The Age Good Food Guide's top 30 gourmet cafes

Scones and jam with Meander Valley clotted cream at the Chez Dre.
Scones and jam with Meander Valley clotted cream at the Chez Dre. Photo: Eddie Jim

Batch Espresso
Shop 1, 320 Carlisle Street, Balaclava 9530 3550
Still trucking and still awesome, this Balaclava old-timer’s food and coffee are always on song. Standards are given clever twists, as with the cumin and lemon fried eggs.

The Boatbuilders Yard
23 South Wharf Promenade, South Wharf, Docklands 9686 5088
The indoor-outdoor riverside shed is a fine spot on a still day. Eat eggs early, then prawns, pasta or pork chop, and loiter by the barbecue for fancy snags.

Chez Dre
Rear, 285–287 Coventry Street, South Melbourne 9690 2688
The menu here has a French accent, thanks to pastry chef Andrea Reiss, and runs from croque monsieur to brioche French toast and macarons, to be enjoyed inside or in the courtyard under the peppercorn tree.

8 Railway Parade, Camberwell 9831 1400
A variety of local roasters are showcased here, and there’s a chirpy, well-priced food menu to boot. Larger groups should beeline for the lovely round marble table near the enormous kitchen and roasting room.

Common Galaxia
130–136 Victoria Street, Seddon 9689 0769
Named after a plucky local fish, the second cafe from the Dead Man Espresso team runs along similar lines: a classy space for food that’s simple and elegant plus coffee crafted with rigour and passion.

Cooper & Milla’s
1094 High Street, Armadale 9500 8127
The salads and baked goods here are balanced, inspired, seasonal and sparklingly fresh. That’s why it’s possible to forgive the cramped tables and the premium prices.

531 Nicholson Street, Carlton North 9077 6998
At this sweet concept cafe, the food menu is flanked by a list of craft activities: your smaller companions can collage while you caffe latte. The food is fresh, cheap and delectably kid-friendly too.

Dr Jekyll
107 Grey Street, St Kilda 9525 5999
Bright and spacious with a great rear deck floating in the greenery, this doctor delivers fine tunes, good vibes and scrambled eggs with just the right amount of jiggle.

Fifteen Pounds
21–23 Railway Place, Fairfield 9482 4481
Fairfield often feels like the country, never more so than under the lemon tree in the rear garden here. Consider the ‘pound dog’ with chorizo and the rustic jam tarts.

428 Malvern Road, Prahran 9510 8336
An old garage is now a funky cafe with plywood booths and smashing food. Slow-poached eggs come with guaranteed ooze, and lunches are proper alluring meals like braised lamb with smoked almond dukkah.

Kitschen Pantry
128 Mansfield Street, Thornbury 9484 0503
Produce grown in the owner’s garden, just up the road, stars in many dishes at this cute retro cafe with a tiny kitchen, a big heart and ace icecream spiders.

Little Byrd
160 Union Road, Ascot Vale (no phone)
Homespun and handcrafted, this bird is a beauty – from the fabulous spinach pie to the saucepan lid mural. It’s not big but seating on the wide pavement eases the crush.

38 Toorak Road, South Yarra 9867 5888
Lots of folk hit and run for the perfect macarons, but it’s also nice to sit in the sleek cafe where the mix-and-match savoury and sweet menu makes it easy to build a feast from elements such as cinnamon waffle, pork belly and brie.

Manchester Press
8 Rankins Lane, City 9600 4054
A laneway, a warehouse, a simple menu, a queue. Does it get any more Melbourne than that? But this place is worth the (short) wait for its large and lively setting, classic bagels (smoked salmon, pastrami) and low-fi salads.

Marmalade & Soul
162 Queens Parade, Fitzroy North 9486 2740
A restaurant approach at cafe prices means this stripped-back old pub is a big win for diners. Raymond Capaldi’s food is creative: think five-rice curry porridge for a sustaining brunch.

Martha Ray’s
85 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy (no phone)
A turntable spins cool tunes in a calm, minimalist space, while the open kitchen pumps out fragrant and interesting food at keen prices. Breakfast might mean corn chowder; lunch could be eggplant and smoky tomato baguette.

Middle Fish
122 Berkeley Street, Carlton 9348 1704
Fun and original, this big, buzzing Thai cafe serves brown rice soup and crunchy mussel omelette for breakfast; curries and spicy salads for lunch. The coffee with condensed milk is sweet and strong, and the red booths are prime position.

Miss Marie
45 Beetham Parade, Rosanna (no phone)
A heaping pile of baked beans is emblematic of Miss Marie: generous, full-flavoured and fuss free. The home-made biscuits and cakes need special mention, especially the moist, spiced carrot cake.

My Sister Says
118 Bridge Street, Port Melbourne 9646 1117
A dainty cake display is a constant lure at this cutie-pie cafe. Many of the excellent savoury and sweet bakes come from sister cafe Servery and Spoon in Malvern; the friendly welcome is all their own work.

Oasis Bakery
Shop 9, 993 North Road, Murrumbeena 9570 1122
The Middle Eastern pizzas and wraps are good, but consider the well-priced braises, soups and seafood dishes at this busy canteen. Be warned: a quick browse in the Middle Eastern grocery often results in a full trolley.

Oli & Levi
Shop 2, 20 Coromandel Place, City 9650 0501
The welcome is dazzling at this alley cafe with one long communal table and a food cabinet full of baguettes and pastries. The egg tarts are perfect for a morning smash and grab.

Olie & Ari
133–135 Were Street, Brighton 9592 2929
At this corner cafe, there’s plenty of pram room, loads of natural light and Armenian accents on the menu. The coffee is excellent and the almond croissants are wicked.

156 Pakington Street, Kew 9855 2002
Friendly is good but when it’s combined with efficiency it’s even better. Excellent food, coffee and a stellar service ethic make this small cafe a hot option.

The Pour Kids
1e Winter Street, Malvern 9077 3847
The modern retro fitout says ‘Come in, enjoy’, and the menu backs up the promise with terrific offerings that show technique and care, like fresh sardines on toast with spiced bean paste and shaved fennel.

Pure Italian
249b Belmore Road, Balwyn North 9857 3961
There’s an art to making something new feel rusted on and cosy and this endlessly appealing hangout knows all about it. Order classic pasta and polenta from the paper wall scroll or browse the antipasto fridge for treasures.

Roller Door Cafe
13 Stawell Street, West Melbourne 0449 208 681
Personal and charming from the rugged frontage to the higgledy-piggledy courtyard, Roller Door also wins for its simple menu of eggs and ciabattas (with, say, house-glazed ham).

The Scented Garden Cafe
2a McAdam Square, Croydon North 9725 2299
Everything’s organic at this peaceful cafe where the courtyard is shaded by a lemon-scented gum tree. The food is simple but thoughtful, with soups, focaccia and home-made cakes starring.

48 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea 9523 8155
If ever a shopping strip was crying out for a cafe, it was this one. Locals leapt instantly and keep coming back for dishes like pan-fried challah (braided egg bread) with vanilla mascarpone, and Moroccan schnitzel sandwich.

381 Flinders Lane, City 9614 8194
Wholefood salads, braises and pies are deliciously arranged on a marble countertop; on-the-money sandwiches (sausage and sauerkraut – yes, please) are assembled behind the scenes at this petite, civilised weekday dining room.

Wallis & Ed
1 Bourke Street, City 9633 6265
Part of the Windsor Hotel, there’s all-day dining and drinking in this smart, elevated dining room with classy and creative breakfast dishes like chestnut and barley porridge.
The Age Good Cafe Guide 2012 is available through