There’s been so much excited press about The Kettle Black that at 8am on Sunday morning the early birds were already queueing up. And the queues had only grown bigger by the time I left at 9am, not even the brunch happy hour.
The question is, does The Kettle Black live up to the hype? The answer is yes.
The cafe’s pedigree is strong as its owners have at times owned/operated/are still owning and operating Three Bags Full, Two Birds One Stone and Top Paddock. As a result just only a week after opening my experience was immaculate.
The architecture and interior design by Studio You Me is striking as the cafe straddles a beautiful Victorian double story terrace and the modern residential building next door. The mix of old and new means that inside there’s an ornate fireplace, a bay window and leadlight glass adjoining a lofty, floor-to-ceiling glassed lobby.
The interior design has been tied together by a soothing Scandi palette of mint green, white, marble and birch. I’m particularly struck by the beautiful rings of Saturn lights designed by one of the owners Nathan Toleman (an interior designer by training) and Fitzroy lighting designers Christopher Boots. The whole feel is elegant and sophisticated, which is reflected in the food (and commensurate prices).
The menu is not run-of-the-mill at all so the staff automatically ask whether you need help with the menu (but not in a condescending way). Judging from social media and countless Instagram images, already some signature dishes have emerged.
To whit, the King Island crayfish in an ash roll. The light bun contained generous chunks of fresh crayfish, springy in texture and clean in flavour. The lightness was enhanced by a small swirl of yuzu mayonnaise and some crisp salad leaves (apparently native coastal spinach).
At $21 it is not a cheap roll nor a cheap breakfast dish. But I figure if you’re a seafood fan then it’s worth it. It’s not as if you’re likely to crack open a crab for your next breakfast at home (which is why I’ve never understood why people order muesli or toast at cafes – things you could easily make at home).
The dish that is winning everyone’s heart is the ricotta hotcakes ($18), a version of which is a best-seller at Top Paddock.
It is a Renoir painting on a plate. A dinner-plate sized disc of cake, fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. The hot cake was embedded with chunks of melting housemade ricotta and oozing blueberries and finished off with an artful scatter of more berries, edible flowers, maple syrup, seeds and a dollop of double cream with violet sugar. It’s as delectable as it looks and very filling that it’s best shared between two.
In a stroke of genius the cash register doubles as the cake counter – so you can hardly leave without taking something sweet for the road. I tried the house made chocolate gateau, an incredibly rich layered mousse cake with salted caramel and crushed hazelnuts and a bargain at $6.50. They also have a limited supply of Doughboy Doughnuts for sale.
The Kettle Black is a winning combination of beautiful design, smart food and friendly service. Even though it’s located in a rather barren part of South Melbourne it’s close to the Botanical Gardens and Albert Park plus a host of office buildings, so I imagine the queues will still be operating for a while yet.