Bawa Cafe

Bawa Cafe in Hawthorn has a jungle resort feel.
Bawa Cafe in Hawthorn has a jungle resort feel. Photo: Vince Caligiuri

248 Burwood Road Hawthorn, Victoria 3122

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Opening hours Mon-Sat 7am-4pm, Sun 8am-4pm
Features Family friendly
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9819 6701

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." So said Elvis Costello. Or Laurie Anderson. Or Frank Zappa. Or Clara Schumann. (It was Martin Mull. And who was he? The guy who said "Writing about music is like…")

"Architecture cannot be totally explained but must be experienced." So (most definitely) said Geoffrey Bawa, the Sri Lankan architect whose work – in a style called tropical modernism – has inspired the design of a new Burwood Road cafe.

The influence of Bawa the architect – who sought to integrate a building into its surroundings – is seen in the way patrons experience Bawa the cafe. Big windows and window-box seating at the front create a sense of sitting outside while you're inside, and a suspended garden of ficus monstera and other indoor plants above the middle of the room creates a jungle atmosphere, the sort of infinity-pool vibe you want in a Legian holiday rental.

Seared blackberry and lime cured ocean trout.
Seared blackberry and lime cured ocean trout. Photo: Vince Caligiuri

The resort mood is enhanced by the man-scaped staff – there's lots of intricate ink, manbuns and tricky razoring of facial hair on the floor, though the vibe is cruelled by the noisy gaggle of Hawthorners of all ages – from uniformed schoolgirls to gold-card seniors – flocking to brunch here.

The menu feels carefully curated, too. Each dish is no more than a list of ingredients – nouns and adjectives without prepositions or verbs; your imagination supplies the other grammar clues to what might be on the plate.

"Avocado, creamed corn, feta, hazelnuts, lime, toast" is a piece of toasted sourdough bearing a bright yellow splodge of creamy corn, pieces (not smash) of avocado, chunks of feta and a sprinkle of hazelnut crumb.

Pressed lamb shoulder, purple cabbage, cauliflower tabbouleh, barberries, pine nuts and harissa.
Pressed lamb shoulder, purple cabbage, cauliflower tabbouleh, barberries, pine nuts and harissa. Photo: Vince Caligiuri

"Cauliflower hash, beetroot relish, ricotta, pickled tomato" is three cauliflower hash browns (not hash, which is a chopped up mess of somethings) that look like corn fritters. They're brown rather than golden on the outside, hotcake-y inside and sitting on a bed of beetroot relish. Whipped ricotta is piped into careful domes around the plate, which is scattered with halved heirloom (aka cherry) tomatoes that have been lightly pickled. Eating it is an act of un-curation, turning it into a hash of savoury fritter, tangy relish, creamy ricotta and sour tomato flavours, one forkful at a time.

"Potato roesti, slow braised pork, poached eggs, herb hollandaise" is also a little loose with terminology: the roesti is a mess (or is it a hash…) of shredded potato with a heap of tender, meaty pulled-looking pork, a trimmed poached egg and a vibrant avocado-green hollandaise with a nice vinegar tang poured over the lot. It's tasty and nurturing.

"Ricotta fritters, lavender custard, strawberries, pecan praline" is sweet and lightly fragrant with just a touch of lavender. The fritters are well browned, the "strawberry" a kitchen essay on doing things to this common fruit – they're poached, dehydrated, served fresh and possibly even semi-dried below a scatter of leaves and petals.

Ricotta fritters, lavender custard, strawberry and pecan praline.
Ricotta fritters, lavender custard, strawberry and pecan praline. Photo: Vince Caligiuri

More lunch-like dishes include pressed lamb shoulder, purple cabbage, cauliflower tabbouleh, barberries, pine nuts, harissa; and grass-fed scotch fillet, ciabatta, chimichurri, fermented cabbage and greens (a steak sandwich with the menu's sole stray conjunction …)

Coffee comes from Dukes Coffee Roasters via a schmick black La Marzocco and accompanying Victoria Arduino Mythos grinder (the new black in high-end grinders), and in interesting riffs like a shot of espresso with tonic water and lime over ice, a bitter, toasty, outside-in caffeine hit.

THE LOW-DOWN
Dish Ricotta fritters
Do… cleanse with Blended Drink #2 – spinach, kale, chia etc
Don't… miss the frappe-like whipped-milk iced coffee
Vibe Cafe del Mar

http://bawacafe.com/