Street showdown – Essex St, West Footscray

Brother Nancy (182 Essex St)
vs
West 48 (48 Essex St)

First it was Footscray with its myriad Asian eateries. Now the cool crowd has moved further west in search of the latest cafe brunch buzz.

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WEFO (West Footscray) real estate is going gangbusters and, not surprisingly, brunch cafes are popping up like meerkats in the West.

In our first Street Showdown Melbourne Brunch Scene pits two new WEFO stars through their paces to find who is Lord of Essex Street when it comes to brunch.

FOOD

Brother Nancy chef Jordi Boyer may not make the most photogenic food but what it lacks in sex appeal, it oozes in flavour.

As mentioned before, the brekky menu is somewhat slim but that’s ok – just as long as what they do is done well. We went for the Savoury Crepe ($10.50) and Chapin Breakfast ($16) and were not disappointed. Both of these boasted a noticeable Central American twist, a legacy from Boyer’s eight-month stint in Guatemala. Dodging this place based on the modest photography below would be a mistake. Yes, bland would aptly describe both dishes’ appearance but take into account the clandestine maneuvers required in stealth reviewing and our absence of a quality camera. Take our word – the food was scrumptious. A salty nirvana for the tastebuds.

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Ok, moving onto West 48, where the bar is set quite high when it comes to food. Well, presentation, at least. We can only assume they were fussing over presentation during the 30 mins we were waiting for it to come. (You need to consider the chefs are working in a shoebox kitchen). I ordered the Fritters with a poached egg ($20), while the others built their own around scrambled eggs and other sides (about $20). Let me say the portion sizes are quite generous and, while on the steep end of price compared to Brother Nancy, it is good value. Everything was spot on but the highlight was the jalepeno-infused salsa-smoked salmon-feta combo that came with the fritters – a combination worth making the trip to Essex St for.

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DRINK

Right, down to business. West 48 probably had the lead until the OJ (below) arrived. I won’t be publishing the price of it here. I’d hate to impact their business like that. The price is just one issue. Let’s deal with the other. This photo was taken seconds after it was placed in front of me. No explanation they were running low leaving me to assume this is how it’s meant to be served. Gobsmacked. Words fail me. Akin to theft. You can see the OJ in question below. Notice its smarmy grin as it sits arrogantly with its ‘I’m so cool’ straw peering out. I’m still thirsty. Do you think I was charged for half (being generous saying it’s half) an OJ? No.

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They made up some ground with the Red Rooibos tea. We have Rooibos at home – but not like this! West 48 serve All Press coffee – and do a good job.

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Down the street Brother Nancy is also having a go at slippery slope that is the OJ game. Their offering, Parker’s, claims to be the ‘best orange juice you will ever taste’… fighting words. Clearly the folks at Parker’s have never been to Charlton for some of mum’s finest freshly-squeezed OJ circa 1990. At least we didn’t have to re-mortgage the house for a sip and there were more than two mouthfuls. Brother Nancy serves Proud Mary beans. I had a long black and enjoyed it immensely.

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VIBE

This was a contest of light vs dark. The pics (again) don’t do justice to the light in both places. Brother Nancy is a well-lit and bright space characterised by fresh white walls and simple decor whereas West 48 is an edgy-looking space with industrial light fittings and trendy benches. Both places were buzzing – locals come here because they clearly feel comfortable here. It speaks to them.

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STAFF

Brother Nancy wins this category. Maybe it’s because they’ve only been open for five weeks but the staff here were far more attentive, caring and had more personality. The food didn’t even take that long but our lovely waitress was still apologetic, unlike West 48 staff who dumped and ran despite the 30-min wait. West 48 staff certainly weren’t offensive – in fact I think they do remarkably well to maintain such a chipper mood when they have nowhere to hide (three chefs are operating in a 3m x 2m space behind the counter).

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PRICE

Again, if you are a value hunter (aka tight-arse) Brother Nancy takes the prize here with its outstanding value-for-money food menu. We had change from $40 for food and drink. West 48 hit us up for $76 for the three of us, which still isn’t too bad – especially if you’re used to south-side prices.

 

THE WINNER IS…

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Could Brother Nancy be the inaugural winner of 2014 Surprise Packet of the West* ?

Cheap, quality brunch served with a smile. West 48 must consider itself unlucky. It would win most  Street Showdowns against weaker opposition.

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Premises, Kensington

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

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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

Three Bags Full 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

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!

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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”.

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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

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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

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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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Pearl Oyster on Urbanspoon