Sometimes you just need to start your morning with a stack of fluffy pancakes, a greasy cheeseburger, a side of crispy bacon and a chocolate milkshake. Because you know, balance. And when that’s all served up alongside a retro-chic, old-school diner fitout with a welcoming service you’re not left wanting much more.
Operator Diner, nestled in the dynamic Wesley Place development opposite Caretaker’s Cottage (one of our city's great bars), is bringing something different and exciting to the Melbourne café scene. The team from Operator25 takes us on a journey with this new venue, not only to the US of A, but also back in time, to the good ol’ days of jukebox-playing, pie-slinging, neon-lit diners. A considered design by architects We Are Humble, which brings brown-leather banquettes, cafeteria-style chairs, and orange and yellow '70s sunshine tones to life, manages to achieve a playful and charming atmosphere that doesn’t feel gimmicky or overdone.
On weekday mornings, the café bustles with office workers lining up for a takeaway coffee and breakfast roll or a chocolate hazelnut croissant (from AM Bakehouse in Glen Iris). By the time the weekend rolls around, crowds arrive looking for a hangover cure, and to share stacks of pancakes with Nutella sauce, cookie crumbs and vanilla ice cream.
The breakfast menu runs all day and puts diners in a pickle trying to choose between French toast with cinnamon and maple syrup or a triple-cheese grilled sandwich served alongside a tomato dipping sauce.
From 10.30am, the sandwiches make an appearance, and they certainly aren’t shy. The 'Katsu Kick' with fried chicken and Japanese curry mayo is a crowd favourite, as is the 'Bun in a Million' with a beefy patty, American cheese, mustard and pickles served on a potato bun.
An English muffin, crusted in a signature polenta crumb that provides welcome texture, is jam-packed with fluffy scrambled eggs, smashed avocado, American cheese and what tastes like a tangy Caesar dressing (but is described as parmesan sauce on the menu). Don’t be fooled by its compact size, this bad boy is rich, cheesy and fatty, and may slow you down on a Monday morning. The sausage and bacon iterations are amped-up with bacon chutney.
It feels wrong not to enjoy a little brekky dessert at Operator Diner. The buttermilk pancakes come stacked three levels high with a melting disc of maple pecan-studded butter and golden syrup on the side for liberal application. With their gloriously crispy edges and fluffy, cake-like interior, they do just the trick.
And a hot tip: always order a couple of crunchy, salty hash browns on the side – they go just as well alongside a porchetta roll with pickled onions, as they do with the custardy French toast as an antidote to the sweetness.
In today’s often serious and competitive hospitality landscape, it's refreshing to see a place bringing back a level of light-heartedness and child-like joy to the experience of dining out. Operator Diner reminds us that a meal doesn’t have to be taken too seriously: it's liberating and gratifying to savour the leftover sweet stickiness of maple syrup on your fingers and laugh at the mustard stain caused by an overflowing hotdog.
Sometimes, food is wonderful simply because it is sugary and rich, chocolatey and creamy, and golden and deep-fried.