he team at Small Victories seem to have snuck into the sleepy, leaf-lined North Carlton strip of Rathdowne Street as if they were meant to be there all along. After a whirlwind renovation of the old Rathdowne Street Food Store (impressively completed in a month), owners Ben Farrant and Alric Hansen have flung open the doors. Both have spent years working in a slew of quality operations (Farrant at Gills Diner and Hansen at The Crimean most recently) and with Small Victories, have finally been able to step up and open something they can call their own.
Larger inside than would appear from the street, the meticulous space is sparse, but still welcoming. The fit-out is simple and elegant, with gorgeous timber throughout and a marble bar/counter running down the centre of the front room. Behind the bar is a custom coffee machine bearing a vintage Ford XB Falcon badge, an alluring wine selection and a sizeable record collection sitting comfortably next to a beautiful, vintage timber-based turntable.
"We wanted to do cafe food with a twist and apply restaurant level technique," says Hansen. It’s something he has certainly achieved. A few stars of the menu are the black pudding with pickled walnut and roast apple mayonnaise and the coconut and oil agave syrup granola with elderflower, poached rhubarb, lychee, organic yoghurt and berry powder. Hansen is committed to producing as much as he can in-house and keeping outsourcing to a minimum, making yoghurt and smoked goods onsite. While a massive undertaking, the results speak for themselves.
On the drinks side, Wide Open Road is the bean of choice, perfectly extracted and delicious every time. For beer drinkers, there’s Croucher Pale Ale on tap and Boatrocker Hoppbier and Harviestoun ‘Mr Sno'balls’ in the bottles. A concise wine list has mostly local selections.
At this point, Small Victories is only open for breakfast and lunch, with plans to open later on weekends once things are a little more settled. So far, this cafe seems like much more than a small victory.
617 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North
Tues to Sun 8am–3pm (closing time varies)