The divine-looking baby is being passed from arm to eager arm at the front table and delighting in the attention. On the opposite side of the room, another young café patron, aged about three, is out for coffee with his dad – and finding similar pleasure in the froth of his babyccino.
The communal table is full of mixed-aged diners chatting noisily and there’s animated movement in the busy kitchen as a pair of in-the-know mums with prams glide out to a quieter rear room.
It’s a midweek afternoon and this compact, homely café is emitting enough energy to power the half-dozen surrounding shops.
Owners Julian Chew and his wife Tammy Chen have achieved an appealing formula of comfort and artistic style in their two-year-old operation. Chew, who began an apprenticeship at Aria restaurant in Sydney, has built a reputation for his flavoursome, internationally inspired cooking.
He gave up his apprenticeship midstream and moved to Melbourne to pursue an interior-design degree, and that’s where he met Chen. He credits her for the café’s good looks. “Tammy’s more into detail, while I’m more big picture,” Chew says. “I guess you could say she finishes off my big picture.”
The walls have been painted a soft, cloudy-day blue and are hand-stencilled, emphasising the natural arches of the room. With pair of ornamental bird cages, it all creates a Moroccan theme. A collection of retro coloured-glass lightshades hang from the high
ceilings and mismatched chairs sit at the pre-loved communal table.
Chew says he was never able to abandon his love of “the food game” and knew he would one day own a café. His eclectic cooking style was inspired by the adventurous live-in cook of his childhood in Malaysia, and his chef training now combines with artistic flair and a love of experimenting with herbs and spices.
“I try to cook with the technical skills I gained during my time in fine dining, but I hope that my food is home-style enough that my customers can enjoy it every day,” he says. “Many of our meals are vegetarian, but I like to offer a healthy balance.”
The menu offers feta scramble with avocado, roasted mushrooms and Moroccan beans and Chew’s take on a BLT – a crispy pork sandwich with cos lettuce, tomato chutney and aioli.
A carrot, pumpkin and sweet potato salad is a warm, wintry delight, with agreeably caramelised root vegetables draped in a harissa-laced yoghurt and coriander sauce. It’s topped with a scattering of sharply sweet currants and chunks of toasted almonds.
In support of the dedication given to quality food, Chen and Chew hunted high and low for the “right” coffee.
Allpress Coffee’s Supremo blend (from Papua New Guinea, Brazil and Colombia) is smartly dispensed by baristas Suhaylah Haf’sah and Ben Mior.
“We like its chocolate and caramel flavours and the smoky notes that come through the milk,” Chew says. “We also chose the brand because Allpress is one of the few companies that hot-air roast their beans, a method we consider provides a more consistent coffee.”
226 Waterdale Road, Ivanhoe
Phone \ 9499 1162
Food style \ International cuisine
Vibe \ Creative
Open \ Monday to Friday 8am-4pm; weekends 8am-2pm