We are in a very rich vein of cafe openings. Brother Baba Budan (which is the marvellous grungy coffee palace spin off from Mark Dundon's St Ali) is pulling one of the best espressos in town. Pearl's Geoff Lindsay has brought his vibrant Asian food into the cafe arena for the first time. This week, add another high achiever to this list of new arrivals - Auction Rooms in North Melbourne.
This huge, sprawling space still has a to do list that includes acquiring a liquor licence and getting their monumental red Bolognese coffee roaster working - but it is getting a lot right. There's a flurry of people working on the floor and behind the counter at busy times, pretty posies of native flora on the tables and a variety of places to sit: from high stools at window benches to little tables for two in a sort of conversation pit by the front door.
Like Brother Baba, Auction Rooms' interior is the perfect antidote to the multimillion-dollar excesses of the casino's gastro-temples. Rather than lampshades hand-sewn by specially trained Himalayan monkeys in a Parisian atelier, or chairs that cost more than the average weekly wage, both places look like they've been carefully, and artfully, assembled from skips and salvage yards by a couple of blokes with a spot welder, a nail gun and a good eye.
At Auction Rooms, I reckon those groovy looking organ-pipe lampshades are actually lengths of poly-pipe, and the wooden panelling along the front of the bar is made from the doors of old Kooyong tennis players lockers. It is a little like a Six Degrees design gone feral - the interior design equivalent of the New York fashion world's dumpster chic of 2006, and what idiosyncratic laneway bars such as St Jerome have been doing for a while.
Interestingly, one of Auction Rooms' owners, Marcus Mottram, runs pioneering Melbourne bar F4; the other is barista Andrew Kelly.
The menu has standards such as fresh orange juice, good milky coffees and hot chocolate, Italian baked beans on sourdough (the bread and cakes here come from Dench bakers) and alongside, more adventurous dishes. A chorizo sausage comes on toast topped with a fine dice of mushroom and ribbons of roasted capsicum. There's some rocket on the side that has large ginger soaked flecks of apple through it. For some dishes, innovation is more perplexing, such as the choice of filling a good piandina with bechamel in which strips of grilled zucchini hide. If you love the Canadian breakfast of pancakes with maple syrup and bacon, I'd suggest you will also love their brioche French toast with pan-fried banana, bacon, berries and real maple syrup.
The more lunchy dishes have a Japanese spin and are largely less busy; a large bowl of miso soup loaded with pieces of carrot, mushroom and tofu; a salad of eggplant, cherry toms, olives and leaves with a strident sesame dressing. There is also a beef curry.
To be fair, most will be very happy to eat here but, with an ambience and interior as sharp as this, one expects food that's extraordinary.
- 03 9326 7749
- Cuisine - Modern Australian
- Prices - Breakfast $6-$14, lunch $7-$15, cakes $2.50-$6.50.
- Cards accepted - Visa, EFTPOS, AMEX, Mastercard
- Opening Hours - Tues-Fri 7am-4pm, Sat and Sun 8am-4pm
- Author - Matt Preston, Reviewer