Icon review: The Pancake Parlour

Classic short stack with butter.
Classic short stack with butter. Photo: Paul Jeffers

Swanston St Melbourne, VIC 3004

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Opening hours Sun-Thu 8am-midnight; Fri-Sat 8am-2am
Features Licensed, Family friendly
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9654 3117

Short stacks, giant chess, crazy mirrors and unicorn shakes. Pancake lasagne. Mexican beef crepes. Floating models of steampunk zeppelins and Find A Words at 4am. In a police line-up, you might find 11 places in Melbourne that fit this bill. And every one of them will be a branch of the Pancake Parlour.

Melbourne's wacky fun house of carbs has been selling hotcakes like hotcakes since 1964. Founders Roger and Helen Meadmore and their lifelong business partner Alan Trachsel (who later became Helen's second husband) were door-to-door pots and pans salespeople in the '50s. The pancake epiphany struck when the Meadmores did a diner-heavy roadtrip in the US.

Returning home, the trio sought a site for a pancake emporium, but finding the city too expensive, they launched the Pancake Kitchen in an old deli in Adelaide. It was here the brand's unconventional form took shape. If you've ever wondered at the eccentricity of a place that serves chicken parma pancakes in rooms decorated to resemble Ripley's Believe It or Not-meets-diner, it may help to know how loose the creative process was.

Super mountain malt shakes.
Super mountain malt shakes. Photo: Paul Jeffers

There was zero menu. Instead, walk-ins were asked what they wanted. One request: pancakes and a sort-of bolognese. The resulting dish of rich tomatoey mince (which is actually like a good home-style sauce), rolled in crepes is still on the menu as the Tabriz. The same sauce also comes layered with ham and cheese in the pancakes lasagne – the founders' ode to Pellegrini's.

As to the Monty Python-esque illustrations depicting befrilled women high kicking through pancake-flipping races, the trademark Lovely Lady image, and sculptures of junk fashioned into improbable machines, these all came from friend Peter Von Czarnecki, who later became a renowned steampunk artist.

Still working on a shoestring, the first physical menu (once they'd locked in signatures beyond the short stack – two hotcakes with a choice of toppings – to include pancakes loaded with ice-cream or whipped butter, and Bavarian apples or berries) was printed on excess cardboard inserts from a mate's shirt factory.

The Pancake Parlour branch at Melbourne Central.
The Pancake Parlour branch at Melbourne Central.  Photo: Paul Jeffers

Skip to 1969. Roger Meadmore left for Sydney. Newly coupled Helen and Alan Trachsel brought the brand back to Melbourne, where it grew from the first (now shuttered) digs in Market Street.

The '80s brought 24-hour parlours to Doncaster, Highpoint and Northland, where Melburnians of a certain age had the magician-and-sugar-fuelled birthdays of their wildest dreams.

In the '70s there was a roving Pancake Parlour Party Machine, which slung mozzarella stacks to wedding parties. Truly, what a time to be alive.

Cheese and potato pancake topped with whipped butter.
Cheese and potato pancake topped with whipped butter. Photo: Paul Jeffers

If you're in any doubt of the Pancake Parlour's impact, note the famous diners list checks Tina Arena and Tina Turner. Andrew McConnell (Cumulus Inc. restaurateur) and AFL legend Daniel Giansiracusa were both dishies.

The oldest and most Coney Island branch, which opened in Bourke Street Mall in 1979, will pack up its chess thrones and wacky mirrors on Mother's Day, May 12, and relocate to Docklands with the new, schmicker design. That means more whimsical trees, marble and bentwood chairs, and fewer ornately carved wooden booths.

But while there might be a more modern look and even a vegan and gluten-free offering at the new-style Pancake Parlours ushered in by Roger and Helen's son Simon Meadmore, they still stand for good old-fashioned values. Like adding a full ice-cream scoop of butter to a cheese-coated potato pancake – a chewy frisbee, but an undeniably tasty time. Or celebrating their Swiss Malt shakes' inclusion of "enormous amounts of ice-cream and cream".

Pancake Parlour has been sating appetites for hotcakes since 1964.
Pancake Parlour has been sating appetites for hotcakes since 1964. Photo: Pancake Parlour

You can mainline sugar and flour here with old-fangled enthusiasm and vibrate out the door while waitresses wish you a good day and sound like they mean it.

Is the Pancake Parlour involved in Scientology, as rumours suggest? Mandy David, who joined the company as a student in 1984 and has worked there since, says that's a hard no, though some employees may themselves have been members of the church.

What it does get behind, though, is the Western Bulldogs AFLW team, and community radio station PBS. Lovely.

Address Various Melbourne locations, see pancakeparlour.com.au.

Est. 1964

Signature dishes Short stacks, malt shakes, Tabriz crepe, potato and cheese pancake.

Famous diners Jimmy Barnes, Don Lane, Pat Cash, Venus and Serena Williams, Tina Turner.

Go-to Dish: Short stacks, malt shakes, Tabriz crepe, potato and cheese pancake.

https://www.pancakeparlour.com.au/