72 Wales St Thornbury, VIC 3071
|Opening hours||Tue-Fri 7.30am-3.30pm; Sat-Sun 8am-3pm|
The name, in case you're wondering, is an acronym in disguise. "Rat" stands for root and tip, the buzzing bywords for a waste-not approach to hospitality. And just as Pixar's Ratatouille is one of the most improbably fine films ever made about food, so too is unassuming Thornbury newcomer Rat the Cafe the most improbably delicious answer to edible ethical conundrums. As owner and chef Callum McBain says, "I want sustainability to be incidental to what we do, rather than us being simply a sustainable cafe." You can parse the difference over some truly excellent food and coffee.
No designers were needed here. McBain has turned a former keto clinic opposite Wales Street Primary School into the very model of the cosy corner cafe. The high pressed-metal ceilings and floorboards were already there; he just added a counter with bar stools, a communal table perfect for commandeering as your home office, and a cluster of two-top tables. Come summer, the high-vis orange kerbside seats on one of Thornbury's loveliest leafy strips will be prime real estate.
Recipe for the breakfast sandwich of my dreams: take two thick slices of Wild Life Bakery bread, fill with fried egg, swiss cheese, house-made red cabbage kraut, dill pickles and tangy "special sauce" and a few strips of Meatsmith streaky bacon, then throw in the toast press. Two words: Bloody yum.
That excellent bread is repurposed the next day for French toast with roasted pears and sweet almond crumbs playing off against the sour hit provided by thick folds of whipped labna (made in-house – actually, that probably wasn't necessary to mention). The poached eggs also gleefully deny the compost bin its tithe with pesto made from leek tops, beetroot tops and stems, creamed silverbeet and the salty sucker punch of fried capers. It's just the kind of hearty thing to give winter its marching orders.
The espresso beans hail from equally righteous North Melbourne roastery Small Batch. The "golden ticket" blend from Guatemala and Colombia makes for a spot-on milk coffee that tastes like distilled caramel gold. Also see: a whole bunch of single origin beans from different roasteries put to use in the filter brew, and jasmine pearls from China for a delicate green tea.
This little rat is a teetotaller but there's biodynamic sparkling apple juice from Red Hill and Sunzest orange juice.
Loving The warm blanket of ethical deliciousness.
Not getting Why aren't there queues out the door? It's brilliant.
Vegan factor On a small menu there's always something entirely plant-based.
Overheard "Holy moly that's a big serve."
Caffe latte $4