18/34 Station Street Sandringham, Victoria 3191
|Opening hours||Daily 7am–4pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Chef||Janita Connelly, James Bordignon|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9598 2727|
Clare Hu is in the middle of a masters degree in risk management at Monash University. That's when she's not running her Ashburton cafe, The Resident, making plans for a cafe and food store in Shanghai, or launching her latest Melbourne venture, Bluff Town, in Sandringham.
It's hard to say what the risk management gurus would make of the Bluff Town plan – either "Not another cafe!" or "In Melbourne: can't miss!" – but I'd say Hu has it all figured out.
She's snared a bright, narrow corner space with French doors that will open onto the street come summer; Sandringham Beach is just a short stroll away.
The fit-out is cool without being cold – a concrete bar, a communal table and a couple of booths down the back, little timber two-seaters, succulents in concrete planters and timber trim and plenty of light coming in from those windows.
Risk in the kitchen has been managed by recruiting chef Janita Connelly and her partner, James Bordignon. Connelly was in charge of the kitchen when The Resident first opened, and she and Bordignon have done a nice job on the single-page menu here.
Just a dozen dishes (plus a couple of daily specials) take care of breakfast and lunch. Crepes stuffed with cinnamon-spiced ricotta and raisins with a crunchy sprinkle of honeycomb and pistachio have been an early favourite, and the breakfast cassoulet of Toulouse sausage and braised pork betrays the pair's long history of Melbourne bistro cooking. Merguez sausages with smashed pumpkin, labna and grilled flatbread channel a Moorish vibe, and a warm duck salad is a big toss of red cabbage, herbs, lush duck and cumquat relish.
Salmon rillettes is a rustic mound of fish surrounded by squares of celeriac waffle and curls of pancetta fried to a shattering crispness. The salmon is cool and fresh, the pancetta salty, crunchy and full of Italian deli flavour. Crisp leaves of baby cos work well with dill fronds, though the waffle is a little bland.
Also a big hit is the cauliflower hummus, a smash of white beans and roasted cauliflower, a creamy, savoury mess served with a salad of shaved fennel, pickled and raw beetroot and chunks of house-marinated feta. Dark green leaves of dehydrated kale shatter in a way that's reminiscent of nori, and the whole thing is a surprisingly substantial plateful of savoury flavours and texture contrasts.
The cutest thing on the menu is the lunch box – a wooden bento with a roll, a salad and a piece of cake. The crisp brioche-style roll might be filled with tasty, chunky house-smoked salmon, lettuce and mayo, while the salad could be nutty brown rice and almonds with celery, stalks of Swiss chard and a scatter of parsley. If you're lucky, the cake might be the delicious jam roll, moistly cakey and filled with sticky quince preserve.
Coffee is from 5 Senses, including a very food-friendly Moccamaster brew of seasonal single origin – something from Ethiopia right now.
"I make to-do lists every day," the busy Hu told Fairfax Media late last year. If her list said "open smart new cafe in bayside suburb", she can tick that one off right now, and the rest of us can add "visit Bluff Town" to ours.
Do: Leave time for a stroll to the beach.
Don't: Miss the specials: a couple of daily surprises.
Dish: Cauliflower hummus.
Vibe: Whip-smart local cafe.