Cure » Coffee

The REAL Melbourne top 30 (or perhaps 15) cafes.

As ridiculous as that article from the Melbourne Magazine was and how seemingly random it is, I’m going to produce an equally ridiculous list which I hope you’ll agree is marginally more accurate. There’s no real criteria except for me making shit up.

  1. Monk Bodhi Dharma. Balaclava.
    Despite the fact they only serve vegetarian food it is great. The coffee is second to none with a real focus on roasting light and letting the beans speak for themselves.
  2. Brother Baba Budan. City.
    They don’t serve food here, but it isn’t important. Consistently pumping out the most consistent coffee in Melbourne despite the fact there is usually a massive line up of people waiting for their takeaways.
  3. Auction Rooms. North Melbourne.
    With a well executed, refined menu, and an in-house roastery ensuring a supply of great coffee this cafe has been at the pinnacle of Melbourne cafes for quite some time.
  4. St Ali. South Melbourne.
    Like each of the previous cafes, (except Brother Baba) food and coffee are on equal footing. Each day sees a different single origin on, selected from a range of exceptional coffees.
  5. Seven Seeds. Carlton.
    The menu here is more of a light lunch menu and the food is well-made and considered. But you can really forget about the food and just come for the coffee. In my eyes, the Sevens Seeds blend is the best black coffee blend in Melbourne.
  6. Duchess of Spotswood. Spotswood.
    The food at Duchess is closer to a high quality restaurant than a cafe. Sometimes a touch rich, and not for everyone, but the quality is outstanding and worth trying.
  7. Proud Mary. Collingwood.
    Absolutely jammed full of the coolest people in Melbourne all weekend, the food rocks (try the Pork Belly Sandwich) and the roasting and production of the coffee showcases some rare and expensive coffee that are full of flavour.
  8. Market Lane. Prahran.
    Market Lane is one of the few places in Melbourne that focuses on coffee and only coffee. Attached to the premier coffee importer, they have access to the best coffee and roast it to show the fruit.
  9. Three Bags Full. Abbotsford.
    I’m not sure how many times I can say, good food + good coffee = good cafe. Three Bags Full does well to maintain quality even though it gets ridiculously busy.
  10. Deadman Espresso. South Melbourne.
    A short but sweet menu, and good, well-made coffee are enough to put this on the list. The all day breakfast menu on weekends sells this cafe short as it all too often does.
  11. East Brunswick Project. Brunswick.
    As far as the higher quality roasters in Melbourne goes, Padre roasts their coffee much darker. The specialty coffee ground doesn’t like it, but the everyday punters love the Padre lattes cause they taste how they expect. People come in droves to the East Brunswick project for this exact reason.
  12. Captains of Industry.  City.
    A quirky little spot, right in the middle of the city. The big windows and the light make it a perfect place to relax for a late lunch or afternoon tea. The food is simple, fresh and pleasing.
  13. Pope Joan. Brunswick.
    Like Duchess, the restaurant quality food is backed up with solid coffee. Chef Matt Wilkinson manages to cook eggs more ways than you thought imaginable and still keep them interesting.
  14. Brunswick St Alimentari. Fitzroy.
    As much a deli as a cafe, the nicely portioned Italian food is the perfect winter lunch food. The chicken schnitzel rolls are great and sold-out very early on, so get in quick.
  15. Miss Jackson. St Kilda.
    I’ve written before about why I like Miss Jackson. It’s a cafe by the hungover, for the hungover.
  16. MART. Middle Park.
    Long has MART been on the edge of Albert Park in the old stationmasters house. Though it’s hardly changed, the corn fritters still rock and the eggs never fail.

You might have realised, but there’s only 16 cafes here. My top 16, I’d love to hear what’s missing, comments on the ranking and who shouldn’t be there. Perhaps I’m too focused on the new and the specialty coffee? Let me know.

Chez Dre – South Melbourne

South Melbourne is an easy suburb to overlook in the pursuit of good eating, yet it is a mistake too many people make. Luckily for me, most of the time I’m hungover and looking for breakfast I’m too lazy to go too far from home and South Melbourne is the next suburb over. It really is a treasure trove of cafes – St Ali, Deadman Espresso, Gas, Q11 and Padre are all a short walk (a long par 4) from each other and they each rock in their own way.

And now there is a newcomer that fits right in – Chez Dre. Brought to you by Stephen Sam of the nightclub Miss Libertine and a pastry-chef-whose-last-name-I-don’t-know, Dre. Stephen tells me that when Dre returned from France, he really wanted to work with Dre to open a cafe/patisserie because he knew how creative she was, that it was a no-brainer. So they got hunting, found the space and pretty much signed the papers the next day.

The space is awesome. It’s a big, long space with a massive, curved open kitchen as a feature and a beautiful sun-drenched courtyard. The fitout hasn’t been over worked yet the elements play off each other well. The design on the polished concrete floor is great, the lighting plays well with the natural light, and the enamel cups and vases (jugs) are brilliant.

The menu too is understated; I get the feeling it is just a stepping stone to something bigger and better. French is the order of the day – for breakfast there’s baked eggs, stuffed field mushrooms and a breakfast platter with ham, cheese yoghuty and muesli. The lunch menu consists 4 or 5 baguettes filled with beautifully fresh ingredients, a plougmans lunch, a goat cheese salad and pate with bread.

Where Chez Dre really excels though is on my least favourite food group, the sweets. The menu too is understated; I get the feeling it is just a stepping stone to something bigger and better. The cabinet is full of all manner of tarts, macarons, madeleines and cakes. I’ve tried a few of them, a heart-shaped caramel tart, the lemon tart and a macaron or 2. The caramel was smooth and not too rich, the lemon tart as tart as could be, and the macarons as to be expected in Melbourne, capital city of the United States of Macaron, are perfectly formed and flavoursome. Did I mention the sweets rock? I don’t even like sweets.

The coffee is good, without being mind blowing. There’s the obligatory Synesso and the coffee is roasted and blended by the Maling Room. Interestingly enough, they don’t seem to have a single origin on, which is surprising considering that Maling Room gets and roasts some good beans.

All in all, this place rocks. It’s about as far from a hipster cafe as can be imagined. Being that it’s located really close to the South Melbourne Market, on a lane just off Coventry st, I expect it to be packed to the hilt on weekends with the market. The space is big enough though, that it probably won’t feel too packed. During the week, it’s sunny, spacious yet friendly and homely. Perfect for a quiet coffee and a cake.

Shitty Service – I’ve Had Enough

I’ve had enough of this. A new cafe opens with a great fit-out, well regarded design, and a fancy coffee machine. To the ThreeThousand or Broadsheet crowd it’s a winner, an instant success. None of it matters though, cause the service is shit. I’m not talking about first-day blues. I’m talking about blatant lack of care for some simple customer service on any day. It seems to be happening more and more. I’m no longer going to smile and hope they figure it out next time I return. I’m going to call it out. I’m going to do it the minute I get home while I’m still pissed off that I was screwed around.

The hospitality industry shouldn’t be about how cool the place looks; it’s about taking care of your patrons. “The menu here exists only on a single piece of perspex…” Making sure they don’t sit around trying to get your attention, offering them another coffee when their’s is empty and ensuring that they get their meals quickly. It seems so simple, yet this is what separates the great restaurateurs from the impostors.

The first on my list, is the recently opened Manchester Press. It has a great fitout. The place looks amazing with some great pieces of massive artwork and a great interior theme. I especially love the fire extinguishers above the kitchen. Yet they seem to have missed the point.

Manchester PressThe menu here exists only on a single piece of perspex presented to you upon request. It consists of nothing more than five or six different bagels. It seems the thinking goes that during the lunch rush they are easy to pump out. Nothing more than a bagel, some cream cheese and a few good ingredients. Rarely seen in Melbourne, they should be a crowd pleaser. The reality is very different. Too few choices, prepared with little inspiration.

Extricating service from the staff was painful. I had to awkwardly look around the cafe trying to get the attention of a waiter. My coffee arrived in good speed but not so the salmon, capers and cream cheese and pastrami bagels. It was then the waiting really started. When the meal finally arrived, we ate, but had pay cash, no EFTPOS available. We returned to our car to a nice $60 parking ticket. The outing was a $87 lunch for two bagels and a coffee. The time on the stopwatch, 50 minutes. I know because I parked just around the corner and that’s how much was on the meter.

The question is: how long does it take to make two bagels at 2.30pm in the afternoon in a half-full cafe?

Second on my list is an operator who should be better – Cafe Vue at the Tullamarine International Airport Terminal. So rarely have I experienced such disinterested service. My meal was  62° eggs on toast with a side of bacon and 2 lattes. The food was alright, though the eggs lacked the creamy texture I expected and it arrived promptly. I had to interrupt the waitress twice to order and my second coffee order was ignored as she rushed off. But this waitress was not the problem, seemingly she was the only person on the floor willing to actually work.

The other wait staff managed to avoid actually providing service even though I had tried to make eye contact with them a number of times.

And this was all before I tried to pay. Apparently you can’t pay at the table, instead you are forced to stand in line at the mismanaged counter, watch while people skip the line and generally witness a lack of interest and emotion to the people in front of you. All the while hearing the annoyed barista yelling “Coffee service!” every few moments.

For me, it’s a case of failed expectations. An otherwise amazing operator being reduced to the same poor quality as the rest of the airport lounge. What a depressing feeling after leaving, wishing you had eaten at McDonalds because of it’s friendly staff and efficient service.

Which brings me finally to my third case of slightly poor service at a busy time but redeemed by great hospitality. Salford Lads Club is the culprit but it’s hard for me to be mad. We arrived at the worst time possible – 11.30am on a Saturday morning. Our coffee order was taken quickly and our waitress took our order warning us that it was a busy time and that our meals could take a little longer than normal. About the time you would normally expect to eat I was informed that the steak sandwiches were out and that I would have to change my order. It’s annoying and probably should have been told at the time of ordering, but not the end of the world. When our meals did arrive, perhaps 15 minutes later than normal and during my second coffee, the manager who delivered the food apologised profusely and offered it for free.

And free it was. The entire meal. I was a little taken back, the delay warranted nothing but an apology, perhaps knock the coffee off the bill. So I put the $20 I had in my hand in the tip jar and scampered out.

I’ve had enough and it’s time to call it out.

Duchess of Spotswood

It’s a funny place, Melbourne. We say we are open-minded and progressive, yet we are creatures of habit, refusing to leave our suburbs for anything but the most special occasions, drinking at the same coffee shop day-in-day-out and being bemused when someone sits in our seat at the local. In saying that, there’s nothing better than having a reason to leave – to make the trip, not only across the river, but across the Westgate.

And what a reason there is. In an effort to not mince my words, Duchess of Spotswood is off the charts. It’s armed with a combination of amazing food; great coffee; a comforting space; the friendliest staff; and something only it’s “remote” location can explain, a lack of crowds. It’s so good, I saw a house for lease across the road and for more than a fleeting moment considered calling the agent.

Putting your finger on what makes a place tick can is tricky. Though the mere fact that nothing in particular is outstanding is a sure sign of quality. While there is no clear intention, everything works well to provide the illusion of a olden English home. The quiet location, the white-washed walls and the airy and bright space complements perfectly the concept of the menu. The staff are friendly and familiar and take the time to remember you were here last week, even so far as remembering your order.

Of all the highlights though, the food that Chef Andrew Gale is dishing up is the crowning achievement. He has taken a mix of seasonal ingredients (white asparagus), complex flavours (black pudding, and smoked eggs) and some instant crowd pleasers (house special bacon and pork belly) and rolled them into a menu that works for everyone from the everyman to the most conceited food nazi. Add to this a couple of specials and leaving unimpressed simply isn’t an option.

The food is in the style du jour – english. There’s the Duchess of Pork – crispy pork belly with a fried egg and truffle sauce; the lancashire hash – black pudding wrapped in a potato hash, served on a bed of beans with crispy pork neck; field mushrooms and white asparagus toppped with a smoked egg and crispy pork neck; a ploughmans lunch, pickles and cheese. None of this is to mention the specials, like a school prawn salad with toasted quinoa, walnuts and blood orange segments which take seasonal to another level.

Campos Coffee to open in Melbourne

Campos CoffeeCampos Coffee, one of Sydney’s brightest coffee stars is opening a cafe and roastery in Carlton. Opening on the 20th of November, the address is 144 Elgin St. As you would expect, the bar will be decked out with all the usual suspects – a slayer, pour over and syphon.

As a company they appear to be very active at origin, and have been pretty active in the recent Cup of Excellence auctions. The Sydney store has just opened a purpose built cupping room, and there’s certainly a focus there on consumer education. They’ve got an interesting blog that’s well worth a read.

For mine, it will be fascinating to see how a Sydney cafe fares here in Melbourne. My guess is that, our appetite for high quality coffee can certainly accommodate another good coffee shop. It hasn’t been a problem for the 12+ recent openings and I doubt another one will be a problem.

An adventure in breakfast and coffee

There are 2 things that can cure a brain-debilitating hangover and a man with a moustache – coffee and breakfast. So over the West Gate bridge to the amazing Duchess of Spotswood with a chance meeting with the lovely Claire and Em; Discussions of the size of forks and the merits of carrying rum (and moustache wax) in your pocket at all times. I won’t call our side of the meeting scintillating, but it was conversation.

Not to mention the food.

A prawn and quinoa salad; which wasn’t really what I needed – but ordered all the same. Elegant. Balanced. Fresh.

Prawn and Quinoa Salad

For the moustache – the duchess of pork. Toast. Pork Belly. Egg.

Duchess of Pork

And did I mention coffee and the fitout. Both fantastic.

Light Fitting @ DuchessWater CabinetTrestle Table

A quick drive to Collingwood and a rare seat at a quiet Proud Mary. A short Kenyan Chewle by the hand of the enigmatic Kris. In a different style to the vast majority of espresso I have drunk lately. Less acidic, with a lighter mouth-feel. An elegant coffee, which could be enjoyed short by most.

Rosemary sausages. Potato hash, poached egg and bagna cauda. Again – not quite what the doctor wanted, yet highly recommended.

Sausages, hash and bagna cauda

By this stage the staff had realised we were not authorised to be speaking, let alone making decisions and we were handled with care.

A pork belly sandwich with house made relish for the moustache and thankfully he shared. A mouthful of pork and an iced clover set righted the wrongs of the ordering process.

Pork Belly Sandwich

All of this mooching got us thinking about an opium den style coffee shop complete with hammocks, day beds, cushions and sheesha pipes. With French acid jazz on the stereo and ample caffeine.

Lights at Proud Mary

By this stage the level of caffeine was at an all time high, yet the 3 o’clock St Ali ritual hadn’t been fulfilled. A short Nicaragua La Benedicion and a Bloody Mary.

A quick break on the couch and a flight of wine tasting at Richardson St Cellar and a the purchase of a box of German beer.

All in all a very productive and fruitful day. 28 coffees, a lot of shit  flowing from mouths and some amazing food. Don’t worry Duchess of Spotswood. I’ll be back with a better idea of how to be human.

De Clieu, Gertrude St

De ClieuThere’s been a quiet buzz on Twitter about a new Seven Seeds venue opening in Fitzroy. A photo of a door; a few comments by people and
now a few photos on Flickr and a name – De Clieu.

It’s a great name, and perfectly in the theme of the other Seeds venues – a testament to the origins of coffee. Gabriel de Clieu took coffee seeds from the French botanical garden and introduced them to the French colonies – most of which are the primary producers of Arabica today. In many ways the opening of a new venue in Fitzroy is much the same – taking the Seven Seeds brand of coffee away from the mother ship to a suburb almost completely devoid of quality caffeine.

And a brand it is. The execution across the 3 cafes is almost identical and amazingly consistent. Every coffee produced is impeccable in balance, flavour and presentation. De Clieu, on opening day is no exception and with the sharing of staff it is no surprise. There’s a range of single origin’s on offer and brewed in the usual array of methods.

The coffee isn’t the only consistent element. The cake and pastry counter has been cloned from Brother Baba and the menu is similar to that of 7 Seeds in content and presentation. The menu consists of light breakfast food, grilled sandwiches and pizza. Gourmet seems like a poor descriptor – but it is what it is. Seasonal produce; classics with a twist; and interesting combinations are all featured.  There’s great attention to detail in the food, with the little things that make a good sandwich great – a few olives or a pickled gherkin on the side. It’s short, sweet and interesting. There’s no doubt it will change regularly.

The biggest step away from the existing formula is a large area dedicated to retail. Currently the shelves are lightly stocked with a few of the usual suspects – Aeropresses, espresso machine cleaner and a few different beans, but there’s no doubt it will be a great coffee retailer.

It may not sound impressive – a clone of the Carlton cafe with a retail arm. But taking something that works so well in one place and move it to another is no easy feat. For the coffee lover in Fitzroy it’s an absolute gem; on a greater Melbourne scale, it’s not going to be one of my coffee “destinations”.

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