“Let’s meet somewhere new.”
That was my girlfriend’s response when I told her I needed to pick her brains for an upcoming trip to Sri Lanka. I hear that same sentence all the time: when I catch up with old mates, meet my family for Sunday brunch, interview someone for an article or hit the town to console a friend post-breakup.
The beauty of it is that there is always somewhere new to eat in Melbourne, but as a result, the café regular is becoming somewhat of an endangered species. On this particular, mid-week occasion, we decided to exchange Sri Lanka itineraries at Code Black’s new café in North Melbourne. It was fantastic – ticked all the boxes, if you will – but I feel like I can't go back unless someone else suggests it; my to-eat list has been reshuffled, and Code Black Coffee is now at the bottom behind the plethora of cafes I'm yet to vist.
The coffee, roasted at Code Black in Brunswick, was immaculate, but good coffee isn’t enough to win me over. The menu, which is half car manual and half existentialist wank (“PERSPECTIVE IS UNAWARE OF INFINITY,” preaches the double spread), is more my thing. It features favourites such as ricotta and apple hotcakes spruced with salted apple caramel sauce and avocado toast pimped with pickled cucumber and sesame nori salt.
When asked what was good, the friendly-but-awkward young waiter replied, “You could get the bircher, because, like, it’s pretty cheap,” before suggesting the salmon, apparently a best seller already. We ordered the generous slab of hot smoked salmon resting on a handmade potato cake with watercress, poached eggs, a generous avocado smear and horseradish hollandaise, as well as smoky black beans with jalapeño cornbread, a fried egg and grilled lime (Yes, I added the pork belly. Yes, there was crackling). Both were a hit, but unfortunately the horseradish in the hollandaise and the jalapeño in the cornbread were barely detectable.
Code Black looks good, too. We sat on wide, Scandinavian-style stools surrounded by blonde-wood finishes, forest-green steel beams and pastel-painted walls. Strangely, metal beams both hold up and divide the tables attached to the banquette, making it awkward for two to sit comfortably and cramped for parties of four. You’re better off at the round or raised tables, or perhaps upstairs looking down from the modern mezzanine, the latter of which makes one want to reenact Titanic's 'I'm flying' scene, or yell "I'M KING OF THE WORLD".
A lot of care has gone into Code Black. The entire experience at North Melbourne feels designer, from the lofty warehouse building with an interior worthy of Pinterest to the crowd-pleasing menu that scores points for originality, even if it is a little abstract. Just as I painstakingly extracted every travel tip I could from my friend, Code Black has scrupulously considered every detail. At the end of the day, it's a café-eat-café world. If someone were to suggest meeting at Code Black I'd be back in a heartbeat. Until then, I have other places to tick off the list. It’s a cruel place, this Melbourne cafe scene.
Code Black Coffee
119 Howard Street, North Melbourne, Victoria
Open daily from 7am until 5pm