C. H. James, Fairfield

French toast served with pear, pomegranate and thick-cut bacon.
French toast served with pear, pomegranate and thick-cut bacon. Photo: Arsineh Houspian

86 Station Street Fairfield, Victoria 3078

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Opening hours Mon-Fri 7am-4.30pm; Sat-Sun 8am-5pm
Features Outdoor seating, Vegetarian friendly
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Madeline Robb and Rodney Mom
Phone 03 9486 3484

Charles Henry James – developer, dandy and champion of the northern suburbs, according to the the folklore, or speculator who made a pile during the land boom in the 1870s and 1880s but died just about bankrupt, as told by the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Regardless, he is quite a figure in local history and quite a man, says Theo Krambias. This strong sense of locality and community sits well with this tight-knit little strip of Station Street, Fairfield, where things seem to change very little, and when they do, only to improve.

Krambias says he wants his cafe, named after James, to be "very much a place the community can call its own". He ran another cafe on this site 15 years ago, but the space has been reimagined – it's brighter, lighter, and fitted out with dark timber bistro tables and chairs and a wall featuring antique household implements. Light floods in from windows that open onto the courtyard of St Paul's church next door, which Krambias has leased to create a lovely outdoor area, complete with fruit-box kitchen garden plantings.

Up front is a smart bar with a La Marzocco, where head barista Miranda Rampton dispenses Small Batch brews and oversees the takeaway window. In the semi-open kitchen, new chef Rodney Mom is about to join the current chef, Madeline Robb.

Light floods into C. H. James cafe.
Light floods into C. H. James cafe. Photo: Arsineh Houspian

"The C. H. James philosophy is my style of cooking," Mom says. "To keep traditions alive, cook simple things well and bring these dishes into the 21st century."

The menu, he says, is produce-driven and seasonal. Breakfast starts with a nice round of sourdough or multigrain toast and tangy house-made jams ($7.50) and rolls into warm banana bread with whipped ginger butter ($10).

Scrambled eggs get a hit of chilli and feta ($15), while french toast ($15.50) is reimagined as two thick, spongy batons of sourdough doused in egg and fried. It's served with poached seasonal fruit – tasty little slices of pear at the moment – and a nicely cooked piece of thick cut bacon as a salty foil to the sweet drizzle of maple syrup.

Trout is smoked and served with ricotta and soft scrambled eggs seasoned with coriander pesto ($17.50) or house-cured and plated with a dill-spiked winter salad ($19).

Less obviously a breakfast dish is a sturdy plate of chickpeas, chard and roasted pumpkin with a cumin-spiced labna threaded through it ($15). If you're hungry, it has to be Only If You're Hungry ($19.50) – more of that delicious thick-cut bacon, a smash of roasted potatoes and chorizo sausage, roasted tomato, chickpeas and eggs any way; there's a Hungry Vego version, too ($19.50), featuring a vegetable frittata and a coddled egg.

"I'm very much a traditionalist about breakfast," says Mom. "A good poached egg, crispy bacon, a hearty stew if it's cold, a sweet bruschetta in the summer. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel."