HOT: The Age Good Cafe Guide 2014 awards

good cafe guide

The Age Good Cafe Guide 2014 awards were announced tonight – did your favourites make the cut?

These cafes won top honours and * indicates a cafe that I’ve reviewed previously:

Top Paddock* (Richmond) – eftpos best cafe

Stagger Lee’s* (Fitzroy) – best new cafe

Dakdak (Moorabbin) – local hero award.

Seven Seeds (Carlton) – best coffee

Pellegrini’s (CBD) – Hall of Fame

Ora* (Kew) – best food cafe

Brunswick East Project (Brunswick East) – best barista James Kilby

Everyday Coffee (Collingwood) – best brew bar

Guerilla Espresso* (Footscray) – best small cafe

Industry Beans* (Fitzroy) – best boutique roaster

The Age Good Cafe Guide 2014 will be available for $5 with The Age for Saturday 21 June and in selected bookshops and online at for $9.99.

Check out the award winners for 2013. 

HOT: Ora Cafe, 156 Pakington St, Kew

Ora Kew

You’d never guess what was coming out of the kitchen of Ora, a plain little cafe amongst a functional set of local shops in Willsmere Village, Kew.

Ora Kew

It’s some of the most interesting cafe food I’ve had in a while – beautifully presented, restaurant quality dishes with an inventive combination of ingredients extracting influences from Asia to Europe to the Middle East.

The menu is a single page spanning breakfast to lunch and for the in-betweeners who like to brunch (Ora is open daytime only). There’s no particular order in the way the menu is presented – sweet and savoury, large and small plates are all intermingled together.

I headed for one of the more expensive options, the prawn toast with a slaw, avocado whip, lime and poached egg ($20).

Ora Kew


It was a glorious plate of a Canto-favourite with a European twist. The prawn had been minced with dill rather than the more traditionally Asian spring onions and then piled atop some thickly sliced La Madre bread and toasted buttery golden on the bottom and pressed with sesame seeds on top. There were also signs of dill in the salad and the avocado while the tangled slaw was tangy and garden-fresh in its crispness.

Ora Kew

In fact, if you stroll down to the backyard you’ll see the verdant veggie patch where they grow tomatoes and herbs. This is about as low of a carbon footprint as you can get, when freshly picked means literally opening the kitchen screen door with a pair of scissors.

Ora Kew

Anyway, as my lunch companion decided to eat most of the prawn toast I opted for a sweet second course. The summer pudding with vanilla pannacotta, fresh raspberries and tuile was an glamourously presented duo of dessert ($14). The pannacotta was richly velvety on the tongue and provided a slightly tart contrast to the concentrated sweetness of the intensely berry pudding. The paper-light decorative tuile was similar to the Asian egg rolls I’d eat by the tinful as a kid and provided a textural counterpoint to the two domes of pudding.

Ora is renowned for their coffee, which comes from Proud Mary (one of the owners used to work there). As a non-coffee drinker I was very impressed by the food on offer and would recommend an eating visit during the week when it’s generally just locals getting their takeaway coffees.

Ora Cafe, 156 Pakington St, Kew 03 9855 2002

Tue-Fri 7am-4pm; Sat-Sun 8am-4pm

Ora Cafe on Urbanspoon

HOT: Hellenic Republic Kew, 26 Cotham Rd, Kew

Hellenic Republic Kew

I was sad to hear that one of my local faves St Katherine’s had gone. Fortunately the site has been transformed into Hellenic Republic Kew and given that I’m a fan of the original Brunswick edition the change is not such a bad thing.

I think St Katherine’s and Hellenic Republic are branches of the same tree anyway. The food is very similar – generally Greek with a broader Mediterranean influence – the service is fast, friendly and welcoming towards families and the atmosphere is lively and convivial. There’s always lots of chatter and plate sharing and kids running around.

The only real difference I can see is that the famous St Katherine’s popcorn chicken (KFC) and other American diner-style dishes are gone and the formerly cavernous St Katherine’s has now been split into two separate dining spaces with the entrance running up the middle. Dividing the space lends the restaurant a more intimate, buzzy air and I like it.

Hellenic Republic Kew

Another thing that St Katherine’s and Hellenic Republic have in common is amazingly good value lunch sets. On weekdays you can order Yia Yia’s Tapsi – a tin metal platter filled with the kind of food apparently a Greek grandmother would serve. I consider it the ‘best of’ Hellenic Republic – even if I was ordering a la carte I’d go straight for these dishes.

Hellenic Republic Kew

That means olives, some deliciously salty taramasalata and fluffy char-grilled pita, some rotisserie meat (juicy chicken in our case) and floury roast spuds, some of George Calombaris’ famous nutty, sweet and healthy Cypriot grain salad with pomegranate and yoghurt on the top and a sweet treat at the end.

Hellenic Republic Kew

It’s a bento box for the senses and is a tasty, healthy and filling lunch for the budget price of $25. We actually had to take away our baklava because we were too full – the lady fingers filled with cashew and with a hint cardamom were perfect for afternoon tea though the filo pastry was not so flaky by that time.

Hellenic Republic Kew

I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better bargain that the lunch set at Hellenic Republic….except if you follow them on Facebook and nab one of the $12 lunch takeaway packs which they advertise on their page! We took some home for our dinner that night (just can’t enough of that grain salad, I’m telling ya). The pack included some grilled salmon, crunchy triple-cooked chips dusted with oregano, more of that grain salad and Risogalo – a creamy rice pudding with a swirl of salted caramel and crumbled with shortbread pieces and pistachios. What’s in the lunch pack changes regularly but follows approximately the same formula – some sort of protein, a side dish and dessert. It’s substantial and again we left the dessert for another night.

Hellenic Republic Kew

I imagine that while Kew locals have mourned the passing of St Katherine’s they’ll be very pleased with the new Hellenic Republic set up. With excellent food at prices like these, I’m sure it will be a local favourite.

Hellenic Republic Kew, 26 Cotham Rd, Kew 03 9207 7477

Lunch, midday-4pm Mon-Fri; 11am-4pm Sat-Sun;

Dinner 5.30-till late seven days

Hellenic Republic Kew on Urbanspoon

HOT: Lil Boy Blue, 309 High St, Kew

Lil Boy Blue (3)

If you thought Kew was full of staid, unexciting, cookie-cutter cafes then Lil Boy Blue will make you think again.

The outside wouldn’t give you a clue to the exciting, innovative and well-priced food that’s coming out of the kitchen. It’s just a glass front with some Delft-like blue and white tiles edging the frame and is sandwiched between a dry cleaner and a music school.

Lil Boy Blue (2)

And even when you get inside the front room the white walls are bare and there’s not much adornment elsewhere – just some overflowing fern fronds dangling from the ceiling plants, a textural rug on the exposed red brick wall and a few perky  touches on the counter and behind the bar.

Of a daytime the clientele seemed more matronly than hipster so as I pulled up a chair I thought I’d be getting a menu of smashed avocado, Eggs Benedict and toasted Turkish bread. But while there are some egg options for breakfast and sandwich options for lunch, the menu also includes various nibbles/small plates as well as some bigger lunch plates to match your hunger levels.

Lil Boy Blue (1)

I was drawn to the most expensive lunch plate ($25) a pomegranate bbq duck breast salad. What was presented was a generous portion of cooked duck breast neatly sliced atop a huge mound of crunchy, crispy, grainy salad. The dish was a perfect play of textures, with the crowning glory being the fried chickpeas which have revolutionised by salad-eating experience. The flavours were also well-balanced, with the savoury coming from the meat, sweetness from the pomegranate seeds and the thin slices of nectarine, a bit of tartness from the pickled radishes (which also tainted the duck breast a pretty pink colour on the base) and some peppery rocket. A really outstanding, accomplished dish.

Lil Boy Blue (4)

Encouraged by the evidently deft skill in the kitchen I decided to order dessert as well. The chocolate taste board was described as ‘a selection of four different forms and textures of chocolate’ but for the chef’s amusement a platter of six spectacular tastes arrived! It was a work of art and will satisfy not just a sweet tooth but all your sweet teeth. For only $15 you get a quenelle of foamy chocolate mousse, miniature chocolate brownie, a tiny glass of chocolate milkshake, chocolate ice cream with feathery chocolate fairy floss and a sprinkling of chocolate soil crumbs, a mini chocolate fondant and a ganache-filled chocolate cake. It’s easily a dessert to be shared though chocoholics, don’t mess around – just order it for yourself.

I think maybe the reason Lil Boy Blue is so spot on with its service and food is that the owner is also the chef. I’m eager to try many of the other dishes on the menu and I know that my wallet will be happy at the reasonable prices too. I’m definitely blowing the horn for Lil Boy Blue.

Lil Boy Blue, 309 High St, Kew 03 9853 5003

Lil Boy Blue on Urbanspoon



NOT: Percy’s Aeroplane, 96 Denmark St, Kew

Percy's Aeroplane 96 Denmark St Kew (2)

I know that Percy’s Aeroplane is a local favourite for many Kew residents and that’s why I made the effort to visit it. The affection for the small cafe is also evident by the steady stream of customers who greet the owner Wes by name as they order their takeaway coffees.

Like its name, Percy’s Aeroplane is undeniably cute, a converted shopfront filled with vintage ephemera that could be the inside of someone’s house. The cafe consists of a bright front room sporting a canary yellow coffee machine, a cosy back room and a small shaded courtyard at the back.

But the reason I’ve decided to veer on the side of NOT for this review is due to an ok but generally unexciting experience I had there and what I consider to be value for money. Maybe I would have leaned more on the HOT side if I’d been transported by what I hear is their amazing coffee – but as I don’t drink coffee so you’ll just have to make up your own minds about that.

The short food menu has all day breakfast options and some premade sandwiches and salads in the glass counter. A quick scan sold me on Wes’ favourite – if it’s the owner’s choice then it must be good!

Wes’ favourite consists of a poached egg, bacon, a herb and potato rosti, avocado and garlic and anchovy aioli ($18.50). It’s a dish that contains possibly all of my favourite savoury breakfast ingredients on one plate and when it came out it looked gorgeous.

Percy's Aeroplane 96 Denmark St Kew (1)

The egg was properly runny, the bacon was well fried – so what was the problem? Well, I didn’t love the sogginess of the rosti, which I normally expect to have a crisp hash brown-like coating hiding creamy shredded potato inside.

But mostly I took issue with the price. When did a reasonably simple cafe breakfast start nearing the $20 mark? And for that you only get one lonesome egg? I devoured the plate in literally 5 minutes and was still hungry afterwards – so decided to see whether the muesli bite ($2.50) and brownie ($4) could get me excited.


Sadly not. They were run of the mill and the brownie broke off into dry crumbs rather than bearing a fudgy and cake-like texture, unlike the versions I get here.

I also found the service at Percy’s Aeroplane a bit dozy – I placed my order and after about 15 minutes I was asked by another waitress whether I wanted to order any food. She did sweetly apologise for the wait when the food did arrive so the lackadaisical service wasn’t a deal-breaker but it didn’t add to a winning experience.

Perhaps I’m a jaded blogger who has been eating my way through Melbourne’s generally high standard of cafes for too long. Maybe Percy’s Aeroplane is unlucky in that it’s not my local and I have to skip over a lot of many excellent options much closer to home in order to get there.

But on a final analysis, Percy’s Aeroplane didn’t rock my boat.

Percy’s Aeroplane, 96 Denmark St Kew +61 3 9939 7642
Mon – Sat: 7:00 am – 3:30 pm

Percy's Aeroplane on Urbanspoon



NOT: A Caterpillar’s Dream, Shop 4, 26 Princess St, Kew

A Caterpillar’s Dream is a glass-fronted cafe that looks out onto a supermarket carpark while the interior design is pretty non-descript standard-issue cafe style. The menu states that their dream is ‘[to] transform successfully like most caterpillars do, [so] we will see more butterflies soaring in the sky, and the whole world will become better…’ Huh?

Diving into the items on the menu it was clear that they lacked focus other than serving a whole lot of dishes under the overarching branch of ‘vegetarian’. It was the United Nations of dining out – the roll call included Japanese, Italian, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Malaysian and French.

A little overwhelmed, Kish and I decided to stock to one page – the All Day Dining options. From there we selected the Veggie Thai Spicy Duck ($8.90), Veggie Peking Duck Wrap ($10.90), Homemade shallow fried dumplings ($7.90).

Out of those three options the dumplings were the best. A row of small neat dumplings arrived filled with carrot, cabbage, minced soya and ginger with a sticky teriyaki sauce. They were filling without being heavy and were nicely pan-fried on the base for crunch.

The spicy duck was also quite good, with a crispy batter covering slices of mock meat. The sauce was definitely not spicy though and I can’t say that there was anything particularly Thai about any of the flavours. I just happen to like mock duck.

The Peking Duck Wrap was not what I was expecting – little pancakes with mock duck inside, like how normal Peking Duck is served. It is actually more like a mock duck souvlaki and I can’t say that there was anything particularly Chinese, Pekingnese or duck-like about the whole dish.

Still a little hungry, we decided to go with a Veggie Chicken Satay Wrap ($7.95), which I think was a pre-made takeaway offerings in the glass cabinet. As you can see, it was a huge fistful of salad ingredients with nary a bit of fake chicken in sight. Not so great.

Desserts are housemade and I highly recommend the lemon meringue tart – a crumbly biscuit casing with smooth lemon curd and a marshmallow topping.

While A Caterpillar’s Dream is not an amazing dining out experience it does provide a lot of choice for vegetarians, a rarity, and out of the all the dishes we tried from the vast menu we did well 50/50 of the time, with the dessert the highlight.

However, based on our visit, it’s not somewhere I would return again, especially given the array of other dining out options around Kew Junction.

For other vegetarian-only restaurants, try Las Vegan and Englightened Cuisine.

A Caterpillar’s Dream, Shop 4 26 Princess St, Kew +61 3 9939 6133

Tuesday ~ Thursday: 8:30am~4:00pm

Friday ~ Saturday: 8:30am ~ 4:00pm / 5:30pm~9:00pm

Sunday : 9:00am~4:00pm

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A Caterpillar's Dream on Urbanspoon

HOT: Leo’s Fine Food and Wine, 26 Princess St, Kew

Kat from Spatula Spoon and Saturday has been hassling me for months about visiting Leo’s Fine Foods. She described it as ‘Simon Johnson at supermarket prices’ where you could stock up on gourmet products in a place that was still affordable enough to do your weekly shop.

Leo’s is effectively two supermarkets housed in one shiny building. They stock the kind of brands you’d expect to see at the major supermarkets – Arnotts biscuits, Weetbix, Omo washing powder etc and then there’s a large section of imported products brought in mainly from the Mediterranean. That means a dried pasta and olive oil range rivaled only by Mediterranean Wholesalers, for example. It’s actually quite overwhelming unless you know exactly what brand you’re looking for.

Leo’s not only imports products for retail but is also wholesale importer, which means that it can buy at mass volume and pass on the lower prices to the consumer. That means you can shop there for your gourmet products while still buying staples like milk, bread and (French) cheese.

If, like me, you’re a bit relaxed about ‘Used by’ and ‘Best by’ dates and aim to be frugal with your grocery budget, then I highly recommend raiding the discount fridge section! It’s not very posh to be digging through a jumble of random orange-stickered items but the results of the foraging are definitely posh. I bought almost due date and perfectly fine King Island Vanilla Bean yoghurt for $2 as well as useful freezer standbys like Yarra Valley Dairy lasagna (serves 3-4) for $22, fresh gnocchi (serves 2) for $5 and Maria’s Pasta vegetarian lasagna for $5.

If anyone else has tips as to what to buy from Leo’s and the as to the best times of day to go for discounted meat and freezer/fridge items please let me know! Now that I know the kind of bargains available I will be making a regular trip whenever I visit Kew.

Leo’s Fine Food and Wine, 26 Princess St, Kew

7 days 7am – 10pm

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HOT: St Katherine’s, 26 Cotham Rd, Kew

So George Calombaris may not know about the calculation of penalty rates for his waitstaff, but he does know how to run a good quality restaurant. PM24, Hellenic Republic, The Press Club and now St Katherine’s all get my whole-hearted recommendation.

St Katherine’s showcases mid-priced, relaxed, high quality region-influenced food and I think this Greek/Turkish/Middle Eastern hybrid is Melbourne-style dining at its best.

Although you can’t really tell the ethnic influences from fairly plain the street front, the large downstairs dining area is light and bright, with subtle Ottomon accents in the patterned stencilled window panes, the painted tableware and the use of empty food cans emblazoned in foreign languages to house each table’s cutlery and napkins.

On Monday to Fridays, St Katherine’s offers what is possibly one of Melbourne’s best value lunch deals – a 2 course ‘Xpress’ lunch shared between the table for $19.50 a head.

What is on the lunch menu changes regularly but it will involve dishes roasted on the Turkish grill, rotisserie and baked in the wood-fired oven.

First course is the St Katherine’s “bento style” lunch meze, a theatrical stage laying out flat ramekins of various meze – on our visit salty marinated feta, house made hommus with chunks of roasted almonds dotted on top (I’m stealing that idea for my next dinner party) and baby carrots mixed with yoghurt, cardamom, caraway and honey. The dips were delicious smeared on bread though I was less enamoured of the carrots, mainly because the dressing reminded me the smell of ladies handcream.

The platform also contained the pide of the day – ours was spiced lamb mixed with tomato, garlic, parsley and freshened with a squeeze of lemon juice – and on stage left, slices of warm fennel seed bread presented inside a lucky-dip style St Katherine’s paper bag.

Already quite full we were pleasantly surprised by the generous servings of the second courses –  platters of slow roasted free range chicken, the juicy shreds of meat tossed amongst herbs and salad leaves, seared salmon fillets grilled over coal with a simple marinade of fennel seeds and lemon and a sweet rice pilaf of dill, apricot, carrot and toasted pumpkin seeds. The salmon was the most memorable – perfectly seared, a zesty crust and so well matched with the nuttiness of the pilaf.

After two courses you will definitely be full but we couldn’t resist the temptation of dessert – a peanut butter parfait with chocolate sorbet, baklava crumbs and orange blossom foam ($14.90). The dessert takes a sophisticated approach to what are essentially childhood dessert flavours of chocolate and peanut butter and it works. To my surprise, the sweetness of the foam enhanced rather than overwhelmed the other sweet flavours – that hint of fragrant citrus lifted what would otherwise have been very rich chocolate and nut mouthfuls.

The service was impeccable throughout the lunch – the waitstaff were smiling and friendly, were happy to keep picking up dropped toys and seemed well-used to dealing with ladies who lunch to families with kids. They all seemed to really love the fun of the place!

Based in Kew, St Katherine’s may be what you’d consider a local suburban restaurant but my interstate guests and I were all impressed with the the wholesome, appetising food splashed with some fun elements, the high quality of the service and the attention to detail in the decor. Less than $25 a head for a filling and delicious lunch. Kew residents are very lucky!

St Katherine’s, 26 Cotham Rd, Kew +61 3 9207 7477
Mon – Fri: 12pm – 4pm, 5.30pm – 11pm
Weekends 11.30am till late

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St Katherine's on Urbanspoon