Three Bags Full, Abbotsford

56 Nicholson Street Abbotsford | 9421 2732
We went: Sat 17 May | Verdict: 23 / 25

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http://www.threebagsfullcafe.com.au/

In a nutshell: slick operation in superb-an Melbourne brunch pocket. Queues out the door on weekends.

Food: the folks at Three Bags Full pride themselves on “keeping it simple”. Their recipe alchemy is all about imaginative dishes where the flavours of every ingredient complement each other beautifully.

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Our evidence: pulled pork shoulder brioche ($13), one of the specials – the Zucchini French Toast ($17) – and the Veggie Brekky ($19). I had the pork brioche. It seems I’m on a mission to try every pulled pork bun in Melbourne. This one is up there. Simple, creamy slaw complements the pork really well, and they give you a small side of pickles that you can add yourself. The lemon wedge was also a nice touch.

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The Zucchini French Toast was quite a heavy dish. The relish was “delicious”, the poached eggs “perfect” but overall, “the dish was just a bit much”. The Veggie Brekky was “a bit pedestrian”, said my mate. “It would have been nice to see them do something a bit special with it. I could have done that at home.” 3.5/5

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 Coffee: Not as many single origin options as neighbouring cafe Admiral Cheng Ho, but that doesn’t mean these guys don’t take it seriously. Quite the contrary. As you can see from the pictures below, my pour-over filter brew arrived on a wooden tray and in what looked like an medieval glass medicine container. Accompanying it was what I thought was a small glass of Jamison whisky with ice (never too early, especially before a bucks day!)… Alas, it was a palette cleanser. That’s right, the wank-o-metre just exploded. I needed to know what it was. “It’s called cascara,” our waiter said. “It’s the berry of the coffee that has been processed and we’ve infused it with sparkling water.”

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The coffee in the brown jar is a single origin from Ninety Plus Gesha Estates from Ethiopia. What makes it special is it has been ‘dry processed’ (sometimes called ‘natural’ coffee), meaning the beans were dried inside the fruit rather than after the fruit has been removed, as is the case with wet-processed or washed coffees. The taste, like most African single origins, was very fruity/citrus without being bitter. Very smooth. A nice drop. And extended tasting notes to boot. This bad boy meant to set me back a tenner, but I was only charged $8 (for some reason). 5/5

Vibe: Good vibe but it can get so busy that it’s hard to hear the person next to you. If you don’t like crowds or congestion, best avoid. 4.5/5

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Service: Service with a smile. Good coffee knowledge. Staff look like they want to be there and enjoy working there. 5/5

Ka-ching: $86 for the four of us, which included a $10 coffee and an extra chai. 5/5

Three Bags Full on Urbanspoon

St Rose, Essendon

19 Rose Street, Essendon | 9331 4488
We went: Sat May 10 2014 | Verdict: 20 / 25

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 Mon-Fri 7am-4.30pm, Sat-Sun 8am-3pm
http://www.strose.com.au/

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In a nutshell: fresh-faced and health conscious, this hip brunch café is the star in an Essendon neighbourhood lacking quality cafes.

Food: The menu appears safe … on the surface. Look a little deeper and you’ll see there is attention to detail and an acute awareness of their target clientele. Essendon’s current population is a mix of the fitness-conscious, middle class, family-dominated social set. The menu reflects this.

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On the one hand, there is Paleo Granola, House made bircher and Chai infused organic porridge, dishes Ascot Vale Leisure Centre regulars would happily devour after a morning pilates workout. At the other end of the spectrum, there are hangover deluxes for those who around midday have summoned the courage to draw the curtains (sadly, this is the current state of MBS folk). The St Rose (their take on the Big Brekky), Breakfast Quesadillas, Avocado toast, Brekkie Burger and Baked Chilli Eggs sit on the brekky end of brunch, while lunchy choices include a Beef Burger, Chicken Schnitzel Wrap and Tempura Soft Shell Crab Burger.

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We had the Baked Chilli Eggs, Quesadillas and Brekky Burger. Tbe Baked Chilli Eggs were honest, brunch fare and the perfect savoury combination of napoli sauce, persian fetta, eggs and dukkah. Delicious! The Brekky Burger looked amazing on paper and delivered (to an extent). “I liked the guilty pleasure of it… the sauce dripped out, the cheese had melted into the egg and the bacon. I liked that part of it,” said the wife who left but a morsel for me, despite the bun’s sweetness. Lastly, the Quesadillas were as pretty as a picture: three fried eggs perched atop the corn tortillas. While tasty, the tortillas were a little tricky to manipulate. The salsa and avocado were nice. 3.5/5

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Coffee: the problem with simple, which is what I think St Rose is going for (judging by their menu and fresh feel) is some things just aren’t simple. Like coffee. Coffee, deservingly, is treated in Melbourne as a complex and interesting pleasure to be savoured and enjoyed, not dissimilar to a wine, craft beer or a glass of single malt. Yet St Rose, while offering pour-over filter single origin perhaps don’t fully do it justice by advertising it as merely “Filter” on its menu. I think the discerning coffee drinker is looking for more. I could be wrong. Some tasting notes, more info about the coffee’s origin, perhaps? I asked the waitress about the coffee, its origin, the blend. She wasn’t able to tell me but wasted no time finding this out. She returned with hand-written notes: Veneziano, which is a blend of beans from Kenya, Brazil and Eithiopia. The single origin was from Kenya. I had the filter, which was very smooth and very good value given the quantity (see below).

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There’s a quirky little offering on the drinks menu called Nutino that’s a shot of espresso with a side of Nutella. Good in theory, not so good in reality was the verdict from my friend who ordered it as the Nutella arrived in a small sachet and was a tad hard to extract. Other members of our party ordered a cappuccino soy latte, and regular latte. No complaints. 3.5/5

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Vibe: when couple Domenic and Diana Caruso sold their Richmond venture, Espresso 3121, they engaged an interior design consultant to help fulfill the vision of their next project. The result is St Rose, which the designer describes on her website is “based on the ethos of bringing the café culture of inner suburbs to the heart of Essendon”.

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I guess that’s what lured us here (a second time). There’s an aura about the place – from the white ST ROSE sign out the front, the white tiles with No. 19 on the doorstep, the large glass shopfront, well-lit interior, polished floorboard finish and touch of greenery. They certainly meet their brief.

Inside was chockers so we settled for a share table on the footpath. If the purpose of brunch is to chill with friends while doing The Age quiz and indulging in good food and coffee then it ticked all those boxes. I wasn’t too keen on a full ashtray awaiting us when we sat down, though. 4/5

Service: staff are friendly and warm, if a little ‘absent’ at times. What I mean is the people next to us finished, paid and left and their bits and pieces weren’t cleared till at least 20 minutes after. Yes, they were busy but they had plenty of staff on. The test of a good brunch place is how well they handle chaos. 4/5

Money: $96 for five of us. Great value. 5/5

St Rose on Urbanspoon

Admiral Cheng-Ho, Abbotsford

325 Johnston Street Abbotsford | 9534 7250
We went: Sun 27th April 2014 | Verdict: 22 / 25

Mon to Fri 7:00 am – 4:00 pm | Sat to Sun 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
www.admiralchengho.com.au

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In a nutshell: these guys care a lot about flavour combinations and coffee and do a mean vegan brunch. If finesse and skill are two of your brunch criteria then look no further.

We ate:

– The Admiral

– Umami mushrooms

Food: Those who know Balaclava’s Monk Bodhi Dharma won’t be surprised by Marwin Shaw’s latest venture Admiral Cheng-Ho. The food menu, while not extensive, is thoughtful and tasty. My brother is vegan, which makes ordering sometimes a bit tricky but to look at a menu and not have to alter the choices is a blessing. Nearly all the options here are either vegan, vego or gluten free.

My brother and I had The Admiral (zucchini fritters on sauteed kale with seasonal vegetables and tangy beetroot relish. It’s topped with basil cashew cream and wild fennel) which was admirable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a bland dish (zucchini fritters) dressed up to sing so beautifully. All the flavour combinations of sweet (beetroot relish), sour (sauteed kale), savoury (fritters) and salty (cashew cream) just came together in harmony and worked their magic. By the end of this dish, I was scratching the plate to get all the relish off. Sorry about that!

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The wife and friend J had the Umami mushrooms which was described by my wife as being “one of the best mushroom dishes I’ve ever had”. High praise, indeed. (She does need to get out more and we’re working on that). Usually mushrooms are overpowering but because they came with other strong elements like the goat’s cheese and pumpkin bread they all balanced each other out.

One thing to bear in mind when coming here is: THERE ARE NO EGGS! Shock horror, a brunch menu sans eggs. Get over it. This might be a difficult thing to overcome for some people. 4.5/5

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Coffee: a “first” occurred for me at Admiral Cheng-Ho. I eat brunch out every week (read: wanker) and have been confronted by some expensive coffee in my time but never has the price been north of $10. Admiral Cheng-Ho, unashamedly, has coffee options that range from $4 for a basic flat white to $12 for a single-origin pour over filter from Panama. “We have the biggest range of single origin coffee in Melbourne,” the waiter says as I pay the bill. I could easily have chickened out and ordered a ‘safe’ latte however, “when in Rome”… So, I took the plunge and ordered the Panama Rojas Geisha. The tasting notes told me to expect “floral, delicate orange blossom and honeydew melon, lemon zest and a soft mouth feel”. It was certainly acidic and citrusy. It arrived in a stemless Reidel glass, the steam fogging up the inside and creating a coffee fog. The taste was complex and changed as it cooled. The aroma and taste told me from the outset it was to be sipped, not gulped. I was still going long after the others had finished their “regular” coffees. If you are tossing up about getting a “fancy” coffee, look at it this way: you go to a winery to try wine, a brewery to try beer, a restaurant to sample the talent of a chef. This place prides itself on coffee and a pour-over filter will best exemplify a bean’s true character. Worth $10? Umm, I know plenty of places that do it for less. 5/5

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Vibe: this place is small, seating about 40 people at capacity. Like us, you may have to wait for a seat. To say this place is “cool” would be an understatement. Some may say it is pretentious with walls adorned with vintage clocks and tall vases on oak tables and coffee grinders lined up behind the counter like lolly dispensers at the show. But I like it. Scrap that, love it. Being from Ascot Vale, we seldom get across town to rub shoulders with our grungy cousins east of Brunswick Street. Lucky I had my moustache well groomed that day. 4/5

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Price: $105 for four of us (meals and coffees). 4.5/5

Service: Because this place is so cramped, I feel as though the default setting for staff is a bit “on edge”. Could be me, though. after waiting outside for a table, we were politely ushered in and shown a table. Coffee orders were swiftly taken and nearly all of them were delivered pronto. (The chai that my wife ordered did not arrive until after the meals and needed a little prompting. No apology for the delay, either). I had a little chat to the waiter when paying the bill and she seemed nice. I guess one test of how good a place is is is how happy are the staff to work there? I’d say a 7/10 would sum up the feeling of most staff there from what I could see. 4/5

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Final word: love trying different types of coffee? Love vegan food done with love? Don’t mind a brunch menu with no eggs? Then look no further than Admiral Cheng-Ho.

Admiral Cheng-Ho on Urbanspoon

Local Folk, Kensington

43 Epsom Road Kensington | 9939 7241
We went: Sat May 3 2014 | Verdict: 20.5 / 25

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In a nutshell: new kid on the Melbourne brunch scene, this neat brunch cafe stands alone in densely-residential Kensington neighbourhood.

We ate:

– beno
– pork belly sliders
– vegan brekky (composed of various sides and toast)

Food: MBS followers know how much I love a pork belly slider. There needs to be something pretty darn special on offer to trump it when the waiter comes to take orders. I can honestly say that Local Folk do a good slider! For $16.90, you get two quite large sliders with a generous amount of mouth-watering pork and crackle. The coleslaw is crunchy and the house-made mayo not too over-powering (there probably wasn’t enough mayo in hindsight). The fresh coriander added nice fragrance to the dish. The buns, although a tad burnt, were firm, hot and fresh. But the winner here is the pork — just like mum used to make, with the chewy-crunchy crackle barely hitting the sides.

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The wife chose an old fave, the Beno (eggs benedict). “The poached eggs were cooked perfectly, the hollandaise sauce was nice and the sourdough was freshly toasted and not too soggy,” she said. “There was nothing too special about the bacon, it was just regular bacon; the spinach was well-seasoned. I was pretty happy with it all.”

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My brother, who is vegan, had a bit of trouble finding a vegan-friendly dish so in the end ordered toast and added pretty much all the extras he could that were vegan-friendly (avo, spinach, hashy, beans, tomato and mushrooms). He was happy with everything, however it would be nice to see a few vegan-friendly options on the menu next time (they had only been open a week).

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The menu, overall, is reasonably ‘safe’. All of the traditional faves are there. There is a lunch menu that is available after 11.30am and plenty of kids’ meals that are just $5 a piece. 3.5/5

Coffee: there is nothing wrong with the coffee here. Very drinkable but like an introvert at a dinner party, doesn’t cause a fuss yet you want it to say something. The milk in my latte was the most prominent feature, and I don’t think it should be (my fault perhaps for not ordering a strong one). Have been loving my pour-over filters lately, really think this shows off the beans’ true character. Unfortunately there were no such options here. But that’s ok. I don’t think that’s the vibe they’re going for. It’s just honest cafe food here and regular coffee. That’s ok, right? 3/5

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Vibe: I wish I had come here when it was La Canella, the Italian restaurant that traded from this spot before it morphed into Local Folk. Then I could comment on the changes the owners have made. I know they’ve given it a paint job on the outside (the grey facade is anything but drab — it’s quite smart and professional… safe). What I like about Local Folk is there are three options for seating (if you can get a seat as it can get busy, especially on weekends). There’s out the front, inside or inside up the back, which is slightly elevated (this is where we sat). They’ve got some trendy lights and a number of tasteful hipster-type touches around the cafe that give it a laid-back, cool feel. For example, an old tricycle fills the space where it looks like a pizza oven once resided. For a place that has been open a week, there’s a real buzz here, in a good way. People seem happy here and it’s easy to see why — good food, good lighting (a generous amount of natural light fills the space), decent coffee and great, friendly service (see below). 4/5

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Price: $55 for the three of us (meals and coffee). Outstanding value! 5/5

Service: Couldn’t ask for more from our waiters. Friendly and service with a smile, nothing was too difficult. They were really apologetic when explaining their point-of-sale wasn’t yet up and running but still were efficient with getting the job done. Food was quick and so was the coffee. Very efficient operation… you wouldn’t know they had only been open a brief time. Apparently the owners formerly worked at the Roxy Hotel (where the owner was a chef) out Cranbourne way and this is their first attempt at running a cafe. So far, so good. Keep it up, guys! 5/5

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Grandpa Joe, Ascot Vale

197 Union Road Ascot Vale | 9078 0595
We went: Friday April 18 2014 (Good Friday) | Verdict: 18/25

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In a nutshell: small, busy trendy cafe on happening Union Road. Good coffee and cool vibe. Unfortunately food and service was a little lacking on the day we visited.

We ate:

– ham and egg pizza
– potato hash

Food: when it finally arrived, the ham and egg pizza was everything you would want in a brunch pizza. The base was clearly homemade and, while on the crunchy side, was delicious. The tomato sauce blended beautifully with the cherry tomatoes, and grilled cheese. Unfortunately the egg was like a plastic film attached to the pizza’s top but I can overlook this given the quality of the rest of it.

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The wife at the potato hash which I also sampled. The hashbrown was the star of the dish the rest was a bit tasteless. “It needed a bit more seasoning,” she said. I said, “there’s the salt, stop complaining.” What impressed us most was the kitchen’s ability to tweak the dish — we asked for no poached eggs and no coleslaw. This was no problem. It does say “vegetarian and gluten free options available” but not all places deliver on their promises. GPJ does.

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The menu is not overly adventurous. I was curious about the wasabi cured salmon but wasn’t brave enough for raw fish at 10am. The honey-glazed bacon also looked good. Everything at GPJ is very reasonably priced. 3/5

Coffee: no pour-over option but they did have aeropress and cold drip filter options. I ordered a single origin aeropress filter from Ethiopia, which was tasty and hit the spot. Actually, the aeropress at Reverence was inferior to this! It came in a 250ml clear jug and the cups were cool too. The wife had a chai soy latte, which was also good. Impressively, they have cold drip coffee in trendy little bottles available for take-away. Perfect for those warmer days or when the coffee at work tastes like dirty bath water. Two thumbs up there. Coffee brand is 5 Senses. 4/5

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Vibe: I don’t really like the vibe here but my wife does and that’s important because she has good taste most of time. I can definitely see what GPJ is trying to do. (I know how wanky-patronising that sounds but I review brunch places which by its very nature is the epitome of just that). They seem to be going for the old, laid-back, retro feel with the record player and wall art and hodge-podge of mixed furniture. Some people like that. I usually do too. The reason I don’t think it really works is because it’s so new and in my head I know all this stuff hasn’t been here for ages, like in an old place, but has just been placed there for trendy cosmetic appeal. “That’s no big deal,” my wife says. She could be right. But I write the words. Outdoor dining is better than inside, IMO. However, not when it’s cold and windy, which it was when we went. Inside, there isn’t much room (it’s bigger than Little Bird, but smaller than Reverence). There were heaps of people ordering take-away coffee on Good Friday, which generated a healthy buzz. 3/5

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Price: about $50. Really good value. 5/5

Service: a bit of a let down. Yes, it was Good Friday and they were crazy busy. But as I have said before on MBS, the sign of a good brunch place is how well they can deal with the mania. OK, drink orders were taken swiftly: tick. Took a while to arrive but it took even longer for our food orders to be taken. Then, perhaps because I ordered the pizza, food arrived about 30mins later. By then the leg of the table looked appetising. Staff were polite without being warm. 3/5

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Grandpa Joe on Urbanspoon

Seven Seeds, Carlton

106-114 Berkeley Street Carlton | 9347 8664
We went: Sat April 12 | Verdict: 23 / 25
http://sevenseeds.com.au/

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In a nutshell: meeting the lofty needs of Melbourne’s fussiest coffee connoisseurs and brunch addicts alike.

We ate:
– barbecue pulled pork brioche
– eggs benedict
– black and green olive tapenade on toasted sourdough with eggs
– poached eggs with bacon

Food: if you’re after honest lunch fare then look no further than the barbecue pulled pork brioche. Too often while scouring the suburbs for Melbourne’s best brunch have I been left with food envy after another member of the brunch team has trumped my order. Not this time. Pulled pork can be hit and miss but done well, it’s a winner every time. This is an uncomplicated dish: brioche, pork, and coleslaw make up the bun. The side consists of curly shoestring fries with house-made aioli. It was close to the perfect dish if you’re after something on the lunch side of brunch.

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The good wife was full of praise for the olive tapenade on toasted sourdough with eggs. No surprise, really, as the bread is sourced from Dench Bakers in Fitzroy, one of Melbourne’s best. There were two types of tapenade: light and dark. She said the green tapenade (light) was the highlight. Eggs were perfectly done, sunny side up.

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Our friends ordered the eggs benedict and poached eggs with bacon. Mate who chose the eggs benny said: “the eggs were cooked very well but the prosciutto as the meat wasn’t ideal. I guess the hollandaise sauce was good but I was that hungover, I’m not the best to judge.” Everything was fine with the safe option, poached eggs with bacon. The menu, overall, is good without being exceptional. Most of the choices are fairly reliable brunch options. Not too risky. Food rating: 4/5

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Coffee: followers of this blog know I’m currently on the ‘pour over filter coffee’ train. As you’d expect, Seven Seeds has it. Unlike Auction Rooms, my coffee came with no tasting notes, just a word from the waitress that it was from Columbia. I have to say this made for an inferior experience as I love the little card that featured a map and information about the product that came with the coffee at Auction Rooms and Wide Open Road. I find it a bit odd that such a large coffee roaster that has coffee at the heart of its mission statement would not go that extra step. But then you ask, was the coffee any good? Yes, it was. Then that’s all that matters, right? Maybe. Perhaps the crew at Seven Seeds want to encourage the ‘everyday coffee drinker’ to take the plunge and order a filter pour over and not be bombarded with information. The brew itself was fruity with a sweet aftertaste. I’d happily order it again. Other coffees ordered included a soy latte, cappuccino and a flat white, which were all superb. Coffee rating: 4.5/5

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Vibe: this well-lit converted warehouse space is very Melbourne. If you’re ever in doubt about Seven Seeds’ commitment to coffee, you simply need to look at the layout of this place. One whole room, which you can see into, is taken up by giant coffee roasting machines. You can’t get in there but the room serves as a reminder of what’s important to Seven Seeds. Yes, they do food, but coffee is king. The vibe of a place is made up of several factors: the crowd it attracts, the numbers, architecture and interior decorating and the general feeling in the space. There was a general buzz that filled me with a general excitement as I chatted with friends over good coffee and food. Isn’t that what eating brunch with mates is all about? Vibe rating: 5/5

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Price: $80 for four pax. Value rating: 4.5/5

Service: the place was packed so we were herded into a ‘holding area’ where we could mingle with other table candidates and look enviously at those already seated. This was not as unpleasant as it seems. The wait was surprisingly brief and after 10 mins or so we were ordering coffees and getting stuck into the Saturday Age quiz. The staff here have a general way about them that says ‘I’ve got this’ despite it being quite frantic. This breeds confidence and a relaxed vibe. Our waiter looked a bit like Baz Luhrmann, too. Service rating: 5/5

Seven Seeds on Urbanspoon

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

Auction Rooms on Urbanspoon

Pearl Oyster, Preston

114 Miller Street Preston | 9480 2500
We went: Sat April 5 2014 | Overall verdict: 20.5 / 25
http://www.pearloysterespresso.com/

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In a nutshell: inconspicuous facade gives way to hip, artsy, cosy indoor/outdoor cafe in trendy north. Asian flavours and pre-loved furniture give this cool space point of difference.

The brunch team: me (MBS), wife, J and G.

We ate:
– bada bing poached eggs
– pearl oyster poached eggs
– japanese pancake

Food: there is an obvious Asian vibe here and that translates to the menu with plenty of staple brunch options but with an Asian twist. Most of the dishes here are vegetarian, vegan or gluten intolerant and if they’re not, then they can cater. They pride themselves on obtaining their produce as ethically as possible and make nearly all their condiments on-site, which is a fair effort given the size of the kitchen.

I ate the Bada Bing Poached Eggs, which has the potential to be quite messy (like most dishes I eat!) so it’s just as well the sauce component arrives in a separate dish. The pearl in the oyster of this dish (excuse pun!) is the Napoli sauce, which is mouth-wateringly rich but not too over the top. You could say it was well balanced. The eggs were poached beautifully and the toast (sourdough) was fine: hot and with plenty of butter. The cream cheese on top was spot-on!

bada bing poached eggs

The Pearl Oyster Poached Eggs looked as pretty as a picture. Followers of this blog will recall I nominated the smoked ham hock from Twenty and Six Espresso as Melbourne’s most aesthetically pleasing dish. Well, I may have pulled the trigger too soon on that one as the Pearl Oyster Poached Eggs, or the POPE, is a deliciously good lookin’ dish too! The girls said “there were some strong flavours in this and a lot of the same”.

japanese poached eggs

The Japanese Pancake  was an interesting choice. It comes with house-made kupi drizzled on top (that’s Japanese mayo) and a sprinkling of seaweed. It was tasty but not mind-blowing. Don’t expect the world when it comes to food here… the chefs do an amazing job considering they’re operating in a kitchen the size of a shoebox. Food rating: 3.5/5

japanese pancake

Coffee: they use  Coffee Supreme beans, a specialty roaster from Abbotsford. The coffee is good, but what I love most about Supreme is the retro style cups it comes in. Really suits the decor and enhances the vibe. Sadly, exotic coffee options here like filtered, pour over, cold drip etc… but as I said, they aint got much space! Coffee rating: 3.5/5

coffee

The vibe: very cool. Think Pulp Fiction crossed with The Last Samurai… no, that’s lame. It’s retro, fitted out with pre-loved, trendy furniture, and Asian — with old-school Japanese umbrellas and motifs hanging about the place. The large table inside can attract a crowd, so consider that when selecting a place to sit. We received some (much appreciated) assistance while completing the Saturday Age quiz from a complete stranger. The outside area seats about 30 people or so. It’s a nice place to sit if the sun is out.  The menus were particularly cool… they were decorated with summery colours yellow and blue and a sketch of an Arab riding a camel. and Vibe rating: 4.5/5

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Price: $85 for the four of us. Value rating: 4.5/5

Service: the girl who served us was nice enough without being outstanding. Staff came and went and didn’t make a fuss. Neither good nor bad. The guy who fixed our bill was about as laid-back as they come. He didn’t even check to see what we ordered — just took my word for it. Lucky I’m honest… and not tight. Ha! Service rating: 4/5
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Wide Open Road, Brunswick East

274 Barkly Street Brunswick East | 9387 6079
We went: Sat March 29 2014 | Overall verdict: 18 / 20

http://wideopenroad.com.au/

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In a nutshell: this former NQR store across the road from the revamped Barkly Square shopping centre is getting a lot right in the high-end trendy brunch department.

The brunch team: me, wife, female friend.

We ate:

– thick cut bacon
– smoked trout
– wild boar

Food: the food here is A+ standard… hot, fast (despite being quite busy) and tasty. The menu is interesting — a departure from the standard dozen variations on poached eggs. I had the wild boar which was more lunch than brekky in that it resembled a stew but it was mighty tasty nonetheless. I would happily eat it again. The savoury sauce was the perfect accompaniment to the mouth-watering meat which sat atop a creamy serving of sweet potato mash.

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The wife ate the thick cut bacon which comes with a gruyere cheese potato cake, poached eggs, beetroot relish and rocket. She said it was a “very good dish” although “a bit salty”, adding “the beetroot relish was the real winner”.

ImageFinally, the smoked trout was enjoyed by our lovely friend who seemed very pleased with the result. The trout is cold though, which may affect your order if you’re after a hot dish. Good food, all round! Verdict: 4.5/5ImageCoffee: I have only recently discovered pour over filter coffee. Love it. Like a well-made single malt, a decent craft beer or a fine wine, I admire anything that has had a bit of thought go into it, as opposed to the mass produced stuff that is designed to make a quick buck. The coffee connoisseur is well served at Wide Open Road, with no less than six styles of coffee to choose from. That’s right, six! Their espresso is a Bathysphere blend, with a mix of beans from Ethiopia, Kenya, Costa Rica and Brazil, then there’s drip, pour over filter, single origin iced drip, iced latte and iced coffee. I had the pour over filter from Costa Rica that arrived in a scientific-looking glass beaker from which I could pour into a handleless cup. Most impressive. Delicious flavour. Oh, and did I mention the tasting notes that featured a map of its origin? Super impressive. Verdict: 5/5

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Price: $71 for three pax.

Ambience: there is a noticeable buzz here. Staff whizz about without being overbearing. There is definitely a sense of urgency, but in a good way. We sat inside near a large open window through which the sunshine beamed for most of our meal. You can sit inside or out and there’s plenty of space. That said, you may still need to line up on weekends. Verdict: 4.5/5

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Service: barely noticed the staff… they were neither positive nor negative, which is how you like it sometimes. I guess they were nice enough. I did notice that we were served by about four different staff throughout our meal. That’s ok, though. They knew their food and coffee. Verdict: 4/5

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Twenty and Six, North Melbourne

594 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne 9329 0298
We went: Sun March 22, 2014 
Verdict: 16/20
http://www.twentyandsix.com.au/

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In a nutshell: popular, trendy café that is almost too small to cope with the ever swelling numbers that want a piece of it. Has an outdoor area that resembles an inner urban backyard… which is a good thing (though it may get a wee bit chilly in winter if they don’t invest in a few heaters).

The brunch team: me, wife, two female friends.

We ate:
–       Smoked ham hock with pureed peas
–       Fried polenta, braised mushrooms, asparagus, ricotta, salsa verde, poached egg

Fried polenta

Fried polenta… food envy!

Conversation topics:
–       relationships
–       family
–       comedy festival

Food:

I had the smoked ham hock with pureed peas, as did my friend. It would have to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing brunch options in Melbourne (perhaps even the world!). But at the end of the day, what is it? It is ham, toast, eggs, peas and pureed peas. Maybe I am being cycical, but then I was hungover (again!). My less-hungover friend told me to “ease up about the food” when I sent her a draft of the review. She had the smoked ham hock too and said “it was delicious”… so she’d be a better judge than me.

Smoked ham hock

Smoked ham hock… an aesthetically-pleasing dish.

I do remember suffering a little food envy for those who chose the fried polenta. Reports on this were favourable although nothing to write home about. The salsa verde was “yummy” and the fried polenta had “nice texture”. The menu has a fairly English feel about it (although the fare is a cut above what you’d get at a corner ‘greasy spoon’, that is for sure).

Do yourself a favour and order a donut. We had a salted caramel one, which was delicious. Not dissimilar to the jam donut that goes around at the local footy but with a rich salty filling. There is also the option of the peanut butter jelly flavour. The wife suggested heating the donuts wouldn’t hurt. 

Food rating: 4.5/5

Donut

Mmm… donut

Coffee:

Living in a city renown for good coffee certainly has its perks. Having lived in London for a while, finding a decent coffee can be like finding a cab after midnight in Melbourne on a Saturday night. The problem with it is our baristas are quite protective about their craft – perhaps rightfully so – and are quite particular about certain aspects of said craft. Let’s take milk temperature, for example. Some sources state the milk should be heated to 60C with a pouring temperature of 65-70C. I’ve even seen some (slightly wanky places) put a sign up telling customers “We serve our coffee at 53C because this is the optimum temperature for heating milk in coffee” BLAH BLAH BLAH… yeah, we hear you. You’re special. The thing is, milk has a lower boiling temperature than water (80C vs 100C) so the last thing you want is to boil the milk. You just want to heat it. Also, the temperature of the milk affects the chemical composition of the coffee when they are combined so there is a heat ‘range’ that will get best results.

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My point is, sometimes baristas err too much on the side of caution when heating milk and it’s on the cold side of warm. It could have been due to us being seated outside but our coffees (plural) at Twenty and Six were a little on the cold side.

After brunch, I ordered a cup of filtered coffee (7 Seeds, Guatamala). I am a filtered coffee convert, I must admit. It seems to have much more character than milky coffee and doesn’t leave you feeling bloated yet still gives a nice buzz. Plus I like it when coffee places offer something that’s a bit off the beaten track, like Single Origin, cold drip or filtered options.

Coffee rating: 4/5

Price: ~$120 (four pax)

Ambience:

I guess you have to expect a bit of a wait if you go to a place that is popular. But perhaps that’s what sorts the wheat from the chaff… a good brunch place is one that can pump out quality food and coffee, at pace, even when there’s a crowd. Or maybe us folk at MBS are just a bit fussy? We like good brunch and value fast enough service that doesn’t have us wondering when the food is coming. We did the Sunday Age quiz then waited another 15 minutes before our meals arrived. Some from our team said that was fine… perhaps I am too impatient.

It was a little chilly out the back where we were seated. The furniture is not overly comfortable but it’s all made from recycled materials so that’s commendable. As winter digs in its icy claws, you’d hope they invest in a couple of tall heaters… I’m sure they were on order when we visited.

At the end of the day, it’s a standard backyard… with an outside loo.

We sat out the back because it was chockers inside, as it is most of the time on weekends (so this part will just be about the outside area).

Ambience rating: 3.5/5

Service:

The wait staff were very nice and smartly dressed. One gentleman even had mustard-coloured trousers that matched the coffee mugs. Asked if it was intended, he indicated that’s what he was going for. That’s dedication! The guy with the beard (the one who was wearing the mustard trousers) was very good.

Service rating: 4/5

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