The latest cafe from the crew at the enormously successful The Kettle Black and Top Paddock crew promises to be at the very least very photogenic with a queue to eager diners. But what is the food like? And we stay at one of Melbourne's Grand Dame hotels, the Rendezvous!
It was 8am on Saturday morning in Melbourne. I had woken but Mr NQN was still asleep. And for the next 3 hours I'd go over to his side of the bed hoping that he would wake up. I'd saunter over Marion Kelly style, wide awake and hopped up on several cups of tea only to find him fast asleep. By 11am I knew I had to wake him because I wanted to check out Higher Ground and I hate queueing so I wanted to get there when it wasn't too busy.
By the time we leave the Rendezvous hotel and make the 20 minute walk it's noon. Kind of prime time for the cafe. The queue outside reflects this and we leave our name and are told that it will be around 35-40 minutes wait. We do a bit of shopping and then nab some stools and by 30 minutes our table is ready. They're two bar stools in front of the baristas.
Open in August 2016 Higher Ground has already proved popular. The drinks menu at least for the cafe is short, a bit surprisingly so and we order a ginger shrub (drinking vinegar), a chai latte for me and a batch brew for Mr NQN.
Nina texts me, "I know you just ordered a chai latte." Apparently I am a creature of habit. The chai latte is a house made one (as opposed to the powder mix) which is strong in clove and white pepper and there's enough of the latter to make my lips tingle.
Spiced cauliflower and scrambled eggs $19.50
While the tea and coffee menu is short the food one isn't and it's very hard to choose what to order. We decide to go with the staff recommendations and order three dishes because at this point we are having two meals. I wasn't sure what to expect but expect the unexpected here because the cauliflower and eggs is a spongey housemade round of flatbread topped with silky, creamy scrambled eggs, tiny florets of roasted cauliflower and deep fried curry leaves and roasted chilli. Honestly if all vegetarian food was this tasty I'd just turn vegetarian. I loved this dish not only for the flavour but for the texture too and the modern spin on scrambled eggs.
Ricotta Hotcake $21
I really wanted a Berkshire bacon sandwich but I knew that the pancake would be a spectacular specimen. I don't usually get FOMO but I remember an acute case of it (it actually physically hurt me) last time when I went to The Kettle Black so I order it. This reminds me of the hotcake at Harry's in Bondi. Harry's ricotta hotcake is lighter and more souffle like than this but that doesn't mean that this isn't great. There's maple syrup already on it (just the right amount) but what I really love about this is the amount of crunchy seeds and grains on this as well as fresh berries and flowers as well as an enormous quennelle of berry sugar cream on top. But my hats are off to you if you can finish this by yourself as it is enormous.
PX Ice Cream Sandwich, chocolate brownie, Tasmanian cherries, almonds $17
I don't know whether ordering an ice cream sandwich as well as all of this is a sane idea but we were told that this was Melbourne's last summer weekend of weather so you may as well celebrate with ice cream (note: I clearly use any excuse to celebrate everything). It's a creamy Pedro Ximinez ice cream bordered by two thin layers of dense, fudgey chocolate brownie on a smooth, thick Tasmanian cherry sauce and an almond praline. As someone that loves crunchy textures and balance of flavours this is just about perfect with the fruity sauce balancing the rich brownie.
It's around 2pm when we leave and the queue? Well it's even longer than when we arrived.
Our home for the weekend in Melbourne is the Rendezvous Hotel on Flinders Street. Located opposite Flinders Street train station it was once the headquarters for the Commercial Travellers Association (CTA) in Victoria.
The 1913 Edwardian Baroque building was made out of concrete and steel framed and it is an elegant grand dame. The hotel itself is split into two builds, the original build with beautiful entranceways, ornate ceilings and gorgeous details but there is also the newer wing with a modern look.
We are staying in the original wing, in a heritage queen room. It's a classically lovely room with a spacious main area with a large comfortable queen sized bed with very soft sheets. There are two doors that open up onto a small balcony and a little nook around the corner for your luggage and storage.
The bathroom is a little snug for the size of the room. There is a good sized shower and toiletries from a brand called Wallawa that uses Indigenous Australian botanicals like Kakadu plum and eucalyptus. Internet is of a slow to moderate speed but is free although there is also an upgraded package available. There is quite a bit of street noise as it is a bustling, noisy area too so you're best to bring some earplugs for late night crowds. It didn't stop Mr NQN from sleeping in til 11am though!
Dinner at the Straits Cafe is downstairs on the lower ground area. Despite the name it is more of a restaurant than a cafe and it's not Straits Malaysian cuisine, it's Modern Australian with three Malaysian dishes. Service is very friendly and welcoming.
Beef fillet 200g $42
We order the Steak with mushroom tart, caramelised onion potato cake, asparagus and a red wine jus. It's fine although I love dry aged steaks a bit more. We have this with a glass of Apostrophe Possessive GSM from Western Australia.
Prawn Laksa $26
The laksa is quite different from other laksa that I've had. It's made with round rice noodles which are actually quite nice. There's shredded chicken, prawns, bean sprouts, tofu puffs and half a boiled egg. We have this with a glass of Ryder Watervale Riesling from Clare Valley. I have to say that the in room dining menu actually looks a bit more tempting than the Straits cafe menu with items that appear there than don't appear on the cafe menu.
As our mains are sizeable we go upstairs for a bit of a rest and order dessert in our room. That's one of my favourite privileges when staying at a hotel and eating in the in house restaurant. At 9 o'clock there's a tap at the door and our desserts arrive with glasses of De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Riesling.
Selection of cheeses $18 and Dark chocolate fondant $16
The dark chocolate fondant is served with pistachio ice cream, a milk chocolate sauce and candied pistachios. Alas it is completely cooked through and not luscious and dark like a fondant should be. The cheeses are three Australian cheeses: Maffra cloth cheddar, Tarago river triple brie and Berries Creek Blue served with water crackers, sliced apple and pear, an unusual quince paste and grapes (not quite the muscatels, lavosh and fruit bread specified on the menu which we would have loved). But nothing really beats eating dessert in a bathrobe-that's what sweet dreams are made of!
So tell me Dear Reader, do you get FOMO? Do you ever order three dishes between two people?
The meal at Higher Ground was independently paid for. NQN and Mr NQN stayed at the Rendezvous Hotel as their guest but all opinions remain her own.
650 Little Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 8899 6219
Monday to Friday 7am – 4PM
Weekends and Public Holidays 8am – 4PM
Nights, Thurday to Sunday Open till 11PM
328 Flinders St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 9250 1888