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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)