Over the course of my travels, I’ve lost count of the number of times people have asked me to describe Australian food.
My response tends to be “Um…..lamingtons?” (Not really. My real response is Pavlova, but I’ll get into trouble from the New Zealanders for that one.)
Truth be told, it’s not an easy question to answer. There’s no strong common thread running through what’s on Australians’ plates, unlike say Italian, French, or Spanish. We’re a melting pot of cultures and as result, our national cuisine is largely borrowed from different countries across the world.
I think the closest thing Australia has to a consistent style of food might be brunch. (Or perhaps Asian Fusion, but that’s a whole other post.) Australia takes the concept to new gastronomic heights and a good brunch can be found across much of the country. But nowhere does it better than Melbourne, the brunch capital of the world (a title bestowed by me, just to be clear).
Now, I’m not talking about a fry-up here. Or bottomless mimosas with a side of eggs. Brunch in Melbourne means visually spectacular dishes made for Instagram, and breakfasts that could easily belong on a fine dining menu.
Think pork belly, pickled & burnt onion, apple, blueberries, poached eggs & fried bread (Top Paddock); or chilli scrambled eggs with Mooloolaba crab, crayfish oil and sea spray (The Kettle Back); or confit salmon, braised fennel, squid ink emulsion and soft herbs (Rudimentary). It’s no ordinary breakfast fare.
Here’s the lowdown
Brunch in Melbourne is a seven-day-a-week affair. It’s available most of the day. It’s nearly always accompanied by excellent coffee, although a brunch cocktail or cold pressed kale juice are both permitted alternatives. And no matter how fancy the place, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear activewear, even if you have no intention of working out that day. (If it’s not immediately obvious what I’m linking to there, do yourself a favour and check it out.)
Brunch is one of the things I miss most about Melbourne (yes, and you too Mum). Brunch as a concept is still catching on in London, while in New York it’s widespread but seemingly all about the booze (to be fair, that’s could be down to me and my friends). Nowhere has brunch infiltrated a city’s DNA like it has in Melbourne.
So when I return to Melbourne, brunches are the number one thing on my must-do list. Here are the places I return to each time – plus a couple of new discoveries from my recent trip. These really are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s on offer though. I’d love to hear suggestions for other places I need to try the next time I’m in Melbourne – let me know in the comments!
Top Paddock is one of the long-standing leaders on Melbourne’s brunch scene, and my personal favourite.
It’s stylish yet relaxed, and the menu is always inventive, with dishes that appeal to the eye (or camera) as much as the palette. The blueberry and ricotta hotcake would have to be their signature dish, instantly recognisable from countless photos on Instagram. They don’t disappoint, although be warned, they’re rather full on if trying to take one on all by yourself.
The wait for a table on the weekend is lengthy, so if you can, go mid-week. The team behind Top Paddock also run Higher Ground, as well as Kettle Black which is next on my list!
Top Paddock, 658 Church St, Richmond, 3121
The Kettle Black
The Kettle Black is Top Paddock’s glam younger sister. Everything about this place is pleasing to the eye – the white exterior with contrasting old and new architecture; the clean lines and subtle greenery of the interior; and the artfully constructed dishes.
The menu isn’t a huge departure from Top Paddock’s – so expect more creative takes on the traditional notion of breakfast, and of course, that famous blueberry and ricotta hotcake.
It’s another popular spot, so expect a long wait on weekends.
The Kettle Black, 50 Albert Rd, South Melbourne, 3205
Pillar of Salt
Pillar of Salt is directly opposite the gym I go to when I’m in Melbourne. So if I’ve just done a workout, I can eat as much bacon as I want, right?
The menu at Pillar of Salt is simpler than Top Paddock’s, but I’m a big fan of both the coffee and food. They haven’t totally escaped the Instagram craze though; barramundi burgers and Californian superfood salads sit comfortably alongside classics like smashed avo and Eggs Royale.
If you can, get a table in the courtyard – a great spot to sit year round.
Pillar of Salt, 541 Church St, Richmond, 3121
To the locals, The European might be a bit of an odd choice to include alongside the likes of Top Paddock. Breakfast here is focused on the classics, expertly executed. (Note, all-day brunch is only available on the weekends here.)
But The European is one of my sentimental favourites. Sitting outside under the gaze of the grand Parliament House, Regent Theatre and St Patrick’s Cathedral, it’s a prime spot to remind yourself that you’re in Melbourne.
The European is somewhat of a Melbourne institution, and it’s highly likely you’ll be rubbing shoulders with Melbourne’s political elite if you’re there mid-week.
The European, 161 Spring St, Melbourne, 3000
Auction Rooms was a new discovery for me on this trip. The weather-beaten exterior gives it a shabby-chic appeal that’s synonymous with Melbourne. Inside it’s another classic Melbourne aesthetic – a large open space with plenty of exposed brick and metal work. It all comes off as being über cool, while still managing a relaxed, local vibe.
The food and coffee didn’t disappoint. On my visit I had the corned beef hash with poached eggs and Sriracha hollandaise (followed by the brioche french toast…). An indulgent but delicious way to start the day!
Auction Rooms, 103-107 Errol St, North Melbourne, 3051
Rudimentary was another new discovery for me, and one I was particularly taken with. Hidden away in Footscray, it’s constructed from old shipping containers on what used to be a vacant lot (which had been used by the locals as an unofficial car park).
Now it’s a buzzing café, with plenty of outdoor space (although not too many outdoor tables) including a kitchen garden, which grows many of the herbs, fruit and vegetables that appear on the plate. The coffee and food were both fantastic; at the very first bite of my confit salmon I knew Rudimentary would be a worthy addition to my Melbourne brunch rotation.
Rudimentary, 16-20 Leeds St, Footscray, 3011