Circolo, Southbank

Quite often I have a destination in mind when I set off for my breakfast adventure every Saturday morning, but I can’t tell you the number of times where somewhere along the journey, I make another café discovery and end up seizing the moment and wind up eating at places I had no initial intention of visiting. I like to plan and am quite decisive but I also like the element of surprise and hint of adventure. Sometimes this can pay off big dividends, leading to wonderful food memories and then there are the few times where I wonder, “Why did I do that?”

On my way to the South Melbourne Market, I decided to take a new route to avoid all the residential apartment building works and by chance ended up walking down Clarke Street. Looking at all the buildings and office spaces in the area, my eyes caught a glimpse of gold decorative art and some beautiful copper pendant lighting through the large floor-to-ceiling windows of a new development. Then I spied some chairs and tables before realising that I was walking past a café – a brand new café with an “OPEN” sign. I threw caution to the wind and thought “Why not?” and walked on in.

It looked as though I was the first customer for the morning and I had my pick of the seating arrangements. The barista behind the counter, looking resplendent in a denim apron with leather trim, looked pleased to see me and gave me a warm morning greeting, as did the young waitress who promptly brought over the breakfast menu. On the way back to the counter, I think she was reminded to take my coffee order and I being on auto-pilot, I gave my usual coffee order for a “large hot skinny latte”. I think I knew I was in big trouble when my request was met with a blank stare and I was asked to repeat my order. One large, hot skinny latte …. please.

Circolo, Southbank
Circolo, Southbank

Another waiter came out from the kitchen into the dining area, also dressed in a tailored denim apron with soft leather trim and wished me pleasant good morning greetings. So at this point, it is just me versus three wait staff. While my coffee order was being processed, I finally had the opportunity to look at the breakfast menu which looked to be fairly stock standard, with a range of egg dishes (Egg on toast, Eggs Benedict, Eggs Florentine, Omelette), pancakes, a Circolo version of a big breakfast, muesli, pastries and French Toast. The menu and the pricing seemed to be out of sync. The “French Toast” option was made with ciabatta and only $5.90. That sounded too good to be true. The “Croissant” was also described as a croissant ciabatta and also priced at $5.90. A croissant ciabatta … that’s a new one. The “Buttermilk Pancakes” were served with Chantilly cream and maple syrup for $12.50 … um, no thanks – that doesn’t even sound appetising. I decided to play it safe and opt for the “Eggs Benedict” – free range poached eggs on English muffins with Virginian ham and Hollandaise sauce. The third highest priced dish on the menu, at $16.50 I made the classic mistake of equating price with quality.

Ready and waiting to order, as the only customer in the café, I had to wait a full ten minutes for the barista to give the waitress a crash course on coffee as he explained all the different types available … which is fine but I am hungry and I am a customer. Once the coffee lesson had finished, the waitress went back to her cutlery-polishing duties so I needed to remind her that I did actually want to order breakfast. I casually placed my order and felt like sliding under the table when my waitress went to the kitchen window and hollered “She wants the Eggs Benedict with her eggs poached hard”. Yep thanks – you got the order right but I’m not sure if the people at the South Melbourne Market actually heard you.

My coffee arrived and to my delight it was exactly what I ordered, served beautifully in a large tumbler. A little on the strong side but quite pleasant nonetheless. The barista came over with the waitress in tow to set my table with napkin and cutlery – obviously I’m being used as a training facility.

Eggs Benedict - Circolo, Southbank
Eggs Benedict – Circolo, Southbank

And then my breakfast arrived. When I read the words “Virginian ham”, I stupidly thought it might be ham off the bone given the price of the dish but sadly it was a couple of cheap ham slices wacked onto a couple of Tip Top English muffins. Unfortunately the abundance of Hollandaise sauce against a white plate made by breakfast look a little insipid. The eggs were hard-poached as requested and the sauce was creamy and silky smooth, but the huge let down was that the English muffins hadn’t been toasted and the moisture from the cooked eggs had made the bread quite soggy. It was edible but “nothing to write home about” as my Dad would say.

I turned a blind eye to the warning signs – new café, staff training-on-the-job, ad hoc menu, only customer – and probably got what I asked for. I was full but hardly satisfied. I walked to the counter and at this point the other waiter decided to get in on the action and process the bill on his flash iPad for my less than satisfactory breakfast experience. I handed over my credit card for payment whereby the waiter then told me that my card had been declined. Yeah … I don’t think so – do it again. You should have seen this guy’s eyes light up when my payment went through. Circolo has all the pretence of a café with all the bells and whistles – fashionable uniforms, nice interiors, state-of-the-art coffee machine and high-tech payment processing equipment – but it just goes to prove that there is no substitute for great service and good food.

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Operator25, Melbourne

Most Saturday mornings, I generally form some sort of plan of where I would like to have breakfast however this week’s adventure was totally impromptu in every sense of the word. Standing on the curb outside my building, I wasn’t sure whether to turn left and walk towards South Melbourne or head in the other direction towards the city. So I threw caution to the wind and walked to the nearby tram stop and let the oncoming No. 55 tram determine my culinary fate.

Five minutes later and en route towards the north of the city, I checked my Urbanspoon app looking for somewhere new and saw that Operator25, was located close by. This place has been on my must do list for a little while, however as one of Melbourne’s top brunch venues, its popularity comes with a price and as soon as I walked down Wills Street towards the café there was a lengthy line-up of people outside waiting for a table.

Just inside the door is an illuminated sign “HOLD THE LINE – PLEASE WAIT TO BE SEATED” which I brazenly disregarded on this occasion and walked up the stairs hoping that there might be a solitary vacant seat available somewhere, anywhere. Two people had also arrived at the same time as myself and approached the front to enquire about a table of four and were told that there was an estimated wait of one hour for the next available table … so be warned. I fared a little better and had thankfully scored a seat within less than ten minutes.

Operator25 has been very recently renovated and the interior has an elegant blend of contemporary and industrial design, with quirky wall art paying homage to the building’s former life as the telephone exchange. There are several communal tables and benches inside the space to accommodate the thronging hordes of people looking to enjoy the experience. I was seated at one of two round communal tables near the door with plenty of space to spread out, relax and savor the menu.

Operator25, Melbourne
Operator25, Melbourne
The “Wake up Call” (otherwise known as the breakfast menu) is quite unique with popular Asian dishes such as Three Rice Congee present, together with the sublime sounding Elderflower Sago with chia seeds, rhubarb and strawberry compote, white chocolate foam and freeze-dried mango proving to be a hit with most of the patrons around me. I quite liked the sound of the Eggs Benedict with potato and thyme rosti, grandmother lamb ham and horseradish hollandaise, so by the time someone came over to take my coffee order, I was able to lock in my selection for breakfast.

Eggs Benedict with potato and thyme rosti, grandmother lamb ham and horseradish hollandaise - Operator25, Melbourne
Eggs Benedict with potato and thyme rosti, grandmother lamb ham and horseradish hollandaise – Operator25, Melbourne
My breakfast didn’t take long to arrive at all and looked as delicious as it sounded on paper. I started with the crunchy potato rosti which was incredible to taste and evoked happy memories of my late grandmother’s own homemade version, which were made almost the same way with coarsely grated potato and herbs, but this particular interpretation had been deep fried for added colour and texture. The ham which was quite plentiful on the plate, was soft with subtle smoked flavours but the real winner was the silky, smooth rich hollandaise sauce drizzled over the top.

Operator25, Melbourne
Operator25, Melbourne
Due to the sheer volume of activity at Operator25, getting your coffee order in a timely manner might be a challenge. I ordered a large hot skinny latte, which arrived quite some time after my breakfast had arrived. My photos probably don’t capture the proportions correctly but the coffee was served in a enormous glazed ceramic bowl and tasted great, but lost a little of its warmth on the journey to the table.

At the precise moment that I began to think of whether there was something to enjoy with my bucket of coffee, free mini White chocolate and matcha green tea and Tiramisu cupcakes were being offered around to all patrons to enjoy in honour of Operator25’s second birthday celebrations. With such great timing, it would be rude not to … so I opted for the beautiful green tea cupcake which was heavenly with my coffee and topped off a great breakfast experience.

White chocolate and matcha green tea cupcakes - Operator25, Melbourne
White chocolate and matcha green tea cupcakes – Operator25, Melbourne
It just goes to show that sometimes when you take an impromtu adventure and leave things to chance, you can end up exactly where you are meant to be …

Operator25 on Urbanspoon