“It’s the unsung hero, the tuna melt jaffle,” says Daniel Dick, owner of new Hawthorn East cafe Nigel. “There’s one guy we call the Tuna Melt Man because he literally comes in at the same time every day to order a tuna melt and a latte.”
Dick’s spent more than 12 years working in hospitality in Melbourne, so it makes sense that he’s got a good idea of what people want to eat with their coffee. For two years he co-owned and operated nearby cafe Age of Sail, and he’s spent time as head barista and in sales at Melbourne coffee institution St Ali.
Nigel doesn’t look like much from the outside. It sits up the hill from Camberwell Junction among a cluster of high-rise commercial buildings, and it’s next door to a pathology clinic. Out the front, there are a couple of tables and some emerald-green umbrellas providing shade. But inside, it's contemporary and elegant, with terrazzo floors, timber furnishings and a deep oceanic green ceiling. The interior is by Amy Pierce and Nat Widera of Pierce Widera (Peaches, Shinbashi) who had just 35 square metres to play with. The fit-out is minimal, giving special consideration to functionality.
And while there's no shortage of cafes in the area, Dick says they don’t all take coffee as seriously as he does.
“I want people to know their daily coffee experience [at Nigel] is not just standard, it’s incredible.” And this word, “incredible”, he’s had written on the front entrance. Dick says he intended it to be a head turner for new customers, but he’s already got regulars.
“A lot of people keep coming back with that guilty look on their face that they’re here to order the same thing they did yesterday,” he says.
Unsurprisingly, the coffee blends and single origins come from St Ali. The certified organic Feels Good blend was released last year – the first new release from the roaster in five years – and Dick says it’s perfect for black coffee. “It’s robust, but also sweet with a pronounced acidity to it,” he says.
There are six jaffles to choose from. Beyond the creamy tuna melt, there’s a ham, cheese and tomato chutney version, a Reuben, one with baked beans and another with smoky chicken, barbeque sauce, cheese and jalapenos. Each morning the countertop cloche is packed with home-baked sweets by Dick’s wife, Alexandra Bird.
“We can’t keep up with the cookies,” says Dick. “They just fly out the door … same with the brownies. For my wife and I, Sundays have become a routine baking day.”
The cafe is dedicated to Dick’s late grandfather, Nigel.
“Nigel was many things to many people in the community,” says Dick. “He brought people together and was the king of every room he was in.”
Nigel Dick was an influential figure in Australian broadcasting as chairman of Southern Cross Communications in the ’60s and ’70s. He’d also been president of the RACV and was chairman of Odyssey House (a residential rehabilitation program). He was named a Member of the Order of Australia in 1994 and Victoria’s Senior Australian of the Year in 2010. He passed away in 2018, and a framed photograph of him hangs inside, just above the bench seating.
“He was really big on me getting back into hospitality, so his passing became strong motivation for me to open my own cafe,” Dick says. “He was my mentor and my hero.”
Ground Floor, 691 Burke Road, Hawthorn East
0403 418 262
Mon to Fri 7.30am–4pm