124 Carlisle Street St Kilda, Victoria 3182
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri, 7.30am-3pm; Sat-Sun, 8am-4pm|
|Features||Cheap Eats, Family friendly|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|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).
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.
Do… shoot for a seat in the window
Don't… skip the cake cabinet
Dish… breakfast board
Vibe… laid-back Scandi