Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A cut above the rest...

Old Barber Shop Cafe

Address: 251 Church Street, Richmond, 3121

Phone: (03) 9421 6463

Open: Monday to Sunday, 8am until 5pm

Can you imagine the look on that fella’s face when he went to get his regular cut-throat face shave at the Barber of Seville in Richmond, only to be asked, “would you like sugar with that” instead of “would you like to come back in an hour?” I prefer my men with coffee moustaches anyway.

Since it opened in spring this year, the Old Barber Shop Café has filled an empty space on Church Street. Backed by Danny Klotz (owner of Torch on Swan Street), it’s little wonder this is one of those cafés you are hesitant to share with your friends.

You’ll spot it easily: look for the sun umbrellas and wooden decking out the front – most probably swarming with regulars who come for the expertly prepared Genovese coffee.

If you’re into caffeine, try the Barber Shop blend or single origin. If you’re not, go for a milkshake, Italian hot chocolate, Masala Chai or organic tea. I went with a banana milkshake. Admittedly, it matched my nails.

As you step inside the endearing Victorian building, a glass display cabinet stuffed with savoury goods battles for attention with the tantalising pastries, slices, cakes and cookies. Behind it, food is busily prepared in the tiny kitchen, which snuggles up to the cash register and extremely rare Wega concept coffee machine.

If you like boobs with your breakfast you’re in luck. A modern nude of an alluring blonde keeps watch over the front counter. Tables for couples sit beneath her but through the arched wall there’s room for more. A rustic, blue communal table takes up the majority of the space alongside smaller seating arrangements and a wooden bench with bar seats.

Old photographs of the barber shop pay homage to its predecessor, and vibrant purple flowers brighten up the wooden floorboards. The atmosphere is cosy and downright delightful, the interior is thoughtful and comfortable, and the brown paper menus offer a varied selection of mouth-watering dishes. The friendly staff are on their toes and ever ready to take your order.

The Croque Madame was a knockout. “The barber’s classic” of sliced ham, melted cheese and Béchamel sauce was served between two slices of thickly cut bread with a perfectly fried egg on top. This Croque crunched wonderfully with every bite. It arrived, like all of the meals, on a wooden board with the addition of a mini terracotta bowl of dressed roquette… probably to try to lessen that guilt factor. It was humongous.

The New York deli corned beef bagel maintained the standard. Accompanied by tangy mustard pickle and potato crisps, the sesame seed bagel was stuffed full of beef, onion and melted cheese. Simple but divine.

Another basic but delicious dish was the tuna and mayonnaise toastie. Tuna and a layer of soft-boiled egg were sandwiched between the sourdough (which was perfectly toasted just like the Croque Madame). The juicy cornichons on the side were the ideal accompaniment.

Also ordered was the crunchy house-made granola, topped with a blob of yoghurt and served with apple and rhubarb compote and a miniature glass milk bottle. The toasted oats had notes of honey and the mixture contained a variety of roasted nuts. I spent a while deciding between the granola and a similar dish: next time I need to kick start my day I’ll try the Brazilian acai berries, which are crushed into a smoothie alongside guarana, placed into a glass and topped with granola and fresh fruit.

For any health nuts out there, the breakfast salad is ideal. Think tomato medley with olives and avocado. There’s also a bacon and egg butty, baked eggs with spinach, mushrooms, fetta and ham, and a range of other options. For lunch it’s hard to go past the piadinas: Italian flatbreads with fillings such as zucchini and pumpkin or meatballs with fior di latte.

For the sweet tooths out there, the meringues look incredible but I can recommend the passionfruit tart from experience. The gingerbread bears are a lovely treat for the little kids, while the gourmet cupcakes are equally as lovely for the big kids.

I can’t voice how surprised I am that the Old Barber Shop Café hasn’t had much media coverage in both mainstream and blogging circles. It isn’t a ‘hype’ eatery (unlike Pillar of Salt just up the road) and yet there is simply nothing that strikes a wrong chord, so what’s the deal? It’s a shame that cafés with an established following, a large social media presence and big names get the attention over smaller, more genuine cafés. That being said, business looked pretty smooth when we visited, and I’m sure the locals are happy to keep it to themselves!

We will be back in a hurry to try the rest of the menu and to make the most of the seats in the sun. Just like in Rossini’s Barber of Seville, when it comes to the Old Barber Shop Café, it was love at first sight.

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