Lobster. Doughnut. Burger. These three words mark the bling end of the menu spectrum at Melbourne cafes. The burger – South Australian rock lobster in a yeast-based doughnut from 5 & Dime Bagels dusted with salt, pepper, cinnamon and sugar and loaded with a tasty, tangy and very messy green mango and papaya coleslaw – featured at Mammoth in Armadale.
It sat alongside other super-tasty but not so "healthy" choices like eggs brulee (eggs soft-boiled, halved, sprinkled with sugar and blasted with a blowtorch) served with zucchini pickle, and the similarly sugared, torched and caramelised slice of pineapple that was part of chef Emma Jeffrey's dish North Shore (a hash of ham hock, potato and chicken mousse served with two poached eggs, a jalapeno "popper" and said torched pineapple).
Even bigger at Mammoth right now is the same burger with chicken katsu substituted for the lobster.
Meanwhile, at newbie Mayday in Richmond the food police were writing infringement notices for diners caught brunching on a s'more chocolate waffle topped with torched marshmallows, cookie parfait, salted caramel and chocolate fudge.
But the breakfast ramen at Mammoth and Hammer & Tong are the hero dishes that could wean us off the sweet morning hits, and we still have kale to help restore regularity (although this leafy green might soon go the way of the semi-dried tomato): a case in point is the apple and kale salad with black pearl barley at East Melbourne's Square & Compass. Kale's Tuscan cousin, cavolo nero, wins the 2016 award for most frequently misspelt ingredient.
Plant-based dishes (the difference between plant-based and vegan? An Oreo cookie is vegan, but it's not plant-based …) and even entire vegan menus have brought us "clean eating" at the likes of Power Plant Cafe (Templestowe), Matcha Mylkbar (St Kilda) and Serotonin Eatery in Richmond.
We are lining up the non-coffee nut-milk lattes in a rainbow of colours and flavours from mushroom-earthy to turmeric-bright, but the real coffee action is not in wellness drinks. The batch brew is filtering out (sorry) from the inner city to more mainstream locations like Glovers Station in Elsternwick (where it's a bottomless cup) and Bluff Town in Sandringham. (Cafe owners take note: we are not mad about filter coffee served in wine-style glasses – give it to us in ceramic please).
Single origin has become single estate, but the real transparency action in coffee is in measuring the social and economic benefits flowing to coffee farming communities from the increased prices paid for direct trade: see Market Lane Coffee's involvement in the KZ Noir Farmer Premium Share Program in Rwanda.
We're also looking out for more small cafes getting in on the roasting action, with the Bureaux Collective roastery about to open in Cremorne, giving the likes of Everyday Coffee, Patricia Coffee Brewers and Assembly access to a high-end roasting set-up that will keep Melbourne at the cutting edge of small batch speciality coffee.
Cakes at Second Home in Eltham. Photo: Wayne Taylor
Is this Heidelberg's first taste of speciality coffee? A new venture for Ora alumni Hannah Lancman and Parv Bhullar, it's a ground-floor space with an island bar featuring a La Marzocco espresso machine and a Bonavita filter brewer. Beans are by Seven Seeds and Small Batch Roasting Co and the sweets cabinet is stocked with Bakewell & Co pies and killer Windsor Deli cookies.
119 Cape Street, Heidelberg 03 9942 2536 capesidecoffee.com
From First Crack (soft-boiled eggs with rye soldiers, fresh fruit and yoghurt) to a late lunch of confit duck salad with wild rice and a poached duck egg, Auction Rooms has us queueing for smart takes on cafe food in a cinematic space. Sister roaster Small Batch backs it up with some of Melbourne's best specialty coffee.
103–107 Errol Street, North Melbourne 03 9326 7749 auctionroomscafe.com.au
Pope Joan is a bit of a hospitality superhero – cafe by day with consistently good Allpress espresso, restaurant by night with a great produce store as the ultimate sidekick. Executive chef and co-owner Matt Wilkinson's British heritage shows, quality smallgoods take centre stage and their daily sandwiches are literally award-winning.
77-79 Nicholson Street, Brunswick East 03 9388 8858 popejoan.com.au
People-pleasing Barry caters to a crowd with a reliable menu – think hotcakes with peaches and cream; a folded omelette filled with goat's curd and spinach. The space is Brooklyn loft apartment: high ceilings, polished concrete floors, whitewashed brick walls. There's a house blend by 5 Senses, single origins and a batch brewed on a Fetco machine courtesy of Little Chloe roasters.
85 High Street, Northcote 03 9481 7623 barrycoffeeandfood.com
It's Eltham but not as we know it – an Alistair Knox-designed factory converted into a light-filled cafe with a Home Beautiful vibe. The food is hard to resist, from eggs benedict with smoked ham hock and apple cider hollandaise to a La Latteria burrata with confit fennel, and a cheeseburger of Hopkins River Beef, monterey jack and bloody mary aioli.
21 Brougham Street, Eltham 03 9439 5362 secondhomeeltham.com.au
Wide Open Road
Probably Melbourne's coolest, hippest or grooviest coffeehouse (you choose). Co-owner Hootan Heydari labours out back roasting the signature Bathysphere blend and a bunch of single origins for filter and espresso brews, while the kitchen lays it down with an inner-north take on cafe classics – and a fish-finger sandwich with smashed peas and seaweed tartare.
274 Barkly Street, Brunswick 03 9010 9298 wideopenroad.com.au
Monsieur Truffe's chocolate factory is still behind the Lygon Street red door, and food at this rusticated warehouse is still cafe-smart – the black pudding with cavolo nero and poached eggs is a winner. Some produce is grown on site, the croque monsieur is a tasty monster, the artisan chocolate irresistible, and the locally roasted Padre coffee excellent.
351 Lygon Street, Brunswick East 03 9381 5575 eastelevation.com.au
Everything about Mina-no-ie is just lovely: from the whitewashed communal benches to specialty Japanese teas served in smooth ceramic cups. The go-to dish is a healthful "Mina-Lunch" of grilled salmon and greens with pickled lotus roots and house-made miso soup. Add their on-site collection of designer Japanese knick-knacks and there's no reason to leave.
33 Peel Street, Collingwood 03 9417 7749 minanoie.com
Our fave at this spacious corner cafe is the labourer's lunch, a seasonal board that might include sardines, tomato pickle, aioli and grilled ciabatta, or a more wintry kransky, cheese and pickle selection. Other dishes mix cafes flavours with Asian and Mediterranean touches, while coffee is a selection from Proud Mary, Wide Open Road and Industry Beans.
731 High Street, Thornbury 03 9484 3904 shortround.com.au
The no-nonsense lightbox out front reads COFFEE and the seriously talented baristas behind the everyday brew aren't mucking around. Perch at laptop-friendly communals for white and black espresso and batch brew (all roasted by Everyday) alongside a limited menu: think cream cheese-schmeared bagels and cherry pie.
33 Johnston Street, Collingwood 03 9973 4159 everyday-coffee.com
Hammer & Tong
Two words: breakfast ramen. Springy noodles coiled among a soft 62-degree egg with thick-cut smoked bacon, fresh shiitake mushrooms, spring onion and bacon dashi broth – it's fine-dining food for the AM. Match with excellent coffee from Dukes Coffee Roasters: espresso from a Spirit Triplette alongside cold drip, Aeropress and pourover.
Rear 412 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy 03 9041 6033 hammerandtong.com.au
One of Melbourne's best boutique roasters, hidden down a back street among converted warehouses? It doesn't get more Fitzroy than this. Brunch on peanut-crusted soft-boiled eggs or coconut and pineapple brioche while surrounded by slate-grey pallets and sacks of beans stacked high. Skilled baristas turn out espresso and filter from single origins roasted in house.
Warehouse 3, 62 Rose Street, Fitzroy 03 9417 1034 industrybeans.com
The Wynyard in Wynyard Street, South Melbourne. Photo: Simon Schluter
This brand-new coffee roastery in the back streets of South Melbourne boasts a siphon bar, a chef who comes with high-end restaurant polish, and blue pineapple wallpaper. The plant-based Japanese-accented brunch menu includes dishes such as broccolini, tamari activated almonds, black sesame shards, sauteed kale, wild rocket and haloumi on rye; and green-tea soba noodles with beetroot gazpacho and nori chips.
108 Bank Street, South Melbourne, 03 9041 3904, aucubacoffee.com
This timber-and-concrete dressed corner cafe just a short stroll from Sandringham Beach is one of bayside's smartest. Good coffee from Five Senses matches eurasian-accented brunches: confit ham hock and fried egg on Turkish bread, or spanner crab and tiger prawn scrambles with sriracha and kewpie mayo. Also loveable: a lunch box of savoury bun, salad and slice of something sweet.
34 Station Street, Sandringham 03 9598 2727 blufftown.com.au
By miles the best coffee in the Highett area (Padre beans for white coffee and Gardenvale roasters Coffee Bird for black brew); this long, lean, minimalist space rocks out to a banging hip-tunes playlist and plates up seriously good broccoli and pea fritters.
4 Railway Parade, Highett 03 9939 6289 thediplomatcafe.com.au
A handmade, Scandi-influenced fitout creates a comfortable vibe at this lo-fi cafe. Co-owner Marcus West is back in the kitchen, drawing on his partner Laura Winter's Finnish background for inspiration. The breakfast board – chia-seed pud, beetroot hummus, smoked salmon, duck rillettes, goat's cheese and toasted baguette – is one of our favourites.
124 Carlisle Street, St Kilda 03 9043 9228
A mock-Tudor car garage has become a light-filled cafe with a smart-casual fitout and a smart-casual menu, where smoked salmon might appear as a mousse with pickled asparagus and soft-boiled eggs, and corn fritters give way to zucchini slice with avocado puree, pea salad and poachies. Coffee from Dukes – including a popular bottomless batch brew.
258 Glen Eira Road, Elsternwick 03 9532 7765 gloversstation.com.au
Lee Eman and Chloe Dam had a dream: take inner-Melbourne cafe styling into the suburbs. More than a year in the dream is a success, with locals loving the airy fitout, the quality coffee from Five Senses, Coffee Bird and Mornington's Common Folk, and things like cheesecake french toast, whisky hotcakes and po' boy baguettes on the fun and folksy menu.
105–107 White Street, Mordialloc 03 9021 8980 hendrikscafe.com.au
Monk Bodhi Dharma
This low-fi 1960s-style bunker at the back of a carpark comes with a hip vegan menu featuring the likes of Blackpool Trifle (granola, fruit, dairy-free cream) and raw burritos of spiced nuts. A laidback crew brews espresso and V60 pours of single estate beans roasted on site.
202 Carlisle Street, Balaclava 03 9534 7250 monkbodhidharma.com.au
At this welcome respite from Bentleigh's shopping strip vibe you can snaffle a wood-lined booth for a (mostly) organic brunch without the inner-city price tag: think smoked pork neck on sourdough with poached eggs and hollandaise, or a blueberry and coconut chia pudding. Coffee from Dukes Coffee Roasters comes as espresso, cold drip and a batch brew.
432 Centre Road, Bentleigh 03 9576 5174 littletommytucker.com.au
Renovations and extensions have failed to kill the pop-up warehouse-party vibe here – and that's a good thing. The espresso and filter brew are as good as ever, and the all-day menu is about old faves (hey there, My Mexican Cousin – corn fritters with poached eggs and haloumi) and new stuff to keep it interesting (hello avocado chips with Vegemite mayo).
12–18 Yarra Place, South Melbourne 03 9686 2990 stali.com.au
Two Birds One Stone
Custom light fittings cast a muted glow over a tactile, textural fitout, with seating at a big communal table or in intimate screened booths. The menu is full of textures, too: garlicky field mushrooms with just-soft brioche and a smear of goat's cheese, or a baked omelette threaded with tender spanner crab meat and an umami-sweet chilli caramel sauce.
12 Claremont Street, South Yarra 03 9827 1228 twobirdsonestonecafe.com.au
This lovely nook in a tiny lane has a seasonal menu that will take you from a healthful smoothie bowl of frozen berry yoghurt and coconutty granola to a meltingly delicious pork belly tortilla in a second. Coffee from Sydney's Single Origin Roasters is a standout, and homewares shopping at Made In Japan next door is on the menu, too.
1 Wynyard Street, South Melbourne 03 9690 9285 wynyardcafe.com
Lobster doughnut burger at Mammoth cafe in Armadale. Photo: Wayne Taylor
Admiral Cheng Ho
This sister venue to Balaclava cafe Monk Bodhi Dharma rides the healthy eating vibe without the lifestyle sermons. There's a subtle nautical theme (think salvaged shipyard), ethically sourced, fresh-crop specialty coffee and a 100 per cent vegetarian menu where anything can be optioned vegan/fructose/gluten-free.
325 Johnston Street, Abbotsford 03 9417 1887 admiralchengho.com.au
Axil Coffee Roasters
As home base for the Axil coffee empire, this warehouse-sized cafe/roastery runs on a caffeine buzz. Sip your seasonal espresso or filter brew in full view of the on-site cupping room and 60-kilo Barth roaster. An all-day menu turns out inventive brunches: maybe a solid minute steak with potato roesti, poached egg and sauce gribiche.
322 Burwood Road, Hawthorn 03 9819 0091 axilcoffee.com.au
"Tropical resort" is the mood created by an overhead hanging garden, an airy space and big windows that bring the outside in. "On trend cafe" is the matching menu mood: superfood salads, chilli scrambled eggs, egg-white omelette with hot smoked salmon and even a philly cheese steak ciabatta. Coffee from Dukes comes as espresso, cold drip and batch brews.
248 Burwood Road, Hawthorn 03 9819 6701 bawacafe.com
An intimate, timber-lined space on a utilitarian stretch of Malvern Road is the venue for an Asian-inspired breakfast and lunch menu. The porky, peanutty flavours of satay-style pork belly with rice cake and cucumber and fennel acar takes you back to that last Ubud holiday, while the house-roasted specialty coffee is pure Melbourne.
1810 Malvern Road, Malvern East 03 9885 2194 littlechloe.com.au
Mammoth describes the menu ambitions if not the tight, buzzy space here, where chef Emma Jeffrey's cooking is like dressed-down restaurant food. The North Shore – smoky ham hock with flame-grilled pineapple and jalepeno popper – is a standard, while a salt 'n' pepper doughnut burger – maybe chicken katsu with mango and green papaya 'slaw – needs two hands and six napkins.
736 Malvern Road, Armadale 03 9824 5239 eatmammoth.com
Another feather in the cap of the Axil coffee empire, this breezy Richmond locale boasts whitewashed walls, banquette seating and plenty of standing room for takeaways; coffee is Axil's signature seasonal espresso blend plus single origins and a filter batch brew. The menu is luxe-cafe; citrus-cured ocean trout with potato croquettes, beetroot relish, poached egg and labna is a standout.
410 Bridge Road, Richmond 03 9421 0111
When really good hospitality professionals with backgrounds at Rumi and Rockpool open a cafe in the leafy east, they keep it simple, make it perfect, and serve it up with warmth. Breakfast on excellent golden-toasty omelettes with dill-cured salmon; eat classic caesars or stonking great schnitzels for lunch or early dinner; enjoy arvo tea with excellent frangipane fruit tarts; or meet for charcuterie, nibbles and vino.
217 Riversdale Road, Hawthorn East 03 9939 9340, ourkitchenette.com.au
Square and Compass matches a crowd-pleasing menu to a cool and contemporary fitout: all muted creams, blacks and timber tables. Local hospital workers get healthy with chia puddings and Californian superfood salads, and pile into tasty subs filled with lamb shoulder, cucumber yoghurt and sweet potato chips. .
222 Clarendon Street, East Melbourne 03 9416 4914, squareandcompass.com.au
Three Bags Full
This old fave just gets more popular as Abbotsford gets more gentrified.The main room buzzes with a bursting communal table; the side room is quieter. The menu is cafe classic – ricotta hotcakes, smashed avo, a two-handed wagyu burger full of molten cheese and crisp lettuce, or Eggs in Hell, a killer plate of grilled polenta and poached eggs in a spicy chorizo ragout that's a knockout with a black filter brew.
60 Nicholson Street, Abbotsford 03 9421 2732 threebagsfullcafe.com.au
Gorgeous fitout, smart service and food that pushes the cafe envelope with luxe ingredients in crowd-pleasing combinations – pork belly with burnt onions and poached egg, or soft-shell mud crab with lime mayo in a brioche bun: the fingerprints of one of Melbourne's smartest cafe crews are all over Top Paddock. Square One coffee completes the package.
658 Church Street, Richmond 03 9429 4332 toppaddockcafe.com
Touchwood's raw-boned fit-out is dominated by a counter that looks patched together from old apple crates: far from Melbourne cafe minimal. The menu is a carefully curated selection, though, from brown rice nasi goreng topped with a fried egg to cayenne prawn tacos with red cabbage slaw and a smorrebrod of house-smoked salmon and cream cheese on dark rye.
480 Bridge Road, Richmond 03 9429 9347 touchwoodcafe.com
The interior of Cobb Lane bakery and cafe in Yarraville. Photo: Anu Kumar
Among the surprises when this gem opened was an aniseed-tangy dish of beef tartare and a Guatemalan breakfast of sauteed black beans and fried plantain. With French chef Jordi Boyer still on the pans, the surprises continue: eggs florentine with ham soldiers and parmesan foam, say, or sardines in a vinegary escabeche with a salad of avocado and grapefruit.
182 Essex Street, West Footscray 0439 318 820
This stylish cafe-bakery is home base for baker Matt Forbes (famous for his outstanding doughnuts). Coffee is espresso: Dukes for white and a rotating seasonal for black. A short yet refined menu reflects Forbes' British heritage: think scotch eggs and black pudding, alongside more delicate options like tomato consomme with samphire, cold-smoked trout and a side of rye.
13 Anderson Street, Yarraville 03 9687 1538 cobblane.com.au
One of the better cafes in the neighbourhood and certainly one of the most beautiful with it's handmade Danish-influenced furniture. Coffee is from Seven Seeds: a house blend and rotating single origins – espresso, cold drip or filter. The menu covers the staples – think mixed mushrooms with chilli and feta; or a toasted pastrami reuben on rye.
Shop 3, 130 Victoria Street, Seddon 03 9689 0309 commongalaxia.com.au
Hoppers Crossing is about as far west as you can go and still be in Melbourne. But when you get into the menu at this dark timber-toned space – "coco pops" of puffed brown rice; pulled barbecued pork and Asian slaw on a charcoal bun – and the good 5 Senses coffee, you'll know you haven't left town just yet.
37 Old Geelong Road, Hoppers Crossing 03 8742 4009
Chefs Deborah Ong and Julien Tay run the kind of cute neighbourhood cafe that every Melbourne neighbourhood wants. Refined comfort food with an Asian accent rules – a just-cooked omelette folded over pieces of tender blue-eye, or a riff on the banh mi with master stock-braised pork belly and gently spicy Malaysian-style achar pickle.
132 Mitchell Street, Maidstone 03 9317 9792 jackbnimblecafe.com.au
The Premises has ruled over Bellair Street for more than five years now. The food is cafe creative – fried eggs with sujuk, tahini yoghurt and smoked eggplant on flatbread; a roll of twice-cooked pork belly, fried egg, kasoundi and fennel slaw. The house blend coffee comes from Seven Seeds, while Small Batch supplies single origins too.
202 Bellair Street, Kensington 03 9376 7565
Converted shipping containers and an urban garden have transformed a vacant Footscray corner into a buzzing cafe destination. The menu ranges through brunchy proteins like smoked brisket, black pudding, bacon steaks and smoked salmon (on a sandwich for something different), while coffee from Small Batch and Dukes comes in espresso and filter brews.
16–20 Leeds Street, Footscray 0497 058 173 rudimentary.com.au
Wolf & Hound
A cool side-street hole-in-the-wall with a La Marzocco, a batch brewer and a couple of grills turning out inventive sandwiches like the tasty thyme-buttered mushroom and brie number on seedy Brasserie Bread sourdough. Espresso and filter brews come from Flemington local Rumble Coffee Roasters, the cookies from Butterbing, the crumpets from Dr Marty.
60 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington 03 9372 6979 wolfandhoundcafe.com.au
Coconut set at the Kettle Black in the city.
Dukes Coffee Roasters
The muted light, timber panels and vintage floor tiles create an old-world mood in this busy city espresso bar. Espresso and filter brews of Dukes' own origin-sourced blends and single origins are prepared with care and precision – enjoy with sweet and savoury bites from Cobb Lane, or an alfajor from Sarah's Cakes and Cookies.
247 Flinders Lane, Melbourne dukescoffee.com.au
The Hardware Societe
More like a breakfast restaurant than a cafe, French-leaning Hardware Societe opened a younger sibling in Paris in April 2016. Since its renovation a couple of years ago after a fire it's still oh-so-chic with butterfly wallpaper, baked eggs in individual cast iron pots and organic yoghurt in Bonne Maman jam jars.
120 Hardware Street, Melbourne 03 9078 5992
The Kettle Black
A white terrace house on the city fringe frequented by hungry punters throwing down $20-plus for breakfast and it's worth it, too – scrambled eggs with house-cured kangaroo; sweet plates (such as blueberry and ricotta hotcakes) with more flowers than a secret garden. There's a house espresso blend by Square One and rotating filter brews from Small Batch and Seven Seeds.
50 Albert Road, South Melbourne 03 9088 0721 thekettleblack.com.au
It's all about coffee and bagels (topped with everything from mascarpone to pastrami) at this hidden laneway spot housed in a former print factory with an upcycled industrial theme going on. An espresso blend is roasted in-house, and there are daily single origins for black coffee and filter – perhaps a Colombia Giraldo from Wide Open Road.
8 Rankins Lane, Melbourne 03 9600 4054
The Paris end of Collins Street gets a dose of Melbourne speciality coffee style. The venue is all dark timber, green walls and leather booths, with the usual Market Lane attention to detail showing in handmade Japanese mugs for filter brews. Espresso is the seasonal blend plus a daily single origin, food a tight selection of cakes and pastries from Beatrix and Noisette.
8 Collins Street, Melbourne marketlane.com.au
This downtown update on a bakery cafe uses Rustica's range of sourdough breads as the base for crowd-pleasing brunches: creamy chilli scrambled eggs with chunks of bacon; and eggs benny with pulled pork and Tabasco hollandaise. Don't miss the custard-filled donuts: they're winners.
33 Guildford Lane, Melbourne 03 9642 2203 rusticacanteen.com
Shortstop Coffee & Donuts
Owner Anthony Ivey had 16,000 Instagram followers before he opened the doors in 2014. Now, we're eating 1000-plus sea salt crullers, earl grey and rose-iced and Boston cream-filled treats every day and he's opened a branch in Sydney. Coffee is simple – black filter or white espresso, mostly from Market Lane beans. Grab one to eat in and one for the road.
12 Sutherland Street, Melbourne short-stop.com.au
The timber-panelled fitout and tiny space of this Seven Seeds brew bar match the classic mood of Melbourne's east-end old-school Italian quarter. But the light-bodied, bright short blacks and sparkling Fetco batch brews are decidedly new-school, while food is a small selection of bagels, cakes and tasty pastries.
Shop 2, 14 Crossley Street, Melbourne 03 9347 8664 sevenseeds.com.au