Arkwright & Co: British retro with a twist

This North Carlton venture hards back to British factory tearooms of the 1950s.
This North Carlton venture hards back to British factory tearooms of the 1950s. Photo: Simon Schluter

9381 0012
MONDAY-FRIDAY 6.30am-4.30pm; WEEKENDS 7am-5.30pm

This tiny space is as retro as it comes, but it is the antithesis of the Americana style so hot in Melbourne now. Arkwright & Co instead approaches the ’50s aesthetic from that of a British factory tearoom.

Co-owners Bryce Ritchie and John Arvanitis, the team behind the fitouts of Seven Seeds and Kumo Izakaya, among others, had planned on turning the former fabric importer, owned by Ritchie’s family, into a design workshop (which it will also be soon), and the idea for the cafe was an afterthought.

‘‘We thought we’d make the front space into a display, but then John suggested putting in a coffee machine. Then, both being designers and builders, we got carried away,’’ says Ritchie.

After some op shop and junk market trips, the result is a quirky CWA-style tearoom, all recycled lino and timber, that serves simple breakfasts and lunches in ‘‘BBC or Ford factory tearoom’’ style.

The compact menu, which Ritchie describes as ‘‘quite English and simple’’, includes ‘‘morning fare’’ – traditional croissants with Yarra Valley jam and Saya butter ($6.80) or Smithfield ham and cheese ($7.80), toasted fig fruit bread with lemon curd ($6.80) or mascarpone and honey ($8.80), and Dr Marty’s organic crumpets ($8.80). Then, there is a range of (huge!) British-style sandwiches, which at the moment includes the autumn pear, blue cheese, walnuts, celery and watercress ($9.20), cured beef with dill pickle, carrot, white cabbage and ginger mayo ($9.20), and Smithfield ham, mild cheese, rocket and mustard mayo ($9.20), plus their winter specials – a meat pie of the day with roast vegetables and old-fashioned tomato sauce ($13.80), and a vegetarian pastie with roast veg and pear and raisin chutney ($13.80). At weekends, there is the terribly British option of a Devonshire tea. Coffee is from Seven Seeds and, naturally, there are  several teas on offer as well. As well as cakes from Noisette, there are house-made cupcakes and even Greek almond biscuits made by Arvanitis’ mum.

From the Formica tables and chairs, you can look back into their co-op-style workshop, where the pair offer classes in carpentry, design, billy-cart construction, eco-composting and even steel fabrication.

‘‘We all know cafe culture, in the last five to 10 years, has exploded in Melbourne, and we know people identify with their area with cafes, but I think now they’re wanting something more,’’ says Ritchie. ‘‘I think if the cafe has a way of involving them and participating, which is what the workshop does, it can offer something more. It gives people a chance to identify with their community subculture ...  So, we’re offering a heavily design-based workshop, where people can come in with their own designs to fabricate something for their home or business, then we can help them draw it up and then, if they want, they can fabricate it with one of our technicians, one on one.’’

And then have a nice sarnie afterwards?

‘‘Yeah,’’ says Ritchie. ‘‘The whole idea was to create something more than a cafe.’’