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I blame growing up in Melbourne entirely for my brunch obsession. Living there in my early twenties, walking distance from the now hugely hipster areas of Fitzroy, Collingwood and North Carlton absolutely destroyed my perception of what brunch ‘should’ be.
See brunch at 22 years old was an institution for my ragtag group of friends. We were young theatre makers, artists, lawyers, writers, drinkers and students – always brought together by booze or brunch, often both at once. In my heart brunch is a meal intrinsically connected to being young, creative, ambitious and a little wild. You brunch after a night out, after your show premieres, after a big date, after a life crisis – no matter how big or small. You brunch on a Sunday with a group of friends, where you discuss and dissect your love lives with the same fervour as you dissect your current creative projects and family dramas.
Brunch is love and energy and hangover cures and laughs with a side of excellently made coffee.
So in the lead-up to our trip to Melbourne, I devoured blogs, magazine articles and online reviews of hot spot brunch places to go in Melbourne. What was new, where was good, which places always had queues on weekends (so I could sneak off to enjoy them during the week) and which were easy to get to from our bases in Richmond and Kew. I wanted to share the same joy for brunch, the delight in a perfectly made poached egg and soy latte, my devoted love of brunch with Stefan. Mostly though, I just wanted to eat a lot of delicious meals in cafes that felt like home.
After many, many coffees and explorations, this is the hits-and-misses list. We brunched nearly every day – but a few consistent things came up at every place we went.
#1 Brunch menus have become INSANE. I am a native English speaker and spent the first 3 days trying to de-code what a bloody labna on a bed of lightly roasted Peruvian seeds rolled in fairy dust with sprigs of Japanese mint from a virgin mountain actually was. It genuinely took a week to understand the wackiness of these menus. Poor Stefan as a non-native English speaker kept asking for translations that I genuinely couldn’t provide because the words categorically made NO SENSE. It was a relief to go to the Galleon Cafe in St Kilda and read a menu that just said ‘poached eggs on toast with avocado’.
#2 Cafes in Melbourne are LOUD. I thought it was because I hadn’t been around English for a while. Normally in Vienna I can ‘tune out’ German speakers, putting their conversations on mute by the simple act of not concentrating on the Deutsch words. But in Melbourne it wasn’t just that I understood all the English surrounding me, I couldn’t bloody avoid it because people practically scream across the tables at each other. Music can be at ear-splitting levels, most kitchens are ‘open plan’ looking out over the restaurants and well, Australians are…bloody loud. I can’t tell if this is actual fact, me getting old, or having been in gentle Viennese cafes for too long now, but it was definitely noticeable
#3 Service is entirely different. Every cafe without fail, would ask us for our drink orders before we’d even opened a menu. The assumption being, everyone knows their standard coffee orders so let’s skip the menu business and get straight to it. It baffled us for the first few days until we got into the rhythm of ordering the exact same drink each time. There’s also triple the amount of wait staff in Melbourne cafes than Viennese. Stefan argued pretty convincingly that it’s because the wait staff in Australia are inefficient as compared to the traditionally trained but oh-so-grumpy Viennese. Personally, I didn’t notice, I was just happy to have a waiter who bantered and smiled at me rather than the grumpy-but-effective Viennese variety. (I do have a soft spot for the renowned grumpiness of the Viennese waiters, but that’s a tale for another day!).
All that said, I enjoyed every damn brunch date I had in Melbourne. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty details!
Three Bags Full.
Plenty of other blogs have raved about Three Bags Full; its owners have gone on to open a string of highly popular and often replicated cafes but the original in Abbotsford was my favourite of the ‘famous’ brunch spots in Melbourne. The food was extremely high quality, the service prompt but not too in-your-face annoying, the menu was readable, and I loved the layout of the place. This was the kind of cafe where young professionals, creative writers, students and locals can all sit comfortably together without feeling out of place. I even dragged my parents along in our final few days to prove to them you don’t have to be a hipster to enjoy excellent breakfast and coffee. They loved it.
I went for the muesli and fresh fruit on both visits, but nibbled on Stefan’s scrambled eggs and my parents’ meals. The fresh, local organic food was excellent and the coffee above-par, even for Melbourne. In another (future?) life where I could freelance and write for a living with no fixed work desk, I’d be coming here regularly for meetings, to write and to feel relaxed and inspired with coffee in hand.
My favourite touch? The coffee cup lighting over the barista’s zone. Adorable.
Percy’s Aeroplane Cafe
This place became our local for the few weeks we stayed in Kew. It was the very first Melbourne brunch we went to fresh off the plane – and I’m going to be honest, this was the menu that made me realise brunch has become INSANE in Melbourne. Jetlag, hunger and 3 years out of the city rendered the following non-sensical:
Once we understood what everything was, the final product was delicious and coffee excellent. If you’re venturing here it’s definitely worth fighting for a table in the back terrace area – much quieter and the Jacaranda trees surrounding the cafe give a homely, atmospheric touch. Service here is so-so, the waitresses we had were vague and sometimes downright rude, but we returned for the great food and lovely relaxed vibe when sitting outside.
The Grain Store
Ugh this place. (Even their website is irritating).
This place was rated massively high on all fronts – Yelp, Foursquare, 3000 and almost any magazine article listed it as a ‘must-do’. We were meeting a friend from Southbank so this seemed like a good half way option in the CBD. But man alive the service and regime they run here was awful. You cannot freely take a seat, you cannot be seated till all party members arrive, you cannot trial from the lunch menu if one of you orders brunch and the overall vibe was that we should be damn grateful to be considered worthy of our tiny table and waitresses in this hallowed venue. It was ick.
The food was fine, and the coffee standard for Melbourne (which = incredible for Vienna!), but the entire experience was micro-managed by an over-zealous hostess who rushed us through our meals so quickly it was a relief to get out of there. I suspect they make their $$$ from the inner city work crowd and had no time for our holiday-brunch-relaxed vibe. They clearly wanted to turn as many tables as possible. Skip the queues and bossiness for literally any other option that I’ve listed – the food here ain’t worth the hassle and the decor is derivative.
The Galleon Cafe
Blessed relief. Down to earth, homely vibe with excellent brunch available until 4pm on weekends. We snuck in for last service on a rainy Sunday and it was like being welcomed into a friend’s cosy home. The Galleon theme makes for some cool decor and there’s a few kitschy chairs, tables and artwork on the walls.
Here we found the best poached eggs and avocado on toast in Melbourne. Not an easy feat when every second cafe serves the same dish, but this was genuinely the best of our entire trip. Service was the friendliest of all brunch spots, down to earth and easygoing. This was Stefan’s best brunch of the holiday. Which says a lot from a guy who categorically doesn’t believe in brunch!
This place was lovely – delicious food, high roofs and wooden flooring, wait staff that didn’t intrude upon your meal and sunshine flowing in the big open windows that look out over Arden St.
North Melbourne is fast becoming one of my favourite little nooks of Melbourne – understated cool, well-connected by trams and without all the bougie-hype of Fitzroy. (For my Viennese readers, Fitzroy is a Bobo haven like the 7th district!). Though we were there for Saturday brunch with the folks, apparently the wi-fi here is great and it’s a fantastic cafe to work from too.
Believe it or not, by the end of our month in Melbourne, I was almost over having brunch. Despite the hype, the Melbourne obsession with quality food and queuing to get into the next best hot-spot, it became clear that brunch was really about the people you share it with and the stories you share over your meals.
At 22 I thought the meal was the key part of brunch. At the wise ‘old’ age of 30, I’m learning it’s the company that matters most. That alone is worth flying half-way round the world for. But the excellent latte’s definitely give added incentive!
Where’s your favourite Melbourne brunch? Do you love or hate any of these above? Have at it in the comments, so we can ‘research’ some more on our next trip back!