257 Alma Rd Caulfield North, VIC 3161
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri 7am-4pm; Sat-Sun 7.30am-4pm|
|Features||Licensed, Outdoor seating, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9525 9720|
No one opens a cafe because they need to relax more. No one except Antony Wallace. He is the Honorary Vice-Consul for Thailand and runs a busy practice as a migration agent. He's also one of three owners of Common Room Co, a new cafe that aims to bring quality food, cheeky wines and a collegial "common room" feeling to Caulfield.
Antony's legal and diplomatic careers mean he's often dealing with people whose problems he can't solve easily or quickly. Cafe life, by contrast, provides light-touch problem-solving that he finds relaxing and joyful.
Feeling grumpy? Here's a coffee. Feeling hungry? Have some eggs. Need a natter? Let's talk. These easy fixes and positive human connections explain why Antony isn't just a silent partner at Common Room Co – he's there every morning and most of the weekend, helping keep Caulfield caffeinated and happy.
Antony's business partners are Anthony Abazis (ex-Elsternwick family favourite Margellina Pizza Bistro) and chef Nicholas Pettigrove, who met Abazis when they were both cooking at Royal Brighton Yacht Club. Together, they've turned a wedge-shaped ground-floor site at the base of a new apartment building into a hub for all comers: laptoppers, young families, lady lunchers and the fun-but-fussy Caulfield set who won't leave you wondering if the eggs aren't cooked quite right.
Key dishes include an eggs benedict with braised beef rib, poached eggs and excellent hollandaise piled over sourdough. The melty meat and yolky sauce are rich but there are two culinary acid hits to help it along: roasted and pickled onions and a tart tomatoey relish keep sparkle on the palate to the last bite.
In a neat example of listening to the locals, Common Room Co launched with a pork benny but pigs weren't flying with the surrounding Jewish community. Out with pulled pork and in with shredded beef.
An elegant cured kingfish dish brings cheffy skills to the brunch roster: furled slices of fish are artfully arranged over toast with three textures of beetroot (raw, cooked and powdered). There's a poachie, avocado, horseradish-spiked creme fraiche and a caramelised orange syrup which ties the dish together in a warm, wintry bow.
It's not all fancy stuff: eggs and extras are easily done and there's an enormous signature big breakfast which offers all the classics without the need for tricky decisions. I especially like the potato roesti, cooked into a neat baton with golden outer and fluffy spud within.
Lunchy stuff lurches between healthy (vegan spiced pumpkin with house-made cashew feta, the compulsory cauliflower and kale salad, a poke bowl with black rice) and dude food. The burger is a whole bunch of drool-making words strung together and turned into lunch: fried chicken, brioche, sriracha, slaw. You can feel the calories mounting up as you read, alongside the desire. It's a little messy on the plate (and all the way to the elbow) but the flavours push all the right buttons.
Caulfield loves its dogs and Common Room Co loves them right back with a special snack menu by K9 Katering. Why would your dog be eyeing off a chicken burger when they can have peking duck jerky or lamb shank, "baked to pawfection"? It's just one more example of an if-you-need-it-we-do-it attitude, though it's probably best if you don't ask for tips about migration law alongside your brunch.
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)