Saturday, July 9, 2011

Freestylin' in South Melbourne


Address: 6 Union Street, South Melbourne, Victoria, 3025

Telephone: (03) 9696 4396

 Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday 8am until 4pm


It's 11.30am on a Sunday morning and you are starving. It is that awkward time between breakfast and lunch - but too close to midday to classify as brunch - and you have been turned away from the last two cafes you tried to get into. It was probably not so much because they were packed as it was because the front-of-house staff thought the sound of your empty digestive tract would deter potential customers.  This was me last weekend. 


At the best of times, South Melbourne can be difficult to grab a bite to eat. With St Ali, Cafe Sweethearts, Gas Eatery and Supplies, and Dead Man Espresso all a hop - not even a hop, skip and a jump - away from each other, you are surrounded by some of our city's best breakfast spots. This means they are usually full. 

In what can only be described as fate, I turned to my Urbanspoon iPhone app, not willing to be rejected for a third time. I decided on one of the top 10 rated breakfast/brunch spots in the area. I looked up from my phone and said to no one in particular, "Where is Union Stre... OH!"

The pole I nearly walked into read none other than "Union Street." Just off Coventry Street, about 15 meters to the left, was a blue block-lettered sign that read: 'Freestyle Espresso.' I felt extremely smug.

The smart, black-brick building with long rectangular windows looks simultaneously homely and modern. On this particularly chilly day we were keen to go straight inside, but on the way in it was difficult not to notice the brick courtyard with portable heaters and pot plants. The outside area consists of three tables for two people and a larger, wooden table up the back. Inside is cosy as well, with seats for about 20 people, excluding two comfy chairs with matching blue cushions near the glass windowed wall. 

Once again in a twist of fate, a table for five was being cleared just as our small gang entered. The friendly waiter took good care of us and handed us the breakfast menu, which was fastened to an old-style envelope with a red string seal. 

We started with a smooth Allpress coffee and made a pact to not double up on orders so we could sample different meals.

Unfortunately, the rhubarb and red apple compote with yoghurt, rosewater and pistachios had run out. This caused us to break our pact: we ordered two Bircher mueslis with grated green apple, sultanas, toasted almonds and passionfruit curd. At the risk of sounding like Goldilocks, the serving size was "just right." Considering how much Bircher varies across Melbourne, this particular one was admirable to say the least. It was the first time I had been served Bircher topped with passionfruit curd and it made all the difference, morphing a 'safe' breakfast option into a sweet but tangy dish that bordered on dessert.  

We also ordered the sweet corn cakes with avocado, chutney, rocket salad, Parmesan cheese and lemon; the Spanish omelette with potato, chorizo, pepperonata, spinach, chilli jam and basil; and the scrambled eggs with fresh mixed herbs, Parmesan and feta on sourdough. The large, shallow bowls the food was served in were practically licked clean. 




One meal was forgotten. This was hardly surprising as we  had greedily ordered six meals for five people being enamoured of all the menu items. The waiter was very apologetic and  in the end, one dish apiece was more than sufficient. Next time I would try the Welsh rarebit with leeks, cheese, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and Tabasco with tomato relish. 

All of the produce is homemade, with the exception of a few pastries and bread from Dench bakery. I could have ordered either the Dench fruit toast with whipped orange zest, honey and vanilla butter or the homemade banana and date bread with passionfruit curd for an after breakfast dessert.

The cabinet housed a tempting range of sandwiches (my choice would have been poached chicken, parsley, lemon mayo and avocado); pies, including chicken with red bean chilli con carne, and pork belly with apple cider; savoury tarts, homemade pizzas; and savoury pancakes. Chocolate brownies crowded the top shelf amongst white chocolate blondies, fig and dark chocolate muffins, lemon bread, rocky road, and - my personal favourite -  a gluten-free strawberry, pistachio, dark chocolate and Frangipane tart - too good not to take home. 

Most of the clientele had a yoga mat tucked under their arm, having just come from the studio next door. Other customers included young couples and families, and also Danny Colls of Liaison in Melbourne's CBD, "one of Melbourne's most influential coffee entrepreneurs of the past decade," according to The Age's Epicure. Obviously people flock to Freestyle Espresso for the beans as well as the food.

Stumbling across Freestyle Espresso down what initially appeared to be an unremarkable lane simply made my day. Although the suprise factor may not be there for you after reading this post, I strongly suggest you go check it out for breakfast, lunch, or that afternoon coffee and cake anyway.

* Freestyle Espresso also sells a selection of Peter Watson curry pastes, chutneys, spices, mixes and dressings, as well as Allpress coffee. 

Freestyle Espresso on Urbanspoon

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