The image of a brain on this café’s logo, its self-deprecating name and its quirky décor reveal plenty about the good-natured owner. Terence Yeo did the fit-out on his first café himself, almost three years ago. “I tried to be a carpenter but it was a bit wonky at first. I think the customers like it now,” he says. “I love recycled materials and old things, so I wanted to use them.”
Office workers seem enamoured of the café’s laid-back Melbourne-warehouse feel, and Yeo and his staff return the sentiment. Malaysian-born, Perth-raised Yeo moved east about eight years ago. He’s a chef who lists Saluti at Rialto Towers and GAS eatery on his local resume.
The breakfast and lunch menu at NAT has a strong Spanish theme, with some Asian and Moroccan elements. Specials include chicken meatball soup with vegetables, slow-cooked lamb curry with butter saffron rice and seared tuna with chilli beans and fried potato.
When he first opened the café, Yeo was doing all the cooking and employed a barista. Things went downhill when the employee left, so Yeo, who runs the business with his wife, Jess, eagerly swapped roles.
“Good machines and good beans make good coffee,” says Yeo. It’s not that simple, but he’s too humble to mention the human element. I’d struck three lousy examples the day I arrived at NAT and ordered a short macchiato. Veneziano’s Estate blend is the house standard and, while it could have been the benchmark set that morning, I was grateful for the short, tight shot, perfectly balanced by its nip of milk and it’s rich and mellow dark-chocolate overtones. Yeo thinks his chef background helps his coffee making, but he really puts it down to his own passion. “I have always wanted to do something with coffee. I love working with it.” He’s a big fan of the company that supplies his coffee and the training and assistance it has given him. The café offers its Bond St seasonal blend, and a weekly single-origin bean – a Kenya Peaberry the day I was there, which made a sharp, red-berry bright espresso.
Not All There
194 Wells Street, South Melbourne
Phone \ 9078 1298
Barista \ Terence Yeo
Coffee \ Veneziano
Barista’s choice \ Caffe latte
Open \ Monday to Friday 7am-3.30pm
Pots of herbs hang in black plastic crates under the market umbrellas and there’s a blackboard out front that lists the single-origin coffee choice of the day – indicators that someone here cares about victuals and caffeine. This cheery street café is in a tiny food precinct tucked behind St Kilda Road. And it’s crowded. Sturdy black plastic chairs, recycled tables, ply-lined walls, old street signs and hessian coffee sacks form the rudimentary décor. There’s a big video screen flashing news headlines, an old fire extinguisher on the end of a communal table and a gleaming Synesso espresso machine on the counter.