Never mind the avocado and Vegemite smash: how about peanut butter toast with heirloom tomatoes? It's tangy, tomatoey and both nutty (as in peanuts) and nutty (as in huh?) but it works. The secret might be the Kraft peanut butter – a childhood fave, says co-owner Kael Sahely, and not as dry as the house-made variety they've tried at Sahely's other venture, Barry in Northcote. Also on the menu at this new cafe, which sits in a red-brick terrace house flanked by a streetload of heritage architecture, are on-trend dishes for the health-conscious, such as mixed ancient grains with cauliflower rice, barberries and toasted sesame, or a California superfood salad. But there is plenty to indulge in, too – a ginger and rhubarb waffle with vanilla cream, lobster in a roll with Sriracha mayo and green mango, and very tasty bottomless brews of filter coffee from Collingwood roaster Promised Land, plus espresso from the venerable Seven Seeds.
222 Clarendon Street, East Melbourne, 9416 4914, squareandcompass.com.au
Glovers Station was once Glover Service Station, but that doesn't explain the mock-Tudor building: we'll put that down to an imaginative 1930s property developer, thank Heritage Victoria for its preservation and give the folks who've turned it into a cafe – Mary-Jane Daffy, Jim Marinis and chef Brett Hobbs – a round of applause for turning a quiet stretch of Glen Eira Road into a cafe destination. The menu is all about good produce treated with love, like the breakfasts of fruit toast with orange caramel labna or activated almond Bircher with vanilla bean yoghurt, a pulled-pork roll with tomato relish or even meaty braised ox tongue on toast. "Something Lunchy" is the menu's apt description of the casual but tasty bigger offers: pressed lamb shoulder with a barley, pea and cauliflower salad, or a tart with vegies from the courtyard kitchen garden. Bottomless filter brews are proving popular, with Jim Marinis cruising the floor to offer regular refills – that's too much of a good thing.
258 Glen Eira Road, Elsternwick, 9532 7765, gloversstation.com.au
3. Bluff Town
Clare Hu knows how to take Melbourne cafe style to the suburbs – she pioneered with The Resident in Ashburton, and follows up with Bluff Town in Sandringham. A corner spot in Sandy's busy hub has given her a long, narrow space with a row of french windows that should open on to the footpath come summer, with a compact arrangement of tables for two, a cosy communal table and a booth down the back. In the kitchen, Janita Connelly, who helped launch The Resident, and her husband, James Bordignon, bring plenty of bistro experience to the menu. Current faves are the cauliflower hummus with chia crackers and crisp kale, house-made ricotta crepes sprinkled with shattered honeycomb and pistachio, and a cute lunch box that varies from day to day: maybe chunky smoked salmon on a brioche bun with a side of nutty brown-rice salad and a slice of jam roll to finish. There's wine, beer, and top coffee from 5 Senses, including a food-friendly Moccamaster brew.
Shop 1, 18-34 Station Street, Sandringham 9598 2727
One of the great things about Melbourne is the entrepreneurial spirit of the young people who start cafes here. Footscray local Desmond Huynh and partners have "borrowed" a block of vacant land from Huynh's father and installed a "temporary" cafe pieced together, architecturally, from shipping containers. The containers have become an open kitchen, a bar and a lovely eating/coffee-drinking/hanging-out space, surrounded by a lo-fi urban garden – rainwater tanks, astroturf, planter boxes, fruit trees. The casual vibe is supported by Shane Donnelly's simple menu of eggs scrambled with prawns, crab and speck; pork belly served with crisp pig's ear and a fried egg; or waffles with quark and grilled figs. Add great Small Batch coffee – voila: pop-up cafe pleasure.
16-20 Leeds Street, Footscray, 0497 058 173, rudimentary.com.au
Melbourne's south-east is a suburban cafe growth wedge: there's Omar and the Marvellous Coffee Bird in Gardenvale, The Merchants Guild, Little Tommy Tucker and District Brewer in Bentleigh or thereabouts and now Hendriks Cafe in the Mordialloc hinterland. Lee Eman and partner Chloe Dam had a cafe dream, and the dream has been realised in converting an old commercial space (carpet warehouse? tile showroom?) into a smart brunchery with tasty favourites like chunky potato hash larded with ham hock and served with poached eggs and mustardy hollandaise sauce, an almond milk and chia pudding with crisp green apple, and the highlight, a range of po' boy sandwich-things: buttermilk chicken, southern shrimp or pulled pork, served in cardboard boxes and available to take away for a worker's lunch. The house blend and single origin coffee comes from a local roaster, too – 5 Senses in nearby Cheltenham.
105/107 White Street, Mordialloc, 9021 8980, hendrikscafe.com.au
With a cafe pedigree including Top Paddock and Three Bags Full, The Kettle Black opened last year with plenty of buzz surrounding it, and delivered. The interior design is straight from the pages of Architectural Digest: pale timber, pastel greens, cut-out screens and soft cushions. The setting, in a Victorian terrace house with an apartment block grafted on, is dramatically urban, and the menu pushes cafes favourites in unusual directions (porridge is creamy polenta with strawberries poached, dehydrated, frozen and turned into crunchy little bits; "benedict-style" eggs where the hollandaise is an airy foam). Other dishes rely on quality produce with provenance: King Island crayfish in an ashy roll or cured Flinders Island wallaby with scrambled eggs. It's a smart but comfortable space that for food, vibe and service is more like a daytime restaurant than a cafe; but "cafe" in Melbourne means that, too, now.
50 Albert Road, South Melbourne, 9088 0721, kettleblack.com.au
Nora is quirky, or what? Closed on Fridays (so they can prepare for the weekend, says chef-owner Sarin Rojanametin); a cute interior scheme that is very postmod-Asian in its bright conception; and a menu that looks like nothing else in any cafe anywhere. The intriguing names of the dishes reveal surprising flavours and textures: Dear Mitchell turns out to be sous vide eggs that are creamy and custardy, dressed with shaved daikon and cucumber and a sprinkle of salted shrimp, while Churning of the Sea Milk is slivers of jasmine-smoked salmon topped with shaved nashi, tiny beetroot and an unnamed minty herb from the back-lane apple-box garden. Partner Jean Thamthanakorn bakes crazy charcoal-infused tarts in mad flavours like cheddar cheese, Vegemite and lychee. Then there's coffee from Small Batch – espresso, cold brew or in a lush cold mix of double espresso, pandan-infused milk, coconut sugar syrup and coconut whey.
156 Elgin Street, Carlton, noramelbourne.com
8. Finn Cafe
Sitting in a stretch of Carlisle Street opposite the St Kilda Town Hall that is neither here nor there, St Kilda-wise, Finn has plenty quietly going for it. The fit-out of worn timber, hanging succulents and repurposed furniture is quietly crafty and hand-made, and there's a front-window shared table that seems to be perpetually occupied. Co-owner Laura Winter's Finnish background seems to have had an influence on the menu put together by New Zealander Ash Hudson. His gravlax of Tasmanian salmon, with creme fraiche, scattered with tiny baby beetroot, sections of radish and slivers of baby carrot pickled in-house, is a lovely, clean showcase of the ingredients, and just thinking about the breakfast board – duck rillettes, smoked salmon, cheese and cornichons – has me reaching for a Myki and a No.78 tram timetable. The coffee from Clark Street Roasters suits the southside taste for robust milky brews.
124 Carlisle Street, St Kilda, 0481 394 403
West Footscray, quiet suburban street, shopfront cafe: muesli with poached fruit (yes), avo smash (yes), poachies with hollandaise (of course), beef tartare (hang on a minute!) The young French chef here, Jordi Boyer, is giving the west a bit of a masterclass in small-kitchen seasonal cooking, and owner Leigh McCrabb says locals love it. The beef tartare is back, after a break, by popular demand, joining an eight-hour lamb shepherd's pie, pine mushroom gnocchi and a take on the scotch egg (double-crumbed, runny-yolked, with ham hock and lentils) on the specials menu. Boyer is also a pastry chef, so there are plenty of house-baked goodies, as well as cruffins and tiramisu donuts from Proud Mary's bakery offshoot. The coffee is from Prouds, too – locals would shoot him if he changed it, says McCrabb.
182 Essex Street, West Footscray, 0439 318 820
10. Baba Sus
White station tiles, a concrete floor, timber tables and Edison downlights create an urban vibe at this cafe in a Glen Iris apartment block development. The owners, Midori Hori, who is Japanese, and partner Daniel Liao (from Taiwan) bring flavours from their childhood to the brunch-style menu. There's a pulled-pork omelette with mushrooms, chilli jam and a salad of shoots and herbs that has a real south-east Asian feel, corn fritters turn up as something more like Japanese-style croquettes, and the waffles are cooked in a Hong Kong waffle pan and emerge as a cluster of egg-shaped balls with vanilla custard, berry compote and a scoop of matcha ice-cream. Poached eggs still come with hollandaise, though the sauteed spinach is the Chinese variety, and for a side you might add house-made Thai sausage instead of a breakfast banger for a banging breakfast.
15/17 Bardolph Street, Glen Iris, 9939 6141, babasus.com.au