555 Collins Street Melbourne, Victoria 3000
As cafes go, Andrew Kelly's latest venture, Filter, is pretty high concept.
Kelly is the man behind Auction Rooms in North Melbourne and Small Batch, one of Melbourne's leading specialty roasters.
Filter occupies a site on the ground floor of an empty 1970s office stack. Lime-washed timber screens partition off the space from the abandoned foyer.
There's a cool Scandi post-modernism to the perspex boxes on the white benchtops that extends to the coffee and food. A filter coffee bar sits in the middle of the room surrounded by pale timber stools, where Filter's baristas work with pourover funnels, Aeropresses and plungers - whatever suits the beans. You might get a Colombia Munoz Cruz in a plunger, where the steeping brings out its sweet, full body; or a pourover of Burundi Kibungere, with more delicate apple and toasted maple syrup flavours.
There are also two batch-brewed filter coffees ready for takeaways, but an espresso machine hides behind a bank of water taps. Yes, you can get a flat white.
Boris Portnoy, a Russian who comes via fine dining and street food in California, has devised a breakfast and lunch menu of smorrebrod, the Danish open sandwiches of dark rye, cured protein and pickled vegetables.
He builds them from the plate up, baking dark sourdough that he slathers with pastes and butters, drapes with slivers of house-cured flesh, garnishes with an assortment of worked-over vegetables and presents under cheeky faux-Ikea names.
There's Fisko, three fillets of pickled garfish nesting on celeriac remoulade with a scatter of herring roe, a salty-fishy-vinegary combination that is true to its Scandinavian roots; and Orter, two fine, pink slices of corned duck, topped with slivers of pickled rhubarb. The uni butter is made with sea-urchin roe, though the duck was crying out for something to give it a lift - more pickle?
Salbo features slices of rare beef with horseradish pistou, and a vegetarian offer, Dofta, has crunchy, tasty choke chips and a creamy splodge of micro pasta and carrot salad. Ingo is gamey pressed rabbit with crisp, herbaceous pea shoots, roasted baby carrot and beetroot, and sweet pickled mulberries.
It's a world away from the big flavours of lush pork, sweet brioche and spicy beans ruling some cafe menus around town. The only concession to these tastes is in breakfast smorrebrod like Wilma, a riff on the bacon-and-egg roll - fat chunks of coffee-glazed bacon and soft folded omelette on a square of sweet white brioche, with the sharp tang of pickled mushrooms.
The smorrebrod are works of food art, meticulously composed three-dimensional canvases on the plate, and a great match for the Scandinavian-style filter coffee served here. The only question is whether Melbourne is ready to embrace such a subtle brunch offer.
Dish… Pickled garfish smorrebrod.
Do… Order filter coffee - and drink it with the food. It's a good match.
Don't… Arrive famished. These are more coffee-snacky than hungry-mealy.
Vibe…Cutting-edge coffee bar.
The Age Good Cafe Guide 2014 is available for $5 with The Age this Saturday from participating newsagents, while stocks last. It is also available in selected bookshops and online at theageshop.com.au for $9.99.