Melbourne hospitality royalty the Mulberry Group knows that a successful café doesn’t just mean good food and coffee – it’s all about location, location, location. The group’s head honcho Nathan Toleman founded the Kettle Black in a Victorian terrace in South Melbourne, with a décor accented by pale timber and lots of plants, and Higher Ground in a heritage-listed former powerhouse with a dramatic 15-metre ceiling in the CBD, selling both in 2018. For his next trick, Toleman has opened a café-cum-wine shop in the foyer of the T&G building at the Paris end of Collins Street.
The insides match the elegant outsides. The theme is Art Deco – think curvy chartreuse banquettes, white marble-top tables, slate-coloured concrete, minimalist Scandi furniture – and the vibe is moneyed powerbrokers. In the AM, legal eagles muffle details about their latest cases over strong lattes made using beans from Square One Coffee Roasters. In the PM, human resource executives pep up thanks to smoothies, gut-friendly pear and fermented strawberry juices, or house-made blood orange, honey and thyme sodas. In the (later) PM, CEOs roar with the sweet sound of success over a bottle of 2017 Vidal Reserve chardonnay or 2018 Bass River 1835 pinot noir. The wine list of mostly Victorian drops, with a few New Zealand and European producers thrown in the mix, hovers under the $60-per-bottle mark despite the cashed-up clientele. Pick up a bottle from the wine shop to take the party home.
When Liminal opened in April, executive chef Martin Webster (ex-Montalto and Jackalope Hotels) was at the helm, creating a menu that honours Toleman’s penchant for refined café fare (Webster has since left, with Sue Hutchins taking over). But unfortunately, what sounds great on paper sometimes comes short on flavour in real life. For breakfast (7–11am), egg aficionados can order the obligatory eggs Benedict or an omelette studded with kale grown at the Common Ground Project, a café and farm in Freshwater Creek owned by the Mulberry Group, topped with pools of mozzarella and plenty of mildly spicy Calabrian chilli. A mound of greens and seeded toast from Zeally Bay completes a breakfast that’s satisfying but seems to lack any pizzazz. We ordered a side of mushrooms – although juicy and meaty, to us they tasted unseasoned, and the tiny serving cost a hefty $6. Other options stretch from porridge to hotcakes to avo on toast (made interesting with a sprinkle of furikake and a drizzle of finger lime) to a breakfast bowl that gets a big tick for your #wellnessgoals.
At lunchtime (11am–3pm), you can go one of two ways: protein and veggies or carbs. Plates come with your choice of a quarter juicy, well-seasoned rotisserie chicken, rotisserie Meatsmith porchetta or fish of the day and salad. Perhaps it’s a superfood number with cauliflower, radicchio, spinach, barley, caramelised onion and currants, or a comforting chickpea, pumpkin and spinach salad made creamy and herby with house-made pesto and feta. The majority of the menu, however, concentrates on sandwiches. There’s a nostalgia-inducing hot chicken roll with that same shredded rotisserie chicken – with bits of skin adding crunchy gratification – jammed in a white bread roll. The accompanying gravy is sadly on the watery side and saturates our uber-soft bread to the point of sogginess. A better choice is a Turkish pita, in which thick slabs of grilled Meatsmith mortadella collide with house-made hot and sour pickles, smoky brown butter sauce and radicchio – packing plenty of meaty, briny punch (it’s also available for breakfast).
You can get any of the proteins or salads separately and also anything on the menu to take away. The busy front counter dispenses coffees at lighting pace and has a fridge filled with grab ’n’ go options like the daily salads and white anchovy, mozzarella and sage toasties. Suits don’t like to wait, and they don’t have to at this lavish space, which despite a few niggles, is a promising addition to CBD’s hospitality stable.