Premises, Kensington

202 Bellair Street Kensington | 9376 7565
We went: Thursday May 22 | Verdict: 22.5/25

ImageMon-Fri 7am-4.30pm, Sat-Sun 8am-4pm
http://thepremises.com.au/

In a nutshell: the best brunch cafe in Kensington bar none.

Food: I scanned the menu up and down but couldn’t seem to find anything that took my fancy. Then I laid eyes on the corned beef and potato hash with sauerkraut, mustard aioli and a poached egg. I probably don’t need to tell you how delicious this was for the description alone inspires salivation. But I will. The charred corned beef were like nuggets of gold buried amongst the sauerkraut, which by dish’s end was smothered in gooey fiery red egg, which minutes earlier perched proudly atop the brunch masterpiece. An aioli moat lay at the base of the food fortress, however would have been of little use in battle given how tasty it was (and the fact there was nothing to protect after just five minutes). This was one of my favourite Melbourne brunches.

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Usually when my wife and I do brunch, one of us gets food envy. Not so at Premises. Both of us claimed to have the best dish. She ordered the Mushies and Greens, which consisted of delectable mushrooms scattered amongst kale, seasonal fungi and a poached egg – all on buttered, crunchy organist multi-grain toast. “It was just literally delicious,” she said. “It was well seasoned and had this chilli kick. It was amazing.” The menu appears a little “salt heavy” with plenty of salty options, but this shouldn’t be viewed as a bad thing. There is an ad in the window for a new chef. Seems the current one is doing ok. 5/5

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Coffee: the folks at Premises take a lot of pride in their coffee. When we went they had three single origin options, two from Africa and one from South America. The providers were Seven Seeds and Market Lane. I ordered the Rwandan one from Market Lane. I have heard good things about Market Lane but never had their coffee. Fair to say, I’ll be having them again. The V60 pour over was brewed to perfection, bringing out the rich raspberry character of the beans without being too overpowering. I will be back to try the other ones. 5/5

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Vibe: this place probably won’t win any awards for interior design but what it does have going for it is there are a number of spaces to sit plus about 10 tables on the footpath. It’s a great place to sit in the window and watch the Kensington locals go about their business, or just chill and chew the fat. 4/5

Service: decent enough. The girl behind the counter (owner?) came out to apologise for the lack of tasting notes (I must have looked like a wanker) after they had all been stolen by other customers. She was manually typing up more (respect!) 4.5/5

Ka-ching: meals, plus coffees = around $60. 4/5

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Three Bags Full, Abbotsford

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

ImageMon-Fri 7am-4.30pm, Sat-Sun 8am-4.30pm
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

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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

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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

 outside

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

mushrooms

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

exxy coffee

 panama1

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

lights    clock

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

inside

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.

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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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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

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