Anyone who makes it acceptable to eat pudding for breakfast is okay by me, which is precisely why Twenty & Six Espresso have me here before 9am on a crisp, fingertip-freezing Melbourne morning. The lines are blurred as to whether black sticky rice is technically a breakfast food or a dessert, but it's best not to ask questions — particularly when it tastes this good. There's no chill in here, especially after you've popped a few spoonfuls of the warm, creamy, sugary coconut milk concoction into your mouth. This dish is a staple for Twenty & Six and — after a brief hiatus — it's back on the menu topped with lychee, pear, toasted coconut and a sesame snap ($15).
But rice pudding isn't the only thing that keeps people coming to this North Melbourne cafe, now over two years since opening. Amongst other things, there are the personable owners (Nedim and Madja), the excellent coffee (Seven Seeds and a rotating weekly blend) and an inventive menu in that rivals — if not surpasses — Auction Rooms around the corner.
The Queensberry Street shopfront is small, but the most is made of the space with a minimal design, and a striking use of storage. Wooden crates affixed to the wall hold back issues of Dumbo Feather; tables for two are divided by hanging exposed lights. It's nice and light and, as you might expect, it's hard to get a table on the weekend — particularly one of the coveted spots in their quaint, sunny courtyard out back.
The menu is excruciatingly hard to choose from, which, considering how small it actually is, is a good indicator of the quality of the food. The apricot, coconut and fig granola with poached quince ($12) is made in-house and, if you know your muesli, it's certainly worth a try. Braised mushrooms, asparagus, ricotta, salsa verde and a poached egg sit atop a crisp beacon of fried polenta ($18), and makes for a perfect blend of produce for breakfast or lunch. After something super sweet? Go for the apple and rhubarb brioche French toast with house made honeycomb parfait and vanilla labne ($17).
Both sweet and savoury are toyed with at Twenty & Six, so whether you're into to rice pudding or polenta for breakfast (or not), you'll still have plenty of options — choosing will be your only dilemma.