Melbourne cafes & restaurants

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Collective Espresso

DSC01438I 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



Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Il fornaio

Forneao_tinyUp 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



Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

The Maling Room

malingroom_tiny
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

Canterbury



Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Appetite on Errol

appetitieonerrol_smallSituated on the south end of Errol Street in north Melbourne is Appetite – a small café with a big reputation for its all day brunch menu.

I arrived at about 11:30 on a Sunday morning and ordered Poached Eggs and Bacon on toast, along with a creamy latte. The staff were very friendly and the service was very good. The coffee arrived and I was greeted with a mug of nice smooth coffee with a dark and slightly nutty flavour and a velvety mouth feel.

A few minutes later, the food arrived – a plate of nicely presented wholegrain hand-cut toast with bacon and poached eggs on top, accompanied by baby spinach and seasoned with a sprinkle of ground parsley and cracked pepper.

The eggs were superb and were matched by the bacon, which was rindless and beautifully smoked; the whole piece was a wonderful chewy texture throughout, without being rubbery or dry. I am sure they must get the bacon from the deli at the Queen Vic markets down the road!

The food is fantastic, the coffee is good and the staff are wonderful. If you are on your way to the Vic markets, stop by Appetite, it’s just a short walk up the road and well worth the trip.

Appetite on Errol – Errol Street, North Melbourne



Saturday, March 7th, 2009

Obscura [Melbourne]

obscura_webreadyThere’s a new gun in town and the word going around is that only the Laotian will do! If you haven’t been to Kensington recently then you should probably do so, as a plethora of cafes beckon and none more so than the aptly named, Obscura, located somewhat obscurely at 1 Bellair Street, Kensington, just outside the train station. However, as I write, plans are afoot to relocate the café across the tracks sometime in April, so get in quick if you want to experience the best of what’s on offer at the current location.

The café itself is only seven months old and already they’re looking to relocate to larger premises, which will also hopefully be a bit more resilient to Melbourne’s notorious weather. After cycling furiously around Kensington for 40 minutes trying to find the cafe on my mobile gps, I eventually found Obscura nestled in the comfortable confines of the train station.

Still, the wait was worthwhile because what I discovered was a speciality coffee shop that imports its own coffee from Laos, roasted to order, and flown direct to Melbourne via Thai Airways. Now I’m not sure how many readers have been to Laos, but I have and I can tell you that the coffee there is fantastic, and is poured dark and strong over ice, but be sure to tell the locals to leave the condensed milk out of the mix!

I enjoyed a piccolo latte at Obscura made from the Bruno blend, which Tom describes as medium to full-bodied and as his ‘Melbourne-Italian style espresso blend.’ My piccolo was well made and flavoursome with caramel and biscuit notes predominating, combined with a hint of exotic Asian spice.

It’s all about the coffee at Obscura, with 7 blends to choose from, most of which are rotated on the coffee machine. According to the JCFC website the coffee is, ‘cultivated from antique Arabica rootstock planted by French colonists in the 1920′s,’ and the coffee is shade grown in jungle forests of the Bolven Plateau in Southern Lao. You can also purchase whole beans for home use, and all of the coffees are certified FairTrade, from the Jhai Coffee Farmers Coop of Lao.

For the record, the Laotians refer to their homeland as Lao (and not Laos), apparently it was those pesky French colonists who decided to call the country Laos, as is their habit of putting a redundant ‘s’ on the end of everything. In the words of the local Lao people; ‘Khob chai lai lai! (which means thank you very much)’. [PS]

1 Bellair Street,
Kensington VIC 3031



Sunday, November 16th, 2008

Birdie Num Nums (Melbourne)

Birdie Num Nums occupies an interesting space in Melbourne’s cafe lexicon in that it caters specifically for young families, whereas many cafes do not. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of arty-types and groovy young things here as well, especially in the front section of the cafe, which is warm and welcoming with recycled timber and interesting nic nacs softening the space.  Conversely the back section, with its shade cloths and central sand pit, is ‘kid central.’

Food here is modern bistro with Greek influences, reminiscent of Pireaus Blues, the enduring Greek restaurant on Brunswick Street, which was founded by the same family.  The food is rustic and pleasantly plated – my crispy squid on Vietnamese-style shredded salad with crushed peanuts and sweet roasted chilli dressing ($16.5) hit all the right notes. Coffee is pretty good too, which comes as a bit of a revelation considering the generic brand (Grinders ‘Giancarlo’ Blend); a word of caution though, on the day I visited both the coffee and service out the back – in the ‘family friendly’ area – were not quite up to scratch, whereas out the front it was a different story altogether, where the service seemed to hum, and the coffee was of a noticeably higher standard.

Still, good food and a great kid-friendly atmosphere provides welcome relief for busy mums, and who knows, maybe you will even hear the occasional ‘howdy partner’ within these hallowed walls?

Reviewed Nov’08 [PS]

Birdie Num Nums
745 Nicholson Street
Carlton North



Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Ceres (Melbourne)

The festive season is upon us here in Melbourne and what better way to celebrate than to make the most of the great outdoors? Ceres (Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies – pronounced ‘series’) Community Environment Park is a sustainable eco-centre and farm community on the banks of Merri Creek in Brunswick East and it is a treat for families, indeed anybody, who is hoping to escape the relentless rush of the city for a little while.

There are a number of cafes here – including a small makeshift cafe operating out of the organic fruit and vege market (open on Wednesdays and Saturdays) offering good coffee and a selection of yummy cakes – usually to the accompaniment of a folk band and lots of little munchkins running around! The main café is a more sophisticated affair, encompassing a large sprawling wooden complex with a timber veranda overlooking the courtyard and the communal dwelling areas. It has to be said that it’s hard to get a bad seat here – every seat has an interesting view, surrounded by happy activity, no matter where you sit.

The food is good in an ‘all-day breakfast menu’ kind of way. There’s also a number of daily specials, and most items are made in-house using excellent produce. The coffee is good too, with both spaces serving Supreme’s Organic FairTrade Blend which, correct me if I am wrong, has a strong Columbian base which makes for good caramel/nutty and biscuity flavours.  Artisan coffee it is not, but it is still consistently well-made by passionate staff and I’m yet to have a dud coffee here. Plans are underfoot for a new conference centre and a sustainable restaurant, but most folks just come for coffee and conversation, while the kids happily entertain themselves.

Reviewed Nov ’08 [PS]

Ceres
8 Lee Street
Brunswick East VIC 3057



Friday, October 3rd, 2008

Cafenatics (Melbourne)

Located somewhat obscurely down a side alley, just off of 500 Collins Street, you could be forgiven for thinking that the patrons here were visiting some sort of illicit drug den, as they come and go with apparent glee. So what’s the attraction then? It could have something to do with the stunning La Marzocco Mistral coffee machine on the front counter, which looks more like a lunar recreational vehicle from the 1970′s, than it does a coffee machine!

And the coffee is good here too, running with a boutique blend from Veneziano, one of Melbourne’s top specialty coffee roasters. My latte was wonderfully rich and dense, with complex palate structure, and a rounded mouth-feel. Coffees prices start from a modest $3 and is highly recommended. The grub’s not bad either, with a variety of panini and roti wraps available for $8.90 ea, along with soup and salad of the day. I had Salad of pan-seared ocean trout with Caponata Pesto oil, served on a bed of wilted spinach and chopped tomato – which was good value at only $16.90. The salad was fresh and the trout was generously proportioned and cooked to perfection, but I would’ve liked a bit more pesto oil to flavour the whole dish up a bit.

The store itself is very well presented with concrete surfaces softened by timber cross beams, and a green fleur-de-lys mosaic adorning the far wall. The space is divided between a casual coffee area with a communal table, and a more formal separate dining area, which seems to be just the space for a high powered meeting, or a casual luncheon.

Reviewed Oct ’08 [PS]

Cafenatics
500 Collins St, Melboune CBD
(located on Church Lane just off Collins St)
Tel: (03) 9629 4440



Friday, September 12th, 2008

The Brunswick East Project

New Melbourne Cafe Concept – a coffee ‘think-tank’

The Brunswick East Project chooses to pose a question about coffee, rather than pretending to know all the answers. And the question goes something like this – what would happen if we gathered all the baristi (aka mad espresso-heads) in the Brunswick East area and asked them to contribute to our understanding of coffee? Sort of a coffee ‘think tank’ if you will.

The result is still a work in progress, but these keen coffee enthusiasts have taken their passion for coffee to a new level by going into production for themselves, and they are producing some very interesting results along the way.

 So don’t be surprised if you find some of the industry’s ‘top gun’ baristas doing a guest stint behind the gleaming Synesso Cyncra coffee machine, or manning the shiny 10kg capacity Has Garanti roaster. 

It’s a brave business that throws opens its doors to any and all who feel they may have something to contribute.  But it takes a brave individual to put their hand up and suggest that they have something to offer – a coffee fanatic perhaps, or a coffee purist?  Either way, attracting the coffee enthusiast is the exact target that these likable lads are aiming for.

Some comfortable chairs at the front and back of the store provide welcome relief for the weary, and the communal timber table with matching bar stools is just the place to sit and read the paper whilst sipping on your coffee.  The food offerings are slim pickings here; just a selection of cakes to complement the coffee.  And I expect that’s just how the owners and staff of The Brunswick East Project like it.  After all, at the end of the day, it’s all about the coffee, and we like that too.

Reviewed September ’08 [PS]

438 Lygon Street
Brunswick East VIC 3057



Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

St Ali (Melbourne)

This iconic café, which has helped to put premium boutique batch roasted coffee on the map in Melbourne, might have changed hands recently but the message is still the same: uncompromising coffee from passionate industry professionals.  Such is the dedication of those at the helm of St Ali, that they’re particular about who they sell their coffee to! 

I should know as I am one of the few fortunate customers who can claim to stock their product commercially in my cafes – although I had to go through rigorous selection criteria with Justin, the head roaster, before he would agree to sell it to me!  That and at present, St Ali currently runs with a 7kg and a 5kg roaster, which to a large extent determines capacity. A larger roaster is being shipped from Italy as we speak, but these things take time to dial in and to implement.

So what’s all the fuss about?  All I can tell you is that if you’ve tried the coffee already, you’ll know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, then you need to do so.

The café and roastery is located in an old warehouse complex, in a decidedly obscure location, positioned as it is down an otherwise nondescript laneway. With a industrial/rustic atmosphere, it also has an interesting use of moulded timber which helps to break up the space into hidden nooks, which seem to appeal to both ‘personalities’ and bohemians alike. And the food is good too with ‘roving chef at large’, Ben Cooper, putting his usual modern European spin on things. Head Chef, Kate Holloway, oversees the day to day running of the cafe – ensuring a smooth and professional operation.  My excellent poached eggs come with spicy chorizo sausage and a cherry tomato, capsicum, and fresh corn salsa, on a bed of baby spinach, served on lightly browned ciabatta bread, which is the perfect accompaniment for the first of four coffees which I have on this particular visit. I mean, when the coffee is this good why wouldn’t you have more than one?

Certainly, St Ali seems to be quite the place to linger, as a steady stream of traffic comes and goes in the time that I am there. And the centrally located communal table provides an excellent view of the baritisi at work and play, and is just the spot to watch world go by. A sense of playful high theatre exists here, as the characters that come and go seem larger than life and are definitely part of the attraction.
Reviewed August ’08 [PS]

St Ali Cafe
12-18 Yarra Place
South Melbourne VIC 3205