Small Victories, Carlton North

I look forward to reading Epicure in The Age every Tuesday morning whilst eating my breakfast before work. This week the “Good Food Under $30” guide was released and there was an article on the best of Melbourne’s bargain dining. The winner of the “Breakfast Spot of the Year” category was Small Victories in Carlton North. I went straight to Google, looked up the Rathdowne Street address and was extremely pleased to find that the number 8 tram route went through that area. I’ve been thinking that as I live along this tram route which travels between Toorak to Brunswick, that I was going to use it as a way of exploring new food and breakfast destinations.

Leaving home on Saturday morning, I walked to South Yarra train station and tram stop. There was a train to Melbourne Central leaving in a couple of minutes, where I could also catch the number 8 tram heading north, or I could catch the number 8 tram from South Yarra station and travel to Carlton North. Huge mistake! With the Grand Prix in Melbourne this weekend, tram travel into the city has been disrupted. After only ten minutes on the tram, all passengers had to get off and wait for a special shuttle tram to come along that would ferry passengers into the city and terminate at Melbourne Central. After a couple of minutes wait, I boarded another tram and eventually arrived at Melbourne Central. Again all passengers had to disembark and cross over the intersection to a temporary tram stop to pick up the northbound number 8 tram. When the tram arrived, I got on and sat down. Another ten minutes later, the tram stopped at the Melbourne Uni Carlton terminus and everybody was asked to get off again. I don’t give up easily, but I did start to wonder whether I should keep going or find another cafe and try again another day. With the next tram arriving in nine minutes, I set off on foot in the wind and the rain on my own “Amazing Race” adventure, determined to beat Yarra Trams.

When I head off for breakfast each week, I am always a little fearful that there would be a queue to get a table and I won’t be able to get in. An hour after I have left home, I’ve finally arrived in beautiful Rathdowne Village in Carlton North and there are several groups of people outside waiting to be seated for breakfast. Walking inside, I’m told there are no tables but I’m welcome to sit at the bar. Small victories indeed – there are benefits to doing things solo.

Feeling travel-worn, I take my place at the counter and order my coffee. The cafe is warm, cosy and extremely busy. The menu is comprehensive with eggs cooked in any style on toast with a broad selection of gourmet sides to choose from as an accompaniment, or on its own. There is a baked egg section with three beautifully sounding dishes but after my harrowing journey, I felt justified ordering from the sweet section on the menu. No French toast or pancakes, but the “warm pistachio loaf, yoghurt mousse, watermelon, sour cherries and berries” sounded perfect.

Perched at the bar, I realise that I’m sitting in front of the cash register and there are people who are occasionally reaching over the top of me or shoving me aside trying to settle their bills. Thankfully I didn’t have too long to wait until breakfast arrived.

Warm pistachio loaf, yoghurt mousse, blood plums, sour cherry and berries - Small Victories, Carlton North
Warm pistachio loaf, yoghurt mousse, blood plums, sour cherry and berries – Small Victories, Carlton North

Breakfast was beautifully presented and I was surprised at the generous brick-sized portions of pistachio loaf on the plate. Using seasonal produce, the watermelon had been replaced with rich, ruby red blood plums which were lightly cooked. The pistachio loaf was moist with hints of spice and delicious with the fluffy textured vanilla yoghurt mousse. The sour cherry jam substance underneath was rich and thick to counterbalance the mousse and the fresh berries. The baby mint leaves were ideal to offset the sweetness of the strawberries and spiced cake. My only gripe was that there was just enough berry, plum and yoghurt mixture to enjoy with one brick of pistachio loaf. Just in the nick of time, my skinny latte arrived to help me devour the other portion.

Well satisfied and content, I reached into my handbag to pull out my purse to settle the bill. My handbag is nicknamed “The Tardis” as it’s a lot bigger on the inside than to the naked eye. Fumbling around, I couldn’t feel my patent leather purse. Trying not to panic, I had started to pull things out and still no purse. I had went to see “Henry 4” at the theatre the previous evening, where Ted Baillieu knocked my handbag off my shoulder trying to get past in the foyer, but I didn’t think he was that down on his luck to make off with my wallet. Now I was scared. I didn’t have any money with me; I’m in front of the cash register and I had no idea where my purse had gone. I had a quiet word with the person at the cash register and explained that I couldn’t find my purse, but I could pay with mobile banking or give my details and return later with my payment. The lovely owner thought I looked familiar and said that would be fine.

I had one hour until my next appointment, so I walked speedily to the tram spot and miraculously, the number 8 tram heading towards the city was only seconds away. With the Amazing Race back on again, I got to Melbourne Central train station, found a train waiting for me at my platform and arrived at South Yarra train station in record timing. Back in my apartment, my purse wasn’t visible. Shakily, I got down on my hands and knees and found that my shiny black wallet and my sunglasses had tried to run off together during the night and were hiding themselves underneath my bed. Letting the relief wash over me, I gathered up my belongings and headed back to the train station to try to repeat the journey into the city in record time.

Mid afternoon and starting to feel hungry, I jumped back on the tram and went back to Small Victories to repay my breakfast debt. Providing evidence of funds and capacity to pay, I went and sat in the front window and ordered the spiced slow roasted lamb.

Spiced Slow Roast Poon Boon Lamb, Chickpeas, Spinach, Ewes Milk Feta, Herbs and Dukkah - Small Victories, Carlton North
Spiced Slow Roast Poon Boon Lamb, Chickpeas, Spinach, Ewes Milk Feta, Herbs and Dukkah – Small Victories, Carlton North

There are no words available to say how amazing this warm salad is. The tender lamb, topped with fresh lemon zest, crunchy dukkah, soft cooked chickpeas, wilted spinach and smooth creamy feta was the perfect way to end a crazy day. And the best bit? The fabulous food that I had enjoyed for breakfast and lunch cost just over $30. Small Victories well deserved the mention and award for best breakfast in the “Good Food Under $30” guide. I might have outstayed my welcome at Small Victories, but I’d love to go back and complete the trifecta and have dinner there. I’m very thankful for their understanding and trusting me to come back and settle my debts. As Shakespeare penned – all’s well that ends well.

2 thoughts on “Small Victories, Carlton North

  1. And that is truly your best blog yet……But I hope you don’t inspire a generation of runners from cafes!!

    1. Thanks A. I felt dreadful but the owner was lovely. He saw my iPad and probably thought that I wasn’t a povo uni student. I didn’t want to add debt agency to his list of accomplishments! Epic blog but it was a huge day!

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