Much like cheap Chinese restaurants, my approach to cafeterias catering for office workers is to avoid unless armed with a recommendation.

After our trip to Sichuan Dining Room, Kat from Spatula, Spoon and Sunday suggested that we next go to Kartel, a café close to her work which she frequents often. I rarely get past Queen Street these days so this seemed like a good opportunity to explore what I affectionately call the Beirut end of town.

Kartel is located in a development which has sprung up since I left for overseas and it was the busiest place in the arcade. It seems to be a family-run cafeteria despite the very corporate feel of the décor (sorry, didn’t even notice the artwork).

The hot food selections are a step above the norm – on our visit we tried the cinnamon braised lamb and eggplant curry, lamb shanks, beetroot risotto with goats cheese, pan-fried broccoli with almonds and chilli, pumpkin mash and beer battered chips, with a large heaped plate ranging from $9.90 to $11.50. Another notable aspect was that the food was presented under heat lamps but not bain maries, which meant that the food wasn’t just sitting there, stewing in the steam.

I was pleasantly surprised by my flavoursome curry and fluffy pilaf, though the chunks of meat were not as tender as I would have liked. The broccoli was crisp and not the overcooked grey matter often served in cafeterias. The chips were notable for their lightness and crunch. And we were all stuffed by the end, even the two pregnant ladies :–)

For those not fancying a hot meal, the cafe also had a large range of salads and sandwiches on offer and they do a very brisk trade at breakfast I’m told. Kartel is a good example that pre-made food catering for corporate types can still be fresh, creative and reasonably priced.

  • Kartel, 500 Collins St, Melbourne +61 3 9629 9800

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