Melbourne is a town well known for a prevalence of great brunch spots that also do great coffee, which is all well and good, but what if you’re time poor? What if you don’t have the patience for the whole song and dance of a sit-down meal? Well, in that case your options can be a tad limited, with the most ubiquitous option being a re-heated corner store meat pie. That is, unless you know where to look.
With this dilemma in mind, Andrew Kelly of Melbourne coffee and brunch mainstay Auction Rooms saw a gap in the market, and chose to open Counter in late December of last year, a sibling venture across the road from their flagship location. We’ve covered Auction Rooms previously here at Sprudge, and while it does a delicious breakfast and brew, the craziness of its lunch or weekend trade makes it a daunting option for those just wanting a quick coffee or snack.
While it may seem somewhat counterintuitive to open a new establishment directly across from your existing business, there was solid logic behind the decision. As Mr Kelly explained to me, “I have always strongly felt that Auction Rooms had failed to cater to a large part of the locals in North Melbourne because it failed to do delicious, fast, and healthy food that was deliberately designed for takeaway.” He says that Auction Rooms was unable to perform like this because of features inherent to the cafe’s design, as well as its history of providing table service. The solution was to open a new shop altogether.
Clearly, Kelly is quite the pragmatist, continuing: “Frankly, we were too slow at weekend coffee takeaway trade with only one machine and a mobbed front door… and as a local of North Melbourne myself, I was one of the main losers from these limitations, so I decided we needed to do something about it.”
The goal of Counter, simply stated, is to serve delicious and healthy takeaway food alongside tasty coffee roasted by Small Batch (Auctions Room’s in-house roasting company). They’ve started out making and selling an array of delicious treats, such as neatly packaged bircher muesli, reuben sandwiches, housemade beef jerky, and an array of sweet treats for that post-lunch snack. Lunch here is served alongside espresso from a La Marzocco Linea espresso machine, and filter coffee is brewed on one of the first Wilbur Curtis Gold Cup Brewers in Australia.
Counter is very much a work in progress: elements of the fit-out are still being completed, including the installation of display refrigeration meant to showcase the shop’s delicious salads in a Gjelina Takeaway-esque style while still complying with Australia’s strict food safety laws. There’s also an in-house baking program starting up. Andrew Kelly also hopes to have Counter function as something of a one-stop shop for high quality kitchen staples, selling smoked and preserved meats, fermented vegetables, and a range of other delicious goods made in-house by the Auction Rooms kitchen team.
Even as it is now in its relatively early stages, Counter has already found a cosy home on Errol Street in North Melbourne, serving all sorts of deliciousness to visitors and locals alike. If the current level of quality is any indicator of future accomplishments, look for Counter to top Melbourne lunch lists for visitors and locals alike for years to come.
Eileen P. Kenny (@EileenPK) heads Sprudge.com’s Melbourne desk, and is the author of Birds Of Unusual Vitality. Read more Eileen P. Kenny here.