Melbourne cafes

Melbourne is definitely foodie’s paradise, and for someone who comes from the world’s leading coffee consumption country, the plethora of out of this world cafes and roasteries is mind boggling. When coming to Australia, I chose Melbourne as my base from the get-go, and a year after I am glad I did. During the 12 months I spent in the coffee capital the world, I did go through quite a few delicious spots and dishes. Here are a few of my favourites.

Cafes
There’s plenty of great breakfast and brunch spots in most of the neighbourhoods, and I preferred to explore and venture to new spots instead of going to the same ones several times (though some were just too good to leave just for one visit).

Proper iced coffee.
Proper iced coffee.
Hipster interior design in Patch.
Hipster interior design in Patch.

Patch, Bendigo street, Richmond
One of the best feeds in Melbourne. All options are more or less paleo and gluten free, with a lot of variety. Go for the pancakes or the Caveman, a plate with a bit of everything. They make paleo bread in house, which is completely perfect in texture but in my opinion could definitely use some herbs or even salt.

Paleo waffles. Nom.
Paleo waffles at Patch. Nom.

 

Admiral Cheng Ho, Johnston Street, Abbotsford & Monk Bodhi Dharma, Balaclava
Two lovely vego cafes who have true passion for coffee. You can choose from 5 different beans for your coffee of choice, and enjoy a delicious and healthy breakfast or lunch while at it. Lunch specials on the black board, menu staples include amazing mushroom dish and a delicious acai bowl with superfoods like lucuma and maca.

Umami mushrooms, Admiral Cheng-Ho.
Umami mushrooms, Admiral Cheng-Ho.

 

Little Big Sugar Salt, Victoria Street, Richmond
In the heart of Little Vietnam, this quirky cafe is hustling and bustling with hipsters getting their fix from this cafe with the best menu ever. And by menu I mean the actual menu paper, with jokes, classified ads and even a recipe for their divine pancakes. Try at home? It’s good for glu-tards, cow-tards and fructose-free-ks.

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Code Black Coffee, Brunswick
This coffee roastery has another branch in North Melbourne, but I went only to the Brunswick one. They have a nice twist on the classic cafe staple, smashed avo, served with kale pesto and pistachio chia dukkah. Throw a poached egg and some goat’s feta in the mix and wash it down with freshly roasted and ground coffee, and you’ve experienced the ultimate Melbourne brekkie experience.

Mother of all breakfasts, Code Black Coffee.
Mother of all smashed avos, Code Black Coffee.

 

Industry Beans, Rose Street, Fitzroy
Another in-house roastery coffee shop, another industrial interior and guaranteed wait on weekends. Smaller and larger plates, either to share or devour on your own. More lunchy options besides your stable bircher, chia pudding and eggs. Delicious teas, too!

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Bonus: Hot chocolate at Hash, Hardware Lane, CBD
This drink is an experience, and probably the most delicious hot chocolate you’ve had. 80% Mörk hot chocolate (made in Melbourne) in a glass jug, to be poured over a mug full of fairy floss aka cotton candy. Watch the chocolate melt the fairy floss and make the concoction sweet and deeeeeelicious.

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Melting fairy floss with chocolate, Hash.
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Australia’s “Health” Food Scene; Naturally Good

So-called health foods are an ever rising term that is used to describe basically anything that is made from somewhat natural ingredients, with perhaps a Certified Organic label, and usually a host of free-from claims such as “dairy free wheat free fructose free” and many others. With the rising trend of gluten free diet, even some milk cartons now tout they don’t contain gluten (if they did, we should be worried). Sometimes it can be rather confusing trying to figure out what is good for you and what not so much, and I suppose it is better to eat an all natural bar rather than a mars bar, even though it contains 3 different sugars in addition to the sugars from the dried fruit it includes.

I’ve frequented countless health food stores since coming to Australia. This weekend I visited the largest natural and organic products trade show in the Southern hemisphere, Naturally Good Expo, to see what’s up in the field in Down Under, and if they’d come up with something new and interesting. What I found out was that Aussies, too, like their coconut water and all things “paleo”. I don’t think a snack bar that is based on dried fruit is what they ate in the paleolithic area, but who am I to judge. If you sell it as paleo, it sells. Talking about snack bars, I encountered a company who uses indigenous Australian wild herbs in their snack bars. Yes, the base is the usual date and almonds, but at least they are trying to make something new. Kudos for that! Another interesting exhibitor was a company making cricket flour, which I think should become a big thing in the next few years. The crickets don’t even taste that bad, to be honest.

Kakadu plum and other indigenous Aussie coolness in a palatable form.
Kakadu plum and other indigenous Aussie coolness in a palatable form.

I got upgraded as a VIP guest at the expo, so I got to much on some donuts in the lounge while sipping on a gel-like juice with chia seeds (chia still going strong!). Noshu donuts were actually a pleasant clean eat treat: baked, all natural gluten-free and sugar free donuts that are low carb, have 150 kcals each, have a decent texture and also taste pretty delicious. Some might wonder how this equation can possibly equal good taste and texture, but one must not except a Dunkin’ Donuts kind of mouthfeel with these babies. Omnom.

These donuts. Epic.
These donuts. Epic.

Besides the regular date bars and other treats (Aussies love their granolas!), protein powders were well represented. In addition to the regular whey and “vegan” protein (usually combo of pea and rice), the combo of protein and greens is popular. Naturally Good was definitely an interesting expo to visit, and even though it was way smaller than the trade shows I’ve previously visited, it had some interesting lectures and it was easy to talk to people. One highlight of the show was definitely lazertag game at the networking cocktail event. Best networking activity possible, specially for the wellness industry!

 

3. Things I love about Melbourne

This post could in theory be applied to whole of Australia, since my experiences so far are limited to good ol’ Melbs. Not for long, though! From Vappu onwards I shall be traveling up north, to escape the cold a bit and see what Byron Bay has to offer. I don’t know how long I will be away, which is good: I can come back when I feel like it; I do have to start from scratch but it is not the same as the first time around. Melbourne, I will be back.

1.1 The people, friends.
I have managed to make pretty good friends in the past 3 months. Australians sure are a friendly bunch of people, and I have managed to spend time with some amazing individuals.

Best trips are shared ones. Says the girl traveling solo. Oops.
Best trips are shared ones. Says the girl traveling solo. Oops.

1.2. The people, random.
From the vegetable delivery guy (the dry goods delivery guy is an exception to this rule) to the guy in the sneaker store, everyone is generally friendly and in a good mood. Train creeps aside, people will smile, say ‘hey how ya goin’ and even have a small conversation without a fuss. It feels damn good!

2.1 The coffee.
Yes. The daily brew is something to be taken seriously. And this is seen everywhere with coffee shops, restaurants and cafes all selling at least decent coffee. Even the worst brew here is better than the average elsewhere.

Long black and one of the aforementioned friends. Loving it.
Long black, Scandinavian minimalist design and one of the aforementioned friends. Loving it.

2.2 The food.
You can find almost any kind of cuisine, in several price ranges. Some neighborhoods have large ethnical minorities, and therefore they host a variety of special cuisines around the world. As an example: Richmond is also known as Little Vietnam, and few streets make Chinatown in the city. This food-loving includes the option of all-popular paleo restaurants, gluten free foods and the mighty Smashed Avo, that can be found in any self respecting food joint. High respects also to ethnic Prahran Convenience store that sells 12 pack of Questbars for $36!

I could have an overdosa of this.
I could have an overdosa of this.

2.2.1 The markets.
Victoria market being the best, largest and cheapest, there is also South Melbourne market where I buy my hummus, and Prahran which I frequent most often just for the atmosphere since it’s the closest to me. Also farmers’ markets make my favorite list, but they’re more scattered and I have only managed to visit one since I don’t own a car. Anyhow, good stuff! Fresh veggies and fruit and seafood, can’t say no to that!

St. Andrew's market, I guess technically in melbourne (almost 1hr drive from the city).
St. Andrew’s market, I guess technically in Melbourne (almost 1hr drive from the city).

3.1. The culture.
From comedy festival to Food and Wine festival, there’s always something going on. After studying Urbanlist and Broadsheet, the hardest part is to actually do and see everything you want to. My cultural highlight so far was probably seeing Adam Hill at the comedy festival, or CJ Hendricks’ 50 Foods in 50 Days.

modest Comedy Festival decorations.
Modest Comedy Festival decorations.

3.2. The exercise.
I think I am pretty good at optimizing the cost of expensive workouts: living in posh South Yarra has allowed me to test different yoga and pilates studios around the hoods for affordable prices: I’ve been to Core Candy (HIIT, Pilates and Barre 1 class per day for 2 weeks $50), Rise Yoga in Richmond (2 weeks of flow yoga, hot and yin yoga $25) and most recently One Hot Yoga&Pilates just around the corner from home (unlimited reformer pilates and slow hot flow and yin yoga $50). I have been more than happy with the trials, especially One Hot. Damn their playlist is like straight from my Spotify!

Damn hot yoga studio. I'll miss you.
Damn hot yoga studio. I’ll miss you.

Also as a bonus to this 3 part list is the architecture and neighborhood vibes. Places look cool.

True dat, Einstein.
True dat, Einstein.

Day Off

What does one do when they get a day (or two) off in the middle of the week when everyone else is working (thanks, hospitality job). In melbourne there is always something going on: a proof of this is that I stumbled onto a free lunch time meditation in Fed Square on my walk.

Day off, sleep-in. To me this means waking up at 9 the latest. Since I had the time and the weather was gorgeous +26 degrees (hello, Autumn!) yesterday, I decided to walk to the city along Yarra River. I was listening to an audio book for the first time in a while, which was relaxing.

Leaves getting brown before falling off.
Leaves getting brown before falling off.

Sidenote: Even though Australia is considered as somewhat efficient country, their services such as teleoperators and bank services have not been that great in my experience. I could easily add to this list ticket services, because of a hassle I went through to get certain tickets refunded. Note to customer services in no matter what field: if you refund a customer, please let them know so they won’t have the hassle of going to your office to make sure you have done your job. Cheers.

I had read earlier about an exhibition by CJ Hendry presented by The Cool Hunter. Luckily enough, as I was walking around in Fitzroy I randomly found the exhibition. CJ Hendry’s 50 Foods in 50 Days consists of, yeah you guessed it, 50 dishes, meticulously hand-drawn on French designer plates in 50 days. The dream meals of death-row inmates include whole squid, fries, m&m’s and cocaine. All of the ‘photo realism’ pieces were sold even before opening the exhibition, which is easy to believe having seen them live. If it were for me, I’d probably take the one with macarones on it, or the giant snow crab.

Last temptation: a lollypop.
Last temptation: a lollypop.
mmmmmmmm.
mmmmmmmm beans.

It’s been a (way long) while since I’ve been to any gallery or exhibition, and I definitely should go more. This particular one was interesting not only because of the art pieces, but the pieces of great product design that were sold in the venue. From luxury single origin chocolate (hello, mast Brothers) to caramel butter popcorn to art books and Greek honey, all the products screamed premium branding.

Yes this is coffee.
Yes this is coffee.

From Fitzroy I ventured to Abbotsford Convent, popular especially amongst poor travelers and hippies because of their nice grass lawn and pay what you want vegetarian restaurant Lentils As Anything. I’ve been to lentils once before, but that time it was a la carte instead of their normal buffet-style dining. I highly appreciate the idea of paying what you can for your meal, and having the place run by volunteers, but unfortunately some people take advantage of the freedom of not paying for their food. The meal was actually a bit disappointing, to be honest, since two of the dishes were mainly potatoes. In addition there was rice, tossed salad with dressing, and some soupy thing with a few beans and oil. Suggested donation for food: 12 dollars. We didn’t get to dessert because we didn’t realize to get that on the first round, and the queue to the restaurant was probably at least few hundred meters. Popular as anything! Good thing about exploring with time is you never know what you might find; a cute coffee shop, 2 dollar sushi rolls, an interesting exhibition or just cool looking random buildings.

This is a bottle shop (and who knows what else). And there's a skeleton climbing in or out of the window.
This is a bottle shop (and who knows what else). And there’s a skeleton climbing in or out of the window.

Australia brews

And by brews I mean coffee, even though there are some artisanal micro beer breweries around as well. Australia is well known for it’s high quality coffees and love for small, independent cafes and roasters. I was able to visit the Melbourne International Coffee Exhibition in Melbourne Showgrounds last Sunday, where I got properly buzzed with the different brews, beans and required paraphernalia, coffee lovers and meticulous professionals under the same roof. I also had a peek at the World Barista Championships, but didn’t stick till the end because more coffee was calling me.

Sampling Kenyan Gaikundo  from Z microloft, washed with 'clean, bright and sparkling syrup, with up front sweetness reminiscent of white grape, apple and lime supported by delicate undertones of kalamata olives and cherry tomato'.
Sampling Kenyan Gaikundo from Z microloft, washed with ‘clean, bright and sparkling syrup, with up front sweetness reminiscent of white grape, apple and lime supported by delicate undertones of kalamata olives and cherry tomato’.

Time magazine and New York Times both have touted Australia, and especially Melbourne, as the mecca of coffee. I cannot but agree to that, even though I have been exercising my mind strength and limited my cups mostly to wake-up drinks at work. Apparently there are around 300 coffee roasters in Oz, and about 40% of those consider themselves as direct traders, working hard to offer consumers high quality coffee. Sounds legit!

Cool-ass cups.
Cool-ass cups.

Why is the coffee in Oz so great? It all dates back to the Second World War, when Australia’s first green bean trader Ernest Singer found a customer base in the American soldiers stationed in Australia, who often visited Melbourne when on leave. The Italians also played a big role in the great coffee scene, since Italians started vigorously migrating to Australia in the 1920’s when Canada and the USA restricted their immigration laws. The Italians brought among them the love for espresso: while specialty cafes in Oz make more and more filter coffees, the majority is still espresso-based brews, unlike in Europe and The US where we often sip “house coffee” from the thermos, made in the morning and whenever the thermos runs empty. Australia is also acknowledged as the pioneer in the third wave of coffee or specialty coffee. Syphon, aeropress, pour over, cold brew and other methods are available in the neighborhood cafes, and it is not uncommon to order a coffee as you were ordering a particular type of fine wine; to discuss the flavor profiles and washing methods. You can have a 20-minute discussion over coffee and proper accompanying milk (organic, skinny, almond, soy; hot, flat, double) without no one blinking an eye.

Z's chillin' on the shelf.
Z’s chillin’ on the shelf.

This particular interest in origin, quality and atmosphere of the everyday joe made Starbuck close over half of its’ cafes in Australia due to “business challenges unique to the Australian market” in 2008. Ha! Unlike in Europe and the States, luckily in Oz the chain is not the king.

I drink my coffee black to get the most original natural flavors out of it, but I must admit I have spent quite some time watching latte art videos in Instagram and YouTube. Getting the perfect crema espresso and frothing the milk to form shapes is intriguing, and I haven’t had the possibility to practice in a long time now. One day I will make tulips and rosettas like tying my shoelaces. Until then, I enjoy the artwork of others and sip my cups black in small cafes where the varieties are carefully chosen and they know where their brews are from.