Sofia Levin

Challah French toast at Bowery to Williamsburg. Click for more photos

Melbourne: The breakfast capital of the world

Challah French toast at Bowery to Williamsburg. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.'' It's been the catchcry of impatient mothers and cunning cereal advertisements for decades. In brekkie-obsessed Melbourne, the old adage couldn't hold more relevance if it came with a side of bacon.

''Breakfast is so much better in Melbourne than in any other city in the world,'' says Matt Perger, of St Ali and Sensory Lab. ''I have friends from America and the first thing they want to do is go and have breakfast at Duchess of Spotswood when they get off the plane.''

At Richmond's Top Paddock cafe, co-owner Sam Slattery estimates that, every weekend, the chefs crack more than 3000 eggs, flip up to 200 hotcakes, ferry out 100 bowls of Bircher muesli, and dish up about 200 serves of smashed avocado. ''Eleven o'clock is the peak time,'' says Slattery, who believes eating out for breakfast is so popular because it's a cheaper catch-up option than dinner.

The full English at Persillade.
The full English at Persillade. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Bowery to Williamsburg chef and co-owner Shaun Williams serves about 240 bagels between Friday and Sunday. Ninety per cent of his customers are breakfast trade at the weekend, but during the week the same number come for lunch. Swing by St Ali South and head chef Andy Gale will fry you bacon from his weekly 80-kilogram supply to team with about 5000 eggs.

Here are some of the best cafes sizzling bacon, browning toast and scattering berries for your breakfast delectation.

1. Exotic brekkies

Middle Fish, 122-128 Berkeley Street, Carlton, 9348 1704

Purists can stick to their Bircher muesli at this cafe where industrial meets Bangkok fabric market, but you would be foolish not to order the traditional kao tom breakfast ($13.50), a hearty bowl of seasoned chicken soup with brown rice that soaks up the broth, shredded chicken, Asian herbs and an oozy poached egg.

Also try: Cibi, 45 Keele Street, Collingwood, 9077 3941

Be transported to Kyoto with the ultimate breakfast ($21.50), a generous plate piled with grilled salmon and brown rice, free-range tamagoyaki omelette, home-made pickles, fermented soy beans and other Japanese goodies, as well as a bowl of miso soup.

2. Superfood

School of 7 Bells, 33-35 Chapel Street, Windsor, 9521 5535

These guys have been doing acai bowls (pronounced ah-sigh-hee) since before they were cool, whizzing the Brazilian miracle berries with ingredients such as pomegranate molasses and banana into a dense smoothie before heaping it with chunks of agave and spelt granola with the brittle texture of Almond Roca ($12.50). Fresh strawberries seal the deal.

Also try: Nutrition Bar, 121 Swan Street, Richmond, 9995 4329

Join the queue of the Australian Institute of Fitness students at Nutrition Bar for a chia pudding with maca powder, berries and coconut yoghurt ($8) to go.

3. Gluten free and paleo

Admiral Cheng-Ho, 325 Johnston Street, Abbotsford, 9534 7250

''How can gluten-free, vegan pancakes taste so good?'' ask customers through mouthfuls of northside quinoa pancakes ($18.50). Three rustic disks are fluffy on the inside, with a pleasant crunch from the frying pan on the outside. They are smooth and not too sweet, unless you drown them in butterscotch sauce.

Raw vanilla cream feels like smooth mascarpone, but tastes much better, while candied orange slices and coffee ''soil'' score points for presentation and flavour.

Also try: Palate, 132 Greville Street, Prahran, 9521 5443

Build your own paleo breakfast from more than 20 sides, including scrambled egg whites, chilli garlic prawns and citrus-infused sweet potato and macadamia mash (five items $19, seven items $23).

4. Kid friendly

Lady Bower, 1a Marchant Avenue, Reservoir, 9469 5851

Every time a parent pays $8 for a fresh orange juice for someone under 10, a tooth fairy dies. Lady Bower takes child friendly to the next level with kid-sized orange juices and chocolate milk, a children's menu with plates under $5, high chairs, change tables and pram space. More popular with the adults is their poached eggs with citrus-cured salmon on potato and pea salad, strewn with fresh herbs, cucumber and home-made labna ($18).

Also try: Let Me Be Frank, 217-239 Montague Street, South Melbourne, 0433 419 683

A sandpit, toy box and children's menu keep the kids busy, and $2 from every serve of Father Bob waffles ($16.50 with a mango and ginger reduction and ice-cream) goes towards the Father Bob Maguire Foundation to feed the hungry and house the homeless.

5. The big brekkie

Rockwell and Sons, 288 Smith Street, Collingwood, 8415 0700

You don't have to have a throbbing headache and cotton mouth to appreciate Rockwell's buttermilk biscuit breakfast ($16). Their signature southern biscuits, which are like flaky, round scones, are served with fried chicken on Wednesday nights, but they are best enjoyed slathered in thick and creamy sawmill gravy, chunky with pork sausage, two runny poached eggs and a squirt of hot sauce.

Also try: Warehouse 266, shop 5, 266 Bolton Street, Eltham, 9439 0394

The 266 Vego Breaky ($17.90), with poached eggs, rosemary-skewered cherry tomatoes, baked mushrooms, grilled asparagus, baby spinach and house-made baked beans, mini hash browns and tomato relish, is a healthier, vegetarian equivalent of the big breakfast.

6. Most eggcellent

Barry, 85 High Street, Northcote, 9481 7623

If you are the sort of social-media extremist who Instagrams their #yolkporn (look it up, it's a thing), head to Barry. The apple-cider Benedict poached eggs on thick potato rostis with slow-braised, free-range ham hock and apple slices ($19) is a beautiful mess worthy of a photo shoot. Quality coffee backs up breakfast, while the bloody mary with a side of jerky ($10) makes for the ultimate hair of the dog.

Also try: Townhouse, 466 Toorak Road, Toorak, 9973 8721

Play the sophistication card with Townhouse's clean white walls and smart, grey banquette seating. Order poached eggs and smoked salmon on dark rye, flanked by avocado mousse, dripping with preserved lemon hollandaise and dotted with glistening salmon roe ($17.50).

7. Power breakfasts

Pei Modern, 45 Collins Street, Melbourne, 9654 8545

Tucked beside the Sofitel hotel, Pei Modern balances cosy and sleek with a refined interior of timber, marble and mirrors. You will spot suits huddled over flat whites and files here most weekday mornings. When staff appear with the menu, it's time to talk business, and the peppery scrambled eggs and smoked ocean trout on buttery toast ($17) will turn even Jordan Belfort to putty in your hands.

Also try: Persillade, 150 Wellington Parade, East Melbourne, 9078 4056

Nothing says ''I mean business'' more than black pudding, which is part of the full English breakfast board, along with two boiled eggs, a mini sausage, mushrooms, tomato and house beans in a colourful cast-iron pot ($22).

8. Good for groups

Cafe Blac, 707 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, 9818 8965

Book a table in the Reading Room, Cafe Blac's upstairs space, where the ceiling is strung with an ocean of open books and stacks of classics cling to the walls. Diners feel intellectual sitting in Hawthorn's best-kept secret, and ordering the Breaky Burger ($13.50) - a fried egg, crisp bacon, Swiss mushrooms, tasty cheese, lettuce and tomato chutney sandwiched in brioche with an old-school hash brown on the side - only confirms that they are smart.

Also try: The Lilydale General, 110 Beresford Road, Lilydale, 9739 7770

Sit beneath green-and-white striped awnings behind a white picket fence and order the house-made, gluten-free granola. It's full of nuts and is served with a whole saffron-poached pear, a dollop of Schultz Greek vanilla yoghurt and edible flowers ($11.50).

9. Dog's breakfast

Farm Cafe, Collingwood Children's Farm, 18 St Heliers Street, Abbotsford, 9415 6581

Animal lovers at Farm Cafe - it's a perfect fit. Chow down on goat's toast, with creamy goat's curd, house beetroot relish, avocado, a poached egg and herbs on toast ($16.50) and treat your pooch to an organic doggie biscuit ($3). Don't try to tie up your pup outside. If staff see you, they will insist on bringing your best friend to your side.

Also try: Kanteen, 150 Alexandra Avenue, South Yarra, 9827 0488

On a bend overlooking the Yarra River and Herring Island, Kanteen has an outdoor area where dogs sit with their owners before and after the Capital City Trail walk. The black sticky rice, fragrant with coconut milk and banana ($10.50), is perfect for carb-loading.

10. Dinner for breakfast

Tom Phat, 184 Sydney Road, Brunswick, 9381 2374

The centrepiece of Uncle Ho's Brekky ($16.90), a seriously substantial meal posing as breakfast thanks to the addition of a fried egg and a place on the breakfast menu (or between 11am and 3pm during the week), is a marinated pork chop. It's a little bit spicy and a little bit sweet and arrives on a mound of rice with tomato and cucumber.

Also try: Fandango, 97 Errol Street, North Melbourne, 9329 0693

The signature curried eggs with Indian-spiced chickpeas, two fried eggs, spicy eggplant-based brinjal vegetable pickle, minted yoghurt cheese and warm roti is a refreshing brekkie alternative to eggs and bacon on toast ($17.50).

11. Dessert first

The Grain Store, 517 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, 9972 6993

Sweet tooths take note: here is a naughty breakfast with a healthy twist. The Grain Store's gluten-free banoffee porridge ($14) is made to order with buckwheat and coconut water instead of oats and milk. Banoffee is interpreted as caramelised banana and the kitchen's toffee yoghurt. Add candied pink grapefruit, toasted coconut, golden flaxseed dukkah and lemon balm and you will never look at instant oats again.

Also try: Bowery to Williamsburg, 16 Oliver Lane, Melbourne, 9077 0162

Happiness far outweighs calories when it comes to the challah French toast, with lemon curd cream, gingerbread crumble and blackberry jelly ($17). Keep an eye out for specials with marshmallow and cheesecake.

 

Laying it on for mums

Along with Valentine's Day, Mother's Day is one of the key hospitality dates of the year. Cafe owners bend over backwards to accommodate large groups, with kitchens under the pump and staff doubling as child entertainers at no extra cost. Industry Beans co-owner Trevor Simmons expects cafes across Melbourne will lift their game and up their kitchen orders in preparation for the Mother's Day onslaught. Although Simmons admits his own mother has probably had enough of Industry Beans, he is looking forward to meeting the families of both staff members and local hipsters. ''Usually you wouldn't see them hanging out with their mums, but everyone puts in the effort on Mother's Day, including us,'' he says.

But for hospitality people, Mother's Day dining is hardly The Brady Brunch. ''Mother's Day is hands down the most hectic day of the year,'' says BangPop's head chef, Kam McManamey, while Earl Canteen co-owner Jackie Middleton tweeted, ''Mother's Day worse than Valentine's. Often mismatched families trying to get along … At least Valentine's just tacky.''

Some families dine together because they feel they have to, not because they want to. Diners also tend to eat at a more leisurely rate. And with some mums too far away to take out for a meal or others gone but not forgotten, there is often a bittersweet note to the occasion. For many, it's the perfect excuse to do some spoiling.

So what is your mum like? Is she a health nut, a sweet freak, or does she appreciate a side of nostalgia? It doesn't matter whether she is arriving draped in children, dining in full Lululemon gear, or still learning how to use ''The Facebook'', here is a sampler of Melbourne cafes putting mum first. And to the fathers out there who think they can leave booking to the last minute - get cracking.

Industry Beans, Warehouse 3, 62 Rose Street, Fitzroy, 9417 1034
Fitzroy's hippest brunch hangout knows how to cater for mums as well as coffee snobs. On Mother's Day it is offering a rose-themed $25 set menu. Start with a Rose Street blend coffee, choose one of five menu favourites - such as crispy beans and quinoa or twice-baked salmon souffle - then satisfy your sweet tooth with a lemon and rosewater meringue topped with its signature coffee caviar.

Little Tommy Tucker, 432 Centre Road, Bentleigh, 9576 5174
On Mother's Day, Little Tommy Tucker staff are running a special menu featuring dishes inspired by their mums' recipes. Expect a country flair thanks to head chef Brett Hobbs' rural upbringing. The specials are a recreation of the good ol' days when mum would whip something up from the vegetable patch. Silverside on rye toast with mustard cabbage and nan's sweet green relish ($15) is bound to bring up delicious memories.

The Hidden Cafe, 101 Bowen Street, Camberwell, 0427 800 018
This family-oriented cafe is already a hit with local mums, with its sizeable children's play area and two primary schools and a community centre nearby. There is extra incentive to book for Mother's Day: mention Epicure and mum will receive a complimentary coffee, tea or hot chocolate and discounted truffled poached eggs with asparagus and home-made hollandaise ($15), crunchy brioche French toast with spiced apple and candied walnuts ($13) or the breakfast trifle with house-made toasted muesli, natural yoghurt and berry compote ($11.50/$13.50).