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By Concrete Playground
June 29, 2017

Melbourne's Best New Cafes of 2017

The city's very best caffeine-fuelled additions of the year so far.
By Concrete Playground
June 29, 2017


The city's very best caffeine-fuelled additions of the year so far.

A cafe, a roastery, a bakery, eggplant katsu okonimiyaki and Belgian waffle balls — if you pop by Nicholson Street right now, you'll find all that (and a big queue) at one venue. Au79's mammoth 200-seater is just one ambitious cafe to open in Melbourne within the last six months. From South Yarra's all-day eatery doing brunch in the morning and pizza at night, to Fitzroy's new breakfast tapas joint, Melbourne's cafe culture has become somewhat less easily defined than in recent years — in many ways, more dramatic.

With so many openings hitting the city in a six-month period, we whittled it down to our favourite newcomers raising the bar for Melbourne's caffeine scene. Well, our favourites so far — there's still another six months to go.

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    Mr & Mrs Anderson

    Once upon a time, approximately seven years ago, restaurants were basically the only place where chefs could strut their stuff. But there’s since been a shift, which has seen a raft of chefs from fine dining and Michelin-starred restaurants opting to showcase their fanciness during daylight hours within the realms of breakfast and lunch. That’s certainly the case for Lasse “GD” Povlsen. Formerly of Melbourne stalwarts Three Bags FullCumulus Inc., Attica and Cutler & Co, the chef is now on the pans at new Hawthorn East cafe Mr & Mrs Anderson.

    GD enjoys old-school cooking. He’s trained in Danish-French cuisine and loves slow cooking, braising, making terrines and ‘all the old techniques’. He also loves going out foraging, and all these aspects of his trade are reflected in a menu of tasty, real food that celebrates seasonality of produce, much of which is grown on the cafe’s private farm in Gippsland and supplemented by ingredients from local producers. This approach is most noticeable in the vegan crispy celeriac and parsnip polenta dish ($18.50). With sautéed, fresh and pickled mushrooms, peas, celeriac puree and a mushroom and thyme broth, the dish is a collection of flavours and textures that are rich, savoury and soul-filling. A perfect nod to autumn.

    For a beautiful interpretation on a classic winter morning choice, the farm-style porridge is made with soy and almond milk-soaked oats and triticale and served with apple puree, rhubarb, toasted seeds and pistachios. Avocado smash is not forgotten, despite being slightly less European. It does have its own healthy twist though, and is served with raw kale, organic quinoa, fresh radish and cucumber from their paddock and sesame ponzu dressing.

    The all-day menu is aided and abetted by options like a turmeric Szechuan battered fish burger and slow-cooked saltbush lamb shoulder. Coffee is by Hawthorn roasters Axil and alcoholic beverages are apparently on the way.

    The curved wall of windows, wooden tables and the blue tiling combine standard cafe style with a more rustic feel, and make the Mr & Mrs Anderson the perfect spot for a leisurely brunch or just a coffee and pastry while you’re walking the dog. Hawthorn East has scant breakfast options, so if you work or live anywhere near here, this place could improve your life dramatically. If you don’t, well, it’s worth travelling to when you have a morning off.

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    All Are Welcome

    The team at Everyday Coffee is getting into the pastry game, with the opening of a brand new bakery cafe on High Street in Northcote. The invitingly named All Are Welcome is a collaborative effort between Everyday’s Mark Free and Aaron Maxwell, and Californian baker and pastry chef Boris Portnoy. Carbs and caffeine? Sounds damn good to us.

    Just don’t expect anything half-arsed or run-of-the-mill. Portnoy has crafted a menu packed to the brim with lesser-known baked-goods, including medovnik (Czech honey cakes), ensaïmada (Spanish spiral pastries) and khachapuri (a savoury cheesy bread from the Republic of Georgia). This is in addition to a number of tarts and tartines, and sourdough, rye and heritage grain breads.

    The pastries are paired with Everday’s menu of espresso and batch brewed coffees. They’re selling a wide range of roasted coffee and brewing accessories, along with cheeses, chutneys, pickles and house-made preserves straight from the All Are Welcome larder.

    Located directly opposite Northcote Town Hall, All Are Welcome is housed in what was once a Christian Science Reading room, which Portnoy says has influenced the décor.

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    Nomada Cafe y Tapas

    Tapas may not be your go-to for breakfast, but that will change once you visit Nomada Café y Tapas in Fitzroy. Housed in what was formerly home to Hammer and Tong, the newly-opened cafe comes from the super crew of Jesse Gerner (owner at BombaAnadaGreen Park and Samuel Pepys), Michael Burr (Bomba), Jesse McTavish, Greg McFarland (both ex-The Kettle Black) and Shane Barrett.

    Any thought of morning chill, the day ahead or what Donald Trump might do next is banished once you step over the threshold into the cosiness of the refurbished interior. Think the Spanish villa you’ve been ogling on Airbnb — lots of wooden bric à brac (well, okay, rolling pins), large old-school fishing net lightshades and fluffy alpaca skins slung over the backs of the long bench seat that runs along the window. Shelves bear a collection of plants, Spanish glass bottles and pottery, and Burr’s laidback playlist hums in the background.

    But back to the clacked egg. Just so you can bring this up next time you’re in erudite company and need an edge, a clack is a tool that perfectly takes the top off an egg without damaging the rest of it. At Nomada, once clacked, the egg is removed and made into a rich hollandaise with a little mushroom powder, sweet corn, potato and jamón. Then the mixture is poured back in to the egg shell and served perched on burnt hay. The presentation, aroma and beautiful mouthful of umami flavour makes this a little soul-filling treat — especially at breakfast.

    Coal-blistered tomatoes with sherry, scattered herbs and a flurry of Manchego pair well with house sourdough and house-made butter, with the plump little cherry tomatoes offering a burst of juicy flavour. Otherwise, the menu offers a selection of tapas dishes at $5, $9, $15 and $19 so you can put together your own breakfast of Spanish delights, amongst them, house-cured anchovies, salted blue eye croquetas and sweet pumpkin porridge. If it’s closer to lunchtime, something like the Angus hanger sandwich might offer a more hearty option.

    It’s not a Spanish breakfast without churros and these babies are the real deal: super light and crunchy with just the perfect amount of cinnamon sugar and melted chocolate. They’re made even sweeter by the fact that you can eat them before midday.

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    On a sunny Chapel Street corner, Abacus has managed to nail that all-day eatery vibe that often proves so elusive; its lofty, leafy space is bright and charming by the light of day, and manages to be cosy enough to make the dinnertime crowd feel right at home. What’s on offer is a farm-to-fork experience that’s steeped in seasonality, locality and isn’t afraid to test out a little technique. The kitchen mills its own flour and even keeps its own bees.

    By day, that all translates to a menu of bright and innovative brunch fare that pushes the envelope way beyond the usual smashed avo and corn fritters, into a place of olive dust-topped scrambled eggs and croquettes teamed with smoked almond butter. There’s Padre coffee — done well, mind you — though you won’t need much more encouragement than those sparkling surrounds to steer towards one of the breakfast cocktails. By night, a lineup of contemporary pizzas and elegant share plates play rather nicely with couple of wines or cocktails, from a smart, largely local drinks list. Somewhere in the middle? Nab yourself a knock-off and some real estate by the sliding floor-to-ceiling windows, and you’ve got a front-row seat to some of the best people-watching South Yarra has to offer.

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    Au79 is the symbol (and atomic number) for gold on the periodic table, and it’s the name of Abbotsford’s new cafe. When you name your cafe after such a covetable metal, you’re making quite the statement — and the team behind this ambitious eatery have certainly gone for gold in every aspect of its production. It makes sense; owners Maggie Li and Julia Hou have a trail of café experience between them, with a pedigree that includes Addict Food and CoffeeSir CharlesLiar Liar and Prospect Espresso.

    Au79 is bigger than Ben Hur. You walk in the door and it just goes back and back, and then it goes back some more. Previously an auto mechanic’s garage, the 200-seat space has been radically transformed by Mim Design and now feels more like a large-scale conservatory or botanical garden fern house — it’s loft and bright and filled with greenery. Despite its size, it isn’t overly loud and conversation doesn’t compete with the excellent playlist coming from the well-placed Sonos sound system.

    Executive chef Stephen Hogan worked closely with his kitchen crew to create a menu that reflects his imaginative approach to food. Hogan likes to take techniques and dishes we might be familiar with and then adds a twist; his dishes get eyebrow-raising responses. Au79’s take on okonomiyaki (those Japanese savoury pancakes) strays from traditional renditions and presents more like an oversized vegetable fritter, but the addition of eggplant katsu gives the dish its own modern charm, as does the umami of the yuzu mayo ($18). Other dishes include Belgian waffle balls, roasted cauliflower smash and smoked bonito croquettes with charred corn salsa.

    The team behind AU79 has clearly planned every detail of this mini village cafe. Neighbourhood cafes — and, more pertinently, good neighbourhood cafes — require an essential gold ingredient to survive, and that is damn good hospitality (with all that that the term encompasses). From a true welcome as you walk in, through to the setting, the produce and the food, Au79 has that substance in spades.

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