In its first year of ownership, the new Café Racer team made the decision to return to the café’s famous past. They bought back the much-loved memorabilia that had adorned its walls under founder Danny Colls and worked with coffee blends they knew would please their ever-present, hardcore, espresso-loving, Lycra-clad crowd.
For co-owner Soo Ford and business partner Damian Thompson, the choice of coffee brand was logical. Both had worked for the St Ali group: Thompson is the foodie and Ford is a front-of-house specialist and a shareholder in Sensory Lab. They did some renovations and improvements, including work on the central kitchen and a new stove, but the shell remains classic Racer.
Hearty breakfasts – there’s even a chocolate porridge – and rib-sticking lunches such as soups and curries come out of this compact space and appeal to the athletes who arrive on two wheels, Marine Parade joggers and those not high on endorphins.
The Sensory Lab coffee, roasted by St Ali, is an aged blend that is dominantly Colombian. A doppio ristretto will be rich and thick, well-extracted and of precise length. There’s plenty of brawn, but a mellow cherry roundness with a bite of crisp, green-apple acidity to finish.
Steven Calipari is studying science at Deakin University, but that’s just his hobby. His job as head barista is the biggest part of his life, he says. Calipari has worked at Caffeine at Deakin University and Hush Hush in Camberwell.
He began at Racer in January. “The big push at Racer is consistency and a strong, dark coffee,” he says. “Every coffee we serve is exactly the same, whether you are here at six in the morning or three in the afternoon. We pride ourselves on three-minute coffees. Your coffee will be at your table in three minutes, but it will taste as good as if you waited 10. It will be strong and cut through the milk and taste exactly the same as the last time you had one.”
Café Racer, 15a Marine Parade, St Kilda
Phone \ 9534 9988
Barista \ Steven Calipari
Coffee \ Sensory Lab (St Ali)
Barista’s choice \ Piccolo latte
Open \ Daily 6am-5pm
If you’re not wearing Lycra, you could feel out of place at this St Kilda institution. But everyone’s welcome and the sound of happy cyclists’ chatter, the clack of their shoes on the industrial rubber floors, cheerful music, pleasant staff and a sparkling Melbourne autumn morning will help you fit in. Cycling photographs, posters, jerseys and flags are the only decoration to white walls and blond timber furniture, while touches of black in banquettes lining one wall and dome lights over the counter complement the Racer logo. There’s a high-walled booth at the rear – surely for secret conversations – and a long marble-topped bench on wheels at the front window. On the pavement, colourful cycling garb and expensive bicycles are on constant display.