Tennyson puts a pan-African spin on cafe staples

South African chakalaka-style baked eggs with flatbread.
South African chakalaka-style baked eggs with flatbread. Photo: Simon Schluter

 Elwood's most interesting opening of the year is Tennyson, a small cafe likely to transform an under-performing strip. It's not just the menu (pan-African with a sprinkle of Indigenous Australian) or the creative cold brew coffee (a collaboration and barista exchange with Graph, a cafe in Chiang Mai, Thailand). It's the way co-owner Nesbert Kagonda has deliberately conceived of his first cafe as a "third place" for customers, a haven between home and work.

Zimbabwean-born, trained in psychology and currently working on a masters in analytics, Kagonda sees Tennyson's friendly welcome as human outreach that could have profound effects. "I find the people side very interesting," he says. "In a 30-seat shop you can have a relationship with every customer, really connect. We can have an impact on people's lives."

Chef Lubna Bahashwan (ex-Pillar of Salt), born in Singapore to a Japanese mother and Yemeni father, is trained in French and Italian cuisine, and has delighted in crafting new spins on cafe staples.

Tennyson Cafe in Elwood is conceived as a 'third place' between home and work.
Tennyson Cafe in Elwood is conceived as a 'third place' between home and work. Photo: Simon Schluter

The cultural influences are diverse but they're deftly woven. There are baked eggs done South African chakalaka-style with pepper-and-chilli relish and flatbread. Of course, there's avocado but it's fanned over Zimbabwean-style cornbread and topped with native Australian dukkah.

Creamy, cold nitrogen-infused coffee comes plain but also flavoured: the rosewater version looks as fancy as a cocktail, with curled petals arranged on top.

Kagonda is conscious that Melbourne could do with some positive African stories. "People hear about African gangs," he says. "I'll try to close the gap, show at core we are the same, just with different skin."

Avocado fanned over Zimbabwean-style cornbread and topped with native Australian dukkah.
Avocado fanned over Zimbabwean-style cornbread and topped with native Australian dukkah. Photo: Simon Schluter

Open daily 6.30am-4.30pm.

Tennyson, 156 Tennyson Street, Elwood, 03 9041 3399