Auction Rooms, North Melbourne

103-107 Errol St North Melbourne | 9326 7749
We went: Thurs April 10 2014 | Verdict: 22.5 / 25
http://www.auctionroomscafe.com.au/

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In a nutshell: think Auction Rooms, think the Taj Mahal of Melbourne brunch scene. Lives up to its billing, in every department, every time. Pricey, but worth every cent.

We ate:
– spiced chickpea stew with braised lamb and a poached egg
– poached eggs with sides of crispy ham and potato stacks and sausage

Food: the menu has changed since we were here last. We were told by the waitress that it changes seasonally. A couple of Google searches revealed they have recently changed head chefs, too. Russian-born, California-raised Boris Portnoy, who recently worked at the acclaimed Meadowood restaurant in California, has joined Auction Rooms with the aim of “marrying fine dining with the needs of cafe customers”, according to goodfood.com.au. As I picked at my chickpea stew, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I turned to my wife and asked, “What is this?” Was it Indian? Was it brunch? Is it necessary to categorise anymore? It was chickpeas in a spicy sauce with lemon yoghurt, a poached egg with delicious pieces of braised lamb dispersed throughout. I eat out for brunch quite a bit however rarely am I full at the end of a meal. I was full and satisfied after my meal. The bread, while being a little dense, could be pulled apart and used to make little parcels filled with meat, egg, sauce and yogurt, which were tasty.

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The poached eggs with sides of ham and potato stacks and sausage, also did not disappoint. The star of this feast were the ham and potato stacks. We would return just for these beauties. Sometimes basic ingredients creatively presented can have the most profound effect. Such was the case with this side. Eating them took me back to my youth when mum used to make scalloped potatoes with bacon bits. You can slice the stacks down the middle or eat them a layer at a time… if you’re patient enough. Food rating: 4/5

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Coffee: these guys take their coffee seriously and do it seriously well. Beans are sourced from Small Batch whose owner Andrew Kelly is also the owner of, you guessed it, Auction Rooms. Andrew is so serious about coffee that he regularly travels abroad to choose the coffee you drink in Auction Rooms (and other cafes that serve Small Batch). Having good coffee beans is one thing… serving it well is another. Not surprisingly, Auction Rooms have two of the best baristas in the game. Michael Sinclair and Devin Loong were Australian Specialty Coffee Association Brewers Cup winners and runners-up recently. Devin was working when we visited, perched behind his castle of beakers, tubes and kettles like a mad scientist plotting his next experiment. “It’s become like a science, the art of coffee making,” our waitress said while clearing our table. I had the “Geisha”, a unique low-yielding type of coffee that only grows in a handful of places around the world. This particular batch hailed from Colombia and was selected by Andrew Kelly himself. “It was the coffee the boys (Michael and Devin) won the award with,” the waitress explained. At $8, it’s not cheap, but neither is a glass of single-malt scotch, a decent beer or a glass of Champagne. When you consider there is at least two cups worth in the tall beaker of coffee you get, I’d say that’s actually good value for good coffee. When Andrew Kelly started really getting into coffee around 2008, he said he wanted to help people “see for themselves what coffee actually tastes like without all the milk and sugar.” The “Geisha” filter coffee is simply coffee and water made well. The result… I loved it. Citrus and chocolate notes without being at all bitter. Yum!

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Memories of a Geisha.

The wife had a soy flat white, which she said was “good actually. Good temperature, good flavour.” While Devin and Michael, the chief baristas do their “coffee science thing” on the station, an army of other coffee and bar staff manage the espresso machine and other drink orders. Worth noting too is there is a decent selection of alcoholic beverages available including craft beers, wines and bubbly. Coffee rating: 5/5

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Vibe: why Auction Rooms? It used to be a space where auctions took place in the WB Ellis Auction house — which was later converted into the cafe mecca it is now. Many of the fittings are original. We love it all. From the huge windows that fill the warehouse space with natural light to the variety of tables, from intimate tables for two to large sharing tables for groups. There’s an outdoor space that is well covered too. Just recently Auction Rooms has been serving its take-away coffees and some food from a building across the road. This, our waitress confirmed, has eased some of the congestion that has plagued the place due to its popularity. And, get this, they have $1 take-away filter coffee on Fridays. That’s better than Macca’s! Beware… plan your trip here or you’ll be seriously disappointed. Weekends are mad here, it is seriously humming and you can be waiting a while. Come mid-week, if you can. Vibe rating: 5/5

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Price: $55 for two. At least they took Amex. Exxy, I know. Worth it? Hmm… jury still out. Value rating: 3.5/5

Service: knowledgeable and friendly, we were well looked after. “The staff here look like they want to be here,” the wife said. She was spot on. Often when you eat brunch out there is the occasional stand-out but the whole team seemed bubbly and engaged. Devin, the barista, was even mingling with the regulars. Good to see. Service rating: 5/5

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