Providence is a bright new cafe in Carlton in a part of Rathdowne Street that’s not currently well served by cafes. It’s located in the lobby of Australian Unity’s new aged care facility Rathdowne Place but you wouldn’t know it.
The fit out is contemporary, airy and cheerful and there’s not a hint of granny mustiness to it. Though it’s charming that the nonnas of Carlton enjoy taking their extra-hot English breakfast tea in its sunny surrounds.
Providence is the work of entrepreneurial and enthusiastic hospitality duo Elena and Michael Tan (Hero Subs, Reading Room Cafe, The Grain Store). The cafe’s mantra is to source and serve local and seasonal produce, primarily from the farmers markets around Victoria.
They are a mere hop, skip and jump from the new fortnightly farmers markets inside the grounds of Carlton Primary School so they are well-placed to access the freshest ingredients and to know their producers intimately.
I was invited to sample some of their breakfast dishes and was impressed by the fresh combination of ingredients and their acknowledgement throughout the menu of their producers.
Morning rituals for many people involve either a tea or coffee and Providence source their teas from Larsen and Thompson ($3.50 a pot) and coffee from Brunswick organic small batch roaster Code Black Coffee ($3.50 small, $4 large). I particularly admired the ash coloured crockery by Melbourne ceramist Ingrid Tufts and the cheerful tea pots from T2 Tea.
For those who aren’t tea or coffee drinkers I recommend the breakfast smoothie of almond milk, blueberries, banana, oats and dates ($6.50 full size). It’s not too sweet and deliciously smooth – a perfect breakfast on the go for weekday commuters as it’s very filling.
Breakfast is served until 3pm (cafe closes at 4pm) and includes a small selection skewed towards savoury items. Thankfully, it’s not just eggs, eggs and more eggs.
Having said that, my favourite breakfast dish was the egg and bacon pie ($18). This huge English style shortcrust pie was filled with a surprisingly light concoction of egg with shreds of Gamze Smokehouse’s bacon inside. The pastry was a standout, buttery and flaky without being greasy and heavy. The pie was accompanied by some housemade tomato chutney and a mass of fresh salad leaves tied with a ribbon of prosciutto.
My other favourite dish was the breakfast salad ($17), an unusual result given that I’m not much of a salad fan generally and normally not for breakfast. This salad was a riot of grilled Barham Avocados, chunks of sticky ham hock, a huge mass of greenery, peas and pats of goat curd with a small roll of flatbread on the side. Fresh, salty, creamy and crunchy – plus I never realised you could grill avocados and not have them turn into a smashed mess!
We also tried two other savoury dishes. Slices of Gamze Smokehouse’s hot smoked trout and herbs were packed atop a crunchy and creamy bubble and squeak patty with two perfectly poached eggs ($20) and some pumpkin and Burrum Biodynamic’s lentil fritters with chilli tomato pickle, coconut yoghurt and leaves ($17).
I found the fritters a little bit dry but I suspect it wouldn’t hold together otherwise. The texture was aided by a thick slather of chilli tomato pickle which you can also buy by the jar for $10.
To finish we tried a miniature version of the breakfast berry clafoutis ($17), sort of like a baked pancake or pan-fried hotcake that I’ve been seeing around Melbourne cafes lately. This version was a light batter studded with berries and topped with toasted almond flakes and a scoop of Gundowring’s rhubarb ice cream and a shard of ruby rhubarb.
Lunch changes day to day depending on what’s fresh and good at the moment so you can be assured that everything will be inspired by the season.
I was impressed by all the food at Providence and particularly to the passion of the owners and the commitment by the chef Cate Hardman to support local producers. Given its menu and its location next door to Carlton Primary School and across the road from the recently reopened Carlton Baths, I think it will draws a crowd of all ages. Use it as a pit stop before or after the Carlton Primary School farmers markets and be inspired!