For me Bent Espresso isone of those places I've known about for ages but for some reason had never visited. It ticked most of the right boxes - fairly popular, work people who live nearby were positive about it and its within walking distance from home - but it had never been top of the list of places I wanted to try. It was however a convenient place for breakfast by myself on two weekends when Snooze was unavailable. After having paid a couple of visits now I'd put it in the decent local café category, above average but certainly not somewhere I'm dying to go back to.
Inside is familiar but comfortable. Mural painted on the back wall (including a small note about its being 'one of Melbourne's top 100 cafes'), retro style chairs and tables, coffee machine and glass counter at the front by the entrance. Very Fitzroy chic but adequately done.
The main reason why I'm lukewarm is the food. The menu is fairly typical modern Melbourne café style fare. My choices were the baked eggs in a spicy tomato sauce and the corn and chives fritters with guacamole, bacon and poached eggs, two of my favourite styles of breakfast.
The better of the two were the corn fritters. The fritters themselves were pretty typical, the bacon reasonable and the egg nicely poached. I wasn't such a huge fan of the guacamole though. I like it when my guacamole tastes fresh and zingy, whereas here it was fairly lifeless.
But while I thought the fritters were ok the baked eggs were below average. The problem lay not with the eggs, as again these were nicely cooked. The main issues were with the sauce and the bread. The bread itself was ordinary, although I may have been spoilt with the Baker D Chirico bread used at some places we have recently visited. The sauce however wasn't really up to scratch. The first issue was with the texture, with the sauce being too runny. Secondly and more importantly, spicy should not just mean that it has had a bit of chilli added to it. A bit of cumin, a dash of paprika, these would have given it more depth and could have improved it significantly.
I'm also a big fan of a slice of cake to finish off my morning meal. While Bent Espresso does have a few muffin and brownie type offerings, there wasn't anything which really got me interested.
What I did like though was my hot chocolate. Creamy with a balanced chocolate flavour and flaky pieces of chocolate on the top, one of the best I 've had in Melbourne (and consistently so on both visits). Also, given the snatches of conversation overhead between the barista and some obvious regulars its clear that they do care about their coffee, which I didn't try.
One suggestion though, the ordering system is not clear when you enter the café. A small sign indicating to take a seat or that staff will show you to a table would clear up any possible confusion.
While I understand it's popular with locals my own experience was of a reasonable suburban café which could do with some work on the food side, particularly given that it charges similar prices to other, better options within 10 minutes or so drive. I found the staff quite friendly, particularly the barista. However, one of those places which left me a bit indifferent, somewhere I'd return to but wouldn't make a special effort to do so.
Food - 6.5
Service - 6.5
Ambience - 7.5
Price - 6
2/385 Centre Road (off Bent Street)
Bentleigh VIC 3204
Tel (03) 9557 1339