Lobbs has a handsome dark-turquoise facade and an attractive interior by in-demand architecture firm Technē that mixes corrugated polycarbonate sheeting with dusky pink cushions. But this isn’t a flashy destination cafe – the aim is simple things done well.
Brothers Kael and Matt Sahely are up to the task. Together they’ve founded and sold some of Melbourne’s most popular cafes, including Touchwood, Pillar of Salt, Bawa, and Barry (they left well before the wage scandal). Today they run colourful CBD coffee shop Vacation and East Melbourne’s stately Square and Compass.
At Lobbs the brothers and their business partners (Matt Stribley, chef Jeremy Fraser and dad Elias Sahely) have applied all the small learnings of their careers so far. The community noticeboard by the front door, for example, is an idea first trialled at Barry. Next to that, tram commuters sip Vacation coffee roasted at Bureaux Collective on a spacious bench that’s far more enticing than the weathered timber alternative five steps away.
Inside, free newspapers are scattered about and huge Tom Ross photographs of local characters – nonnas and shop owners, not celebrities – loom over the 110-seat space. There’s a strong local vibe, and it isn’t entirely contrived. Elias is a career chef with Lebanese heritage and spent several decades visiting this particular stretch of Sydney Road for fresh produce and hard-to-find Middle Eastern specialties.
The menu is where you’ll find the most imports. Sahely superfans will recognise mainstay dishes such as the chilli scramble, the superfood salad and the crunchy peanut butter and cherry tomatoes. Newer entries – some inspired by cult LA cafe Sqirl – include a fried egg and kaiserfleisch sandwich, buckwheat pancakes with raw cacao pudding and whole roasted sweet potato with cashew cream.