It's taken a year, but Geoff Lindsay's Pearl Cafe has finally opened some 400 metres up Church Street from his fancy fine diner.
The light, airy corner space is painted white and dominated by a high communal white table lined with stools. The old tables and chairs from Pearl help it from feeling too clinical - despite the use of laboratory glassware and those beaker-like Riedel stemless wine glasses.
Much thought has obviously gone into styling the look here, from drinks coasters and the suavely branded take-away packaging to the charcoal-cardboard scabbards sheathing cutlery on the tables and the matching heavy bowls. Could this be the first Aussie return of that '80s dining icon - the black plate?
Only thing seemingly overlooked was properly spring-loading the front door. It kept blowing open and didn't shut automatically when the barn-born entered or left. That's pretty tedious - and cold - for those sitting nearest the door.
What to eat is displayed on a huge menu clipped to a giant wall-mounted lightbox, or seen in the good-looking glass-fronted counter that lines the end of the room. There are baguettes and sandwiches, including a rather refined version of a Reuben with thin rolled slices of corned beef, sauerkraut and a slice of melted Swiss on rye, or a curried egg and iceberg one whose spicing is more Madras than '70s country tennis party.
These line up next to sweet nanna favourites such as coconut ice, hedgehog and lamingtons, or glasses of dessert - a citrus trifle with cloudy but bright-tasting mandarin jelly over custardy layers hiding soft hunks of savoiardi biscuits; or our favourite, a couple of round meringues with thick yellow cream and lashings of passionfruit syrup.
For those with a more breakfast bent, the lattes and flat whites are well executed and coddled eggs come with six different accompaniments such as smoked salmon and all the trimmings, or ham, melted brie and Dijon mustard.
When it comes to savoury choices, however, the modern Asian dishes are the most impressive, whether it's a great zipping salad of mints, basil and rare beef, or a dry on-the-bone green chicken curry that is long on fragrance and pleasantly short on gooey cloying coconut milk. On this evidence I'd return just to try a Vietnamese steamed chicken salad, another of king prawn, mint and glass noodles, and the Cantonese "short and long" soup.
They would be a better choice than the uninspiring pot pie that arrived still cold at its centre - an oversight rare even in the most casual cafe let alone one with this pedigree. Even properly heated it was, at best, unremarkable - a mix of braised beef, carrots, only a precious few pieces of promised veal kidney and some mash. It's the mod Asian stuff that is the way to go here and it ensures that, barring anomalies such as the door and that one dodgy pot pie, Pearl Cafe is a hugely valuable and welcome addition to an under-served corner of Richmond.
- 03 9427 1307
- Cuisine - Modern Australian
- Prices - Breakfast $6-$14, salads $7-$15, hot stuff $12.50-$16.50, desserts $4-$8
- Features - Licensed
- Cards accepted - Visa, AMEX, Mastercard
- Opening Hours - Mon-Fri 7am-4pm, Sat-Sun 8am-4pm
- Author - Matt Preston, Reviewer