Le Bajo
One of Broadsheet Melbourne’s most-read cafe-opening stories of the year focuses on this sando-centric Japanese cafe in a North Melbourne warehouse, billowing with greenery. Here, almost everything revolves around fluffy house-baked shokupan (which you can also get to take away). Traditionalists tend to go for the saucy fried-chicken katsu sando with cabbage and house-made miso sauce, but less well known are the fruit sandos – whipped cream and sliced strawberries, kiwifruit and mango encased by crustless shokupan. Behind Le Bajo is one of the founders of Bali’s Potato Head Beach Club – and it shares a space with his impressive old-school car collection.

Part of Carlton North’s leafy Rathdowne Village, Florian might be new, but it’s got an old soul. With a relaxed, unpretentious feel reminiscent of the pre-Instagram era, it cemented itself as a local favourite just weeks after it opened earlier in 2021. It’s got a pared-back, produce-driven menu that favours simplicity and looks different day to day, though a few dishes aren’t going anywhere. That includes the standout gravlax, with cured Tasmanian salmon, whipped ricotta, a soft-boiled egg, tarragon, radish and rye; and the signature “eggs Florian”, a take on eggs Florentine, which is served on a base of Austro rye and topped with soft-boiled eggs, kale, Comté and creamy bearnaise sauce.

Indonesian chef Barry Susanto began making sandwiches inspired by home for his co-workers at Yarraville fine diner Navi, where he worked as a sous chef. Now he’s serving them at his own snug, laid-back corner store – Warkop – on a Richmond backstreet (only 500 metres from the suburb’s reigning sandwich king, Hector’s Deli). The star is an aromatic, packs-a-punch chicken taliwang sanga, which channels a charry regional specialty Susanto tried on his travels to Lombok. There’s also a beef pastrami with coconutty rendang sauce, a gado gado (Indonesian salad) option, and a soft, grilled brioche with custard-like coconut jam.

Moon Cruller
Kate Reid’s Lune is synonymous with croissants. (And world-famous ones at that). But her new pastry shop, Moon, which opened just a few blocks from Lune in May, orbits around crullers. Inspired by those served at Daily Provisions in New York’s Union Square, they’re essentially deep-fried choux pastry that’s twisty and crispy on the outside, and not at all what you’d expect on the inside – custardy, almost like a soft canelé. Six flavours are available at any given time, with menu mainstays in cinnamon sugar, vanilla glaze and chocolate glaze. Crullers aren’t new to Melbourne, though. Shortstop, Doughboys and Rustica have been frying them on the side for years, but they still fly under the radar.

Bala Sanga
Balaclava wine bar Pretty Little is known for its dainty, delicate dishes. But out back – in a converted garage, down an inconspicuous laneway – the team is doing things differently. They’ve transformed it into Bala Sanga, a new hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop, centred on slightly heartier and significantly more casual food than what’s served at Pretty Little by night. “Part of the charm of it is that it’s hidden,” owner Mike Byard says. “Finding it is half the fun.” The once-cobweb-covered space is now a no-frills shopfront with a tile-lined bench, a sandwich press and a few bar stools. Seek it out for barbeque-beef-cheek Reubens oozing with smoked raclette, meatball subs slathered with garlic butter, and more.

Maaryasha Werdiger’s sourdough obsession was so all-consuming she converted the kitchen and garage of her Elsternwick home into a makeshift micro-bakery. But this year the loyally followed baker moved her (entirely kosher) operation to a separate, permanent shopfront in Ripponlea – much to her family’s delight. While she’s no longer lifting her roller door to sell sourdough, just as before, she’s regularly pulling crowds. The menu changes often, with a few constants: loaves of sourdough; pillowy, dimpled focaccia with rotating toppings; thick sesame rings; and swirly chocolate babka. “Babka is a staple in the Jewish community,” says Werdiger. “You have it every week.”

Le Shoppe
On Little Collins Street, stylish new European deli Le Shoppe is the more low-key sibling to Scott Pickett’s Chancery Lane. Fitted with rich green subway tiles, American oak, copper fixtures and opulent floral arrangements, this daytime-bistro-meets-New-York-deli has the same timeless elegance as the restaurant next-door. And while it’s geared towards takeaway, there are four booths if you want to settle in – or you can nab a standing spot. Running the deli day to day is Rob Kabboord, who’s also head chef at Chancery Lane. You might find charcuterie and crepes suzette, or curried-egg sandwiches and roast-pork rolls (crackling included).

Tochi Deli
Shingo Tochimoto worked in his grandfather’s sushi restaurant in Tokyo for more than 10 years. Now, with his partner Rena, he’s bringing what he learned to a real-deal Japanese stall in Brunswick Market. Shingo does each day’s prep, slicing and dicing with the kind of precision that only comes with years of practice. “We wanted to take the traditional Japanese food we enjoy eating and make it affordable,” he says. At Tochi Deli, the friendly couple serves all sorts of ocean-fresh nigiri and sushi, plus miso-salmon onigiri, agedashi tofu donburi and warming curry udon. Rena handwrites the menus and sculpts and paints 3D models of each dish for display.

In January, the siblings behind Mayday in Richmond and Maverick inside the 80 Collins precinct added Greta to their repertoire. The schmick Eurocentric sandwich and wine bar, on the western end of Flinders Lane, is all olive and mustardy tones – designed by Chris Connell (Agostino, Bar Carolina). Sandwiches reign here; on the roster: crackling-coated porchetta with bitter leaves and “Greta sauce” (mayo-spiked salsa verde); creamy chicken with bearnaise and cos; and a pesto-slathered beef-cheek baguette with mozzarella that’s served with a small bowl of Napoli sauce for dipping in between bites. Later in the day, snacks and aperitivi are the main event, and Bar Romantica co-owner Henry Crawford was brought on board to help curate a complementary wine list of mostly European producers.

Honourable mentions
This year, some of our favourite daytime diners opened second spots. We welcomed Andrew McConnell’s Morning Market to Prahran, brekkie-burg-haven Egglab to Brunswick and the mint-green Bread Club to Albert Park. Meanwhile, the team behind Fitzroy’s perennially popular Burnside opened a new cafe, Midi, with a similarly simple formula of supreme coffee and snatch-and-grab sangas.

Audience picks
You clicked, we listened. As well as the excellent above-mentioned openings, there were two other cafes that really got you excited this year: Stan’s, a deli and sandwich shop channelling New York’s old-world diners, by a team that includes co-owners of Leonardo’s Pizza Palace and Frankie’s Tortas and Tacos; and the reopening of Elwood institution Jerry’s Milk Bar – after a brief Covid-related closure – with new owners and a shiny new look (but nostalgia galore).

Additional reporting by Sofia Levin, Quincy Malesovas, Chynna Santos and Scott Renton.