659 Glenferrie Road Hawthorn, VIC 312203 9078 5492
|Opening hours||Sat-Thurs 7am-5pm, Fri 7am-late|
|Features||Outdoor seating, Licensed|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
HANG ON, CRABAPPLE KITCHEN opened in July, right? So where's the faux-industrial fitout, the polished concrete, the exposed beams? ''We're not cool,'' owner-chef Greg Feck says. ''There are no single-origins, no cold drip filters, nothing like that. I've gone totally the opposite. I'm a bit old-school.''
But Feck is more modern than he thinks. He is part of a growing trend of chefs who work for years in busy hatted restaurants (in Feck's case, Richmond Hill Larder & Cafe, Sapore in St Kilda and - claim to fame - with ''Jamie'' and Ben O'Donoghue in London), then open their own places, transferring fine-dining smarts to more informal cafe settings but with the same level of quality food and service.
At Crabapple, Feck and his partner, Kim Coronica, have a fitout and menu inspired by their travels - a snippet of European countryside on flat-chat Glenferrie Road.
Out front, a jaunty striped awning from the Basque region is instantly welcoming. The white picket fence and wrought-iron signpost conjure a French village, and the carpeted, brick-wall dining room is a haven. That's the romantic version, anyway; others might just find it a bit dark and poky - potato, patato.
The menu provides plenty of choice. Feck describes his cuisine as ''travel-inspired'', with a Mediterranean base and heavy Italian influence. He and Coronica also run the Food and Travel Co. There is real technique; it's clear there are no shortcuts.
Lamb is baked in the Lacanche oven, slow-cooked with mirepoix and stock, and served with soft, pillowy, cheesy semolina gnocchi, first baked then ever so lightly pan-fried, sprinkled with toasted almonds and crisped sage and served with green beans.
Jalandhar baked eggs are cooked with a subtly spiced north Indian curry with lentils and purple heirloom carrots - on the side is springy, warmed, house-made flatbread for dunking. Myrtleford buttermilk pancakes are thick, fluffy and insanely popular, cooked up with freshly cut banana, salted praline and crowned with a decent dob of whipped mascarpone and a generous slosh of pure Canadian maple syrup. If pancakes are your thing, you'll love these.
''We're a bit of a 'yes' cafe,'' says Feck, who's happy to tweak dishes for customers in accordance with ''old-school hospitality''.
In New Zealand, he would meet his mates under the crabapple tree in the backyard. It was their haven, and his cafe isn't dissimilar.
Do … Check out the Friday-night dinners; this week a Jalandhar theme with curries and biryani and lots for vegetarians; $45 a head for eight courses
Don't … Go looking for polished concrete
Dish … Myrtleford buttermilk pancakes
Vibe … Old-fashioned haven