Best cafés in Melbourne - CBD
Higher Ground is hot. The big café-restaurant, from the team behind Top Paddock and Kettle Black, is incredibly ambitious. With 130 seats across three levels, 16 chefs who can put Pope Joan, Supernormal and Jacques Reymond on their CVs, and a squad of smart, unflappable wait staff, Higher Ground is taking breakfast, lunch and dinner to vertiginous new heights.
Chefs Kirsty Chiaplias and Ismail Tosun (formerly of the Workers’ Food Room and Gigibaba respectively) have teamed up to open a café serving modern Turkish fare and they’re cooking some seriously delicious eats out of their tiny open kitchen. They make everything from scratch, in-house, and all the action is visible from the 20-odd seats inside.
Au79 stands for gold on the periodic table and it’s also the name of an ambitious new café in Abbotsford that boasts an onsite bakery, coffee roaster and mini retail space selling sweet treats and coffee. The CCC Group (who manage Sir Charles, Addict Food & Coffee, Liar Liar and Prospect Espresso) have converted a motor garage into an absolute humdinger of a café.
Hole-in-the-wall charm does not mean sub-par coffee. They’re using the Pony blend from Clement (of the Sensory Lab, Market Lane and ST ALi family) so you’re guaranteed a milk coffee with a caramel apple flavour. All black coffees are made with a Sensory Lab single origin, and the busy baristas are happy to run you through the tasting notes of whatever’s on offer. Despite the constant queue, the team at Tom Thumb are always smiling.
The string of eateries that line Domain Road as it skirts the perimeter of the Tan, Melbourne’s premier walking and jogging arena, offer excellent options for the fit and the fabulous to refuel. A recent addition to the cluster is Gilson, courtesy of Jamie and Loren McBride, who brought us cafes Mammoth and Barry. Early Saturday morning sees the place abuzz. Runners high on endorphins rip into poached eggs while parents plead with toddlers.
Jason M Jones, owner of cafes such as Friends of Mine and Porgie and Mr Jones, has opened his latest venture in a quiet Eltham backstreet. Inner-city faint-hearts may gasp at its remoteness, but Second Home is really just a shortish canter down the Eastern Freeway, and what awaits the intrepid traveller more than justifies the journey. The menu is approachable and exerts enough temptation to make you wonder if the place would have been more appropriately christened Second Stomach.
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.
Oasis Bakery, a three-in-one bakery, café and supermarket deep in suburban Murrumbeena, has become a bit of cult foodie destination. It celebrated its 18th anniversary in 2016 and marked its coming of age with a renovation that transformed the suburban shop into a one-stop-shop modern Middle Eastern open air marketplace, known as a souq.
Neighbouring Hash Speciality Coffee and Hardware Société on Hardware Lane, the luxe White Mojo is yet another café with ‘Instagram darling’ enshrined in its DNA. There’s the black bejewelled cow’s head on the wall and the Scandi-cool hexagon tiles and timber features, but make no mistake – you’re here for the café’s signature (and very photogenic) dish, the croissant burger.
Gluten-free bagels that don’t suck. If that’s not enough to send the coeliacs, gluten-intolerant and fructose-intolerant among us racing to Market on Malvern, we don’t know what will. But that’s not the only thing Prahran’s latest café prides itself on. They’ve got FODMAP-friendly smoothies and four non-dairy alternatives to go with their Allpress coffee (soy, almond, rice and coconut milk). There’s also gluten-free red velvet pancakes and vegan pho.
The menu at this Armadale café is very much of the moment, steering café classics in some intriguing directions: the pancakes are lamington-flavoured, a bagel is scented with lavender and there’s duck sausage with your eggs Benedict. This creativity produces unexpected delights, such as the premium drawcard, the lobster donut burger. Those three words may not usually combine into a recipe for deliciousness, but at Mammoth they pull it off.
When the 18th-century English aristocrat John Montagu, aka the 4th Earl of Sandwich, started the trend of eating meat tucked between bread, he could never have envisioned how far the humble sandwich would come. Now we have Hector’s Deli, a new café in Richmond dedicated to sandwiches – classic combinations made with high-quality ingredients and decked out with extra flourishes. The menu offers six options (three available from 7.30am and three from 11am) and that’s about it. No eggs. No fancy plating. No cutlery.
Co-owners Bevereux and Bremner initially got the ball rolling for the egg-based café after seeing how much people loved their bacon and egg roll special at their other venture together, Balaclava alleyway café Wall Two 80. Sparsely decorated, the 30-seater South Melbourne venue features bright splashes of yellow in case you forget that you’re there for the eggs, and the outdoor seating is terrific on a warm day.
At 9am on a Tuesday morning St Ali South is pumping like it’s spring break. Between the business chatter and weekend debriefs, the espresso machine, roaster and kitchen cacophony meshes with Mark Morrison’s Return of the Mac, Angel by Massive Attack and some East Coast hip hop care of Mobb Deep. It’s a hell of a soundtrack to your morning. St Ali on Yarra Place was one of the original café-roasteries back before everyone was taking the DIY approach to coffee beans. And the upmarket warehouse space looks much as it always has – big tables and industrial coffee paraphernalia everywhere.
For caffeine fiends who grew up on a steady diet of Seinfeld, the bottomless cups of coffee poured in American diners seemed like the Holy Grail of refreshments. Now, those bean dreams have been answered by Kelso’s Sandwich Shoppe in Abbotsford, where you can sit on your ceramic mug of filter brew from 10.30am until late. An endless stream of the rich, chocolate-accented Coffee Supreme house blend is just one reason to visit this casual eatery.
Sugar might be the latest dietary villain, but we’re not the only ones barracking for the bad guy in Spotswood’s sleepy neighbourhood shopping strip. Candied Bakery’s siren song pulls serious crowds to this Aussie bakery with an American twist. Marshmallow choc chip cookies, hot dogs and shakes are a salute to the red, white and blue; lamingtons and sausage rolls may as well be wearing a Southern Cross tattoo they’re so flamin’ Australian; and the croissants, and fresh pancetta and provolone-stuffed panini, are a gap year in Europe for your lunch hour.
This blazing bright Northcote café vibrates with freshness and pep – from the soaring white walls stacked with potted grasses to the power breakfasts packing kale. Health food here is a party, not a penance. This is the handiwork of industry family Loren, Kael and Matt Sahely from Pillar of Salt, and you can tell they’ve spent the past couple of years figuring out what people want for breakfast.
We all know that job hunting is tough. How much tougher, then, when you’re a refugee on a temporary visa and with less-than-perfect English? Eager to do something to address the daunting inequalities that face such people, Jane and François Marx decided to open a café where they could employ and train refugees. Thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign, the pair opened their social enterprise venture, Long Street Coffee.
We know what the name of this café might look like to you, so let’s clear up a few things first. Smäk means ‘to taste’ or ‘to savour’ in Norwegian, and while owners Tom Fissenden and Callum Ellis hail from Geelong, they’ve clearly taken cues from the Scandinavian nations in designing their health-conscious menu – not to mention the space itself. The South Yarra café wouldn’t look out of place in a design magazine; it’s all grey concrete, clean lines and blonde timber, lit throughout with minimalist pendant lighting.
Like an eager kid sister keen to hang out with the cool crowd, the Kettle Black aims to match – if not outshine – Top Paddock and Two Birds One Stone, her overachieving older siblings in Richmond and South Yarra. The setting is a clever mix of old and new, spread across a chichi Victorian terrace house and the ground floor of a shiny apartment complex in South Melbourne.
You may recognise Top Paddock as the café that never fails to grace your Instagram feeds every weekend. The big brother café to Kettle Black, this stylish Richmond brunch spot is often frequented by the pilates brigade, but is also a great pit stop if your morning – or night before – has been less salubrious. Get the self-titled Top Paddock: a chorizo, bacon, green tomatoes, and poached eggs number on toast and you'll be right as rain.
Industry Beans is a roastery-come-café by the Penny Farthing dudes. It’s situated behind Rose Street Artists' Markets and next to a boot camp studio, and they’re as serious about coffee here as Captain Pain next door is about a regulation push up. Attentive staff hand you your bible as soon as you take your seat: a fifteen-page coffee menu featuring single origins from as far afield as Honduras, El Salvador and Burundi.
Go West’s interior promotes calm, with pine timber floors, wraparound banquette seating and refreshing nautical blue tones. The menu (ranging from $5 for simple pastries to $22 for the parma) will be familiar to those who have frequented his establishments, and this is a good thing. From the ‘cheesy toast’ with béchamel sauce, egg breakfasts, more healthsome quince porridge and acai bowl to the substantial lunches (macaroni cheese, lamb gnocchi), this is comfort food poshed up and done well.
As befits a vegan, health-conscious café, Matcha Milkbar's menu is full of green things, and we don't just mean vegetables. They've got green kale smoothies, green veggie burger buns, green pancakes and green matcha lattes. Soak in the health radiating off the plates and make sure you try the vegan eggs. It's a work of sorcery.
They set a pretty utopian scene at Hawthorn Common. In the huge, glistening white tiled café bread is being baked, coffee is being roasted and kale is being blitzed into verdant green smoothies. It’s so nice in fact, we half expect someone to try and indoctrinate us into a cult over eggs, but the only agenda being pushed here is one of direct-sourced everything from coffee beans to quinoa, crafted into fresh and punchy health food with plenty of bacon and booze on the side – and that’s something we’re on board with already.
So, you could stomp around South Melbourne Market, haggling for your five-dailies, or you could sit down at Shop 13-14 in the food hall and sink your teeth into a juicy Proper & Son roast roll instead. Opt for the signature brisket roll. A brioche bun stuffed generously with meltingly soft Wagyu brisket. Mustard mayo, radish, red cabbage, red sorrel, white onion and a side of pickles counteract the meat's richness. This is not a pretty thing to eat: bits and bobs will fall from the bun and brisket juice will spill onto the steel plate – embrace that.
Lots of natural light, large wooden tables and menus written on blackboards all work to give Sun Moth Canteen and Bar a relaxed, rustic vibe. It helps that it’s a big space tucked away from the main roads – it never feels crowded, even during the lunchtime rush, which is no small feat given the attractive powers of good coffee and free Wi-Fi.. All coffee is a standard $4 and the food at Sun Moth is designed to be comforting, and prompt. If you’re in a mad hurry, grab a fresh mushroom sandwich made with spiced, grilled mushrooms, turmeric cashew spread, greens and cabbage.
Inside the brightly light, cream-hued Workshop Brothers café lives delicious coffee. Axil Roasters have been providing the blends and Monk Bodhi Dharma providing the single origins, but Workshop Brothers have branched out and created their own everyday blend called the Huntly. All the white coffees are $4 for a small. Black espresso varieties are $3.80, and they’re all brewed with the daily single origin. There’s a 30 cent discount when you bring your own reusable coffee cup, and Workshop Brothers also sell Frank Green brand cups for those late adopters who don’t have one yet. Hungry? Grab a Nutella croissant to go.
The name may conjure up visions of babies sprouting from giant pea pods, but we checked, and found that the Children’s Farm more kid-friendly than a science fiction plotline. It never ceases to amaze us that a mere hopscotch jump away from Abbotsford Convent, you can be facing off with a pig called Typhoon. Play with the chooks (and keep your breakfast away from them) while you sip on your coffee and stick around to explore the farm after your meal.
Jostling with crowds for bok choi, queuing for doughnuts and dodging prams and grandmas – a visit to the Queen Victoria Market can be hungry work. Forget polystyrene boxes and trestle tables – Pickett’s Deli is a very cool customer, offering a wildly different class of market dining with marble benches and a herringbone floor. Breakfast gets cracking at 7am. Early birds can catch egg and bacon butties (the bacon is house-cured and smoked), ricotta hotcakes and even a breakfast ramen with a 63 degree egg and house barbequed pork.
Melbourne has a way with shipping containers. We’re used to drinking in them (see Section 8 and Arbory) and now we can eat in them. Rudimentary – a cream-and-caramel-coloured shipping container conversion – has sprouted up like a metallic mushroom on the site of a former car park in Footscray.
This Fitzroy bakery and café has developed a cult following since opening in 2012. Baker Brenton Lang now supplies his artisan breads, tarts and galettes to eateries all over town. Visit often and work your way through Lang’s tasty carb creations, from organic white sourdough and seedy whole wheat to olive with fresh basil and spicy fruit buns.
At this CBD whole food eatery shows you don’t need to wear hemp and patchouli to eat conscientiously. The whole room is decorated in rich cream paint with marble tabletops, white enamelware jugs and maidenhair ferns tipping the look into landed gentry territory. And land is a big focus here. The fruit, vegetables, cheese and charcuterie on the menu are locally sourced and as close to organic and free range as possible.
The café’s decor is minimal to the point of clinical: 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.
Seven Seeds is all about the coffee: see the in-house coffee plants, coffee laboratory and temperature-controlled storage space. Do they make a good coffee? The answer, folks, is yes. A small all-day menu is not overly ambitious and allows quality ingredients to do their thing. The eggs benedict with corned beef and a seeded mustard hollandaise is a pleasing rendition of the café favourite, while the dessert-as-breakfast crowd will gravitate towards the French toast, served with house-made nutella and an orange reduction.
Melbourne’s cafés are getting all fancy pants; you can’t move for dishes that emerge from dry ice, elaborate crustacean-stuffed burgers and blue algae lattes. But sometimes you just want a sanger and a mug of something wet without the hoopla of leaving your name on a clipboard, lining up and needing a PhD in the roasted coffee bean just to place an order. How refreshing, then, to meet Mr Peel. This unpretentious café serves home-style food you can relate to – baked bean jaffles, chicken and mayonnaise sandwiches and robust salads.
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