134 Toorak Rd South Yarra, VIC 3141
|Opening hours||Daily 7am-11pm|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9867 2457|
Ned Radojcic didn't get the memo about South Yarra being a gluten-free suburb and he somehow accidentally opened a bakery here. In come the locals, shimmering in their activewear, bemoaning the problematic and pesky presence of flour. Radojcic, a Yugoslav aircraft engineer who arrived from Belgrade in 1989 with $238 in his pocket, begins his "breaducation".
"Bread is a staple. I come from a place where you don't start the meal without the bread," he says. "But bread has a bad picture in Australia because of square $1 bread in supermarkets. We make bread like 100 years ago."
That means heritage wheat, stone-milled, mixed with filtered water, sea salt and a sourdough starter. "And that's it." He's fighting the battle one loaf at a time. "I gave a gluten-intolerant Toorak woman a baguette," says Radojcic. "She came back and told me she felt a million dollars."
There must have been quite a few Trojan baguettes dispensed in the neighbourhood because Ned's Bake is never empty. That's also because it's extremely good.
The place looks welcoming, with seating wrapping around three sides of the central kitchen where flour-dusted bakers roll scrolls, spread pistachio paste onto croissants, assemble lemon tarts and twirl spaghetti.
The pastry cabinets contain some fancy cakes – layered raspberry gateaux, gleaming lemon tarts – but most of the output is extremely, blessedly simple. A dozen or more breads are stacked on the counter. Buy a loaf to take home or sit down to munch on some with a meal.
At breakfast, that might mean sourdough toast with cured trout, peas, horseradish cream and a crumbed egg, or a joyous and generous clatter of clams and chilli stirred through scrambled eggs.
The coffee and tea are very good. Those with a kibosh on bread can land with relief on a gluten-free muesli or, at lunch, a quinoa salad with pomegranate and kale, though most of the lunch menu is taken up with pizza and pasta.
If you'd like to be reminded that simplicity can also be perfection, I strongly recommend the spaghetti cacio e pepe, with pecorino cheese, pepper and nothing else. The housemade pasta tastes wholesome, almost nutty, and the straightforward interaction between melted cheese and bright pepper is a sincere and direct pathway to pleasure. It's the very opposite of time-wasting and my Italian waiter delivers it with honest delight.
I could also taste love and pride in a slab of chicken liver pâté, smooth and well-seasoned, rimmed with fat, served with grilled brioche. Bruschetta comes with a workaday version of vitello tonnato, thin slices of poached veal draped over the bread, dotted with confit tuna mayonnaise and the pickled pop of caperberries. It's casually gorgeous and, like everything here, springs from a humble desire to satisfy.
Longtime South Yarra watchers may remember that this shopping strip was immortalised in the Skyhooks song Toorak Cowboy. In it, the protagonist buys smokeable contraband outside the pub down the road. That was 1974.
The strip has changed over and over again in the decades since but there's a kind of Melbourne poetry in Ned's Bake pushing its modern-day contraband here, giving rise to more scandalous South Yarra moments as it seduces the suburb one baguette at a time.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)