Photo: Eddie Jim
SOME people have a novel in them, others a bunch of songs. For Carolyn Mee, a cafe is the outlet for her creativity - a dinky little laneway spot called Freestyle Espresso.
Mee, 33, is a Melbourne lass who moved to the Gold Coast at 19 to learn the hospitality ropes in a world of posh hotels and the glitzy Jupiter's Casino. After stints ''doing interiors'' and exploring Europe, she reckoned she was ready. ''It was so time for me to do a cafe. It's always been in my bones.''
Freestyle, now a year old, is in the former Peter Watson spice shop so the compact space already looked schmick when Mee took over. She's kept the black walls, giving it a cool, cave-like feel, added some 1960s armchairs and placed a communal table in the sun-trap driveway. It's a neat, shipshape fitout, and Mee still sells a handful of Watson's products: pasta sauces, cordials, spice rubs.
The brunchy menu runs all day but much of the action happens in the glass counter: hearty pies, tarts, salads (maybe a brilliant, nutty quinoa or a Vietnamese coleslaw), and Dench organic sourdough sandwiches thick with poached chicken breast, lemony avocado mash and seeded mustard mayo.
Puff pastry encased the day's tart, a cheesy mix of caramelised, slow-sauteed leek. The day's pie was filled with a concoction of harissa coconut chicken and lentils and was what a pie should be, with a chunky, bountiful filling and hand-made pastry crusted in sesame seeds.
Two spongy corn fritters were knobbly with kernels and topped with avocado, along with four full rashers of (optional) bacon, the edges just shy of burnt. The sweet, house-made tomato relish was a highlight.
Mee serves a good coffee brew without hullaballoo. Lattes here don't have a thick collar but there's art in the crema and the Allpress Supremo blend is a full-bodied, medium roast with beans from Brazil, Colombia and PNG.
Mee makes the sweets, too, including a scrummy strawberry blondie, a shortbread-style slice with crunchy bites of strawberry couverture chocolate; and the rocky road, a riotous mix of marshmallow, white chocolate buds, Turkish delight, coconut and mixed lollies bound together with milk chocolate. She's baking plum puds for Christmas, too.
Lucky for South Melbourne locals that Mee prefers to cook than to write books.
Where 6 Union Street, South Melbourne, 9696 4396
Prices Breakfasts, $8.50-$10.80; lunches, $3-$6.80; slices and cakes, $6.30-$8.50
Cards MC V Eftpos
Open Mon-Sat, 8am-4pm; Sun, 9am-4pm
You may also like …
■Penny Farthing Espresso, 206 High Street, Northcote, 9482 2246. Brothers Trevor and Steve Simmons take the ye olde theme that bit further, wearing braces and old-fashioned garb while dishing up simple meals and kicker coffee.
■Cafe Bent Espresso, 2/385 Centre Road (off Bent Street), Bentleigh, 9557 1339. A dedicated specialist coffee menu, Toby's Estate beans and a retro fitout with Laminex-this and red vinyl-that.
- 9696 4396
- Cuisine - Contemporary
- Prices - Breakfasts, $8.50-$10.80; lunches, $3-$6.80; slices and cakes, $6.30-$8.50
- Cards accepted - Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Mon-Sat, 8am-4pm; Sun, 9am-4pm
- Author - Nina Rousseau