303 Brunswick Street Fitzroy, VIC 3065
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat 7am-10.30pm, Sun 8am-10.30pm|
|Phone||03 9417 3343|
It's been a year since Melbourne plummeted into lockdown and it's thrown me into a panicky treasuring of the restaurants we've retained. I've been self-administering a kind of aversion therapy: I imagine my city without a beloved venue, feel dreadful, then run towards the happiness and relief of its open doors.
One of the places I've tumbled into is Marios Cafe, which will – thank the caffeine gods and the good burghers of the inner north – celebrate 35 years on April 24.
When Mario de Pasquale and Mario Maccarone opened their breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper spot in 1986, there was nowhere for musicians to brunch at sunset or for nurses to have dinner at dawn. They fixed that and brought a confident, artsy, accessible new style of hospitality to Melbourne.
During 2020, Marios ran as a grocery store, heroically managing to retain all staff, including internationals who weren't supported by JobKeeper.
Now the cafe is back to doing what it's always done: breakfast all day, honest food at fair prices and smart service that honours the art of dining.
Marios' simple availability is its huge strength. It's there for eggs benedict at the window bench with a second-hand novel, side-eying local celebrities over garlic bread and spag bol, solving the world's problems over house red and blue cheese gnocchi, feeling better about break-ups because there's date-and-chocolate cake.
The city has changed around it but Marios has stayed true, as well as being moderately adaptive in an "OK, fine, we'll do soy milk" kind of way.
The food is high-quality and executed with utter care, but it's more about familiarity than innovation. Indeed, many customers wave away the menu because they know what they're there for.
The bearnaise is always silky and poached eggs reliably spill with yolk. The bolognese, napoli and pesto taste like they did last time. The salmon nicoise salad – beans, potato, olives, tomato, anchovy dressing – is bolted on. There will be porterhouse with crisp potatoes, and house wine at $9.
The feeling? That's priceless.
This week we say goodbye to JobKeeper and more restaurants are sure to tumble. If there are places you treasure, this is the time to love them with your wallet as well as your heart.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)