4 Railway Parade Highett, Victoria 3190
|Opening hours||Daily 6.30am-4pm (kitchen closes 3.30pm)|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9939 6289|
How does the result of a misdelivery of chicken wings in upstate New York in 1964 end up on a cafe menu in suburban Melbourne in 2016?
It's the kind of question future historians might ask themselves while they're mapping the memes of the early 21st century – like the potato, the tomato and tobacco, the buffalo wing (and a load of other American folk food) came out of the New World and somehow ended up everywhere.
Buffalo don't have wings any more than the prairie has oysters. The chicken wings were accidentally delivered to a bar in Buffalo in New York and improvised into a food thing with the addition, according to my American folk food informant, Tim Jordan of Those Guys food truck and of Frank's RedHot Sauce. This concoction of cayenne peppers gives the wings (drumettes, actually) a hot, sour tang, which is matched by the creamy, bitter twang of a blue-cheese dipping sauce.
Anyway, back to suburban Melbourne rather than upstate New York ... Highett to be precise, where a riff on the buffalo wing appears on the menu of The Diplomat, a cafe (more than a year old now) that has set the strip around Highett Station buzzing with street-side tables and happy south-easterners tucking into its short-but-tasty cafe menu.
Here the wings take the form of a lightly crumbed chicken fillet, fried and stuffed into a soft roll with a 'slaw (another Americanism ...) of red and white cabbage and carrot, a slather of spicy mayo and a slosh of fairly mild blue-cheesy sauce on the side. These are not the sour-hot things that have turned some Melburnians on and others off ... they're more of a diplomatic twist on those flavours.
And "diplomatic" is exactly the word The Diplomat's co-owner, Eben Hocking, uses to describe the menu: "It's meant to be balanced," he says. There's something for everyone, and with a crowd that is very "demographic", it makes sense.
Breakfast goes from a quinoa and chia seed pudding with berries, yoghurt and toasted coconut, or a barberry, macadamia and ginger muesli with rhubarb panna cotta (both perfect for locals sipping lattes in their active wear) to an eggs benedict bagel with spinach and free-range ham and a sweet-toothy plate of French toast with creme patissiere and pistachio praline.
Smashed green stuff? That's covered by both an avocado and herb mash served with poached eggs and zaatar; and peas, broad beans and feta smooshed on light rye toast with a fried egg.
The superfood salad is here – of roasted root vegetables, grains (including black quinoa), nuts and crunchy sweet granola with a splendidly purple beetroot yoghurt, while the buffalo wing roll is joined by a corned beef toastie with mustard, sauerkraut and pickles on rye (a Reuben that dare not speak its name), and a crisp pork belly banh bao served with pickled cucumber and fried shallots.
Meanwhile, broccoli, pea and spring onion fritters have the umami flavour of some sneaky vegetables ... the broccoli just smashed, not completely pureed, so there's a bit of texture, all going nicely with avocado, a runny poached egg and a little smoked salmon on the side.
Coffee comes from northside roaster Padre (for milk) and Gardenvale's Omar and the Marvellous Coffee Bird for single-origin espressos. There's no filter option, but it's safe, if less than diplomatic, to say that the brews here are the best in the postcode.
Do … come early on a Sunday – it opens at 6.30am.
Don't … expect filter coffee – espresso brews only here.
Dish … Broccoli, pea and spring onion fritters.
Vibe … Buzzy suburban local.