The Kettle Black

Queue-makers: Nathan Toleman, Jesse Mctavish, Sam King and Tim James.
Queue-makers: Nathan Toleman, Jesse Mctavish, Sam King and Tim James. Photo: Pat Scala

50 Albert Road South Melbourne, Victoria 3205

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Opening hours Mon-Fri, 7am-4pm; Sat-Sun, 8am-4pm
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Jesse Mctavish
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9088 0721

If queues mean anything in the age of crowd-sourced whatever, there's something going on in Albert Road, South Melbourne. You could say the same for bums on seats, because there were those too - even on wet seats outside in mid-winter drizzle. They queued on a Thursday, they queued on a Friday, and no doubt they queued (and got wet bums) on the weekend.

Inside, if you cared to eavesdrop at the white marble communal table or the green-cushioned booth-seats, you could hear what was drawing the crowd: ''… the same people as Top Paddock and Two Birds One Stone. I came last Tuesday and there was a queue … ''.

The ''same people'' are Nathan Toleman, Ben Clark and Diamond Rozakeas, plus Tim James, Sam King and chef Jesse Mctavish.

Fancy sandwich: Crayfish and coastal spinach roll.
Fancy sandwich: Crayfish and coastal spinach roll. Photo: Pat Scala

Queues are nothing to this gang. Top Paddock gets them all the time. One of the crowd-magnets there is a soft-shell crab roll, and here its slot on the menu is filled by King Island crayfish on an ash roll with coastal spinach and yuzu dressing.

This is inspired, says Mctavish, by charcoal-blackened crayfish cooked over an open fire on a King Island beach. You get plenty of juicy crayfish meat and a fistful of coastal spinach stuffed into the roll, which has been dusted with activated charcoal to channel the open fire: use the knife and fork supplied (I didn't) or leave ashy fingerprints on your smartphone (I did). The flavours are pretty elemental, though I think my yuzu was missing in action. With a splash more tang this would step up into the front rank of Melbourne's fancy sandwiches.

Polenta porridge with burnt maple and textures of strawberry sounded intriguing (read ''Huh?''), and was actually very tasty. The polenta is cooked into a loose, creamy maple-flavoured porridge laced with strawberries subjected to various indignities - poached, dehydrated, frozen, reduced to crunchy little nibs; with a scattering of goat's curd dust on the top, it has a just-right mix of creamy, fruity and savoury-tangy. It's gluten-free, too.

Top Paddock is a legend in the egg-poaching league and the riff on eggs benedict here mostly lives up to expectations: two eggs, poached just right, the runny yolks still steaming when you cut into them, and doused with a tangy aerated hollandaise. The bacon is subbed by a wodge of pulled free-range pork shoulder that was just a touch bland.

Service is friendly and manages the crowds skilfully. The coffee is top notch, including a great house blend from 5 Senses for espresso, and a single origin for filter from Small Batch: just now an intriguing Ethiopia Hunkute with lovely floral aromas of a Yirgacheffe and striking dark toffee flavours - quite a contrast.

The fitout is lovely, too: bright and light and a little bit luxe, with plenty of seating options in two spaces.

Plus, there's a dedicated espresso machine out front - and a big timber bench where you can while away your wait time.

Dish… Crayfish and coastal spinach in an ash roll
Do… Come alone - you might skip straight to a stool at the bar
Don't… Miss the house-baked cakes and pastries
Vibe… Hot New Cafe