Finn Cafe

New in the 'hood: Locals are loving this cafe with spark.
New in the 'hood: Locals are loving this cafe with spark. Photo: Josh Robenstone

124 Carlisle Street St Kilda, Victoria 3182

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Opening hours Mon-Fri, 7.30am-3pm; Sat-Sun, 8am-4pm
Features Cheap Eats, Family friendly
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Chef Ash Hudson
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 0481 394 403

"Ooh, that looks beautiful!" the woman exclaimed as she walked by my table in a real-life I'll-have-what-he's-having moment.

It was totally Instagrammable – a long wooden board bearing a pile of toasted baguette drizzled with golden-green olive oil, a pot of deep magenta-colouredbeetroot hummus, two halves of rich yellow-yolked boiled egg, a tumble of red cherry tomatoes, a wodge of duck rillettes with a rich cap of fat, some orange-pink folds of smoked salmon, and cheese and cornichons.

It was totally tasty  –  the rillettes ducky, savoury and salty; the smoked salmon silky and sea-tinged; the beetroot and the cherry tomatoes lending tangy contrast and the baguette slices just-crunchy. The whole thing was put together with a lovely balance of flavour, texture and colour. On the side sat a demitasse of granola topped with thick yoghurt and a few blueberries: a nicely rounded breakfast (or leave the granola for dessert and make lunch of it).

Handmade style: Wake up to the breakfast board.
Handmade style: Wake up to the breakfast board. Photo: Josh Robenstone

The sense of visual and tactile balance is the key to this newish little St Kilda cafe, which sits on Carlisle Street opposite St Kilda town hall, half-way between the neighbourhood's poles: glitzy/sleazy Fitzroy Street and grungy/traveller Balaclava.

Marcus West and his wife and co-owner, Laura Winter, along with chef Ash Hudson, have drawn on Winter's Finnish background for menu influences and the fitout, which is clean without being Scandi-minimal, with an understated, crafty, handmade style: some worn timber, some repurposed furniture, succulents in pots on a white wall offset by cosy cushions on farmhouse chairs and a comfy communal table in the front window (a lovely spot, which seems perpetually occupied).

Hudson, a New Zealander, emanates a careful but laid-back vibe from the kitchen with food that depends on good ingredients presented simply to let the flavours and textures do the talking. Gravlax (from Harris in Tasmania, hand-boned, cured with dill and sugar and "generally treated with love and affection," says Hudson) was laid on a plate, drizzled with creme fraiche, then scattered with tiny baby beetroot, sections of radish, slivers of baby carrot – all pickled inhouse – parsley, mint and dill fronds. It's a clean-tasting dish of subtle flavours and textures, with a lovely contrast of tangy, fishy, creamy and herby, and plenty of crunch.

It looks light, but is surprisingly satisfying – a combination of protein-rich fish and umami pickle that draws on food traditions from Scandinavia but echoes Japan, too.

The rest of the menu shows similar tendencies: a spanner crab omelette with mango and charred corn salsa; pulled pork with white beans on a savoury waffle; a black quinoa salad with roasted nuts, seeds and berries and more beetroot hummus.

Finn does good cakes, too: a light vanilla cream tart is set in a nice crust and topped with pistachio, dried cranberries and shards of white chocolate, and there might be a deliciously nutty walnut teacake.

A friend told me to ask about the northside-southside coffee thing at Finn, and I did. Apparently, northsiders drink more black and filter-style coffee, while southsiders like their lattes (and large). Finn started with coffee from a northside specialty roaster, but it wasn't satisfying southside taste in milk (especially in a large), so they've switched to the robust seasonal blend from Clark Street Roasters (in Richmond; which side is that?). Delicious in milk, and not bad as a short black, either, which will keep both sides of the river happy.

THE LOW-DOWN
Do…
 shoot for a seat in the window
Don't… skip the cake cabinet
Dish… breakfast board
Vibe… laid-back Scandi