132 Mitchell Street Maidstone, Victoria 3012
|Opening hours||Mon, Wed-Fri 7am-3.30pm; Sat-Sun 8am-4pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Chef||Deborah Ong and Julian Tay|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9317 9792|
Back in the day this space was occupied by a column called Unexplored Territory, written by a writer who has gone on to other, greater things.
The idea was that the suburbs were larded with good places to eat – often "ethnic" – that the average diner wouldn't get out and find without a bit of prodding. So the UT correspondent scoured Melbourne's inner and outer reaches to bring us the word on where to get a good eat at a fair price.
As wide-ranging as UT was, I doubt its author ever got to Maidstone. I don't think any Epicure writer ever got to Maidstone. (Go on. Prove me wrong.)
Well, I have been there. I have seen the light – a great big Hillsong Church – and the dark (the shuttered factories), and I have found a good eat.
The territory is a not very promising row of 1960s shopfronts across the road from one of those classic stretches of western suburbia – lots of face-brick and weatherboard, and the flatness of landscape and light that says you aren't in Melbourne's east any more.
Here chefs Deborah Ong and Julian Tay have installed the kind of neighbourhood cafe that every Melbourne neighbourhood wants – a small room lined with pale timber, wooden tables with bistro chairs to match, a little greenery and a shiny La Marzocco espresso machine. I think the bloggers call it a hipster cafe. Whatever.
The couple is from Singapore originally: Tay via a childhood in Perth, Ong via an anthropology degree in Melbourne, and they've cooked in kitchens including the Grain Store and St Ali, so they have a handle on Melbourne cafe food.
Ong describes their menu as "interesting but approachable – refined comfort food with the odd Asian influence".
The comfort angle is covered with breakfast dishes such as french toast with poached stone fruit and coffee mascarpone, and a plate of black pudding, potato hash and poached eggs.
They like their black pudding out west, I reckon. Here it appears as two dry, savoury-peppery discs of the blood sausage (from Rob's British Butchers in Dandenong) making a cookie sandwich with a slice of apple; the hash is lovely and golden, with a scatter of currants through it for sweetness. Also sour-sweet are roasted tomatoes, while a little salad of shaved fennel gives this a clean, crunchy aniseed lift. The eggs are poached just runny, how you like them.
Among the best of the breakfast dishes is the omelette. It's like Japanese omelette rice (omu-rice), a French-style omelette wrapped around a whole lot of good stuff: in this case pieces of tender house-smoked blue-eye, braised leek and shiitake mushrooms. The omelette bit was good, still cooking on the plate, and a range of umami flavours run up the scale from eggy through vegetal to a sweet and smoky hit of bonito and mirin-infused pouring sauce. This is a dish that definitely moves from "unexplored" to "I'd-have-that-again" territory.
The menu's "Second Breakfast" includes a pork belly sub with a fried egg, a riff on banh mi: sweet belly meat, slow-braised for six hours in master stock, a tasty fried egg and fresh coriander, though the bun was a squidgy sweet thing, not a crunchy baguette. The pickle is a soft and gently spiced Malaysian-style achar of carrot and cucumber, rather than the vinegary Viet variety, so the textures are softer but the flavours more intense.
Coffee from Axil is good as espresso and also comes as a nice Moccamaster filter brew (food match with the omelette). And if by now you've forgotten you're in the west, visit the little courtyard out back for a view of industrial Maidstone through a chainlink fence.
Dish: Omelette with house-smoked blue-eye.
Do ... Keep an eye on their Facebook page for specials.
Don't ... Miss the madeleines – baked to order, so order early!
Vibe ... Neighbourhood gem.