Cafes and Restaurants » 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.You should follow me on Twitter.
There is this concept in Japanese cooking that a piece of food on a plain plate is naked – an insult to the food. This is why sushi is always served on beautiful ceramics. It’s an oft forgotten idea – that the plate is as much a part of the meal as the food. We eat with our eyes so why not focus more on the crockery.
Padre Coffee in the South Melbourne Market (and I assume the East Brunswick store) haven’t forgotten. They are serving their coffees on the most beautiful hand-made ceramics. They are made by Karen Ho; a regular at the East Brunswick store; at the Carlton Arts Center. For such a simple thing, they add an amazing warmth to the coffee – something that no machine or bean can reproduce.You should follow me on Twitter.
It seems a new cafe, “Freestyle Espresso” is opening on Union St in South Melbourne. It is in the old Peter Watson shop and with a new sign and a few fliers in the window describing “Food, glorious food, coffee… Yeh… Really good coffee, gourmet pastries + delights takeaway deliciousness, sweet things + surrrrrprises to come”
Looks good, I’m excited to see somewhere new opening in what is already a crowded space. It will also be interesting to see who supplies the coffee. Most of the 3rd Wave roasters are represented in a 2 block radius of this place. I’m betting on Coffee Supreme.
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There’s very few things that can draw you in like a smell. The scent of cooking onions on the barbecue; fresh bread from the oven; or in this case the sweet smell of coffee roasting wafting out over Clarendon St. That smell marks the beginning of the end. The end of the Aching Head, the end of the nausea and the best way to start the morning after.
You see, coffee is right up there at the top of the list of the best hangover cures (2nd in fact, just after the hair of the dog) and that smell comes from one of the best coffee houses in Melbourne. It isn’t just crazy South Melbourne colloquialism it really is. St Ali has been leading the specialty coffee charge for years and though the recent crop of coffee shops are raising the bar St Ali still holds it’s own. The consistency of the coffee they serve each day is unparalleled even in the face of massive take-away lines and packed dining toom.
They are also leading the charge with their use of the Internet and social media, their blog, website and Twitter accounts are great examples of how a cafe can be a part of the online community, but still maintain their own voice.
To some extent St Ali is exporting their innovation elsewhere. St Ali at Home, Atlis (their dinner restaurant), Sensory Lab, Outpost and the recent laneway festival are all initiatives that you don’t notice when you drop in for a latte, but each of these is at the edge of coffee revolution. Even so, the cafe seems to have lost the anxious feeling of trying an exciting new bean or blend that you get elsewhere. Yet, St Ali keeps on keeping on. The range of coffee available is limited to one single origin on siphon, one single origin on espresso and the underrated St Ali espresso blend.
All the single origin espresso is made through the handmade creation known as Slayer. That may sound like a nickname – it isn’t. It’s the handmade, artisanal espresso machine from Seattle that helps create some of the nicest, freshest espresso you are likely to taste. Normally the single-origin coffee of the day is the only coffee made through the slayer, but if you are interested and if it isn’t too busy the barista will probably pull you a regular espresso shot through it. It is certainly worth the trouble to ask, even for educational purposes.
While the coffee may be on a plateau of sorts, the food is going from strength to strength. Having recently started serving dinner with their latest concept “Atlis” it would be easy to think the quality of the day shift may falter. But the food still maintains the unique style of chef Ben Cooper, the lite cafe-style food is accentuated with syrups and reductions. It is an approach that doesn’t take away from the easygoing nature of the establishment, but sets the food apart from the rank and file.
Unfortunately St Ali is my regular coffee shop and I don’t seem to have as many photos as I thought, but I’ve got a few and the menu changes reasonably regularly.
I really wish I could remember what the rest of this dish was. It was scrambled eggs and avocado served with the most amazing molasses based syrup. The sharp zing of that syrup had me licking my plate.
This is “My Mexican Cousin”, grilled Haloumi, poached eggs on a fried corn fritter. The poached eggs self sauce the corn fritter and the wonderful saltiness of the Haloumi tops it off perfectly.
There has been a massive amount of buzz since Dead Man Espresso opened on Market St in South Melbourne. There is a lot to love about this cafe, especially the staff and the coffee. But I’m in 2 minds about the menu. There are 2 menus, a reasonably limited brunch menu, served till 12 each weekday and all day on weekends and a lunch menu, served from 12 till 3 each week day. There is a bit of overlap between the 2, but the lunch menu is definitely a bit more diverse. Sadly, I only just realised it existed as it’s normally a weekend haunt. I’ll have to rectify that.
With the exception of the omelette of the day, the food is not your typical cafe fare. The menu is technical and refined and although each item is interesting, they aren’t long lived. Let me clarify, I’ve tried most of the brunch menu and feel as though I’ve exhausted all the options and unless the menu changes, probably won’t return for the food on the weekend. Thankfully, it seems like the lunch menu will keep me going for a little while longer.
There is no such problem with the coffee. There are 2 options for espresso, the Dead Man blend and the 7 Seeds blend. The Dead Man blend is super smooth, slightly sweet with a bit of berry coming through and the 7 Seeds blend is a much darker, regular style espresso blend.
Most of the single origins are sourced from 7 Seeds but the also regularly have guest appearances from Market Lane and Coffee Supreme. These coffees are available only as pour-over, but I suspect with a little cajoling the barista would pull them through the Synesso. This makes for a great range and doesn’t disappoint. The stand out is the Panama Esmeralda Geisha, this was the best coffee I’ve had for weeks. It had a full palate and a ridiculously oily texture with flavours of honeycomb and dark chocolate.
In a city where every coffee fiend is talking about the Slayer and ordering single-origin siphons, the focus on pour over is refreshing. It is a far more subtle style of coffee, with a very gentle texture which helps to highlight the subtle flavours of the beans. I think pour-over and siphons are the perfect way for people new to non-milk coffee to cut their teeth.
This is the sourdough, smoked salmon, avocado, mimolette and grapefruit salsa and a confit tomato. Sadly I didn’t get to taste this but I was assured it was amazing. The confit tomatoes are out of this world. It’s hard to describe but they have a beautifully fragrant flavour while still tasting like tomato.
The brioche french toast with grilled pineapple, bacon and sesame seed caramel (I added a confit tomato). This is possible the richest dish I have ever tasted. The caramel is dark, and quite acidic but works really well with the grilled pineapple and the bacon.
This is the deconstructed BLT. Pork belly and spinach puree on brioche with gazpacho. As with most dishes this is quite rich and very flavoursome. I’m not convinced pork belly belongs on a sandwich, I think it kind of hides the amazingness of the cut of meat and to some extent this deconstruction removed some of the great texture of a regular BLT. It is a really interesting take though and I would definitely recommend it.
Panzanella with pesto, smoked paprika sausages and poach eggs. This is an amazing dish, the bread has been lightly soaked in a light olive oil and slicing into the egg self sauces the salad. This is the star performer.
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If it was possible, coffee in South Melbourne has just taken a step forward. East Brunswick’s Padre Coffee has opened a small store in the middle of the South Melbourne market. The fitout is spartan, polished concrete floor, a recycled timber counter and small Ikea-style stools around low tables are scattered around the store and into the market walkway. This cluttered, almost-messy feel meshes well with the hussle and bussel vibe of the market.
The tiny shop doesn’t leave you in doubt as to what the focus is. 5 Mazzer grinders, 2 Synesso’s (1 manual, 1 automatic) and a wall full of beans and coffee equipment for sale leave little room for any confusion. There is no pretense or wankery, just a shop serious about coffee.
The long black I had in the first week of opening was very dark and over-bitter, the follow-up latte was rich and creamy. Today’s Ethiopian Yirgacheffe latte was uncharacteristically dirty and had a lot of head but was very enjoyable. I suspect that some of the staff may be new and aren’t necessarily up to speed. It is early days and if reports of the Brunswick East Project are anything to go by the coffee will be consistently amazing very soon.Twitter.
The Middle Park Hotel has been refurbished, rebranded and reinvigorated. So they would have you believe. This ex-brewery, ex-party, ex-neighbourhood pub is the latest gastropub in town and the food is getting rave reviews. People are over the top with the quality of the food that chef Paul Wilson is producing and they are right, the quality of the food is great. Perfectly executed.
But what are they doing? The hotel is trying to be everything to everyone. It has an amazing feature-piece bar which dominates the room and a wine and booze list to match. The architecture is startling, built with beautiful dark wood, it even has a custom printed carpet with the hotel’s emblem. The collection of sporting paraphernalia adorning the walls is pretty impressive. Robbie McEwen’s signed green jersey, a Victor Trumper bat and a variety of panoramic photos, rugby jerseys and old, long-irrelevant highschool awards boards. I suppose it is left over from the days of the Gunn Island.
This strikes me as a hotel built by committee. Take 1 hotel owner who loves his sport and owns a great piece of real estate, add an investor who loves architecture and thinks an interior design makes or breaks a venue and top it all off with an awesome English chef who loves eating and cooking offal. The result is a superb restaurant with a statement on the first page of the menu that they love everything to do with sport and that the Spring Racing carnival will be played on all screens throughout the establishment. This is exactly what the discerning diner wants, the sound of people cheering on the boxing match (advertised on a letter-board out the front) while they are enjoying their offal salad.
The confusion doesn’t stop there. The menu doesn’t know what season it is. The pub has outside dining for close to 50 patrons, perfect to take advantage of the hot, upcoming summer, yet the menu consists of mostly heavy, winter style meals. Offal, roast chicken, lamb chops, pork chops and the “coming soon” roasts of rare animals are not the sort of meal to eat in 35 degree weather.
Nor have they quite grasped the concept of a bar menu. There are 2 menus, a restaurant and a bar menu, yet both can be ordered throughout the hotel but only is their any sort of service at the restaurant tables. Order your meal, explain to the bartender which of the 20 outdoor tables you are sitting at and you receive a box of cutlery, napkins, salt and pepper. With the quality of the food and the price of a meal, I expect a far higher level of service. Perhaps these may be teething problems, but the obvious solution is to only allow the restaurant menu to be ordered from the restaurant where the extremely good waitstaff can handle everything.
You see, the problem is that this pub could be so much more. The critics will love the food and the people of Middle Park are crying out for a place, any place to drink. But this hotel, even with it’s free wifi, superstar chef, and extensive wine and scotch list just isn’t going to be the haunt of the wealthy 55 year old BMW driving residents of Middle Park.