Cafe Hopping Around Melbourne

I wake, reach out for the glass bottle that sits on the desk next to the bed and gulp down the crisp tap water hungrily. An alarming thought comes to mind and I grope around for my watch but then remember that it’s my day off. Who cares about the time when you don’t have to work. Then, I roll on my side to kiss the unmoving Mister A, admire his messy three days’ beard and still huddling underneath the duvet, try to forecast the weather for the day by staring at the heavy drapes. Judging from the harsh contrast of the dancing shadow of my little basil plant against the drab brown, I decide that it could be very well be sunny and windy.

I draw the drapes a little, unwind the window to a fraction of a crack and stick my hand out to confirm my guess. The harsh glare blinds my sight for a second but as my eyes adapt, I notice there isn’t a cloud in sight. Just a never ending cobalt blue behind the rows and rows of tiled roofs. Yet I make a mental note to bring my pashimina scarf and my thin jacket-just in case. Even with the imminent summer, Melbourne’s weather fluctuate like a woman’s moods. You can experience the all seasons of the year in a day.

Almost summer

Tuesday. It’s a day off for both Mister A and myself and usually, on this day, we dedicate our time in pursuit of cafe adventures. Being brunch lovers and hospitality staff (Mister A is a barista and a pizzaiolo), we love indulging in coffees and simple breakfasts in cafe courtyards.

Our previous sojourns have taken us to eat things like this:

Avocado and feta on organic sourdough at Proud Mary, Collingwood

And this:

Poached eggs drenched in Hollandaise sauce with atlantic salmon and spinach at Aquarium Bakery, Northcote

Not wanting to venture out too far, we decide to stick to Thornbury, our neighbourhood. Bordering on Northcote, we never struggle for options. Being an inner city North-Eastern suburb, Thornbury has a gritty personality and a colourful character to match. It isn’t trendy and hipsterish like its neighbours Collingwood and Fitzroy but you can find eclectic mix of quaint cafes and intimate live music venues tucked away between empty shops and forgotten facades. Some shop fronts are deceptively tiny, uninspiring and insipid but when you step inside, you’d delightfully discover how wrong you’ve been.

We sometimes wander around, hoping to stumble onto a cute gem but being the ‘secchiona’ (nerd), I generally check Urbanspoon  or Broadsheet  for reviews and cafe directories. Urbanspoon is solely about reviews while broadsheet provides cafe porn. I usually pick a place with good reviews and look aesthetically pleasing. I am torn between Little Henri and Brother Alec but in the end, Brother Alec with better reviews won.

By the time we get around to leaving the house, it’s already midday. The sun is deliciously hot but chill still lurks in the shade. I strap on my pink helmet and set off on my rusty Ferrari-an ancient Repco red push bike which I managed to salvage from its owner for 30 AUD.

 

Zipping along the streets with my very own Ferrari. Beat that.

 

We cycle up to High Street, a very long strip of street that stretches from Westgarth to Preston, where all the action happens. The street is home to an impressive array of vintage and retro fashion retailers, alternative culture, multicultural food and specialist coffee houses. We cycle past the convival and unpretentious old school Kitty Sommerset cocktail bar which is shut during the day, but come dusk, you can lounge on the leather sofas that are wedged between dusty filled bookshelves and rustic gold table lamps and then, past Finnigan’s Bike Shop where I usually have my bike serviced. It was the owner of Finnigan’s who first told me that my tiny racer is made for 6 year old boys in the 70’s, after asking if I pulled my bike out from a washing machine.

Apparently the most expensive bike is also the cheapest bike-in the long run

 

We park our bikes near Psarakos Market, wait for the lights to turn green and cross the street. It is difficult to spot Brother Alec as it looks more like a launderette than a cafe, with black painted walls. However, once inside, the crowded atmosphere is cosy and intimate. Chairs and tables are mainly wooden. The walls are of a boring white and its interior sparsely decorated but smells of steaming java permeating the place makes up for it.

Is this it? Photo by Juganautsdoodiethoughts.com.au

 

An upbeat guy in a psychedellic t-shirt take our coffee orders while we pour over the menu. I settle for a Huevos Rancheros, a homemade black bean chili and scrambled eggs wrapped in a pita bread and topped with melted cheese, salsa and sour scream, while Mister A picks the BLAT-Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado and Toast.

My latte comes in a glass and a red saucer while Mister A’s in a brown saucer. I’m starting to see colours amidst the mundane. Perched on our table is a fire red black pepper grinder and a baby blue pot for sugar. For me, such details speak louder than opulent decor.

My roll is fresh, wholesome and full of flavour. The huge dollop of sour scream on my pita roll is moist, almost heaven sent. The spices of the black beans and salsa and the hint of citrus dance perfectly on my tongue. The chilli didn’t quite take off but then again, it’s Melbourne, not Kuala Lumpur.

My breakfast Photo by juganautsfoodiethoughts.com.au/

Mister A nods with approval as well as he chomps down his roll. The Caffe Latte is of perfect temperature, silky and creamy, and it glides easily down.

The cafe is very relaxing and light-hearted. We find ourselves ordering a pot of chai latte to wash our food down. This time we have a red cup, a brown cup and a forest green teapot. The tea is a tad diluted but the cute little crockery set helps me overlook that flaw.

Tea cups and pot out of an Enid Blyton book

By the time we finish our food, we hear a distant rumble. Within a few minutes, rain pelts down hard. The infinite blue sky is now a patchwork of grey. I curse myself for bringing my thin jacket instead of my waterproof bomber jacket.

We’re now stuck in a cafe, looking out at what we call a typical Melbourne landscape. Despite the grey horizon, people in their hoodies, jackets, umbrellas and raincoats are still scurrying around to get things done.

The rain has now subsided to a mere drizzle but the mean wind continue to howl. What shall we do? We order another round of coffees, sit back and wait.

Other interesting cafes nearby (Northcote and Thornbury) :

Penny Farthing Espresso  (Free Wifi)

Palomino  (Free Wifi)

Gypsy Hideout

Rucker’s Hill Cafe 

Ying Tey

Ying Tey (Piccola Ying) is a Malaysian freelance writer based in Germany. She’s always in the pursuit of adventures and tales; so far, she’s chalked up 68 countries to date. She’d previously funded her travels by teaching English on Costa Cruise Ships (yes–including the one that sank!), by making caffè lattes in London and Melbourne, and by writing copy for a Singaporean advertising agency, that persuades you to buy a Mini Cooper instead of a Toyota.


Today, she just wants to inspire you with stories that will make you take the path less travelled.


You may also like

6 comments

  • bureh 14/11/2012   Reply →

    You’ve discovered some gold here. Salmon & eggs hollandaise has to be one of my favourite dishes of all time 🙂 I might have to hit up Northcote on Saturday for one of those or some huevos rancheros.

    • Piccola Ying 14/11/2012   Reply →

      Hey Blair,
      Oh yes, you should definitely come up this area for some good brunch. High Street is peppered with great cafes but Brother Alec is cosy and unpretentious. 🙂

  • Anne Warren Art 20/11/2012   Reply →

    I hate it when coffee shops are pretentious – retro chairs for instance that are good to look at but oh so uncomfortable.

    • Piccola Ying 23/11/2012   Reply →

      That’s true. I don’t like cafe snobs either…those who turn up their noses at a simple menu and decor.

  • Kate 21/12/2012   Reply →

    Just came across your blog – lovely pictures and I’m so hungry thinking about food. London isn’t exactly full of cafe culture (or nice coffee); I think I’ll have to look harder!

    • Piccola Ying 25/12/2012   Reply →

      Thanks for dropping by, Kate! Alas, London is more of a pub culture which I don’t mind at all. I was in London a few days ago and were soaking in the gritty pub vibes. Loved the simple and hot pub food too. If you do seek out cafes, try Sacred Cafe on Ganton Street (off Carnaby St) and Monmouth Cafe, opposite Borough Markets. They serve great and a large variety of coffees there (though a little more expensive than usual). Good luck with cafe hunting!

Leave a comment