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. This fresh-faced café boasts glossy-mag interiors from Kestie Lane and Hana Hakim of design firm Studio You Me, champions of pared-back Scandinavian styling. There’s a marble bar and communal table, striking gold lights, fresh mint accents and a cushioned window seat that'll make you want to curl up like a cat in the sun.
Thankfully, there's no chance of nodding off with the caffeinated loot on offer. Kick-start with an Ethiopian Hunkute V60 filter coffee made using Small Batch beans. The gently-gently extraction method delivers a light, bright brew with citrus notes and no hint of bitterness. Like the filter options at Top Paddock, it comes in a pour-your-own jug with a tasting note card that screams coffee wanker. To skip the theatrics, zero in on the excellent espresso, made using a Five Senses house blend.
While there were whispers of long waits and rushed service when the Kettle Black opened, things seem to be settling into place, with keen-to-please wait staff quick to drop off menus and deliver Jesse McTavish’s ambitious café fare.
Sure, you can order a stonking plate of eggs benedict with pulled pork and aerated hollandaise, but the menu’s more likely to hit the spot with Lycra-clad ladies who lunge than those seeking a hangover-busting brunch. Even the steak sandwich is tackled with a knife and fork.
While McTavish is pushing some breakfast boundaries with the addition of air-dried wallaby, ocean trout tataki and other exotic creatures rarely spotted before midday, he’s largely sticking to Top Paddock’s winning formula of make it pretty and they will come.
House-made coconut yoghurt reads like a poster child for the Pilates brigade, artfully topped with citrus powder, dried strawberries, petals, nuts and seeds. There’s no denying its good looks – it gives the Top Paddock-inspired ricotta hotcake a run for its money in the Instagram stakes – but goddamn it’s rich. Go halves if you want to maintain that barre-toned bod. Or don’t. We won’t judge.
Top Paddock’s awesome soft-shell crab burger is reimagined here: pearly nubs of poached King Island crayfish, yuzu mayo and sorrel are bundled into ash-dusted brioche. It’s petite for its price – and at what works out to be about three bucks a bite, you’d be forgiven for expecting more bang.
And that may be where the Kettle Black falls short. She’s polished, knows how to present herself, and will look fab in your social media feed, but a meal here may leave you wanting some substance to go with all that style.