Square and Compass

Restaurants East Melbourne
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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East Melbourne: where you go to get your ears and eyes fixed. Now you can get your caffeine fix, too

Don’t visit Square and Compass early on a midweek morning if you’re squeamish. This East Melbourne café in the heart of hospital-land is a magnet for doctors and surgeons – conversational hazards include intense neuroscience chat and lines like “mop the patients up”. After 10am, the rush subsides and you’re less likely to hear something grisly.

The café’s decor is minimal to the point of clinical, too: it’s an uncluttered space set in a beautiful Victorian terrace house with a stained-glass period window, pale walls hung with mirrors, and exposed filament bulbs. You could call it anaesthetic chic – we can think of worse places to have an appendectomy over brunch.

It’s loud and buzzing when we pop by, and the Compass hasn’t quite found its navigation yet: service is a bit erratic – we’re left waiting so long for a menu, we grab our own, and we feel forgotten about a few times – and mid-way through our breakfast, there’s the crash and clatter of dropped plates.

No need to reach for the life support machine just yet. Square and Compass is in safe hands: Kael Sahely (co-owner of Northcote fave, Barry, plus Pillar of Salt and Touchwood) is running things alongside Matthew Stribley (ex-Porgie & Mr Jones) and Barry’s former chef, Jeremy Fraser.

Old-school meets new school on the menu, where omelettes and tarts rub shoulders with en vogue lobster, poached and served in a roll with sriracha mayo, green papaya, coriander and lime. Barry fans will recognise some Northcote menu exports: salt-and-pepper peanuts with peanut-butter toast, and Californian superfood salad, for example.

Our omelette arrives in a buttery gold twist, with a heap of glossy leaves and a scattering of hazelnut gravel. Inside its airy curls, there are earthy little hefts of mushroom and ribbons of smoky chargrilled leek. Egg plus mushroom plus leek makes for a trio of gentle flavours that could do with a kick – we can’t help longing for some heat-packing chorizo or salty Fontina. (There’s pecorino, but we'd like a lot more of it.) Thankfully, the salad’s aggro vinegary dressing punches things up a bit.

A pretty, petal-scattered plate of waffles with strawberry and rhubarb compote is more successful, thanks to crisp brandy snaps (biscuits for breakfast!) and the spicy depth of the stewed fruit. Strawberries and rhubarb are excellent bedfellows, the sweetness of one lending itself to the tartness of the other and resulting in a super-fruity medley. Dip your brandy snaps in the generous quenelle of vanilla-flecked cream and spoon on some of that rose-pink fruit compote, topped with a fat blueberry or two.

Props for the excellent Seven Seeds and Promised Land coffee, too: we sink two lattes in short succession and leave on a caffeine buzz that lasts all day. No wonder a small army of suited and scrubs-clad workers continuously file in for takeaway drinks during our stint.

Our diagnosis: Square and Compass is young and a bit clumsy at present, but it should have a long and healthy future ahead of it.

By: Sarah Jappy


Venue name: Square and Compass
Address: 222 Clarendon Street
East Melbourne
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 6.30am-4pm; Sat-Sun 8am-3.30pm

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