In The Melbourne Magazine’s recent list of Melbourne’s best cafes, Richmond’s winner was Pillar of Salt.
Intrigued by its biblical name, I made a mental note to visit it the next time I was around Richmond. Let me just say at the outset it’s a place worth a trip across town.
On a weekday afternoon the place was absolutely jumping, to the extent that people were putting their names down for tables. Other than at yum cha and maybe Mamasita, I can’t think of many places in Melbourne where you have to line up for a spot to eat lunch.Who knows how the crowds must swell during the weekend brunch rush.
A sunny day meant lots of seating options – tucked up against the pavement tables, inside the artfully exposed brick main room amongst the clamour of the kitchen, or outside in the sleekly furnished courtyard with the retractable roof. The crowd seemed to consist mainly of nearby office workers, a mix of real estate agent suits and fashionably manicured blondes working the design showrooms. It felt a bit ‘Sydney’ but that might be because my frame of reference is the inner north.
Scoring a lucky seat in the courtyard I perused the short but interesting lunch menu. A couple of salads, a braised eggplant, pasta and more solid options like lamb shanks and perennial lunch favourite, the steak sandwich. As it was a reasonably balmy winter’s day, I settled on the decidely summery dish of coconut poached chicken salad, shredded vegetables, vermicelli noodles, asian herbs and a Thai dressing of nahm jim dressing ($15).
What arrived was a huge mound of shredded chicken (not sliced into chunks thank God) tossed amongst a glistening fresh Asian slaw. As I bit into a piece of meat I actually exclaimed with delight – the chicken was so moist, as soft as marshmallow and delicately flavoured with coconut. Hands down the best poached chicken I’ve ever had! The balance of flavours with the rest of the ingredients was also remarkable – sweet, tangy, spicy and salty. I’m not normally much of a salad fancier but this was a very, very accomplished dish and a bargain lunch for $15.
Buoyed by my fantastic main course, I decided to explore their cabinet of sweets. Unable to make a decision, I took home both the maple walnut and bourbon tart ($3.50) and the chocolate brownie ($4). The tart was once again a revelatory experience – a beautifully crumbly shortbread pastry, a base of moist almond meal and topped with crunchy nuts. As for the brownie, it had a nice meringue-like outer crust that I like and a soft, rather than gooey centre.
As the residents and office workers of Richmond have discovered, Pillar of Salt is a wonderful addition to the area. I think it is was closer it’s the kind of place that I’d be frequenting weekly, if only so I can get my fix of that amazing poached chicken.
The Melbourne Magazine also awarded the following HOT cafes: Proud Mary, Three Bags Full, Coin Laundry, Monk Bodhi Dharma, Auction Rooms, Penny Farthing Espresso, The Hardware Societe, Liasion, St Ali and Coffee Darling.Pillar of Salt, 541 Church St, Richmond +61 3 9421 1550