I was walking along Brunswick Street a few weeks ago when I noticed that the ill-fated Brix restaurant had been resurrected into a cafe called Hammer & Tong 412 with a vaguely Communist looking logo on its doorstep. I made a mental note to visit and have only had the opportunity to go this week.
I went for lunch on a weekday and found it to be good. Really good. Hooray, another great cafe to add to a list of great cafes in the area!
My favourite feature is not just the ubiquitous cafe roller door graffiti, but the fact that you can actually sit behind the roller door and still access fresh air and people-watch. Genius! Add to that brushed metallic tables, a huge old fashioned scale on which the day’s newspapers rest (held down by a vintage iron as a paperweight, more genius), a couple of overflowing hanging pot plants softening the edges and it’s a designer home away from home.
The menu is short but interesting. I seem to remember freekah and fritters featuring but I didn’t even bother reading the rest of the list when my eye caught the words ‘soft-shelled crab’ ‘burger’ ‘sriracha’ ($15). All in one dish!
When it arrived I almost swooned at the amazing combination of aromas of deep fried seafood and toasted brioche bun. I loved the fact that crab tentacles poked up jauntily from under the bread as if the whole thing was about to take itself for a walk!
Once I figured out how to eat it (forget the cutlery, squash the thing in your hands) it was a taste sensation. Salty and crunchy crab, a big handful of fresh coriander as salad, dripping with sriracha mayonnaise (not sure whether the black sesame added anything to the mix in terms of flavour or texture other than necessitating a teeth-checking glance in a mirror).
I eased the lingering heat of the chilli with sips from the house made orangina soft drink ($4). It’s made from their Soda Stream machine (what fun!) and poured from vintage Soda Stream glasses from the 50s. Coffee is made with Dukes Coffee beans on a Kees van der Westen “Spirit” espresso machine.
Finally, a note about the service. When my baby started crying upon waking one of the owners who was working front-of-house asked me whether I wanted the music turned down for the bub. I didn’t need it done and wasn’t expecting it done, but I have never been offered the choice until now.
So my excellent lunch Hammer & Tong 412 was capped off by a little kindness for which they get my loyal custom. It just demonstrates that small details and gestures can make a world of difference in hospitality.
Hammer & Tong 412 are planning to start dinner service from 4 April with a menu which was described to me as ‘like the lunch menu but fancier’. I look forward to seeing what they come up with.
Hammer & Tong 412, Rear 412 Brunswick St (enter from Westgarth St), Fitzroy +61 3 9041 6033
Saturday & Sunday 8am-5pm
View MEL: HOT OR NOT in a larger map