Photo: Eddie Jim
YOU want to pick up Lip and give it a big squeeze, it's so cute. All of it feels handmade - from the arty wall stencils to characterful animals (including bird silhouettes and a cheery pig that greets you at the door), right down to the soft, moist carrot cake with a neat swirl of cream cheese icing.
Cute doesn't mean naive, though, and Lip has its share of cafe smarts. Julian Chew was an apprentice with Matt Moran and Peter Doyle in Sydney before illness forced him to pack it in. He studied interior design, moved south and returned to the hospitality fold to work at Da Noi and Loafer Bread. His artist wife, Tammy Chen, does the design and also works in the cosy 45-seater.
The staff are helpful and attitude-free. Cookbooks are stacked on shelves that are in use, not just for show, and little details prove that the young owners care deeply about this snippet of cafe culture they have created on an out-of-the-way Ivanhoe strip. The building was a pizza shop for about 30 years.
Lip's menu is classic cafe food - avocado on toast, three-egg scramble, porridge with pears and spiced raisins, BLTs - with forays to the Mediterranean, the Middle East and beyond.
The Fair Trade Allpress coffee is excellent, a Columbian-Guatemalan- Papua New Guinean blend that has a kick through the milk. Crumbs makes the organic sourdough, the eggs and chicken are free-range, and the sauces, relishes and chutneys are made in-house.
Lip's short specials board is where you will find dishes such as the beautifully balanced rogan josh curry, the lamb shoulder cooked soft, the tomato sauce spicy with cardamom and cinnamon.
Three corn fritters are spongy, fresh and delicious, made with gluten-free chickpea flour and flecked with zucchini and coriander. Avocado is piled on top, along with raw red onion and smoky chipotle yoghurt.
There might be a pumpkin burek, an enclosed filo parcel of skin-on pumpkin with chickpeas, silverbeet, onion jam - cut it open and the flavours of cinnamon waft up. On the side is a crunchy salad with almonds, tossed in a dressing of pomegranate molasses and sherry vinegar.
The name ''Lip'' stands for the first three letters of Life in Provence, the concept based on the way food is processed from scratch and made on site. Maybe it could also stand for Lucky Ivanhoe Punters - every suburb needs a local and this one is sweeter than most.
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Corncakes, signature chicken coleslaw and eggs with all the trimmings.
191 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne, 9090 7844.
Cute bluestone cottage, also with Allpress, dishing up egg brekkies and pub-style lunches - and it's licensed.
663 Victoria Street, Abbotsford, 9421 6762.
- 9499 1162
- Prices - Breakfasts, $4-$17.90; sandwiches, $9-$11.50; cakes, slices and desserts, $3-$8
- Cards accepted - AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Mon-Fri, 8am-4pm; Sat-Sun, 8am-2pm
- Author - Nina Rousseau