The Meeting Place Cafe, South Yarra

It’s a very rare occurrence when I visit a café for a second visit, however necessity sometimes dictates location. My gorgeous hair stylist is located in a small arcade in South Yarra, adjacent to The Meeting Place café, so in order to get to my early Saturday morning appointment, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and enjoy a quick breakfast there beforehand.

The courtyard area was occupied when I arrived 45 minutes before my scheduled appointment so I wandered inside and found a small table in a corner by the window with a view of the arcade. The owner was happy to see my return and promptly brought over the menu and a bottle of water, but in his excitement forgot to ask if I wanted a coffee, and at that time of the morning, I was really looking forward to one.

The menu has changed since my last visit in June; there are new dishes and the spelling mistakes are no longer the main attraction. Taking a look over the menu, I was happy to see that the Nutella and banana pancakes were still available, which was just what I felt like I needed to get me through the day. After a small wait, I ordered the pancakes and a large, hot skinny latte and settled in to read the newspaper.

My much-needed coffee arrived shortly thereafter, slightly on the strong side but very much appreciated. With the sun streaming through the large front windows, steadily sipping my coffee and reading the news of the day, I was enjoying my time out before realising that the clock was ticking and that I had an appointment that I wanted to honour. Before I knew it, half an hour had past, I had finished reading and my breakfast was yet to appear despite being due to be elsewhere in less than ten minutes. As soon as I sent a text message to warn my hairdresser that I could be late, the most perfect pancakes I have ever seen were placed in front of me.

Nutella and banana pancakes - roasted hazlenuts, strawberries served with vanilla custard - The Meeting Place, South Yarra
Nutella and banana pancakes – roasted hazlenuts, strawberries served with vanilla custard – The Meeting Place, South Yarra

Accompanied by a small jug of thin vanilla custard, the presentation of the dish was excellent: two perfectly formed, symmetrical pancakes stacked together, drizzled with maple syrup and chunks of hazlenuts, garnished with a strawberry that had been halved and fixed to the pancake with a dollop of nutella and a sprig of mint. Crispy on the edges, the pancakes had a moist and fluffy texture – not dry or doughy but cooked just right. The middle layer of the pancake stack consisted of nutella chocolate-hazelnut spread, topped with thin slices of fresh banana and sweet strawberries. It was so delicious and obviously formed with some care, that I forgot about the length of time it took to prepare and settled in and enjoyed my breakfast with gusto.

Nutella and banana pancakes - roasted hazlenuts, strawberries served with vanilla custard - The Meeting Place, South Yarra
Nutella and banana pancakes – roasted hazlenuts, strawberries served with vanilla custard – The Meeting Place, South Yarra

As luck would have it, my hairdresser arrived fifteen minutes after my scheduled appointment so in the end, the timing turned out to be spot on. I guess slow and steady wins the race.

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Einstein’s Relative, South Yarra

The first breakfast I had when I moved into the South Yarra area was in a café located in the Yarra Lane precinct, adjacent to the train station called Outpost Café. Let’s just say that after that dining experience, I avoided the place altogether and didn’t look in that general direction when I walked to the train station every morning.

Recently, I noticed that there had been a lot of activity in that area during the morning and weekend periods, with people dining inside the café, and spilling over onto the chairs and tables set up in the laneway. Curiosity got the better of me and I thought that I should go and see for myself what all the fuss was about.

The majority of the space is occupied with the open kitchen, with bench space for dining along the perimeter of the café. The exterior walls are made from floor-to-ceiling glass which makes the relatively small space feel open and filled with natural light. Interspersed throughout the café along the benchtops are a series of recent bestselling cookbooks. I devoured the mouth-watering dishes in Ottolenghi’s “Plenty” whilst simultaneously enjoying my breakfast. Small, glass beakers filled with God-knows-what on the tables, together with colourful caricatures of Albert Einstein and friends displayed along the front counter, pay homage to the great scientist and café’s namesake.

The coffee has a sharp, distinctive flavour that is a little too bitter for my palate but nonetheless beautifully presented in one of the café’s trademark stylish emerald-green coffee cups.

The menu is not extensive but has a combination of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influences, in conjunction with exotic sounding offerings incorporating organic superfoods such as the Acai Wake Up Bowl and Quinoa Porridge. I have a deep love of haloumi so I was instantly drawn to the Haloumi Bruschetta with seeded sourdough toast, diced haloumi, avocado, radish, tomato medley and a tangy yoghurt dressing.

Haloumi Bruschetta: Seeded sourdough toast with diced haloumi, avocado, radish, tomato medley and a tangy yoghurt dressing - Einstein's Relative, South Yarra
Haloumi Bruschetta: Seeded sourdough toast with diced haloumi, avocado, radish, tomato medley and a tangy yoghurt dressing – Einstein’s Relative, South Yarra

The first thing that struck me about my breakfast was the amazing array of colours. From the vibrant red and yellow displayed in the cherry tomatoes, to the golden brown grilled haloumi, complete with touches of green in the mashed avocado and hints of purple from the micro herb garnish. It was a feast for the eyes as well as for the stomach.

The haloumi cheese, with a crispy outer layer and soft centre was delicious, even more so when covered with the silky smooth yet spicy yoghurt sauce. The medley of thinly sliced radish, tomatoes and herbs were fresh and tasty and a perfect foil for the spice in the dish. With a little more added spice thrown in for good measure, the mashed avocado was also plentiful and helped to ensure that all the combined textures and flavours worked in harmony with each other. The sourdough bread was also great but with all the moisture from the avocado and dressing, it didn’t resemble toast for too long.

It seems a little strange but poignant that my last breakfast as a resident of South Yarra should be in the exact same location as the first one, but at least I can say with absolute certainty that this breakfast experience was thoroughly enjoyable!

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The Meeting Place Cafe, South Yarra

My friends like to have a little dig at my inclination to gravitate towards sweeter the breakfast options than the savoury variety. One friend even commented that I was only allowed to have French toast for breakfast if it was served with Gallic bacon, which seemed like a tall order at the time, until I discovered The Meeting Place Café.

Nestled towards the back of a small arcade off Toorak Road in South Yarra, this café has a distinct European ambience with a row of French bistro-style chairs and tables outside the entrance and a large ornate garden urn. It would be easy to imagine that you had been instantly transported to a village in France, rather than in inner city Melbourne.

Beneath the warmth of the outdoor heaters and market umbrellas, I had a fantastic view of the comings and goings of the arcade in both directions and was treated to an impromptu Thai cooking class from Marion Grasby showing on the TV screen directly in front of me, inside the café.

The coffee is made with roasted beans from Sensory Lab; sweet, creamy and subtle flavours of chocolate in the blend.

The all-day breakfast menu is eclectic with a variety of traditional dishes but with some interesting inclusions. Having found a café that served a style of French toast that met my friend’s brief, I felt that I had license to order the French toast with cinamon poached pears, crispy bacon and maple syrup (sic).

I’m someone who usually cannot tolerate poor spelling. The menu, temporary signage and the blackboard specials at the café have quite a few spelling errors which would normally make me cringe. But with further reflection, the service at The Meeting Place is extremely friendly and attentive with a customer focus, and the chefs appear to be putting their heart and soul in creating delicious food rather than directing their efforts elsewhere, so with that in mind I continued to enjoy the European odyssey and overlook the obvious.

French Toast with cinnamon poached pears, crispy bacon and maple syrup - The Meeting Place Cafe, South Yarra
French Toast with cinnamon poached pears, crispy bacon and maple syrup – The Meeting Place Cafe, South Yarra

When my French toast arrived, the presentation of the dish was spectacular. Two thick slices of battered bread, wedges of poached pear, fresh strawberries, a rasher of bacon decoratively wrapped around a quenelle of cream, decorated with a fresh sprig of mint and artfully drizzled dollops of maple syrup, and a fine layer of cinnamon dusting over the top.

There were a few unexpected taste elements in the dish, both good and not so good. While the toast was served hot off the grill, the poached pears appeared to come straight from the fridge so the extreme difference in temperature came as a complete surprise when pairing the two together, but only for the first mouthful. The French toast was well cooked and delectable especially when mixed with the maple syrup and cinnamon. The bacon was also delicious, not overly crisp, and went well with the bread and the sweeter options on the plate. I was expecting the cream on top of the French toast to be mascarpone or crème fraiche, which would have been unobtrusive in terms of flavour, but discovered it was actually sour cream. Quelle horreur! Sour cream unfortunately has a distinctive flavour and the taste was overbearing which didn’t pair well with the other sweet and savoury flavours and textures. Aside from this, my breakfast was substantive and enjoyable.

The next time I need a budget-friendly European escape for breakfast, I have my eyes set on the Nutella & banana pancakes with roasted hazlenuts, strawberries served with vanilla custurd (sic).

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