From fluffy golden crumpets and katsu sandos to Lebanese pizzas and phenomenal sandwiches, many of 2019’s best cafes are doing one thing really, really well. Some are plating up broader brunch fare, but really kick things up a notch with excellent service or stunning design. Many are doing take-home meals, too, so you can ride that relaxed, Sunday morning brunch wave all the way to dinner.
In an old Polish deli on Leeds Street, Footscray is Romans Original, a nondescript neighbourhood cafe serving some of the best sandwiches in town. Get yours stuffed with egg, American cheese and Meatsmith sausage; one that channels a McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish; or one with a neat slab of eggplant parmigiana. There are also elevated British-leaning plates and natural wines. Coffee is by Sydney roaster Artificer, and the owner’s got a pretty decent vinyl collection on rotation.
Melbourne’s first dedicated crumpet cafe started life as a farmers market stall, and in its petite six-metre-square city home, it’s serving a plumper, grown-up spin on the little golden discs. Get yours topped with Vegemite, maple-coffee peanut butter, house-made jam or local honey, or upgrade to a Fancy Boi from the rotating menu – maybe one loaded with smoked butter, grilled taleggio cheese, thyme and clover honey, or a chocolate and marshmallow number.
Just up the road from the Queen Vic Market, 279 specialises in modern takes on a traditional Japanese dish called musubi, which is rice with one or two toppings. Try the bacon-and-egg or katsu chicken version. For dessert, grab a Mochinut (a doughnut with the texture of mochi) or a black-tea crème brûlée. There’s excellent filter coffee too, and the space is zen and roomy and flooded with light.
From the team behind game-changing cafes Higher Ground, The Kettle Black and Top Paddock (which are all now in new hands) comes Liminal, an art deco cafe in the foyer of an office building. But that’s underselling it. The airy and elegant space is full of curved lines and comfortable corners, with banquettes clad in olive leather and grey velvet armchairs. Order the socca – a French flatbread made from chickpea flour and topped with herbs, an egg and a few hunks of salty guanciale (cured pork jowl) – which you can fold up like a taco.
This electric-orange ice-cream and hot-chip shop in Thornbury is by the team behind city bar Peaches and barbeque joint Dexter. You’ll find native Australian ingredients in flavours such as coconut and finger lime, and Davidson’s plum and ginger. And there’s a soy sauce number that channels salted caramel. The chips are crunchy and salty and nicely offset the sweet scoops.
When Murrumbeena’s popular Middle Eastern bakery, cafe and grocery Oasis celebrated 20 years a few months ago, its owners were gearing up for something even bigger on the other side of town. The new Fairfield shop is more modern than its sibling, with a white tiled entrance leading to rows of fresh salads; dips; and hot, golden falafel at the takeaway counter. Further in there are aisles stacked full of herbs and spices; ready-made soups; tagines; Turkish coffee; nut butters; and pickled vegetables to stock your pantry at home. Or stay for brunch – we recommend the shawarma plate or a Lebanese pizza.
In a city food court, this dedicated katsu sando bar is one of the area’s best lunch options – look for the large white LED panels that act like a beacon, drawing you in. Dreux does little cubed Japanese cakes (castella), but the lines snaking their way through the St Collins Lane food court are for the sandos. Your choice of panko-crumbed fried chicken, Kurobuta pork, prawn or Wagyu arrives sandwiched between two slices of soft white bread, with mayonnaise and tonkatsu sauce. Most are $14, but the Wagyu version is $28 – that’s because a lot more work is happening behind the scenes than at your average sandwich shop. It also means a 30-minute wait is not unusual.
The best thing about Theodore’s is the super-friendly service. You know when you walk into a cafe and you feel like an inconvenience? Not here. It’s a family-friendly spot, too, created by new-ish parents and hidden away in an old Brunswick warehouse with a high gabled roof and exposed wooden beams. Start with three-grain porridge with fruit compote and coconut milk, or try one of the filled pretzels. The anchovies on toast is a stark contrast to the famed Napier Quarter version – here they come on buttered multigrain with a few chopped herbs – but that only adds to the laid-back appeal.
The little bakery that supplies Attica and Cumulus Inc now has an expansive new terrace-slash-warehouse space, a bigger provedore selection (think Tasmanian honey, Jam Lady Jam and Ortiz anchovies) and a gigantic tailor-made German oven, which means the bakers here can produce twice as many crusty loaves (sourdough, rye and white), sourdough baguettes and bagels than before, and can finally –usually – meet demand. We still recommend getting here early, and sitting down for a Market Lane filter coffee and a pastry once you’ve secured your carb haul.
Maker & Monger
Once a compact cheese stall at Prahran Market, Maker & Monger is now a much larger store-slash-cafe, just a couple of aisles over from the original. It’s got a walk-in cheese-maturation room stocking local favourites and rare fromage from around the world, and a wider range of signature toasties for those dining at one of the communal tables, right in the middle of the buzzing market. Try the Calabrese toastie, with smoked scamorza, ‘nduja and oregano, a satisfying meld of spicy and gooey on the inside and golden brown on the outside.
By four Italian siblings, this pretty eatery is all gentle pink tones and sun-bleached stone. The food here is Italian, but there’s a little French influence too. Order a classic cheese omelette; spicy fried eggs with ‘nduja and peppers; or the French toast made with a brioche-croissant hybrid. And there’s chicken cacciatore you can take home for dinner, too. To drink, choose from batch or cold brew coffee, a classic spritz or a handful of wines by the glass or carafe.
Touchstone (a Macleod eatery serving Snickers panna cotta and Golden Gaytime French toast), Pie Thief (a tiny Footscray shop where an ex-Supernormal chef is making lasagne pies and chicken-parma sausage rolls) and Common Ground Project (a farm cafe by the Liminal crew where the chefs start their day with meditation) were three of our most-read cafe-opening stories this year.
Looking for something more suited to after dark? Check out Broadsheet Melbourne’s favourite new bars of 2019.