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

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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

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

Twenty & Six Espresso on Urbanspoon