Boundary Espresso, Preston

My desire to maintain my personal upkeep for less has led to my current obsession with the LivingSocial website and its bargain offerings. A recent purchase meant that I needed to be in Preston area to honour a commitment this past Saturday morning but more importantly it gave me a chance to explore somewhere new for breakfast. Looking at what cafés were located around the Bell Street and Plenty Road vicinity, I found Boundary Espresso on the map and planned my visit accordingly.

Walking along a somewhat bleak and desolate strip of Plenty Road, I could actually smell something delicious in the air just before Boundary Espresso came into view. My timing couldn’t have been more perfect when I pushed open the door into the tiny dining area and made my way to the last vacant table available inside.

After being warmly greeted with a menu and my coffee order taken, I sat back to take in the surrounds. Although there are only several tables available for patrons inside, the interior is homely with warm wooden furniture, a striking blue feature wall and floor to ceiling windows to flood the space with natural light.

The breakfast menu is fairly concise with a Turkish influence. In addition to the availability of pide specialties and a Turkish Breakfast, there are several variations of baked egg dishes, homemade muesli, and a pear and date crumble. I must admit that I missed noting the pear and date crumble until it was served to the table next to me, together with a serving of “Green eggs and ham”, both of which prompted a serious case of food envy on my behalf. But given the predictions of artic blasts embattling Melbourne over the coming weekend, I opted for heart-warming description of Two-egg caramelised leek and goats cheese omelette – containing two free-range eggs, caramelised leeks and goats cheese topped with an olive tapenade, served with toast – to ward off the winter chills.

My large, hot skinny latte was served in an exquisite ceramic tumbler and had a rich, roasted flavour. It’s easy to understand why there is a busy take-away coffee trade in addition to the constant throng of diners. The service is extremely friendly and obliging, with many of the regulars treated like long-lost friends.

Two-egg caramelised leek and goats cheese omelette - Boundary Espresso, Preston
Two-egg caramelised leek and goats cheese omelette – Boundary Espresso, Preston

It didn’t take all that long for breakfast to arrive at my table. The first order of business after taking a few obligatory photos was to take the thick wedges of butter and place them between piping hot pieces of toasted Turkish bread. While the wind and rain raged against the windows outside, there was nothing more comforting and delicious than tearing into warm bread dripping with melted butter.

I could discuss the nuances of omelettes as opposed to frittatas but whatever the outcome, the dish was extremely tasty and delicious. The salty flavours of the black olive tapenade were a perfect foil for the soft creaminess of the goats cheese found the in the centre of the egg dish. The peppery notes of the fresh rocket, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, cut through the rich textures of the egg and leek mixture. Needless to say all jealous thoughts of other dishes seemed to vanish upon consumption of my own breakfast but rather gave me something to look forward to upon my imminent return.

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Square and Compass, East Melbourne

When the headline of a feature article in last Tuesday week’s Epicure Good Food section of “The Age” newspaper announces “Melbourne’s best new cafes 2015”, I didn’t hesitate to greedily devour the descriptive text and stunning photos on my iPad, excited to discover potential new destinations for my Saturday morning breakfast adventures.

The top position for best new café was awarded to Square and Compass in East Melbourne. Apart from the fabulous looking photos of delicious food grabbing my undivided attention, when I looked up the café’s location in Clarendon Street, I was pleased to see that it was readily accessible via tram from home.

Located in a residential pocket of East Melbourne that is situated nearby to several private hospitals within the area, walking the short distance from the tram stop in Victoria Parade towards my intended address, it became apparent that it made smart business sense to establish a brand new eatery in this part of the city. The square and compass is widely recognised as the symbol of the Freemasons who also operate some of those same hospitals so the name of the café is a clever reference. Arriving at Clarendon Street, my heart almost sank … unfortunately for me, I think everyone else in Melbourne read the article too with a long queue of people waiting outside for a table to become available. I guess if you print it, they will come.

Square and Compass has a beautiful red-brick heritage frontage which contrasts the very modern interior fit-out with clean lines and soft pink accents once you set foot inside the front door. I confidently walked inside and stood by the counter for a few minutes to be able to put my name down on the list, but with every conceivable dining space fully occupied, I knew I was going to be in for a little bit of a wait before being seated.

So far I have been extremely fortunate in not having to wait for lengthy periods of time at most of the venues that I have been to so I’m not an expert in what constitutes a good or bad queue. My total wait time was fifteen minutes and I think that was partially due to the fact that I was a solo diner and made it a little easier for me to move up the list. Thankfully the sun was out and sitting outside to wait wasn’t too much of a hardship however I think there were a couple of groups who had been waiting for almost an hour for a table and their displeasure was becoming noticeable.

Just when I thought that I had been forgotten, my name was called and I was able to secure a place on the communal table towards the back of the internal dining area. I had no idea that there was also an outdoor section at the rear of the building which I could spy on through the floor to ceiling windows, looking just as comfortable and cosy as the inside although probably much quieter as the cacophony in the dining area from the volume of patrons packed inside was quite loud.

Flicking through the menu, there is a lot of variety to choose from including an impressive selection of ancient grains and super foods to enhance the average breakfast dish but it’s been a while since I indulged in something sweet so I ordered the Waffles, strawberry and rhubarb compote, vanilla crème, brandy snaps.

Waffles, strawberry and rhubarb compote, vanilla crème, brandy snaps - Square and Compass, East Melbourne
Waffles, strawberry and rhubarb compote, vanilla crème, brandy snaps – Square and Compass, East Melbourne

Understandably, there was a little bit of a wait on breakfast but surprisingly the food was served just before the coffee, despite ordering it when I was seated. The coffee was beautifully presented in a porcelain mug but the only thing hot about my coffee was the vessel in which it was served in, otherwise it was cool to drink and unremarkable.

There was a sense of déjà vu when the waffles arrived as they looked very similar to what I had ordered at Touchwood six months ago and then I realised that the two cafés have common ownership interests. The dish looked spectacular and drew lots of interest from fellow diners but the waffles were cold and rubbery and quite difficult to cut into smaller portions. The compote was nice as was the vanilla crème, fresh fruit and edible flowers but the hit for me was the brandy snaps to enhance the contribution in the flavour and texture stakes.

Kudos to the person on the door who kept his cheery disposition and capably managed the throng of people trying to get in through the doors. He was the only person willing to stop and take my order after hastily setting a place at the communal table for the arrival of another customer, otherwise I might still be sitting there waiting. There seemed to be a few staff running around to deposit meals and coffees from the kitchen with German efficiency but no one else in my section of the café who wanted to engage with general public.

To be honest, my experience at Square and Compass was okay … and only just okay. There have been some fantastic places that I have discovered over the last twelve months who have evolved without the same fanfare and media publicity and which I very much look forward returning to, but as for me Square and Compass haven’t made this list.

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Seven:am, Port Melbourne

Twelve months ago to the day, I moved into the Southbank area and one of the things I was things I was really looking forward to, was discovering all the wonderful places to eat in the nearby Port Melbourne area. So fast forward 365 days and although I have got as far as asking friends who live there where I should go for breakfast, I have dismally failed to follow through on my own culinary targets and actually get there.

Thinking that it was high time that I needed to rectify the situation, I looked up the location of one of the recommendations, Seven:am café to plan my journey but with the temperature registering a mere seven degrees mid-morning, I wasn’t sure if going out for breakfast was such a great idea after all.

Rugged up with scarf, coat and gloves and happily situated on the No. 109 tram to Port Melbourne, I rediscovered both my enthusiasm and appetite again, secretly glad that I didn’t give into the temptation to stay and eat at home instead. Seven:am is located in Bay Street, not far from the corner of Graham Street so finding the café wasn’t difficult and extremely accessible by public transport, driving home the fact that I really should have taken this journey sooner. Proudly emblazoned across the front window “Winner – Best Breakfast Restaurant in the 2011 Restaurant & Catering ‘Awards for Excellence'”, Seven:am was definitely a cosy, warm and inviting place to be.

As soon as I walked in, I was greeted at the door with a beautiful, friendly smile and the ambient noise of people enjoying themselves and the clatter of cutlery. The place was busy and there was not a vacant seat to be had, for which the waitress was profusely apologising to me for (?!) but apart from thinking that it was my fault for not getting out of my warm bed sooner, I was more than happy to wait for a table to become available … and yet only two minutes later I was actually seated at my own table with a menu and raring to go.

The menu, which still had “Summer 14/15” in the header, looked a little pre-loved although full of fantastic descriptions of popular brunch options. My eyes did spy my all-time favourite dish being Ricotta Cakes (complete with boysenberry ice-cream) but needless to say, I was in the mood for something a little more heart-warming and so I chose the Kessler Bacon with poached eggs, spinach, beans and sourdough dish instead.

There is so much going on visually with the interior of the café that my eyes were continually drawn to different sections of the walls and ceilings to absorb it all in. The most striking element is the pegboard feature wall with a myriad of glass jars all filled with artificial plants, and nicely decorated along a series of shelves. Above me were a couple of mobile cotton clouds suspended from the ceiling, where coloured wool had been used to create a simple but creative mural of sunshine rays and blue skies. Collages of black and white photos, framed pictures and other memorabilia covered the adjoining brick walls to emphasise the warm feeling of familiarity and the comforts of home.

And to keep adding to the feelings of warmth and comfort, the arrival of my super-sized skinny latte which was deliciously hot and creamy, brought my cold fingers back to life and went down like a treat.

Kessler Bacon with poached eggs, spinach, beans and sourdough - Seven:am, Port Melbourne
Kessler Bacon with poached eggs, spinach, beans and sourdough – Seven:am, Port Melbourne

There was a little bit of a wait on breakfast but which was long forgotten once it was placed on the table as my dish was everything that I wanted it to be. With steam wafting above the eggs and beans, I knew that I was in for a nice warm, comforting dish. The thick-cut bacon was tender, juicy and just superb. While the spinach and eggs were also delicious, the real surprise in the flavour stakes was the Middle Eastern take on the homemade baked beans which had been beautifully spiced with either cumin or ras el hanout and cooked with onion and red capsicum.

With no particular place to be, I happily ordered a smaller coffee when it was suggested to me by my lovely waitress and felt content to watch the good people of North Melbourne go about their Saturday morning activities along Bay Street. Surrounded in warmth and having enjoyed my indulgence in good food and great service, I decided that seven was indeed my favourite number.

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