Scrupulous attention to detail, devotion to quality produce and idiosyncratic spaces that make you want to return defined our favourite new cafes in 2017.
Small Graces, Footscray
Husband and wife Diego Portilla and Rebecca Howell first met in Kyneton in 2012. Howell was coordinating the Jamie’s Ministry of Food project, and Portilla was working as a chef at Annie Smithers’s eponymous fine diner, now known as Source Dining, after a few years at Daylesford’s Lake House. Their warm new cafe, Small Graces, is committed to using local, ethically sourced, minimally processed ingredients and produce. Vegetables come from Goornong in Central Victoria, eggs from Victoria’s Burd Eggs, bread from Sourdough Kitchen in nearby Seddon and coffee from Rumble Coffee Roasters in Kensington. Part of the warmth of the space comes from personal touches added by Portilla and Howell, including wood planters and seating that Portilla built. Those who are vegan, vegetarian or gluten free will find a variety of options on the menu, and dishes that do have meat in them include the protein as an accompaniment to vegetables or salad, rather than the other way around. Portilla also uses less popular cuts of meat where possible, and makes his own ferments.
Hector’s Deli, Richmond
This might be the most over-qualified sandwich shop in Melbourne; its owners worked previously at Stokehouse and Attica. It’s a heady set of credentials, but Hector’s Deli keeps things uncomplicated. The six varieties of sandwich are mostly corner-store standards, but with elevated ingredients. Meat for the Wagyu pastrami sandwich comes from Meatsmith, the ham, cheese and tomato uses mortadella, mozzarella and provolone. “It’s not a normal ham, cheese and tomato – it’s on steroids,” says one owner. Hector’s is located on the corner of a quiet suburban block in Richmond and has tall windows that let in plenty of morning light. It’s small, with only eight seats inside, and a pared-back fit-out with clean, white brickwork and white tiles, plus retro-tinged graphics that add just the right amount of character and colour.
Neon Beatniks, Brunswick
This polished cafe has a staunchly monochrome fit-out, save the green from a number of indoor plants. The owners are Kirsten and Richard Taylor of Fairfield cafe Hoppa and Joe. The all-female kitchen, led by Kate Hale (formerly Red Door Corner Store), pumps out creative, comforting brunch dishes. Around-the-world flavours are inspired by Hale’s recent travels. Dishes such as a kimchi bowl with sticky pork belly, and dahl fritters with avocado and turmeric puree and coconut sambal (Kirsten’s favourites) are hearty and punchy. Fans of Hoppa and Joe’s breakfast bruschetta (avocado, bocconcini, cherry tomatoes and basil) will be happy to know it’s made the trip to Brunswick.
Taiyo Sun, Fitzroy North
Blink and you might miss Taiyo Sun, a tiny Japanese cafe wedged inside the corner of a building on St Georges Road. The narrow 12-seat space is about the size of a large utility room, with small wooden chairs and tables and cotton-clad light shades. Natural light flows in from the neighbouring Merri Creek parklands, which is visible through a series of large windows that command the long north-facing wall. The menu has only 10 Japanese-leaning breakfast and lunch options. Owner Tats Kawabata doesn’t adhere to Melbourne’s cult of sourdough, instead opting for fluffy white bread from Brioche by Philip. He slices it Japan-style (that is, about three times thicker than your wildest Wonder White dreams), with toppings such as homemade azuki (sweetened red bean paste) and matcha powder, black honeyed sesame paste, or hard-boiled eggs beneath a blanket of Japanese mayonnaise and melted cheese. Coffee by Wide Open Road sits alongside a large and interesting tea menu with noteworthy inclusions such as lapsang souchong, grapefruit green and cherry-flavoured sakuranbo. Go for the blossoming jasmine flower for a bit of afternoon-cuppa theatre.
Wilson & Market, Prahran
Paul Wilson’s cafe inside the larger Wilson & Market venue is all very sleek and smart, but what’s most memorable here (apart from the technicolour, art-installation-like bathrooms) is the food. Wilson sources most of his fruit and veg from a small biodynamic farm on the Mornington Peninsula, and the menu is largely vegetarian. It has everything you want it to (eggs, pastries, pancakes, muesli), but it looks and tastes different to the carbon-copy brunch list you now find at almost every Melbourne cafe. We recommend ordering anything that comes with the house-made spicy tomatillo verde. And don’t miss the Scotch eggs, or the buttery slab of house-cured trout.
All Are Welcome, Northcote
190 High Street in Northcote used to be a Christian Science reading room. The cream brick building had the phrase “All Are Welcome” written in gold letters on the front door, so Boris Portnoy knew what he’d call the place when he turned it into a bakery and coffee shop. Portnoy was previously head pastry chef at a three-Michelin Star restaurant in California before he traded fine dining for baking. All Are Welcome is a collaboration with Everyday Coffee, so you can sip its espresso or batch brew while you decide between a croissant, cinnamon brioche or chocolate babka bun. There’s also an assortment of non-sweet options, such as savoury tartines and tarts, plus house-made jams, chutneys and pickles. Don’t leave without buying one of Portnoy’s dense loaves (or another pastry, for the road).
This is one of the most jaw-dropping new interiors of the year, with flashes of an Apple store, or something out of Michael Jackson’s Scream film-clip. Every detail in this former garage is clean and bright, from the island espresso bench to the almost reflective white coffee packaging. Transparency, clarity and simplicity are the three guiding principles here, and the roast is on the lighter side. Byoung-Woo Kang, co-owner and director of coffee (and Australia’s 2014 cup-tasting champion) worked as a barista at St Ali before he began roasting at Market Lane. Besides coffee, there’s matcha tea, one seasonal fresh juice and pastries from Cobb Lane. That’s it. Simple.
Terror Twilight, Collingwood
Terror Twilight is the reborn Bedford Street. Twilight is brighter and airier than its predecessor, with a pastel-pink espresso machine instead of beer taps, and indoor plants instead of neon lights. The food is wholesome and tasty, like the roast-chicken sandwich with lemon mayo; frisee; and pistachio, bacon and prune stuffing. There are also broths, plus smoothies and pressed juices. Pastries come from Cobb Lane Bakery; minced meat comes from nearby Meatsmith; coffee comes from Wide Open Road – you know you’re in good hands.
Oakleigh Dougnut Co. (specialising in Greek-inspired doughnuts); Native Home, House of Plants (a nursery in Abbotsford with a jaffle-focused cafs) and The Alley (a St Kilda Road vegan cafe that doesn’t skimp on flavour or decadence) were the three most-read cafe-opening stories of the year.
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