The duck egg, oyster mushroom and truffle butter dish is one of the cafe's most popular. Photo: Anu Kumar
Former Vue du Monde sous chef Simon Ward is transforming pedestrian breakfast dishes into works of delicious art at Fitzroy's Hammer & Tong 412.
While some of his peers have seen Ward's move from fine dining to the cafe scene as a step down, Ward regards it as a logical move.
''It's just a progression of where eating is, in Melbourne,'' he says. ''A lot of the fine dining chefs are getting out of fine dining because there's a decline in the [number] of restaurants still doing that. And it's great for diners who might not have as much money as they might have a few years ago; it's tough times.''
Hammer & Tong 412's interior. Photo: Anu Kumar
But not at Hammer & Tong 412 (in the site that formerly housed Brix), where Ward and his colleagues have the punters queuing at weekends for high-end brekkie and brunch at decidedly non-high-end prices.
''It's crazy on weekends - we've got a bit of a cult following,'' says Ward, conceding the recent Best Breakfast Spot gong in The Age's Good Food Under $30 Awards has boosted business. ''We can do 300-380 covers on a Saturday for breakfast and lunch. A lot of fine dining chefs can't get their head around that when they go into that environment.''
But Ward says training in high-end cuisine and presentation never leaves a chef. ''It's just tailoring those skills and putting them into the cafe scene,'' he says.
The all-day brekkie menu ranges into lunch, including this super-rich goat butter linguine with cured egg yolk, chilli pecorino, roquette and fried parsley. Photo: Anu Kumar
His creative menu ranges from pimped-up muesli - coconut bircher with toasted hazelnuts and crispy apple ($12) - to a lavender yoghurt custard with strawberry and pineapple gel, berries and lychee with basil cress ($16), and rye and shallot bagel with smoked rainbow trout, kale, pickled carrot, poached egg and nori-hollandaise ($18).
But it's the more out-there options that are Hammer & Tong's most popular dishes, such as duck egg with oyster mushrooms, truffle butter, snowpea tendrils served with the decadent fontina-crusted ''briont'' (a brioche-croissant hybrid, no less) soldiers ($18) and the breakfast ramen, with 62 degrees hen's egg, bacon, oyster mushroom, spring onion and bacon dashi ($15).
The soft-shell crab burger ($12), also available on their dinner menu, has become something of a signature dish, popular even at breakfast. The all-day brekkie menu ranges into lunch, which means you can opt for the super-rich goat butter linguine with cured egg yolk, chilli pecorino, roquette and fried parsley ($20) or the buttermilk lamb with goat's cheese, onion rings and eucalyptus and apple gel ($22).
The coffee is from Dukes and the drinks menu includes house-made creations such as the Turkish Delight soda.
Everything, even the simple burger, comes beautifully plated - no mean feat in the small, usually crowded space - and delivered by cheery staff.
A new dish on the menu, the sausage and egg muffin with espresso maple bacon foam (no, really) and smoked cheese ($16), is a marriage of fine dining and dude food, and was an instant hit in its first week. ''It's a great winter addition,'' Ward says. And, like Hammer's entire menu, something of an adventure.
- 03 9041 6033
- Cuisine - Contemporary
- Chef(s) - Simon Ward
- Opening Hours - TUES-SAT, 7AM-LATE; SUN, MON 8AM-4PM
- Author - Kylie Northover