The architect who designed Garden Club on Smith Street had a veto on blonde timber and white walls. Inspired by hedge mazes and French topiary gardens, the space’s textural impasto cement archways and ledges are definitely unlike the fit-outs you’ll see in most Melbourne cafes.

Beneath a green ceiling, wicker seating and wooden tables sit among small houseplants and floral bouquets supplied by Petra Cremming (of Brunswick florist Pomp and Splendour), which are available for purchase.

“We wanted it to be loose and informal,” says owner Michael Pham. “We’re not fancy.”

“We’re all about the good vibe,” adds head chef Ray Larkins.

Walk out back and there’s an enormous courtyard – a novelty in Collingwood. This private (and dog-friendly) green space sits in the shadow of the surrounding apartment buildings and is protected from the noise of the main road. It’s a sanctuary of park-style tables and benches, lined with garden beds and vines.

The theme here is food and foliage, an idea that Pham formed after he saw the courtyard.

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“I live with a couple of housemates who are really into greenery; I date an architect who’s really into greenery, so it kept emerging in the periphery and it seemed to make a lot of sense to put the two together here,” he says.

Pham used to own Tiny cafe (a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop serving counter food, which closed in 2013), and has owned Phamily Kitchen for three years, which is three doors down.

In fact Pham and florist Cremming met at Phamily, where she’s “a super loyal customer”, he says.

Food is mainly served from the counter – salads, sandwiches and a “moist carrot cake” that’s the standout sweet – with coffee by Coffee Supreme.

The focus is on vegetables, and it’s all “fresh and homely,” says Larkins, who has been a chef in Melbourne for over a decade, with time at Seamstress, Supermaxi, Ladro and Batch Espresso.

There are a few hot dishes, including a corned-beef French toast sarnie, mushroom spring rolls with avocado mousse and a poached egg, and the signature Ray’s Hash.

“It’s the kind of food I cook at home – for myself, my daughter, my friends,” says Larkins.

In the warmer months, the plan is to start growing veggies in the courtyard, smoking veggies and meats outside, and holding monthly plant markets, to make the most of the space.

Garden Club
366 Smith Street, Collingwood

Mon to Fri 7am-4pm
Sat to Sun 8am-4pm

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