Since we moved from Carlton to Brunswick a couple of years ago, there seems to have been a bit of a foodie renaissance around the Lygon/Elgin corner - there's Heart Attack & Vine (which we've at least managed to visit), Milk the Cow, Pidapipo, Nora, the fancying up of Percy's into The Roving Marrow and today's topic, The Vertue of the Coffee Drink (those who favour simpler pleasures will be relieved to know that the trusty Intersection Cafe is holding its own among all these upmarket upstarts).
A couple of things to get out of the way. Firstly, the unwieldy (and frankly pretty terrible) name at least has a nice back-story, taken from an ad for London's first coffeehouse way back in 1652. Secondly, the location is as hilariously Melbourne as it could be - an old stable, down an unpromising alleyway lined with dumpsters beside a petrol station. It takes some finding.
Once you find the door, the atmosphere changes quickly from grimy and weird, to airy and lovely - lots of natural light, fancy coffee making equipment on display (they roast their own) and a tremendously alluring sweets cabinet (that we somehow resisted). The menu is at the unconventional spectrum, with ingredients like amaranth, thyme pastry and verbena buttermilk pudding dotted throughout. There are a couple of salads (heirloom veggies or amaranth & quiona) and an oat and coconut porridge that can be veganised, plus a few other veggie dishes.
I had an excellent flat white, while Cindy weighed up the dirty chai (chai with an espresso shot), but settled on the Mork hot chocolate ($4), which hit the spot (although nothing measures up to the Msr Truffe version they serve at East Elevation. They have lots of interesting coffee options on the drinks menu. Next time I'll try out the 'Coffee 3 Ways' - three different preparations of the same bean (espresso, long black and EK shot, $11).
Food-wise, I couldn't go past the chickpea chips, with poached eggs, charred zucchini, cherry tomatoes, shaved parmesan and baby basil ($18).
It always takes me a moment to readjust after someone serves up a savoury breakfast without toast - it's so standard that I don't even notice when there's no mention of it in the description of a dish. I didn't really miss it here though, with the crispy-on-the-outside chickpea chips absorbent enough to soak up the eggy bits. The zucchini and tomatoes were okay, but the chips and the eggs were the stars of this dish.
Cindy ordered the oat and coconut porridge, with goji berries, raspberry compote, toasted coconut, and cacao nibs ($14).
This was a visually stunning meal, with the mix of colours and shapes arranged on the plain porridge like some sort of abstract art. It reminded Cindy of the high-end porridge she had at Pilgrim in Hobart, but fell a bit short of that standard - a bit more fruit would have helped to liven things up.
The Vertue of the Coffee Drink is a welcome addition to Carlton's breakfast scene - the menu is fresh and interesting, the food is prepared and presented beautifully, the coffee's great and the staff were friendly and effective. It's definitely at the more expensive/more pretentious end of the spectrum, but it does a decent job of delivering food that justifies the prices.
We're a bit slow to check out Vertue - it's already been enthusiastically reviewed by MEL: HOT OR NOT, a map for happiness, Let's Get Fat Together, Ms I-Hua & The Boy, Lip's Temptations, polyphagia, Brunch Addict, The City Lane, Olive Sundays, Eat.Play.Shop, delightfully tasty, thehangrybitch, Feast Melbourne, The Tea Societe, Chewing is Exercise, apropos rendezvous, A Chronicle of Gastronomy, See Around the Corner, Big Hand Little Hand, Eve Lovelle, Ordinary Girl, Extraordinary Dreamer, Kaz and Nez, Mango Macarons, Hungry Cookie, Frog Foodventure, Food of the Soul, chasing a plate, livelifelovecake, Extras Please, The Food Society and De-BriefMe.Com
, with only Ichigo Shortcake being anything less than wowed.
The Vertue of the Coffee Drink
8 Raffa Place, Carlton (tucked in beside the Shell service station on the corner of Lygon and Elgin)
Accessibility: Once you make your way down the little alley and find the cafe, it's super accessible - there's a flat entry, a reasonably spacious interior and fully accessible, unisex toilets.