Café Gaia, South Yarra

Having lived in South Yarra for two years, I thought I knew of and had visited every café in the immediate area. Yet when I went looking for a place to have breakfast along Toorak Road, by happenstance I discovered nestled barely twenty metres back from the busy street corner, a lush green canopy of trees which had been protecting one of the suburb’s best kept culinary secrets from my line of sight.

The café has a unique charm and ambience that reminded me of a small wooden cabin or cubby house with a covered verandah, large open windows and quiet cosy nooks to hide yourself away from the busyness of the world close by.

The morning was unseasonably warm allowing me to retreat outside on the deck and enjoy the serenity. Although the café is extremely popular (it appears that I must be the only person in the area who wasn’t aware of its existence), the service is readily attentive and quick to ensure that your coffee order is taken and on its way. The all-day brunch menu is not overly exhaustive with only several signature dishes to focus your attention. The dish that immediately caught my eye, and to be fair probably because it was the only sweet option on the menu, was the exotic sounding Dr Marty’s Crumpets with citrus curd, aerated rhubarb mascarpone, toasted macadamia and sesame.

Dr Marty's Crumpets with citrus curd, aerated rhubarb mascarpone, toasted macadamia and sesame - Cafe Gaia, South Yarra
Dr Marty’s Crumpets with citrus curd, aerated rhubarb mascarpone, toasted macadamia and sesame – Cafe Gaia, South Yarra

If I could describe autumn on a plate, this dish would be it. The spectacular arrangement of colours, flavours and textures on the matt black plate was beautiful to behold and resembled my favourite season. My eyes were immediately drawn to the dollops of lemon curd perfectly curated on the plate and the pillows of whipped mascarpone placed beneath the crumpets.

The crumpets were deliciously moist and dense – enough to absorb all the elements on the plate. Whilst the poached rhubarb was sharp on the palate, the strawberries in comparison were sweet to taste and balanced the tart flavour of the lemon curd. The hero of the dish was the rhubarb mascarpone with the consistency of a dessert mousse and therefore a rare treat for breakfast.

Working my way through breakfast, there were morsels of macadamia and pistachio nuts and a smattering of sesame seeds interspersed beneath the crumpets to provide another textural element to the mix.

I love finding hidden treasures, especially ones with outstanding food and service and thankfully Café Gaia is no longer obscured from my view.

Cafe Gaia on Urbanspoon

Urban Provedore, South Yarra

Some Saturday mornings you have all the time in the world, and yet others are chock full of appointments, shopping, social, family or sporting obligations and running errands. Ever since I started my working life all those years ago, my guilty pleasure has been to head to a café and treat myself to a cooked breakfast to unwind from the pressures of the week. This Saturday, I had an appointment at 10am in South Yarra but habits are hard to break and I still wanted to indulge in my breakfast ritual. With time and location playing the critical factors in my choice, I decided to have breakfast at “Urban Provedore” in Toorak Road.

Now for the confession. I had breakfast at Urban Provedore around four months ago and I was less than impressed. Newly opened, I think that everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Poor service, ordinary food and even the cash register didn’t want to be there. Yet in the passage of time, I had my fingers crossed that it was just teething problems and that things may have improved.

Urban Provedore is located on the ground floor beneath a new apartment complex, 50 metres from Chapel Street. The sleek fit out is inviting with warm timber tones, industrial accents and a feature wall showcasing a range of condiments and dry foods for sale. Walking in at 9am with that sense of déjà vu, I found a small table with fantastic views of the streetscape along Toorak Road, grabbed a newspaper, sat down and I waited.

After five or so minutes, I had an awkward exchange with someone who was grabbing menus and water for another table that had just been seated nearby and somehow managed to convey that I also wanted to order a coffee and see a menu, if it wasn’t too much trouble. From that moment on, things markedly improved.

The menu hasn’t changed since my last visit and is relatively simple and classic in its breakfast options, although a tad on the expensive side. Being due for something savoury and egg-centric, I choose the “Gin and dill cured ocean trout with creamy goats cheese and dill scrambled eggs, beetroot relish and toasted rye”.

Gin and dill cured ocean trout with creamy goats cheese and dill scrambled eggs, beetroot relish on toasted rye - Urban Provedore, South Yarra
Gin and dill cured ocean trout with creamy goats cheese and dill scrambled eggs, beetroot relish on toasted rye – Urban Provedore, South Yarra

Within ten minutes of ordering, breakfast arrived and I couldn’t believe the sheer size of the dish before me. Two large slices of toasted rye bread, placed side by side, formed the base of the dish. On top of the bread, several slices of cured ocean trout, a mountain of moist scrambled eggs, finished with a dollop of sweet beetroot relish and micro coriander leaves.

My friends and family are not at all surprised that I would order alcohol-infused fish for breakfast, although I couldn’t really detect any residual flavour from the gin within the fillets of the ocean trout. But needless to say, it was not too thickly sliced and really delicious.

Ever since my trip to Turkey earlier this year, I’ve developed a deep infinity for fresh dill and was overjoyed to see this herb generously used in the scrambled egg mixture. At the base of the pile of eggs, there were large portions of goats cheese with its creamy texture and rich, salty flavour lifting my taste buds to a whole new level. My breakfast was certainly plentiful and it well and truly eclipsed my previous dining experience.

The service is still somewhat variable at Urban Provedore, with some staff more attentive and friendly than others. After the menu fiasco, someone else approached my table and asked if I wanted another coffee. I enthusiastically said yes and then gave my coffee order. They started to write down my request, then hesitated and then asked me “Sorry, did you just say you’ve already ordered another coffee?” Ah no, but then again I’ve just ingested an unknown quantity of gin, so perhaps I did.

Within 45 minutes, I had enjoyed a substantial breakfast, two cups of coffee, read the paper, paid the bill and was ready to head towards my morning appointment down the road. I am extremely glad that I had decided to give Urban Provedore a second chance.

Urban Provedore on Urbanspoon

Jardin Tan, South Yarra

I’ve just booked my next culinary adventure to Vietnam in November and in anticipation of my upcoming trip, I now find myself totally obsessed with Vietnamese cuisine, recipes and restaurants. I had recently read that Shannon Bennett had taken occupancy of what was previously known as the Observatory Café at the Royal Botanic Gardens, and that his new establishment had a French-Vietnamese inspired menu which in turn determined my destination for breakfast.

Despite the threat of a potential rain shower, it felt exhilarating to put my walking shoes on and head for a long walk towards the Tan track. For half an hour, I lost myself in the intermittent sunshine and the first blush of spring decorating the trees along St Kilda road. With a sense of trepidation I walked up the footpath towards the Shrine towards Jardin Tan. I was thoroughly prepared for long queues, irritable toddlers and a sea of lycra, yet as soon as I reached the entrance I was cordially greeted by the maître d, asked where I preferred to sit and then casually escorted out towards the back of the restaurant, to a small decked area which overlooked the vegetable garden.

In truth, it felt like I had started my holiday already as I sat down on the turquoise timber deck chair and gazed out over the garden, enjoying the tranquillity and sounds of nature, far away from the din of the city and the people dining inside. The colourful paintings on the wall, the collection of condiments and oriental crockery on the table were telling my mind that I was now in south east Asia rather than downtown Melbourne.

As soon as I sat down, the service was very pleasant and attentive with my coffee order taken, water poured and a vibrant breakfast menu to peruse. Breakfast caters for health-conscious with offerings of coconut porridge, granola and Bircher muesli as well as more substantial dishes, with the traditional elements given a distinct Vietnamese flavour. I’ve seen some beautiful pictures of the banh xeo (crispy pancake with pork and shrimp) on social media but I was intrigued about the Vietnamese fried eggs, pulled pork, nuoc mam cham when I saw it on the menu. 

Vietnamese fried eggs, pulled pork, nuoc mam cham - Jardin Tan, South Yarra
Vietnamese fried eggs, pulled pork, nuoc mam cham – Jardin Tan, South Yarra

I didn’t wait too long before my breakfast arrived. The first mouthful of pork, fried egg with the nuoc mam cham sauce was beyond description, other than it was simply devine. The photo probably doesn’t do the pulled pork justice, but while it looks dry, it was actually extremely moist with a lot of flavour. I usually don’t enjoy runny eggs but the accompanying sweet, sour, salty and spicy Vietnamese dipping sauce was absolutely delicious. I’m in danger of making a batch at home and drizzling it over everything I make for the next week.

The eggs were served on top of a banh mi baguette, which looked appetising until I started to chew on it and found it to be dry, tasteless and incredibly difficult to eat. At this point, I decided another cup of coffee would be the ticket. However as the café started to fill up, it was a little tricky trying to catch someone’s attention and request another coffee, short of going to the counter and pouring one myself.

The walk to the cash register was a feast for the eyes and senses with bountiful salads, cakes and drinks on display on the counter. What was a little less attractive was the price paid for two barely cooked eggs, a rock-hard baguette and two coffees which amounted to the grand total of $27. My morning of escapism was a lot cheaper than a trip to Vietnam, but you still need to make sure that you have brought plenty of spending money with you on the journey.

Jardin Tan on Urbanspoon