Outpost. How much do I love thee, let me count the ways:
The open kitchen. MasterChef has shown us that cooking can be theatre, and at Outpost you can have a front-row view of the kitchen goings-on. Great entertainment if you’re eating alone and love food (like me). Oh, and they use Aesop handwash in the kitchen – a touch of luxury.
The tiles. The chef Paul Jewson told me that the tiles were sourced from the UK but the designer Hecker Phelan Guthrie Interior Designers really wanted grey tiles to match the black ceiling and overall look of the café. But the tile manufacturer didn’t make grey tiles. The builder’s solution – flip the tiles over to reveal the unpainted underside. I had thought that the design was a faux-Grecian terracotta tile reference, but in fact the circular grooving is on all the tiles and is used to hold them in place against the foundations.
The hanging shelves. Rumour has it that owner Sal Malatesta was initially reluctant to open a café in a South Yarra office building, but the developers enticed him with a no-expense spared design budget. So every piece of the fitout has been custom-made for the café, which is a shame because I’d really love one of the iron quasi-butcher’s rack shelves to hang from my ceiling. I watched, fascinated, as the Yeo’s sesame oil, Squid brand fish sauce and Maldon smoked sea salt swayed gently back and forth over the workbench. Even the EXIT sign was hung from butcher’s hooks.
The banana and coconut bread ($12.50). If anyone tells you that banana bread is healthy because it has fruit in it, they’re fooling with you. This was moist slices of cake embedded with shredded coconut for texture. Not too sweet, it was served with a squiggle of maple syrup and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Tea and coffee. The waitress almost pulled a moue of disbelief when I said I didn’t want a coffee. After all, Outpost is run by the same people as speciality coffee purveyors St Ali. Instead I opted for the Buddha Tea of hand-tied jasmine tea leaves for a delicate and fragrant beverage ($3.50).
The business card. The handmade, functional feel of the recycled cardboard and the punched indentation of the Courier typeface perfectly epitomises the industrial cosiness of Outpost.
Decorative elements everywhere you look. Volume and repetition make a bowl of tomatoes as cheerful and festive as Christmas baubles. And my first real-life encounter with a burger phone below.
Their passion. It was obvious that Paul loved his job and was full of enthusiasm and ideas, and the wait staff were all very friendly and solicitous during my breakfast, asking whether I was comfortable and enjoyed my meal.
Outpost has become so popular that they’ve now taken the lease on the unit next door to cater for the cold/wet weather come winter and it should be fully furnished in two weeks. It’s not currently open in the evenings and with the new space Paul said that he had an idea to provide 50ml wine tastings with small dishes so that customers could sample a whole range of wine and food without committing to a single glass of wine or a main course.
If you haven’t been to Outpost or any of St Ali’s other cafes, Saturday 6 February might be the day to do it. St Ali will be hosting the St Ali Yarra Place Project, a laneway party with live street art in South Melbourne. Ten of Australia’s best street artists will be painting every building down Yarra Place, plus there will be a barbecue, DJ’s and an alleycat race at 2pm, a time trial between St Ali, Sensory Lab at David Jones, Liar Liar and Outpost organised in conjunction with Fixed.org.au.
Finally, as a sidenote, Paul’s mate and St Ali executive chef Ben Cooper (ex-head chef at Ezard and Nobu London and Nahm alumni) will be opening a noodle restaurant near Outpost around April, so keep a look out.