36 Brewer Road Bentleigh, Victoria 3204
|Opening hours||Mon–Fri 7.30am–4pm; Sat–Sun 8am–4.30pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||03 9972 3812|
It's a fair walk from Patterson Station to Bentleigh West Primary School – further than it looks on a Google map, far enough for an adventurous wander through one of Melbourne's pleasant middle suburbs, where the quiet of noon is only disturbed by the happy roar wafting from the District Brewer, a new cafe that has opened on a prime corner opposite the school.
The happy roar comes from a raucous table of twentysomethings who are obviously pleased to find such a slick place in their neighbourhood. So, too, a trio of women lunching, who nervously smile when one of their number produces a selfie stick and wonder, OMG will she? (She will.) The fit-out is all Japanese black, pale timber and white stucco set off by the matte green of a flash La Marzocco espresso machine, and the menu is fairly adventurous, with lots of point-of-difference ingredients in unusual combinations.
There's black forest bircher, a salad of seasonal fruit and berries with eucalyptus yoghurt and musk meringue, while a riff on eggs benedict comes on a toasted rye bagel with braised ox cheek, miso baba ghanoush and curry hollandaise, and another cafe standard, the Reuben, gets twisted into a hotdog of bratwurst sausage with grilled pastrami, grated Swiss cheese and sauerkraut.
Black-pudding beignets are reddish-brown and tartufo-shaped, arrayed on a roasted-corn salsa around a pair of poached eggs and some charred baby leeks. The beignets were a bit bland in flavour, a bit mooshy in texture and a bit rich in protein. The roasted corn salsa was not very roasty, while the charred leeks were a bit too charred. It didn't really hang together in texture or flavour.
What about the duck rillettes with grilled pumpkin brioche, cauliflower cheese and salt-and-vinegar Tuscan kale?
"The duck's the best thing on the menu," says the waitperson.
Best as in best, or as in most popular?
"Both," he replies.
Duck should be the centrepiece of this dish – it's sweet and savoury, rich and mouth-filling, fatty and full of protein. It just needs a bit of tangy this and crunchy that to set it off. It sits on a slice of bright yellow pumpkin brioche – soft and sweet, too – under a nicely poached egg. The cauliflower cheese is a puree topped with some blow-torched cheese, while the salt-and-vinegar kale is a large single leaf, deep-fried to tempura texture (it's a salt 'n' vinegar kale chip). The duck and the egg are good, but the cauliflower is splodgy. The kale is ... crisp and kale-y. The overall effect was muddled.
Some of the more straightforward dishes – croque madame, a wagyu burger, a crisp soba noodle salad with nuoc cham dressing, even stuffed-fig french toast with chocolate and coffee crumble – look safer bets.
The Maling Room coffee is good: a batch brew of a Guatemalan with a fruity front and dark chocolatey depth. This is a new cafe with a chunk of postcode to itself, so it's an exciting prospect. But I reckon the menu is a work in progress – a little adventure in the suburbs.
Do ... try the nitro brew: a foamin' beer mug of cold coffee
Don't ... forget the specials menu (barbecued pork and pecorino doughnuts, anyone?)
Dish ... duck rillettes
Vibe ... happening local cafe