Melbourne's primacy as a global capital of coffee and cool shows no sign of slowing. We fell in love on our first visit, for the 2013 World Barista Championship, and have since significantly expanded our coverage of the city by establishing a City Desk there, helmed by Eileen P. Kenny. Melbourne is a city of distinct neighborhoods – suburbs, technically – and in the coming months we'll be exploring several of them for the best places to drink coffee, eat dinner, have a stroll, and soak it all in.
Carlton is up first. Like much of Melbourne it was first established in the 1850s, during the Victorian Gold Rush, and its Victorian roots are still on display in its series of European-style garden squares and terraced housing blocks. It's here where Melbourne's cafe culture has its ancestral home, owing to the vibrant cluster of Italian cafes and restaurants on Lygon Street. Carlton is home to heaps of shopping and retail options, great cafes, and some of Melbourne's best restaurants. Squint a bit and the long, sloping boulevard of Rathdowne Street could be Dolores Street in San Francisco.
Your options for fun and coffee here are varied and marvelous. Here's a few stand-out favorites.
Assembly Coffee & Tea
60 Pelham St
Assembly holds a bit of a special place in our hearts here at Sprudge, thanks to its unique combination of aesthetic beauty, solid concept, and a carefully selected range of high quality products. They source their coffee from roasters all over the world, and their tea offerings are given space to thrive–something that’s rarely seen in the Australian specialty coffee industry. You can read more about this gorgeous coffee boutique in this piece from when the Sprudge editors visited last year.
114 Berkeley St
Opened in 2009, Seven Seeds is a hub of action: in front, the cafe is a flurry of activity, serving the many students, businesspeople, and general coffee fanatics – while in the back, all of the roasting for Seeds, Brother Baba Budan, and Traveller is going on in their beautiful roastery. With a small but delicious selection of food offerings, as well as a pretty spectacular coffee service, Seeds (as it’s affectionately known) has firmly established itself as a Carlton institution.
176 Faraday St
The third store for Market Lane Coffee is located in what was formerly a residential living room—no, really, just have a look at the sweet fireplace that’s still there—that looks out onto Faraday St. This outpost has the smallest offering of the three (one espresso only, standard filter options, no food), however with Baker D Chirico next door to fulfill your culinary cravings, a cup of quality coffee is all you really need!
144 Elgin St
Campos, originally from Sydney, isn’t a spot that is to every specialty coffee enthusiast’s taste, however it definitely has its place in Melbourne’s coffee scene. Their coffee is typically roasted darker than most places that call themselves specialty, but lighter than your old-school Italian types. Think of it as a gateway drug: it moves people towards the specialty coffee world with distinctive origins, while still giving them that milky, chocolaty ‘cino that they’re craving. This store is their Melbourne flagship, so it’s definitely worth a look.
Baker D Chirico
178 Faraday St
Situated on Faraday Street, just off the main Lygon Street stretch, “Baker D” is home to a range of tasty baked goods – from sweet little pillows of lemon and ricotta to large, delicious Casalinga loaves to feast on at home. Their sourdough game is one of the best in town (not to mention the amazing brie sandwiches and orange marmalades they also sell), and it’s always worth getting a freshly-baked loaf for a snack on the way home. Even if you don’t like bread, the design is stunning, so make sure you take a wander past.
194 Faraday St
The froyo craze has definitely found its home in Melbourne, and the folks at Yo-Chi are to be held largely accountable for this. After opening their first store in the southern suburb of Balaclava, people travelled far and wide to partake in their delicious self-serve yoghurt with multiple-topping indulgences (myself included). This chic new store is their second location, which opened a few short months ago, and north-siders have been rejoicing ever since.
122-128 Berkeley St
Melbourne is a city of brunch spots, with smashed avocado and poached eggs as far as the eye can see. In this scene, Middle Fish is an oasis of something a little different. Located right next to Seven Seeds on Berkeley Street, here you’ll find some spectacular Thai breakfasts, like kao tom gai (brown rice soup with chicken balls, poached egg, coriander, and spring onions), or congee, a delicious savoury rice porridge popular throughout SE Asia. They also do a really delicious lunch offering, but that brown rice soup just gets me every time.
The Town Mouse
312 Drummond St
One of the newer additions to Carlton, The Town Mouse is one of a new breed of restaurant/bars which sit neatly between fine dining and the casual wine-after-work territory. The menu offerings are ‘Hungry’ and ‘Thirsty’, with the drinks list almost twice the length of the food menu – the way it’s meant to be. Everything is ridiculously tasty here, and it’s a great way to finish off a long day.
295 Drummond St
Just putting it out there, D.O.C. is some of the best pizza in Melbourne, if not the very best. Made with love from a range of imported Italian ingredients (like San Daniele Prosciutto), this is a place where settling in with a bottle of wine and ordering the simplest pizza on the menu will serve you well because the quality of the raw ingredients speak for themselves. The waiters yelling to each other in Italian also adds a distinctive something-or-other.
257 Lygon St
Carlton’s Lygon Street stretch is known far and wide as a little piece of Italy, with many Italian migrants settling in and developing the area not long after World War II. Founded over sixty years ago, University Café was one of the original restaurants that contributed to making Lygon Street (and the suburb of Carlton) what it is today. It fuels the Italian community and plethora of uni students with its large plates of traditional, homestyle Italian pasta and more. (To learn more about Lygon Street’s fascinating history, check out this great documentary.)
222 Faraday St
Located next to boutique grocer King & Godfree, Pidapipó is a gelato test lab open only during the summer. Here you’ll find Italian standbys—like chocolate & hazelnut bacio—alongside some rarer flavours like ricotta, cinnamon & honey, or mojito. Melbourne’s been pretty warm this summer, so a cool, refreshing gelato on a hot evening is a welcome addition to the neighbourhood.
421 Rathdowne St
Ahhh The Beaufort. Most people, local or not, have spent at least one boozy night here, whether it’s because of the delicious beers on tap (Lord Nelson’s Three Sheets Pale Ale is a standout), the strong cocktail offerings (thanks to the quality bartending pedigree behind the bar), or the pickleback – the glorious pairing of a shot of whisk(e)y followed by a shot of pickle juice. It’s super laidback, there’s a solid menu of food that goes splendidly with beer, and you should go to there. This is Sprudge.com's go-to taxi drop off when first arriving in Melbourne.
Carlton Wine Room
172-174 Faraday St
Carlton Wine Room is a lovely little restaurant and wine bar that has a delightful range of food, however, as the name suggests, the wine is the definite attraction here. The offerings here are Italian leaning (with either imported wines or those made locally with traditionally Italian grape varietals), but there’s also a good range of other European offerings and wines from Australia and New Zealand. You can also purchase carafes of the house wines, and feel as comfortable as if you were in your own living room – but you’re actually in public, so leave your pants on.
380 Lygon St
Home to a range of arthouse and ‘upmarket commercial’ releases (their words, not mine), Nova is a pretty special cinema. Known throughout Melbourne for its discount Mondays ($6 per ticket pre-4pm, $9 afterwards), it’s a favourite amongst university students, hospitality folk, pensioners, and cheapskates alike.
Carlton Gardens, Lincoln Square, Argyle Square, University Square
Lovely gardens in which to wander after eating and drinking and seeing everything.[Top photo via YarraBUG.]
Eileen P. Kenny (@EileenPK) is a Sprudge.com staff writer in Melbourne, and the author of Birds Of Unusual Vitality, speciality coffee's premiere interview publication. Read more Eileen P. Kenny here.