Hidden deep within residential West Footscray is a small cafe called Brother Nancy.
Owner Leigh is a WeFo local who was travelling east for work. With a two year old and another child on the way, he decided for lifestyle reasons that he needed to work closer to home. Plus he knew that the area needed a cafe like Brother Nancy.
This location, formerly a butcher, fish and chip shop and lately a tax office, has been completely stripped and rebuilt by Leigh . He made the benches, he made the tables, he made the shelves. He even installed the new kitchen.
Leigh’s brother isn’t actually called Nancy (he’s Jason) but the name of the cafe is a charming, kid-brother ribbing of his sibling. I love it!
The menu is small and surprising. Firstly everything is under $16. This is a town where I fully expect to pay close to $20 for a cafe-quality dish.
The classically-trained chef Jordi Boyer is French so there are some slight French leanings in the menu. For instance, for breakfast you can order a savoury crepe with mushrooms spinach, cheese and bechamel ($10.50), a French breakfast of poached eggs, spinach and hollandaise on sourdough ($12.50) or a Chapin breakfast of pan fried plantains, scrambled eggs, cheese and black beans on sourdough (the most expensive item on the menu at $16).
The lunch menu is headed ‘midday’ but I was able to order from it at 11am – so maybe it’s available all day? There’s a fish and chip burger ($14.50), gazpacho ($9) and even steak tartare. I don’t think anyone expects to see minced raw meat in a suburban cafe menu but the Brother Nancy version is quickly becoming a signature dish according to Leigh. One customer even drove all the way from Balwyn to try it!
I ordered the grilled sardines on toasted sourdough with black olive tapenade and marinated capsicum ($13.50). Lots of sunny, salty Mediterranean flavours shone through the dish, with a cool sluice of tomato, watermelon and capsicum summer soup for some palate contrast. The only element I wasn’t expecting were the cold sardines. I emphasise that the lightly fried then brined sardines weren’t bad – it was more that I was expecting freshly fan-fried fish as you see in other cafes.
For dessert I had the French toast. It was a delightful arrangement of eggy sourdough toast, fresh berries and berry jam, a dollop of vanilla creme fraiche and a sprinkling of pistachios. And the price? A measly $12.
To go with your tea (leaves from Tea Drop) or coffee (beans from Proud Mary) try one of the house made sweets. On my visit the chef had made individual tart tatins and an apple and almond tart, but my heart was sold to the chocolate chip cookies made by Leigh’s wife ($3). The perfect thing for nibbling on my cycle ride home!
Brother Nancy is a really welcome addition to a relatively cafe-starved neighbourhood. It’s clearly a labour of love for Leigh and his family too and I’m always drawn towards ventures where the passion and enthusiasm of the owners are evident in everything you see, touch and eat. A bientot, Brother Nancy!
Brother Nancy, 182 Essex St, West Footscray
Mon, Wed – Sun 7am-4:30pm