In 2016 Jonathon Scali and chef Karel Simek took over a corner site in Clifton Hill and opened Uncle Drew Cafe. The pair had worked together for 15 years across many of Melbourne’s Italian restaurants and bars.
Their charming cafe built a reputation for its coffee, breakfast and lunch offering; fans returned for the popular Uncle Drew’s Toastie (shaved ham, pulled pork, manchego, pickles, Dijon mustard and crème fraiche) and more on the tight, sophisticated menu.
Since April Uncle Drew has run a weekend dinner service; an Italian-influenced menu that currently includes bruschetta with sardines antipasto plates filled with smoked caciocavallo cheese, prosciutto, fennel and chilli salami, and grissini; and larger dishes including a lamb stew and tagliatelle with mushrooms and sage.
“It was always the plan for Uncle Drew to offer a dinner menu, but we first wanted to establish our daytime service and better understand the area,” says Scali. “We felt the area wanted and needed a reliable and friendly late-night option and we’re here for the locals."
Meatier night-time dishes include a slow-cooked porchetta with braised green lentils and chimichurri, and a Scotch fillet served with celeriac puree, green beans and smoked garlic butter.
“Our standout dish at the moment is our homemade gnocchi, which comes with a beautiful buffalo mozzarella from That’s Amore,” says Scali. Other fresh pasta, such as the tagliatelle and agnolotti, come from Maria’s Pasta in Carlton North.
Most of the fresh ingredients come from Preston market and the menu will change each week depending on the best available produce.
“One weekend we had a dish with Slippery Jack mushrooms from Gippsland, which were pulled from the ground that morning,” says Scali.
From day to night, small adjustments are made to set a more romantic mood. The lights are switched off and replaced with candles. Underneath the outside umbrellas fairy lights have been strewn. Counter clutter such as the juicer and mixer are tucked away to allow space for cocktail making.
Weekend dinner service begins at 6pm, but drinks are available from midday. The simple wine list will change regularly, and the team at Southgate’s Waterslide Bar (where Scali used to work) has helped put together a simple cocktail list of eight drinks including a Not That Old Fashioned and an Espresso Drewtini.
“I wanted to keep it very relaxed, so if you’re still in your gym or work gear it’s still an inviting place to come and eat,” says Scali.
23 Groom Street, Clifton Hill
(03) 9489 2077
Mon to Thu 6.30am–3pm