Monday, December 5, 2011

Mixed Business, Clifton Hill by Big Fil

I'd seen Mixed Business from the train and tram many times without realising it was actually a café. From a distance and without the tables and chairs out the front it looked almost abandoned, just another of those suburban milk bar or corner shops whose time had passed. What it is though is one of the best places for brunch that Snooze and I've sampled in our travels over the last couple of years.

This isn't because of the setup, the service or the price, all of which were good or better but not to the extent that Mixed Business stood out against its competitors. While the inside adopts the minimalist/industrial look I quite like, I think it almost took it a step too far so that it felt a little unfinished. It's a personal view, one I'm not sure Snooze agrees with (and could have been influenced by the poor weather on the day), but I didn't feel that comfortable standing there and given the choice I think I'd always sit in the small narrow courtyard out the back. Spring had meant that everything seemed to be in flower making that area a very bright and colourful place to sit.

Service was as polite, friendly and efficient as you'd expect in a quality café. Even when we went inside after finishing our brunch to order some cakes/muffins and our order was taken by a different staff member there was no confusion about which table we were at or with the bill. And the prices were comparable to most of the cafes we visit.

But what pushed this from being a very good café to an excellent one was the quality of the food. We must have visited nearly 100 cafes in the last two years including most of the better known ones and I would have to put Mixed Business in the handful I've enjoyed the most, up with Mart130, The Little Ox, Three Bags Full and Fandango. Not only was the combination of the flavours and textures well thought out, but the execution and presentation was top notch.

Both Snooze and I initially eyed off the same dish but on this day it was all about me. In fact, Snooze knows me so well she knew I'd choose it, and given this dish could have been designed to appeal specifically to me it's lucky she didn't want it or there could have been an undignified bout of arm wrestling to determine who got their first choice. Gingerbread Waffles with baked apple, vanilla ice-cream, candied walnuts and maple syrup! It looked amazing when it hit the table and tasted every bit as good. I'm normally more a pancake than waffle man but these were perfectly cooked, the apple firm but tender, with good quality ice-cream and a bit of crunchy texture added by the walnuts. In fact, after finishing I was momentarily tempted to order another.

While I loved my waffles in another venue I would have been almost as happy with Snooze's poached eggs on sourdough (at a guess from nearby Dench) with smoked salmon, pickled beetroot, dill and crème fraiche. Perfectly poached eggs, a generous serving of smoked salmon on lightly toasted high quality bread. The only thing which I felt didn't really add a lot was the pickled beetroot ... and that's again where Snooze and I part ways because beetroot's one of her favourite vegetables.

Dancing on air at the quality of our meals we both headed for the cakes to top it all off. The range isn't that large but after a minute or two the dark chocolate and walnut muffin and the passionfruit, banana and buttermilk cake were on their way to our table. While these were good neither of us felt they were at the same level as the other dishes. However, this could have been partly influenced by the time of day - early afternoon rather than our normal first thing in the morning where the cakes are still hot from the oven.

All I can say, if you're walking past Mixed Business and thinking about going in, stop thinking and just do it.

Food - 8.5
Service - 8
Ambience - 7
Price - 7

486 Queens Parade
Clifton Hill VIC 3068
Tel: (03) 9486 4606

Mixed Business on Urbanspoon

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