Operator San joins the growing wave of Melbourne venues offering quality Japanese breakfasts to early risers. But rather than the more traditional ochazuke or onigiri you’ll find at places like Chiaki and Ima Asa Yoru, Operator San draws from the local area to create dishes that are inspired by both Japanese flavours and Melbourne brunch culture.

San, Japanese for “three”, is the third Operator venue from Randy Dhamanhuri and Valerie Fong, who are also behind Operator25 and Operator Diner.

Photography: Ashley Ludkin

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Their OG venue, Operator25, has been bringing Asian flavours to the brunch scene for 11 years. “Our game is brunch, you know, that's what we know,” Dhamanhuri tells Broadsheet. Here they deliver a playful celebration of Japan through Melbourne brunch dishes.

Chef Anto Zhang (ex-Ichi Ni Nana) has crafted an all-day menu that combines nostalgic Japanese flavours with Melbourne brunch classics. “We're not just putting two things together without thinking about it. We're trying to blend them,” says Dhamanhuri.

Photography: Ashley Ludkin

You’ll find breakfast ramen, katsu curry Benedict made with house-made spam and Japanese curry hollandaise, as well as strawberry mochi waffles with seasonal fruits and salted caramel sauce. Everything is camera-friendly, with a playground of bright colours and textures.

Operator San is across the road from the Queen Vic Market, and a welcome change of pace from the hustle and bustle of market action. “We want to be a place for when you’re tired and want to have a bit more service, a bit of a sit-down,” says Dhamanhuri.

The fit-out was done by Humble Architects, which leant into motifs of telephone operating rooms found in other Operator venues, seen here through splashes of orange that nod to the 1990’s telecom payphones in Melbourne, as well as in the vintage Japanese telephones found in a nook at the cafe.

Operator San has a neighbourhood famiresu (family restaurant) vibe, with warm and cosy tones and lots of textures in the woodwork found throughout the space. Screen-printed indigo blue flags, or “noren”, hang from the ceiling to divide the space while letting light in.

It’s right next to the new narrm ngarrgu library, too, so if you’re hustling work or study it’s a convenient spot to grab an on-the-go sweet treat. The baked-goods shelf rotates through pastries it’s made in collaboration with AM Bakehouse in Glen Iris.

Photography: Ashley Ludkin

To drink, there’s Code Black coffee and specialty teas including Uji hikari sencha (single origin green tea from Uji Kyoto), kuki hojicha (Shizuoka autumn harvest roasted tea), shisho iced teas and whisked-to-order matcha lattes. There is also a sparkling strawberry Yakult drink and a coffee spritzer made with cold filter coffee, yuzu soda and bitters.

Operator San
121 Therry Street, Melbourne
03 9687 4441

Mon to Fri 8am–4pm
Sat & Sun 8am–5pm