Humble Rays review

Hong Kong-style 'Puffle Waffle'.
Hong Kong-style 'Puffle Waffle'. Photo: Jesse Marlow

71 Bouverie St Carlton, VIC 3053

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Opening hours Daily 8am-4pm
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 8354 8459

If you're bored with breakfast in Melbourne, you mustn't be trying. When you've munched too much muesli you can move to matcha bowls. If you're tired of toast there are waffles in the wings.  And when you've smashed every avocado in sight, you'll see coconut panna cotta jiggling with excitement as its moment in the spotlight approaches.

Humble Rays plays it both ways: there's Vegemite toast and poached eggs for Euro traditionalists as well as a suite of new-style brunch dishes that roam from elegant to extravagant, nourishing to outlandishly indulgent.

The new cafe, in easy skiving reach of Melbourne Uni and RMIT, is a pastel and plant-strung haven with a cheery mix of bench seats, stools, window tables and shadowy rear nooks where you can hang with a laptop and eat up the Wi-Fi.

Humble Rays is a pastel and plant-strung haven for students.
Humble Rays is a pastel and plant-strung haven for students. Photo: Jesse Marlow

Chef Tinee Suntivatana​ calls upon her fine-dining training, Bangkok background and passion for desserts to create an all-day menu that's appealing and creative. Exuberance and frivolity are backed by solid technique and the career cook's eye for detail. The main focus is on sweet dishes; Tinee also has a hand in Hobart's Honey Badger, a dessert cafe and, previously, Sweeter Bangkok in her native Thailand.

The Puffle Waffle is a Hong Kong-style breakfast treat that's sweet and pretty. The linked spheres of batter are crunchy, fluffy and floaty, dressed up with coconut ice-cream, the nutty crunch of praline and black sesame crumble, and the dancing loveliness of flowers and saw-toothed white chocolate shavings. It's a novelty dish but it's at the nice end of naughty; it doesn't plunge the eater straight into a food coma. 

That's possibly not the case with the French Toast Forever, the tallest breakfast dish I've ever seen. The toast itself – stuffed with berry-swirled cream cheese and fried to a hot and hedonistic crispiness – is excellent. It's then piled with ice-cream, fairy floss, fresh fruit and assorted sprinkles.

The towering 'French Toast Forever' is topped with fairy floss.
The towering 'French Toast Forever' is topped with fairy floss. Photo: Jesse Marlow

There's method to the munchable madness – the elements combine well, if lavishly. You may wish to have a nap scheduled for afterwards.

Humble Rays brings savoury joy, too. The crab scramble is a reworking of khao pad boo, or Thai-style crab fried rice. The rice element includes coconut and quinoa, the scramble itself is light, airy and generous on the seafood front. Fried shallots, fresh chilli and chilli mayo add punch and crunch. 

The Egg Benny takes classic eggs benedict and punts it towards Japan: there's melty-soft ginger-braised pork belly, a miso-laced potato croquette that stands in for the traditional muffin, and a yuzu-spiked hollandaise with a spiky citrusy kick to replace the usual vinegar. It's clever and satisfying, though rich as kings.

'Egg Benny' with ginger-braised pork belly and yuzu hollandaise.
'Egg Benny' with ginger-braised pork belly and yuzu hollandaise. Photo: Jesse Marlow

If I could point to just one trend in Melbourne cafes this year, it's the exciting surge in Asian-influenced breakfasts. Asian cuisine isn't stuck in a dumpling-and-noodle time warp and that new traditions are being created all over town and for every time of day. Humble Rays can stand proudly at the forefront.

Rating: Four stars (out of five)