152 Kerr St Fitzroy, VIC 3065
|Opening hours||Mon-Wed 7am-4pm; Thu-Fri 7am-late; Sat-Sun 8am-late|
|Features||Licensed, Outdoor seating, Breakfast-brunch, Private dining|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9417 1991|
It is one of the leading rules of hospitality that a cafe rarely changes hands for the better. Allow us to introduce the exception, the Duke of Kerr, nee Backstreet Bar & Grill, which has taken a sad song and made it better.
An industry supergroup – Duchess of Spotswood's Andy Gale, St Ali's Mark Richardson, and Darren Moncrieff of Berties Butcher, who owns Meet Patty in Mentone with Gale (are you keeping up?) – has taken over the smart corner cafe, given it a lick of paint and some pot plants, and installed a menu that flits around plenty of current Melbourne obsessions without becoming slave to them: "It's about good food but getting away from what you see all over town," says Richardson.
It has always had great bones and the corner site anchoring the apartment block dubbed the "Cheese Grater" is made for lazy days and Sundays. Plenty of bifold action makes for a supercharged al fresco atmosphere. Sit on the wooden banquettes and eyeball another worthy cafe, Napier Quarter, across the road, or maybe challenge it to a game of football.
As you would expect of Gale and Richardson's pedigree, the brunch menu (which runs until 4pm, hurrah) is all about food so big-flavoured it could be punch drunk.
There is boldly smoked salmon with creme fraiche, roe and a sharply picked zucchini on rye that leaves you in no doubt Gale and Richardson are British to their cheffy bootstraps, while a best-in-show pork jowl sausage roll shows how a little love can rehabilitate this old stager – especially when it is accompanied by a fruity brown sauce (made to Gale's own recipe) that deserves to be sold by the vat.
The menu is pun-tastic, too, without making diners want to kill themselves – in fact, the Chia Up Charlie will make you insufferably virtuous by dint of flaxseed and chia crisps with heirloom tomatoes and whipped tofu. Or go a burger. Yes, a burger on brioche. It's good.
At night the speed switches up a gear to saffron gnocchi, steak tartare and other things designed to mercilessly hit the pleasure receptors.
No weak milky wonders here. The Mastermind blend from Richmond's Clark Street roasters is as big-flavoured as the food, a Brazilian and Nicaraguan doubles-match-spiritual-bridge for the drinkers of the Magic to get back into bed with a flat white. It's like being swaddled in a caffeine blanket.
Short and sharp, the list is conservative with a bit of flair – a King Valley prosecco and Pipers Brook sparkling from Tassie, the Mitchell Watervale Riesling and Dal Zotto sangiovese among the six whites and seven reds, along with a few interlopers from Italy and Spain. All are available by the glass.
Avo index No smashed avo. Repeat: no smashed avo. It's a token of Duke of Kerr pride that it isn't following the Melbourne pack on that front. "Do we really need another bloody smashed avocado?" asks Mark Richardson.
Overheard "I'll see you after Pilates."
Loving The backstreet Fitzroy real estate. This is Melbourne's cafe equivalent of Hanoi's Bia Hoi Corner.
Not getting Why super-switched-on service collapses at the sight of dirty plates to clear.
Caffe latte $4
Score 2 CUPS
Food 8/10; Coffee 4/5; Experience 4/5; Total 16/20