ood loving hearts broke a little near the end of last year when Simon Denton, Karen White and chef Dallas Cuddy announced they were closing their 10-year-old restaurant Verge. Denton, also the owner of Izakaya Den, has taken the old Verge site and is in the midst of transforming it into an upstairs-downstairs affair. While the bar, Hihou, is on its way, the ground floor cafe, Nama Nama, opened for business Thursday.
Open for breakfast and lunch, the menu is simple, with most items available to take away. There’s handmade udon noodle soup (eat-in only), nori rolls made to order, Nama Katsu buns (a crumbed prawn, pork or broccoli and potato pattie with tonkatsu sauces and a steamed egg) and choose-your-own bento boxes.
Denton and his team have made the most of the space, with low tables and shortened stools placed in the nooks of the cafe, a window bench looking onto Flinders Lane and seats at the bar with wonderful views of the Treasury Gardens opposite.
On its very first day, the cafe was already buzzing and despite the grey, drizzly skies, felt light, open and quite snug. Large menus on thick cardboard backing are stuck to the white walls, which diners can pull off, examine, order, and stick back on at their leisure.
The bento boxes consist of five parts – salad, rice ‘n’ roll friends, raw style, Japanese speciality, and main with rice, pickles and treats – each with three options to choose from. All the elements are displayed at the front counter, which is certain to set hungry customers’ mouths watering. Think delicate Wagyu beef rice paper roll, gingery smoked salmon salad, poached duck breast, sticky pork and daikon rice cake and baked eggplant and rice.
Regulars can become bento members and reuse a bamboo bento box each time they dine at Nama Nama. It’s a clever environmental move and as a bonus incentive, members pay less for their bento. For sporadic customers, bentos are served in cardboard (a bit like a pizza box, but divided into five) and are priced slightly higher.
A decent drinks list showcases sake, chuhai (a canned Japanese carbonated alcoholic drink), umeshu (a plum liqueur), beer and tea. For breakfast choose from Nama Katsu buns, toast, fresh fruit and breakfast bento and top it off with a coffee made from Market Lane beans.
There’s also small retail shop set to open soon, nestled at the back of the cafe, selling gorgeous Japanese ceramics made exclusively for the establishment, including udon bowls, chopstick holders and hard-to-find Japanese beer.
With clever food, smooth service and a very reasonable menu (there’s nothing over $16), Nama Nama is bound to be a favourite city lunch spot. We suggest you beat the crowds and check it out soon.
31 Spring Street, Melbourne
(03) 9639 9500
Mon to Sat 7am–5pm