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

Dead Man Espresso, South Melbourne

This past week has been mentally and physically exhausting. On Monday, I managed to leave work at 1am; Tuesday’s home time was 11pm, and so it went, culminating with a 7pm finale on Friday night. Needless to say I woke up late on Saturday morning with a headache, tired and keen to stay close to home. Feeling like a zombie, the aptly named ‘Dead Man Espresso’ seemed to be the best place to head to for breakfast.

Walking into the café, I felt like I was in a sophisticated tree house for grown-ups with timber decking and wooden benches, chairs and tables, and clever integrated canopies made with timber slats that open out and let you drink in the Melbourne skyline.

I was seated outside along the front bench, with a view to die for. Thirty seconds after sitting down, I had a menu, a glass of water, my coffee order taken and the specials of the day recited to me. The non-menu items included French toast, as well as beetroot cured salmon with whipped goat’s cheese, which both sounded divine but I just wanted to sit for a minute and take it all in.

There were some really intriguing items on the ‘All Day Breakfast’ menu, so much so that it really took me a good five minutes to decide what I should order. Although there were hotcakes and savoury “Green pancakes”, I wavered for a couple of minutes over the “BLT”, described as pork belly & spinach puree on brioche w side of gazpacho & pickled kohlrabi but I couldn’t quite conjure up the courage to be that adventurous with my beloved brioche. Perhaps next time. After deliberating through each menu item, I finally decided on the “Potato and kale hash” for breakfast.

My coffee arrived shortly thereafter, extremely pale in colour and probably matched my complexion. Although nicely presented, it was a little too milky for my taste and drowned out the coffee flavour. What added to my frustration was that there wasn’t any sugar on the bench and I couldn’t catch anyone’s eye, so I sat and drank my latte as served. Just as I was finishing my coffee, breakfast arrived.

Crumbed potato and kale hash with grilled kaiserfleisch and fried eggs - Dead Man Espresso, South Melbourne
Crumbed potato and kale hash with grilled kaiserfleisch and fried eggs – Dead Man Espresso, South Melbourne

My outlook lifted considerably when I looked at all the delectable things in front of me and the delicious aroma of the grilled kaiserfleisch wafting towards me. I started with the crumbed potato hash first and was instantly transported to my happy place. I was surprised that it was cold in the centre but it was so delicious, it was like eating the most wonderful potato salad at a gourmet barbeque. The kale was chopped finely, while the cooked potato was cut into bite-size portions, and combined with either onion or leek. I couldn’t get enough of it.

While I prefer my eggs to be on the well done side, the fried eggs were excellent with the broth and accompanying dill and other herbs. The soft texture of the grilled meat, it’s slightly sweet and salty flavour, went well with the eggs and potato. The rye sourdough toast was just as delicious, and perfect for mopping up the remaining broth.

It was more than enough to bring a very tired girl back into the land of the living.

I loved my breakfast and am really looking forward to coming back and trying some of those other exotic items on the menu, however the service did seem to be a little lacklustre. After the spiel was delivered when I was being seated, I received one glass of water which I drank relatively quickly. There was no offer of a top-up whilst other patrons had bottles of water, basic condiments were unavailable, and the empty coffee glass was whisked away but a second cup seemed to be totally out of the question. Or maybe the service staff intuitively knew that I needed time out and deliberately gave me some space. I’ll test that theory after I’ve caught up on my sleep.

Dead Man Espresso on Urbanspoon

Tyranny of Distance, Windsor

When I was in primary school, I loved the quirky Split Enz song, “Six Months in a Leaky Boat”. Although I had no idea what I was singing, over the years through my love for pub trivia, the one particular lyric I do remember is “the tyranny of distance, didn’t stop the cavalier”. I have no idea whether the inspiration for the name of this café came from this song, or from the famous book on Australia’s history, but not even the threat of heavy rain was going to stop me from walking the entire length of Chapel Street to check it out.

A petrol station in a former life, Tyranny of Distance is located in Union Street, around the corner from Chapel Street in Windsor. Their mission is to provide great, tasty food with all products in their dishes, made in-house and from scratch.

Tyranny of Distance is laid back and unpretentious, with eclectic collections of tables and chair settings and furniture. There’s a fabulous homage to the previous business, with several old gas bottles stacked upon one another to create a unique and colourful artwork, from which four gas heaters provide heat for the dining area that used to be the garage.

The service is also somewhat relaxed. I saw one table as I arrived, stand up and get their own menus and try to attract someone’s attention to place their coffee order. I had been seated for five minutes before I was served, but from that moment on, the service was friendly and attentive.

The menu has a particular focus on egg dishes with offerings of baked eggs, scrambled eggs, omelette, herb eggs and that’s before you get to another sub-section underneath, with the heading of “eggs”. There are also a number of gluten-free specialities, including French toast, bircher muesli and “tyranny stacks” of differing compositions.

I liked the sound of the first stack which consisted of house cured salmon, beetroot relish, horseradish romesco, spinach, two potato rostis and two poached eggs and put in my request for breakfast.

House cured salmon, beetroot relish, horseradish romesco, spinach, two potato rostis and two poached eggs - Tyranny of Distance, Windsor
House cured salmon, beetroot relish, horseradish romesco, spinach, two potato rostis and two poached eggs – Tyranny of Distance, Windsor

The first thing I noticed when my dish was served was the wonderful smell of fresh dill wafting up to greet me and that sent my appetite into overdrive.

I was pleasantly surprised at how thick the fillets of cured salmon were on top of the rosti as I began demolish my stack. The thick texture and rich flavour of the fish helped balanced the two dense rostis, which consisted of coarsely grated cooked potato, fried to a rich golden brown colour, and with a nice crispy crunch on the outside. The eggs were hard poached, just as I had requested when ordering and served with fresh dill. All in all, the quantities of the salmon, eggs and potato in the dish created a substantial meal.

The beetroot relish was served with one rosti, underneath the salmon, while the horseradish romesco was served with the second rosti. The romesco was creamy white in colour and had a smooth texture but I honestly couldn’t detect any horseradish in the mixture. Similarly, the beetroot was moist but its distinctive flavour and sweetness seemed to be missing. Despite this, breakfast was still delicious and extremely filling. Feeling satisfied and having enjoyed my breakfast, I was very thankful for the long walk back home.

Tyranny of Distance on Urbanspoon

La Maison Cafe, Wodonga

Wodonga again? Yes, surprisingly I’m back in the Border after only two weeks away so that I could see the legendary Neil Finn and Paul Kelly perform at “A Day on the Green” at All Saints Estate. I have this rule that if an artist has taken the trouble to visit regional areas, then I’ll try my hardest to support their efforts and pave the way for other artists and theatre companies to come to the Albury-Wodonga region. So my self-imposed quest to find the Border’s best breakfast continues.

I wanted to catch up with a friend who was going to the Farmer’s Market so I thought about which cafes were in the vicinity and chose La Maison Cafe. If I think about the locality of this cafe, almost 250 metres away from the New South Wales boundary, it literally is “breakfast on the Border”.

Potato rosti, poached eggs, smoked salmon,wilted spinach & hollandaise (House Specialty) - La Maison Cafe, Wodonga
Potato rosti, poached eggs, smoked salmon,wilted spinach & hollandaise (House Specialty) – La Maison Cafe, Wodonga

La Maison Cafe has had numerous guises and owners over the past decade. It is located in an old pioneer style building in the Gateway Island precinct, with a rustic, wooden cottage feel. The breakfast menu is varied with plenty of options, including a delicious sounding French toast offering, but I needed to suffer for my art and try something new, so I chose the House Specialty.

Looking around the cafe and seeing very young male staff with casual attire and a laid back attitude, I started to have reservations about what would be served. I need not have worried or mentally entertained any similarities to metropolitan cafes; my breakfast was superbly presented and was almost perfection on a plate.

Two well-stacked mounds on the plate with each layer visible to the eye. I like to have my eggs poached hard, and they were cooked to my liking with just enough hollandaise sauce added to the dish. Although my expectations weren’t all that high to begin with, I was anticipating sliced smoked salmon from a packet and was extremely surprised that it was a smoked salmon fillet that flaked away nicely. Although cooked well, the wilted spinach had a bright green vitality and all these elements were perfectly complimented with two homemade potato rosti. The potato was coarsely grated and just cooked with a small element of crunch, seasoned with pepper and a hint of lemon. I couldn’t help thinking of my Baba (Grandmother) and the similarity between her own potato cakes that she made when I was growing up.

After finishing an excellent breakfast, it felt good to be reminded that great food isn’t dependent on decor. Bon appetite!

http://www.lamaisoncafe.com.au/index.html