Friday, July 6, 2012

Neighbours Cafe, St Kilda by Big Fil

I had always thought that Neighbours Café was tucked away in a slightly strange location, the section of Chapel Street between Dandenong and St Kilda Roads. With a great stretch for cafes on nearby Carlyle Street and another on Chapel Street in Windsor, it needs to be good to be able to draw the punters away from these prime brunch locations. Early on it didn’t appear to be working, as this is an area I walk through fairly routinely and it had always seemed to be pretty quiet. Recently though it appeared to either pick up its socks or maybe word of mouth had got around, because every time I walk past now it’s either full or close to it. Combine that with the 2012 cheap eats sticker that had appeared at the front and it was time to give it a go, to see what I might have previously overlooked.

Even when new and empty this was somewhere that had always stood out though for its street art decorated frontage. I’m actually a big fan of quality street art and Neighbours features one of my all time favourite artists, Deb. When you walk on through the door the front room uses that Melbourne template café look, sort of industrial and a little bare. Where you want to be though is out the back. Lots of Melbourne cafes come with courtyards but that description doesn’t really do it justice, it is much more backyard than courtyard. Ivy covered wooden fences, fairly recently mowed lawn, an old fashioned outhouse leant against by someone’s bike, the name Neighbours Café now makes much more sense. You’re not at the Neighbourhood café, you’re at the Neighbour’s backyard café!

It doesn’t matter though if the food wasn’t up to scratch and fortunately it is. I wouldn’t come here looking for unique or cutting edge inspirational breakfasts, but it certainly did a couple of old and familiar favourites pretty well. The Eggs Benedict came with a rich hollandaise sauce, perfectly poached eggs, bacon crispy (as I like it) and a few spinach leaves to cut through what could have been an overly heavy breakfast. In a slight twist they use a bagel rather than the more usual muffin, adding a nice slightly chewy texture.

Better though were my pancakes, served with fresh banana, mascarpone cheese, toasted almonds and maple syrup. I eat a lot of pancakes and these were some of the best that I’ve tried. Light and fluffy, I would normally have liked a slight crispness to the edges to provide some texture but this was more than adequately provided by the almonds. Best thing about the pancakes though was the perfect balance between the ingredients. In particular I am normally very fussy about the amount of maple syrup added, not so little that the pancakes are dry but not so much that they are drowned. I tend to find most places get it wrong and so prefer a little jug on the side but this was perfect, as was the amount of mascarpone.

With simple dishes done very well, a polite and efficient Irish waitress and a great setting to sit and eat, it was just a great overall experience. I’d never describe it as an event café, somewhere you’d travel from far and wide to visit. It is however just the sort of place I’d like to have as my local, somewhere that could be my eating security blanket to be pulled on when I want somewhere close, comfortable and warming.

Food – 8
Service – 8
Ambience – 8
Price – 7.5

42 Chapel Street
St Kilda
Tel: (03) 9077 8950

Neighbours Cafe on Urbanspoon

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