Would you like to meet lots of friendly people in a welcoming, sociable atmosphere? Then get a dog and head down to the local off-leash park. Bilby Blue and I are there most days, and over the last few months have been following the trials and tribulations of starting your own café. Our friend Jenna is a professional chef and her latest venture is a brekky/lunch/dinner café in Hawthorn. We have been intending to visit since the new year, but haven’t quite made it until now.
This particular Saturday finds us frantically running errands all over Melbourne, from Carlton to Werribee to Hawthorn. We are hot, tired, and breakfast was a long time ago. Lunch beckons, but it is well after 2pm – a time when most lunch places in the suburbs are closed or closing and dinner places haven’t yet opened. Our options seem to be restricted to fast-food chains (but we have standards!) or coffee places, where if we are lucky we might score a savoury muffin or pre-made sandwich that has been quietly desiccating for the last four or five hours.
Then we remember Jenna …
Our Kitchenette is in the small shopping precinct centred on the corner of Auburn and Riversdale Roads in Hawthorn. It’s a bit hard to spot amongst the other shops – look for the white picket fence around a small pop-up alfresco dining area on the footpath. Inside there is room for no more than a dozen or so diners at tables for two that can be pushed together for larger parties. Our Kitchenette is quite small.
There are no other customers when we enter. Jenna, relaxing with a newspaper after a busy lunch service leaps to her feet and quickly settles us at a table by the window. The décor is French Provincial – painted bentwood chairs, wooden tables and shelves, and a montage of framed artworks on the wall. Little details such as water served in vintage glass milk bottles and white enamel jugs as cutlery holders enhance the welcoming atmosphere.
But are we still destined to choose from the leftovers from today’s lunch service? Definitely not! Jenna offers to prepare us anything from the menu, including the dinner menu which strictly speaking is not available until after 4pm. Are we, as dog-walking buddies, receiving preferential treatment? Again the answer is no. Other late diners arrive after us and they also have their orders freshly prepared.
The menu is modern Australian with a fascinatingly eclectic mix of European and Middle Eastern influences and an emphasis on fresh seasonal produce. House-made German-style sausages mix it with mezze platters, risotto, classic Caesar salad and house-cured salmon, and almost everything is made in-house. The breakfast choices display a welcome independence from the ubiquitous egg and offer some imaginative flavour combinations – ‘rose scented watermelon with house-made yoghurt, mint and pistachios’ sounds very tempting, but not for a late lunch. Of course, if you really want eggs they are available in all of their various incarnations.
The penne rigate with lamb and tomato ragu, parsley and pecorino is extremely tempting, but given the hot day we turn towards dishes more seasonally appropriate. I opt for the poached salmon and Dutch cream potato salad from the Light Lunch section, while Bilby muses over the risotto – is it too much trouble to ask for a risotto from the dinner menu? Of course not. Jenna launches into action.
My so called ‘light’ lunch is more substantial than expected and is delicious, fresh herbs and green beans adding flavour and crunch. The optional poached egg is perfectly cooked with the runny yolk mixing delightfully with the salad and salmon.
For drinks we are intrigued by the House-made American Style Lemonades. Two are on offer: strawberry mint and apricot ginger. Megan, our waitress, is responsible for these wonderfully refreshing creations, having brought the recipes back with her from a stint in New York. There are many flavours in her repertoire, with two being available at any one time influenced by the available produce. All are great chilled, and some can be served warm (think mulled wine). We are keen to visit in winter to sample warm ginger lemonade. A liquor licence is pending, and we are assured that these lemonades make wonderful mixers.
OverallA little gem of a place. If you want to have dinner, be early as it closes at 7pm, or snap up some of Jenna’s take home meals – heat and serve at home and pretend you cooked it yourself. Catering for your next party or corporate event is also available.
Find it atOur Kitchenette
217 Riversdale Road
Phone (03) 9939 9340