It’s those little moments that Liminal elevates. Collins Street’s new multifaceted eatery might appear at first glance to be a cafe in an office-building foyer, but it’s so much more than that.
Imagine you're late for work, so you grab a quick breakfast on the way in, a thick slice of pumpkin brioche with buffalo curd and honey, or a mozzarella, sage and white anchovy toastie. Later, in search of lunch, you pop down to the foyer to the rotisserie full of rotating golden chooks ready to be sliced and stuffed into a hot roll with gravy. After a busy day, all you can think about is wine and cheese. Lucky for you there's a store with more than 200 bottles, many in the mid-$20 range, and an eclectic cheese selection to match.
Liminal is the latest project from The Mulberry Group, which recently sold high-profile, game-changing cafes Higher Ground, The Kettle Black and Top Paddock (the team is due to open seaside eatery Beach House in Geelong in December).
This crew is known for creating show-stopping spaces, and Liminal is no different. Design studio The Stella Collective, which won awards for its work on The Kettle Black, designed the airy and elegant art deco space. Here, things are curved and comfortable. Banquettes are clad in soft olive leather, armchairs in grey velvet, stools in lamb’s wool. Custom-made light fixtures – black on white, or more ornate brushed bronze – are by Williamstown-based designer Anna Charlesworth. An imposing stone bench looks like it’s come straight from the quarry. It’s hard not to absentmindedly run your hand over its rough edges.
The spacious room on the ground floor of the historic T&G Building is bordered on one side by an expansive open kitchen. The rest of the space is broken up into distinct zones: eatery; grab-and-go; wine shop; cheese store; and private dining room, where a huge slab of sea-green marble takes centre stage.
Director Nathan Toleman says Liminal signals a shift for the group.
“It’s not normally what we do, but we looked at what we’ve done before – Higher Ground and our first venue, Apte – and they’re all kind of out of the way, more obscure spaces,” he says. “So we thought, ‘Why not give a foyer cafe a go?’ People are generally trying to get out of there. Let’s give people a reason to not only stay in the building, but also come to the building from outside.”
Executive chef Martin Webster (Montalto) and head chef Zac Nicholson (Rockpool) have designed a menu that flexes some muscle in a territory that is creative but still familiar. “Nathan’s brief for me was, ‘Stuff that people can eat every day’,” says Webster.
Socca, a French flatbread made from chickpeas, comes out crispy on the bottom and soft on top, scattered with chilled poached egg pieces, guanciale (cured pork jowl), whole chickpeas and herbs. You can fold it up like a taco or cut into it like eggs on toast. Brown-rice pudding comes with banana jam, matcha and hazelnuts. The grilled mortadella sandwich is basted with butter, stuffed with thick-cut mortadella and served with hot and sour pickles. The mapo tofu noodle roll is a Sichuan take on a chilli dog, and comes piled high with crunchy noodles.
If carbs aren’t your thing, try The Plate, a choice of protein (a quarter rotisserie chicken, porchetta, lamb skewers or fish) and salads, which are made in-house every morning. One section of the menu is dedicated to cured meats you can add on, such as house-cured bacon and shaved leg ham.
Drinks are no less interesting. Try the house-made smoked chinotto soda, or a yuzu-ginger variety, or the pear and fermented-strawberry juice. Cocktails include a Negroni made with coffee-infused Campari. Beer comes from locals such as La Sirene and Stomping Ground, and the wine list is heavily Australian. Coffee comes from Square One Roasters in Cremorne.
There’s also unlimited sparkling water for $4, with proceeds going to Common Ground Project, a farm in Geelong the Mulberry Group runs in a similar way to a co-op where chefs can escape the city, grow produce and meditate.
“It’s designed to get chefs from around Melbourne to come work on the farm one day a week, to grow produce together,” Toleman says. “Any money that the farm raises will go into mental health and mindfulness initiatives.”
Toleman practises what he preaches; all Liminal staff, including him, meditate before work each day.
161 Collins Street, Melbourne
0403 251 678
Mon to Fri 7am–6pm