1810 Malvern Road Malvern East, VIC 3145
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri 7am-3.30pm, Sat-Sun 8am-3.30pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Family friendly|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Phone||03 9885 2194|
"Are you really allowed to have pork belly for breakfast?''
''Of course,'' said the young Little Chloe waitperson. ''It's awesome. I have it all the time.''
Well, it's on the breakfast menu, so what the heck …
There's a kind of fairy-elf feel to this newish East Malvern cafe: the long, low room with dark-timber trim, the wood-grain feature wall, the vertical surfaces sprouting intense-green AstroTurf (we need a better generic term for all that cafe plastic grass than ''cafe plastic grass''), the ferny terrarium on the low communal table and the orchids and succulents in vases on the others.
Such a contrast to the stretch of Malvern Road outside, a traffic-filled strip of boxlike, drab commercial concrete buildings, with fire brigade personnel unhelpfully conducting some kind of safety audit on the footpath.
The pork belly emerges from the semi-open kitchen in a bamboo steamer on a large, matt-black Japanese plate. Nestled in the steamer are two fat discs of steamed bun wrapped around generous slices of house-roasted pork belly, with pickled carrot and daikon. On the side, a little pot of Chinese cabbage, braised mushrooms and some Peking dipping sauce.
''The best thing is to stuff some of the cabbage in there and eat it like a taco,'' the waitperson said. ''Use your hands. No shame.''
I did. There wasn't. I got Peking dipping sauce on my glasses.
It was a lovely thing, even before noon - the moist and sticky bread, the lush pork (with maybe just a hint of chewy fat), the crunchy pickled vegetables and the sweet, five-spicy dipping sauce. It stretches the definition of sandwich, or bun, but in a good way.
Little Chloe's head barista, Iggy Liauw, came through The Maling Room, so it's no surprise to find the coffee set-up here is pretty serious. There's a lovely La Marzocco and a full set of alternative brewing gear on the bar: siphon pots, pour-over funnels, AeroPresses, even a batch brewer for bigger doses of filter coffee.
Liauw has taken The Maling Room's five-bean Symmetry blend and stripped it down for Little Chloe; at the moment it's a mix of Honduras (the backbone), El Salvador and Ethiopian beans. A short black was nicely poured, very creamy, with a bit of glace fruit flavour, some nutty chocolate hints and a lingering bitter-sweet aftertaste.
Liauw's coffee menu features single origins from other small roasters: a Market Lane Pedra Redonda is a bright and clean Brazilian with some lingering nuttiness. There's even a one-kilogram roaster, with Liauw planning to roast single-origins in-house.
The menu isn't all about pork belly and Peking sauce, though it does have a bit of an Asian accent: a quinoa salad with confit chicken and coriander and a beetroot salad with edamame and more of the carrot and daikon pickle for lunch, a three-mushroom omelet with chilli, spring onion and snowpea tendrils for breakfast and even Bircher muesli infused with green tea and apple.
But who wants muesli for breakfast when pork belly's on the menu?
Do … Ask Iggy Liauw for a coffee recommendation. He's right on his game.
Don't … Miss the black rice porridge with pandan-infused coconut cream.
Dish … Pork belly in home-made steamed buns.
Vibe … Under-the-radar specialty coffee with an Asian twist.
Nina Rousseau is on leave.