The tortilla is the most famous corn-based pancake in Central and South America, but it’s not without competition. El Salvadorhas the thicker, fluffier pupusa, and Colombians and Venezuelans have the dense, puck-like arepa. Such is the starting point for Arepa Days, an almost obnoxiously cheerful new cafe from Santiago Villamizar and Carolina Talero, the husband and wife behind Fitzroy’s long-standing Sonido.
Old Art Deco-style window frames separate the cafe’s “Arepa Lab” from the dining room. Beyond, chefs cook and grind Australian-grown white-corn, then press it into discs using a contraption imported from Colombia. The arepas are then crisped on a grill, ready to receive toppings such as Cuban-style pulled beef; vegemite, guacamole and tomato; and black beans, chorizo and morcilla (black pudding).
Keep it authentic with a jug of Colombian hot chocolate spiked with honey, cloves and cinnamon; a raw sugarcane juice; or a fresh juice made from passionfruit and soursop, a citrusy tropical fruit with the creamy texture of banana.
If you’ve never been to Sonido, there’s a lot here that’s new and exciting, but Arepa Days has all the perks you’d expect from a Melbourne cafe: table service; exactingly brewed Wood and Co coffee; and that gorgeous aqua, yellow and white fit-out, with its terrazzo counters. Villamizar and Talero have been in Melbourne for 12 years now, and they know exactly what the people want.
25 Preston Street, Preston
Mon to Sat 8am–3.30pm
Ima Project Cafe
We’ve had Japanese cafes in Melbourne before – Cibi in Collingwood, ShokuIku in Northcote, Kuu in South Melbourne – but not enough that the genre feels played out. Regardless, Asako Miura and James Spinks have brought something new to the table with Ima Project: a low-waste ethos that’s more than justvirtue-signallingmarketing. And, of course, their own novel take on Japanese-Australian cuisine. Baked eggs are paired with red-miso tomato sugo; the mandatory smashed avo’s mandatory twist is kale, nori paste and furikake seasoning; and porridge comes with poached pear and mitarashi (sweet soy syrup).
In addition to stints at Supernormal and Sydney’s Quay, Spinks cooked at Sake under Shaun Presland, arguably Australia’s best non-native Japanese chef. This experience sees himdehydrating bonito flakes left over from dashi stock and combining them with sesame seeds and chopped seaweed to make the aforementioned furikake, alongside other tricks. The cafe also composts its Proud Mary coffee grounds with help from Reground, and recycles its cooking oil through Green Life Oil.
There are a few other unique touches here: Bloody Marys spiked with shochu, a Japanese spirit commonly made from rice, barley and sweet potato; Ramune Japanese lemonadeforkids; and the windows decorated with “ugly” cartoon vegetables, a nod to that low-waste ethos.
169 Elgin Street, Carlton
(03) 9348 1118
Wed to Fri 7am–4pm
Sat & Sun 8am–3.30pm
Lune Croissanterie CBD
As a city, we’ve had three years to get used to the idea of world-class croissants served in a space-age room, after siblings Kate and Cam Reid moved their poky Elwood operation to a brutalist cement and glass temple in Fitzroy.
And yet, as of October 2, there are two places to score Lune’s perfectly formed croissants. Isn’t that great? Now get in line with every other CBD office worker.
The raw production is done in Fitzroy’s temperature-controlled workspace (known as “the cube”), before being transferred to the city for rolling and baking. The ovens here crisp up 450 batches of croissants each week, which adds up to between 18,000 and 20,000 of the buttery beauties. The menu is short and sweet: there are plain, chocolate, almond, and ham and gruyere croissants, plus lemon-curd cruffins.
The bunker-like space is two steps below street level and shares DNA with Lune’s HQ. There’s nowhere to sit down – just a bunch of polished-concrete benches to stand at and eat that pastry you waited so patiently for. It might be simple and somewhat familiar, but with execution like this, Lune CBD is worth talking about more.
Mon to Fri 7am–3pm