Friday, 11 June 2010

Where's the cafe culture?

I like visiting cafes. Around where I live, I know them all, but I have my favourites -- that (or those) with the best coffee, the best breakfasts, the best late afternoon 'lunch'.

I even had my favourites surrounding our former office in East St Kilda. There was the one where I could always find something for lunch, with enough variety to keep it interesting; there was the one where I got my coffee every morning; there was the one where I met my sister frequently, because it was easy to get the pram in (and the food was yummy too); and there were others for if/when I got bored of any of those!

They are all nice cafes, with good coffee, table service and delicious food. They have casual menus, with interesting combinations, and food you know is being cooked while you wait.

The CBD is an entirely different scenario. The CBD is not St Kilda, nor Elsternwick, or anything remotely resembling them. (And here was I thinking 'Melbourne' has a cafe culture.)

In the CBD there are (for the most part) two different types of 'cafe'. The first is what I would call a cafeteria -- glass cabinets/bay maries containing pre-prepared food, where you order from the counter, take a number on a spike to your table and wait. They look like a cafe on the outside. There's one I've seen that looks from the exterior like quite a nice restaurant. You're lured inside and then -- smack -- there's the skillfully disguised cabinets of cafeteria food.

I'm not saying these are necessarily bad -- after all, the CBD has a LOT of people to feed, and the vast majority don't want to sit down and pay for a cafe-style meal. These 'cafeterias' do a great job of providing economical food and a place to eat them in that isn't your desk. My main point (and provocation) is that it's often very hard to tell from the outside.

The other type of CBD cafe is the one that turns out to be rather an exclusive and highly priced restaurant!

I have been taking a fairly relaxed approach to all this, meeting friends and trying out places at random. It's been totally pot luck as to what I'll end up eating (and paying). But I admit I've been searching for that 'St Kilda' style cafe that does breakfast all day (in the CBD, they all finish breakfast at 11am) and has an interesting but not necessarily 3-course-meal style menu.

The closest I've discovered is the Cafenatics group of cafes. I walk past two as I drift down from Flinders Street station, and I grab my morning coffee from the one closest to work. Here at least they know my name, and have table service, and an interesting menu that is not quite St Kilda, but almost.

And the coffee is wonderful.


  1. Have you tried DeGraves st? Used to be fantastic coffee places there when I was at Melbourne CAE.

  2. Yes, but a) they are not the same, though nice in a diferent way, b) not in the work neighbourhood really. (Besides, it's as much about the food as the coffee.)