What I love about Melbourne is that you can be going about your everyday mundaneness then bam! There’s a brand new cafe/restaurant right on your doorstep.
So it was I was trekking to the bank, chemist and Officeworks when I took a double-take. What used to be the Recreation Hotel has been transformed into Marmalade and Soul, a new project by Raymond Capaldi from Hare & Grace.
The corner building has been scrubbed of its pub roots and a homely country-kitchen style cafe/restaurant installed in its place. Marmalade and Soul will be all-day affair, with a British-leaning breakfast menu, lunch at 12pm then dinner starting soon on Thu, Fri and Sat nights.
It’s not really the done thing to review a premises on its very first day (with the lunch menu literally coming straight off the printer into my hands) so you can take any comments I make with that knowledge in mind.
I never visited the Recreation Hotel but the new fitout is artistic and cute and makes the most of showing off the fresh produce used in the kitchen. Huge wire baskets hold Christmas baubles of red capsicums, lemons and oranges and a bushy bunch of rosemary becomes a fragrant centrepiece.
Wooden spoons are turned into chandeliers (twee but it works) and the sweets display is gorgeous – rosewater and passionfruit marshmallow, fist-sized meringues and jagged bricks of honeycomb jostle for space amongst the cookies and muffins.
The waitstaff were still finding their spots but still the service impeccably friendly – not just serving me the usual glass of water when seated but asking whether I wanted some papers to read when they could see that I had my hands full. Much appreciated.
The lunch menu is curious and not the kind of home-style comfort cooking I was expecting from the restaurant’s name. Besides a selection of ready made sandwiches there are ‘Composites’ and ‘Principals’ – presumably a split of entree/shared plates and mains. Japanese French, Italian cuisines all take a turn in an interesting and complex-sounding range of dishes – as far away from chicken parma as you can get.
I chose the pave of confit salmon with brown rice, spring onion and green tea broth ($24). The dish was beautifully presented, the salmon sweetly tender and the flavours fresh – but it wasn’t particularly thrilling, just very clean and healthful (great if you’re on a diet, which I’m not). And calling a rectangular piece of seared salmon a ‘pave‘ is a bit of unnecessary pomposity frankly.
So why does Marmalade and Soul still get a HOT? Because my curiosity has been piqued by the avant-garde menu. There are six composites and eight principals, with at least a handful of ingredients and terms I’m not familiar with. From my brief glance at their breakfast menu there are a couple of standout dishes amongst the eggs and muesli including my new favourite breakfast dish, kedgeree. The space is gorgeous and people are friendly and it’s so shiny new it’s not so busy…yet.
Marmalade and Soul, 162 Queens Pde, North Fitzroy
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