You can become blase about casual dining in Melbourne, but Hammer & Tong is definitely one of a handful of cafes contending for the best we've tried over the last three or four years. In terms of outfitting and style it's very much on trend but what makes it stand out is the quality of the offerings: delicious tastes, interesting textures and food that looks just gorgeous on the plate.
It's hardly a secret though, so arriving at around 10.30 on a Saturday morning meant we hada short wait for a table. The staff are quite well organised and after ten minutes or so we were sitting in front of one of the windows looking at the mural covered walls opposite. Not where I would have chosen to sit if I'd had the choice, as it was a bit cramped, but hey, if you don't get there before everyone else you need to take what you can get.
Given the number of interesting options on the menu we were surprisingly quick to choose - the corn and zucchini fritters for Snooze, the breakfast ramen for me. In place of the usual breakfast dessert we also decided to order the soft shell crab burger to share. Snooze also ordered her usual English Breakfast tea, something she thought better of when she saw an interesting Turkish Delight flavoured soft drink.
Because it was something we wanted to eat warm, first up was the soft shell crab burger. This has a bit of a reputation apparently and came highly recommended by our server. It was well deserved. Biting into the bun you’re met with a variety of tastes and textures, creamy, crunchy, soft, meaty, and with the sweetness of the bun and crab offset by just a touch of spicy heat. It’s probably too small to make a meal in itself so would benefit from the addition of some fries or similar (sweet potato?), but that is its only downside.
I have a bit of a thing about ramen in Melbourne. It’s not something I usually like – I don’t know if it’s the way it’s prepared here or maybe ramen just isn’t my thing but it’s often left me disappointed. That said the breakfast ramen at Hammer & Tong is one I really liked and have ordered on my multiple visits here. A generous serve of oyster mushrooms, slightly salty and fatty but delicious bacon dashi with a perfectly cooked egg and noodles, it comes served with the broth in a separate bowl you can add to the mix. Pretty and tasty.
Snooze went for the corn and zucchini fritters, with avocado, spinach, chilli tomato relish and a poached egg. The fritters looked hard on the outside but were light and fluffy in the middle, were complemented well by the soft creaminess of the avocado and the tomato relish rounded it all off with a nice, punchy tang. And as usually goes without saying in Melbourne, a perfectly poached egg.
Friendly and efficient service, a nice if somewhat cramped cafe and excellent food, there was one other matter that we both commented on. While Brunswick Street is definitely hipster territory, it was kind of funny that every member of the (male) serving staff came with well groomed facial hair, almost as if it was part of the hiring policy!
Food – 9
Ambience – 7.5
Service – 8
Price – 7
Rear 412 Brunswick Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
Tel: (03) 9041 6033