Arra Coffee and Wine opened on the quiet south end of Smith Street in Fitzroy about 10 months ago. Since then, owners Armin Nasr and Ruby Lai have seen their hybrid wine-bar-cafe bring foot traffic to the sleepy block.

“Our idea [for a venue] matched up from the beginning, but it was a long road to get here,” says Nasr, who met Lai when they worked at the now-closed Toorak Tracktor cafe in Armadale (Lai was head barista and Nasr worked the floor). “It took us about a year and a half.”

Before lockdown, Arra traded from early morning right through to dinner, but these days it’s narrowed its offerings to just breakfast, coffee, toasties and a couple of small bites for takeaway. Best sellers include toast with avocado, Persian feta and a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds; a toasted sandwich with house-smoked beef brisket, pickle and slaw; croissants with pesto fried eggs, thick-cut pork shoulder, spinach and pickled capsicum; and okonomiyaki “sticks”.

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Lai calls Arra’s food “modern Australian”, adding that the menu subtly draws on the owners’ backgrounds. “I’m from Hong Kong and Armin is from Iran, so we’ve got a bit of everything,” she says.

In non-lockdown that equates to daytime dishes such as syrupy, citrus-laced Persian love cake and housemade granola on saffron yogurt. In the evenings, okonomiyaki-style crepes filled with cheese; spiced lamb shoulder on toast dressed with feta, honey and mint; and delicately assembled pork and chicken terrines.

The house coffee is Single O, and when patrons can dine in they can eat and drink at the long bench that divides the moodily lit warehouse-style venue. It overlooks a small kitchen, where chef Hannah McDermott and the team make almost everything from scratch, including pate, smoked brisket and even the coffee liqueur in their cold-drip Espresso Martinis.

“The kitchen is tiny, so we try to keep things simple but special,” says Lai. “I want to put in the work. That’s how we show our passion for everything.”

Their passion extends to the wine selection, which is a nearly even split of Australian and international drops. About half are organic, biodynamic and vegan. In lockdown they’ve added another 20-odd wines to the existing 90 or so options on the wine list. Winemakers include Hochkirch, Minimum Wines, Brave New Wines and Jumping Juice.

“We don’t want to go too crazy on the items, but stock things that are a little interesting and different,” says Nasr. “We’re trying to highlight labels and winemakers who haven’t quite made it out there.”

Beside the wine shelves are a selection of screens reserved for video art, which will change regularly. Nasr and Lai hope it will encourage people to linger. “At a lot of bars, you get that feeling that you’ve gotta finish your drink and leave,” says Nasr. “We don’t want that. It’s all about being yourself and feeling comfortable, even if you’re here for three or four hours.”

Arra Coffee and Wine
13 Smith Street, Fitzroy
0459 669 851

Hours:
Mon to Thurs 8am–2pm

Fri & Sat 8am–11pm

Sun 8am–9pm

arraandco.com