Pint-size. Miniature. Dinky. Teensy. However you paint it, there’s something that draws us to compact spaces, even if it can be tough to find a seat inside. Here are some of the most impressive small-scale spots to open in recent months.
Hero Sandwich House
The young Kiwi duo behind Hero Sandwich cringe at the word “gourmet”. This is the pair’s second spot – the first Hero is in Auckland – located between two car garages in the backstreets of Cremorne.
It’s a simple space, with little more than a service counter and a handful of potted plants. Illustrations of sandwiches by Melbourne artist Hugo Mathias decorate the ceiling, white subway tiles line the walls, and a pair of T-shirts hang from a wooden ledge where customers prop themselves while they wait.
Naturally, the stars of the show are the sandwiches – made with a light, soft, and slightly sweet bespoke buttermilk bread from local bakers Dench. Each sandwich is brimming with high-quality ingredients and packed with flavour. The menu, by head chef Nick Ravlich (who worked a stint at the acclaimed Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld), changes every few weeks, but if you’re lucky you’ll catch The Ralph, a gochujang (fermented Korean chilli paste) chicken sub with cucumber, pickled ginger, cucumber raita and red cabbage; or the Philly Cheesesteak, served with butter onions, jalapeno and cheddar.
For the gluten intolerant, there’s a selection of salads and chia puddings. There’s also coffee from Supreme, slices and pastries from Dench, and juices from Almighty.
Wolf and Swill
Pizza, beer and not much more – this little corner bar keeps things delightfully simple. Even when the sun’s high and the trestles on the footpath are full, Wolf and Swill has something of an after-hours feel.
Woodfired pizzas come in one size – the kind that seems ambitious when you’re dead sober but just right after one or two pints. Yours might come topped with confit garlic, sous-vide garlic, honey, buffalo mozzarella and rosemary; or pork and fennel sausage, bechamel, buttered leeks and washed-rind cheese.
Eight taps pour a truly diverse set of beers. There’s Sapporo lager, Coopers pale ale, Mr Banks’s Got Milk nitro porter and Boatrocker’s Jungle Jive sour IPA. Wines are minimal intervention and slightly natural, without going too left of centre.
Little Lon Distilling Co
Only open 10 hours a week (on Thursday and Friday nights), this tiny 20-seat gin distillery has a hundred-year history.
The heritage-listed brick building has bluestone flooring, a slate roof and an outdoor toilet, and at the turn of last century it housed illegal sex workers and sold bootleg grog. The cottage now has a small bar in one room, a gin still in another, and fermentation tanks in a third.
There’s a tight list of just three gins on offer, with hints of either ginger-citrus, lychee or rosemary. You can pick up a bottle to take home, but if you’re here you may as well grab a seat at the compact bar and order a gin and tonic or a cocktail. The Dutch Apple is mulled jenever and apple cider served hot with “a bunch of extra spices”. There’s also a Negroni, a gin Old Fashioned, and Little Lon’s version of a Tom Collins, given a kick with lemongrass and chilli syrup.
All distilling is done onsite, with the base alcohol brewed at Westside Ale Works in South Melbourne. Artwork for the bottle labels is hand-drawn by Kerby Rosanes, a Filipino artist who specialises in intricate sketches.
Mocha Jo’s Burger Bar
This 20-seater eatery at the base of Ripponlea station is a more compact version of the original, larger Mocha Jo’s. The fit-out, by Blackmilk Interior Design, is inspired by American diners, with white rectangular tiles on the walls, red trim around the windows, and a wooden booth stretching along one side of the room. Outside, there’s ample seating under the Art Deco-style building’s candy-stripe awnings.
The menu borrows from the US, too. The Tennessee Truffle is a 600-day grain-fed Wagyu beef burger on a milk bun with American cheese and truffle mayo; The Southern Cali is fried chicken, bourbon bacon jam and chipotle mayo; and The Vegas Vegan is a sweet potato and veggie pattie with chipotle coconut yoghurt. A side of popcorn chicken arrives drizzled in Sriracha mayo.
Shakes are thickened with Frosty Boy soft serve and can be loaded with Oreo crumble, or Nutella and hazelnut praline.
The Pickle and The Patty
In an old office space in Ascot Vale, this pint-sized burger joint almost never happened. Co-owners Lyndal Keys and Laura Attard looked at a tonne of properties but they all kept falling through. So, they put their dream on the backburner and started food truck Dr Sous. Of course, soon after, the perfect spot fell into their laps.
Free-range beef and bacon here are from local butcher Fancy Meats, and milk buns are from Let’s-a-Loaf, further to the north-west. Pickles and condiments are made in-house, and Keys and Attard believe these are the keys to a good burger – alongside simplicity.
While some burgers (such as the Inbetweener, a riff on the classic Big Mac) are relatively straight up, others are more indulgent. The Pickle Monster makes good use of those house-made pickles, with pickle mayo, double beef patties, triple cheese, bacon, pickle relish, pickled onions and a good handful of dill pickles.
There are rotating vegan and vegetarian specials, too, and fries or onion rings on the side.
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on December 14, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.