2016 has been a year for audacious cafe launches. Some have upended traditional cafe designs and formats; others have introduced ingredients you’ve never eaten before; one made its goal a new standard for coffee in Melbourne. If you haven’t made it to these places yet, summer is the perfect time to play catch up.
Sensory Lab, Melbourne
Sensory Lab has been serving coffee to Melburnians since 2009, but it was only this year the coffee roaster opened its first Melbourne store. The high-tech Collins Street space is in an office-building thoroughfare. There’s no wood or tiles, only slabs of stainless steel and a lot of cork. This place is all about efficiency and calm. There are iPads fixed to the bar-style counters, and a seriously efficient takeaway window.
Jethro Canteen, Richmond
There’s a few oddities on the menu at this cafe near Burnley Station, including roasted crickets (on a Vietnamese salad) and camel-milk lattes. Owner Billy Zarbos believes it’s only a matter of time before eating insects is mainstream – they’re nutritious, packed with vitamins and require less water and land to farm than other sources of meat. As for camel milk, it supposedly makes a very creamy latte.
Pickett’s Deli & Rotisserie, Melbourne
Scott Pickett opened his first non-restaurant – a deli and wine bar – at Queen Victoria Market in September. It’s definitely more casual than Pickett’s other venues, but as far as delis go, it’s not casual by any stretch: there are marble counters, high ceilings and a herringbone-patterned wooden floor. Still, you can pick up a bacon-and-egg butty or a bratwurst for about $10. Pickett sees the deli as a place to showcase the best the market has to offer, and it’s open all day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A giant rotisserie is the venue’s literal and conceptual focus, and chef Aaron Brodie (from Estelle Bistro) cooks chicken, duck, beef and smoked bacon on it.
Caryn Liew and her husband Brendan opened Chotto as a pop-up in August, not knowing if they’d keep it running for six months or a year. Chef Brendan is an Andrew McConnell alum from Golden Fields and Supernormal, who also worked at RyuGin, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Tokyo. Chotto serves authentic Japanese food, mostly based on what’s served in a ryokan – a traditional Japanese inn. The only two permanent menu items are the breakfast sets – one vegetarian and one with fish. The tea is imported from Kyoto and Hiroshima and includes ceremonial-grade matcha whisked to order.
Babajan, Carlton North
Kirsty Chiapalas and Ismail Tosun go the extra mile at their Turkish cafe. They break down whole lamb for mince; shell chickpeas for hummus; and make their own pides, Turkish breads and simit (circular bread topped with seeds). The focus here is on contemporary versions of traditional recipes. So a trout spanakopita is filo-free, and served with a poached egg, hollandaise, peas, charred kale and Iranian caviar. Chiapalas and Tosun did the fit-out themselves; they ripped out the terracotta tiles and polished the concrete floor underneath.
Higher Ground, Melbourne
Nathan Toleman’s multi-level city venue blurs the lines between cafe, restaurant and something else. He was inspired by hotels such as Soho House and the Ace in London and New York: “places where you check in and don’t want to leave”. Hence the lounge on the top floor, where you can read or eat or just hang out. Higher Ground occupies a former power station with ceilings three storeys high, in an area of the city that’s been neglected by most hospitality operators. Come for the food, and the space (which recently won Australia’s top cafe design award), and stay for both.
Plug Nickel, Collingwood
The six owners behind Plug Nickel – four from Dr Morse, plus baristas Chris Graham and Lucien Kolff – arrived in Collingwood with a pretty bold goal: to set a new standard for coffee in Melbourne. They passed over top Melbourne roasters for beans from Canberra’s Ona Coffee, owned by Sasa Sestic, the 2015 World Barista Champion. The cafe also uses a relatively obscure espresso machine, designed by several other World Champion baristas. Locals don’t just come for the espresso: Graham and Kolff’s cascara (a tea made from coffee cherries) and nitrogen-charged cold brew are available on tap.
Armadale has wanted a cafe like Moby for a long time, and the people waiting in line on the weekends prove it. Owner Christina Higgins was catering manager for Yotam Ottolenghi in London, and the influence shows on the menu (think harissa beans with shanklish cheese, and lots of grains and spices). Higgins has joined with Stephen Svensen (ex-head chef at Pillar of Salt and Barry) and the result is very good. Plus, there’s a rooftop.