Sara O’Callaghan’s inspired idea to create a café in the grounds of Como Historic House is now a six-year-old reality. When O’Callaghan, the owner and executive chef at Café Bursaria, came up with the idea, she had to convince three chief executive officers and five property managers at the National Trust-controlled property in South Yarra.
Como House was built in 1847 and is a blend of classic Italianate and Australian Regency architecture. After a succession of wealthy owners, who each added their own touches to the property, it was put into the hands of the Trust in 1959. Although it’s been used for weddings and functions over the years, Bursaria is its first permanent café.
“I think I managed to win them over as I really respect the house and what it stands for, and have since the beginning,” O’Callaghan said. She also runs the catering operation for events at the historic property.
O’Callaghan completed her apprenticeship at Walter’s Wine Bar in Southgate, and also spent time at One Fitzroy Street and worked for catering companies including Artistic Food Services and Crown Casino’s events department.
“So for a country girl who grew up in Sale, it was quite a change to finally be working at Como House,” she said. “There are horses on the property and we have chooks. It’s lovely.”
The café’s description as “South Yarra’s best-kept secret” is only a slight stretch of the truth, as it is tucked away behind the high walls of the estate and seems to be mostly populated by locals in the know.
O’Callaghan came up with the name for the café, too. It’s taken from the name of a variety of bursaria spinosa, a native tea-tree-like shrub that grew on the property before European settlement and is still scattered throughout the gardens.
Café Bursaria has been set up in one of the property’s outbuildings and retains a rustic farmhouse feel that is reflected in the simple daily menu scrawled on a wall-mounted roll of brown paper.
The winter menu includes a daily soup such as sweet potato served with cornbread and a regular hearty ploughman’s lunch. Other typical dishes include open sandwiches, a smoked salmon, dill and green pea tart, a changing selection of house-made pastry rolls or pies and a roasted Mediterranean vegetable stack served with goat’s cheese and basil pesto. The dessert and cake offerings feature O’Callaghan’s secret scone recipe and a passionfruit sponge.
The food is fresh and well presented, with uncomplicated flavours, and arrives in generous servings. Service is smooth and pleasant, with a touch of old-fashioned country hospitality.
Café Bursaria is just three kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD, but its location in the centre of the lush gardens of Como Historic House creates an impression of rural serenity. The café is set in one of the property’s outbuildings in the heart of South Yarra and is light, spacious and charming. Simple, rustic food and pleasant, old-fashioned service are highlights of a visit that feels like a trip to an elegant country estate.
Café Bursaria, Como Historic House, corner Williams Road and Lechlade Avenue, South Yarra
Chef \ Sara O’Callaghan
Prices \ Brunch $7.50-$12.50; lunch $9.50-$16.50; cakes $3.50-$7.50
Open \ Winter: Wednesday-Sunday 10am-4pm; daily in summer
Bookings \ 9824 2889
Web \ bursaria.com.au
This whitewashed, homely café appears to have stepped out of the pages of a country-style decorator’s magazine. From its rustic farmhouse accessories – tin pails, large glass jars, watering cans and a wine barrel holding water jugs – to the fresh, eggshell-white walls and wholesome menu, it is completely in harmony with its setting in the gardens of Como Historic House. A long, glass-fronted counter is filled with selections of the day such as pies, tarts and salads and the simple daily menu is scrawled on a roll of brown paper. Timber tables, painted chairs and bare concrete floors say simplicity, while french doors, wide windows, vases of fresh roses and a trio of gilt-edged mirrors on a soft green wall add touches of understated elegance.