Brother Nancy

Cosy cafe: Brother Nancy is a friendly local with buzz.
Cosy cafe: Brother Nancy is a friendly local with buzz. Photo: Darrian Traynor

182 Essex Street West Footscray, Victoria 3012

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Opening hours Wed-Mon 7am-4.30pm
Features Cheap Eats, Family friendly
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Chef Jordi Boyer
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard

Jordi Boyer – with his chef's whites buttoned up tight, his houndstooth-check pants and soulful, dark Mediterranean eyes – looks so boyish that you'd reckon he was more likely to be the flingee than the flingeur of an angry frying pan in a busy kitchen.

But young Jordi (OK, he's 26) has taken full charge of the tight space behind a cosy shopfront cafe called Brother Nancy and, with a little daring and the collaboration of owner Leigh McCrabb (another unlikely suspect, who once worked in a Brunswick Street cafe "that no longer exists", but interrupted his hospitality career with a decade that included stints in the cleaning industry and TV art departments), has brought a seasonal menu that contains a couple of cafe surprises to a quiet, suburban pocket of the west.

Yes, 'scrayers, you will be able to eat muesli (with nicely poached fruit and yoghurt), avo smash (though garnished with bacon dust and sundried tomatoes) and even poached eggs with hollandaise and wilted spinach (under the guise of a French breakfast – which I guess it is).

Premium rump is used in the popular beef tartare.
Premium rump is used in the popular beef tartare. Photo: Darrian Traynor

But you might also like to chance your brunch arm with the Chapin breakfast.

Desayuno Chapin is a traditional Guatemalan fast-breaker, consisting of refried black beans, eggs, a tomato-based salsa, cheese and tortillas (and, of course, coffee).

Boyer spent eight months in the tiny Central American country, and his version features black beans sauteed with onions, thyme and a little chilli to make a toothy, savoury pile of dark little nuggets; eggs scrambled, very quickly, with a touch of cream to make a lovely eggy tangle on sourdough toast; and little oven-roasted cherry tomato halves for some tangy sweetness. Slices of plantain (on its own, a dull cousin of the banana), softened in the oven then fried in plenty of butter, make a great starchy foil for the savoury-sweet-egginess of the rest of this dish.

Lunch is even more fun: a gazpacho of tomato, watermelon and capsicum, and grilled sardines on toast dressed up with black olive tapenade betray Boyer's origins (he's from Toulouse in France's south-west).

The fish and chip burger is a nice riff on a cafe standard, but the dish that's really caught people's attention is the Brother Nancy beef tartare. Boyer uses top-grade rump steak, bought daily, chopped and seasoned to a recipe he learnt in the kitchen of his uncle's restaurant (he won't say exactly what's in it, but it has a distinct aniseed tang of Thai basil) and served, raw of course, on some crisp sourdough toast, with a mesclun salad that shows a delicate hand with the vinaigrette.

Go on, I dare you, this dish says, and plenty of locals are, according to Leigh McCrabb.

Boyer is a pastry chef by trade, and the goodies hiding under covers on the tiny counter include tarte tatin – splodges of nicely caramelised apple on a rough pastry shell – and a delicious jalousie: pears poached in syrup, orange juice and gentle spices layered on puff pastry with house-made almond cream.

There's a dedicated menu for little people who aren't up to the tartare challenge yet – toast with Vegemite or peanut butter, Weetbix, boiled eggs – while coffee is Proud Mary's Humbler blend, a seasonal mix of Brazil, Colombian, Ethiopian and Indonesian beans, and it is a banger, especially in a long black with that Guatemalan breakfast.

THE LOW-DOWN
Do… rosemary fries with garlic and parmesan? Yes, please.
Don't… miss the jalousie (poached pears in puff pastry).
Dish... Brother Nancy beef tartare.
Vibe... Friendly local with buzz.

https://www.facebook.com/brothernancy