In act 2 of a double breakfast weekend, we hit the yuppified streets of Cartlon for brunch at the Rathdowne Street Food Store, 617 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North, Tel +61 3 9347 4064. Once again, the main draw was a long history of rave reviews, so we went in with fairly high expectations. Despite a few weak links, this place probably deserves its status as one of the best.
In terms of eggs, the Food Store scrubs up very well indeed. Their omelette, in particular, was pretty much flawless (we ordered a simple goat's cheese and salmon version, no toast). I can now see why they won the 2003 cheap eats award for breakfast dish of the year, for a spanish omelette with potato and zucchini, roasted capsicum sauce and grilled chorizo (no longer on the menu, as far as I could tell). Show me a better omelette in Melbourne and I'll eat a bucket of muesli. The food store also wins early points for presentation. First impression... "Mmmm, that's a fine lookin' plate of eggs."
It's equally hard to fault the extras, although I managed. The range is good, and in most cases, ditto the quality. My spinach and sausage were fine, but the "home-made" beans were bland and disappointing. The only thing setting them apart from beans a-la-can were a few chunks of carrot and celery, which is hardly a selling point. The sourdough toast (also branded "home made") was nothing to write home about, and the absence of wheat- and gluten-free options is frustrating for the gluten-challenged. The hash-browns (which I spied on the table next door) were shaped like deep-fried sushi rolls and looked extremely good. Other options included fried potato (our US friends would call them "home fries") and fried tofu (our red-neck friends would call it "hippy, veggie, tree-hugger food"). There was a pepper mill on each table (good), plain old tomato sauce on request, but no HP (grrr).
The coffee was excellent... Genovese pumped from a trusty Wega
. I liked the fact that my cappucino was served chocolate-free by default, but it was a bit light on froth.
The rest of the menu gives you plenty to choose from. For the sweet-tooths, there's everything from Coco Pops (just like a chocolate milk-shake, only crunchy... and unencumbered by nutritional value), to pancakes with poached pears and lavender ice cream. Wash it all down with a spider and your daily sugar-fix will be complete. Or, if you prefer your food with fibre, there's "FSY" (fruit salad + yoghurt), "MFY" (muesli, fruit + yoghurt) and some stewed fruit concoctions.
The so-called "razor-sharp" service (according to Cheap Eats) was a bit blunt today. No overt rudeness, but no real effort to appear friendly either. It's one thing to think that you move in circles of higher-than-average coolness, but don't let it show. People notice these things.
The Rathdowne Street Food Store has a pretty good vibe. It feels busy, looks good, and is well decked out with classic, dark, bentwood chairs. The crowd was mixed, but dominated by over-paid, 30-something professionals trying to cling on to their 20-something lifestyle, despite the arrival of sprogs (not that I have anything against sprogs).
Bottom line... this is a very good brekky spot, which, although not cheap, is pretty good value when you factor in the quality of food, service and venue. You're probably looking at just under 20 bucks a head, depending on how many lattes you throw back. And, as mentioned above, it's a clear favorite for best omelette in Melbourne.15/20