It may not immediately occur to you that you’re nibbling your Californian superfood salad in an environment inspired by a design movement known as tropical modernism. But, in this café named after its founding father, you are. Architect Geoffrey Bawa’s big vision was to break down the barriers between inside and outside; thus, jungle images decorate the walls here and plants perch above the central light fitting, dangling their friendly fronds towards the bustle below. Natural light pours through the full, street-facing windows which, on warmer days, can be opened onto views of Burwood Road and Sofas Direct.
The prime spot is on the platform level. Here timber booths afford the best view of the action that energises this pleasing space whose clientele includes office workers in search of a healthy lunch, chattering families and mums in gym gear grabbing a pre-school-run latte.
The owners’ experience at some of Melbourne’s most popular cafés (Pillar of Salt, Three Bags Full) means they know what works. The menu references health trends, with chia seeds, kale (purple) and quinoa (tri-coloured, even) abounding, and for those who want more substance there’s also fritters, slow-braised pork and lamb shoulder.
The aforementioned superfood salad is a fitspo blogger’s dream. Dark green shredded kale dominates while pops of colour and fun come from charred corn kernels, black beans and puffed rice (which lend a lovely nutty chewiness). For extra protein you can have tuna (tinned, sadly) flaked through, or grilled chicken breast. Lime dressing adds tang and, unsurprisingly, it’s light, luscious and, evidently, nutritious – our waiter said he’d eaten it every day for two weeks and was feeling distinctly bushy of tail. Service here, incidentally, is keen and forthcoming. There’s a charming welcome spiel, an FYI that the lamb shoulder has sold out and a well-timed "is everything OK?"
Our salmon croquettes are fluffy fried capsules of joy with an interesting egg mayonnaise and the cauliflower hash is another smash. Three generously proportioned hash browns surround blobs of the fluffiest whipped ricotta. The hash browns are lightly bronzed on the outside, inside they hold satisfying cauliflower chunks jumbled up with spring onion. A beetroot relish provides piquancy.
Desserts come in the form of baked goods: perhaps a cheeky little caramel slice or a more virtuous pistachio-covered date bliss ball? Pair them with a full-bodied coffee (espresso and filtered) from Dukes or consider the cold options, such as the intriguing coffee, tonic and lime.
Bawa is a lovely café. Breathe in the fresher air and soak up the vitamin D; you’re in safe hands.