by Queensland roaster de Bella, was creditable although for some reason, the barista insisted on offering the milk at a too-cool 50 deg. C. [AF]
2 Acland St
St Kilda VIC 3182
(03) 9534 2922
A lot has been said [and written] about the Maling Room – including rating in the Melbourne Top 5 in both of Crema Magazine’s annual Melbourne reviews – but we thought it was time to revisit Andrew Lew’s iconic café.
We visited on a Saturday morning and the place was hopping – loud, crowded and buzzing. This time, we determined to review Maling Room from a normal all-round cafe point-of-view, including things like ambience, and of course food! The menu includes a great range of offerings, including Smoked Salmon Eggs with gruyere cheese, eighteen month aged Truffle Eggs, and Banjo Eggs with Hickory Smoked Bacon with HP sauce. We ordered the Akoori Scrambled Eggs – Indian-spiced with cumin, coriander onion and tomato, and kasundi chutney, and the Smoked Salmon Eggs, both of which were delicious.
My first short black was well-rounded, full-bodied and smooth, the second was a little thinner, although with a velvety mouth-feel; when I asked the barista the reason for the difference, he let on that the first was their house-blend, and the second was a different blend – a Rwandan, that had only been roasted a few days earlier. This is my kind of place; I thought: I can handle being tricked like this!
Probably the only downside is that when it gets busy, things at Maling Room can get a little noisy, due to the wide-open space and the wooden floors. However, this is a small price to pay for what is clearly one of Melbourne’s premier café experiences. Highly recommended. [AF]
The Maling Room
206 Canterbury Rd