Where: Higher Ground, 650 Little Bourke Street Melbourne
What: Contrary to what my dad thinks about the phenomenon of ‘brunch’, not the type of food you could make at home yourself. Not me, anyway
Bloat score: 3 – I could have balanced a glass of wine on my bloated stomach
In the brunch capital of Melbourne, it’s unfathomable why you’d choose to visit the same café twice in a week, yet that’s exactly what I did after Higher Ground opened down the unfashionable end of Little Bourke Street.
Infidelity is a trait rarely tolerated, particularly when you cheat on your regular brunch group to brunch with another set of friends at a much vaunted café from the likes of those that brought us Top Paddock, Three Bags Full and Kettle Black. For that very reason, I woke up at the ungodly hour of 8.30am on a Sunday morning to schlep down to the corner of Spencer Street and Little Bourke Street for the second time in a week.
Despite being in a corner of town that no one usually goes to unless a) they’re a footy fan or b) they’ve made the unfortunate decision to live in Docklands, Higher Ground was crowded on both days that I went, notwithstanding it being pre-10am. I think we can attribute this to the ‘broadshat effect’. That aside, the wait wasn’t all that long. Because the café is so immense, we were seated within 15 minutes each time. Granted, we did sacrifice our sleep and noticed that upon leaving – both times after 11am – that the waiting crowds had multiplied.
Housed in a former power station, Higher Ground occupies one of the most beautiful spaces I’ve had the pleasure of stuffing my face in. The splendour of the pitched high ceilings, an obscured mezzanine level and plenty of natural light – or what my friend calls ‘industrial brute meets greenhouse’ – is replicated in the menu, where you won’t find any mention of ‘big breakfasts’ or ‘smashed avocado’. Instead, we had to look up words such as ‘gribiche’ (a cold egg sauce from France, if you’re ever wondering) and scratched our heads at the inclusion of ingredients such as ‘vinegar powder’.
My heart sang when I saw almond milk on the menu, as I am unable to drink both regular milk and soy, and am not enough of a coffee lover to appreciate the likes of a long black.
Because I went twice, I had the privilege of sampling two things off the menu, as well as little bites off everyone’s plates. The first time, I ordered the one thing that jumped out at me – the minced lamb fry up with eggplant, fried eggs, pomegranate, smoked yoghurt and dukkah (let’s not even pretend that I was following my intolerances here).
The lamb fry up was a lovely combination of Middle Eastern flavours, although I was disappointed that the eggplant was evidently in pureed form, rather than solid, which I generally prefer. I am also not a big fan of sweet peppering my savoury (and I know I’m in the minority here), so I could have foregone the pomegranate. All in all, a pleasant dish, though not exactly mind-blowing.
Two of my friends ordered the spicy cauliflower scrambled eggs with roasted chilli and flat bread. I had a spoonful of this, and it was delicious, although the serving size was a bit small.
Another friend went for the benedict eggs, dry cured ham, béarnaise and the much maligned vinegar powder with sourdough. The oozy levels of the eggs looked just right, and the bread was toasted to perfection.
The second time around, I was nursing the ill effects of prioritising short-term gain over long-term pain, and I went in at a bloat score of at least 3.5, despite not having had anything prior. And this is not like me to do, as I’m a big fan of hearty breakfasts, but I bucked my personal preferences and chose the semolina porridge with preserved summer cherry, reduced umeshu, shisho, dried plum and sesame.
I can tell you upon checking my prized Monash FODMAP app after that this is not the thing to order if you’re fructose intolerant because semolina is made from wheat, and cherries and plum join apples and pears as some of the more dangerous fruit if you’re in the same fructose-intolerant camp as me. But boy was it yummy. Sweet and fragrant and warm, the porridge was perfect for momentarily filling yourself up, but light enough that you could go have lunch with your parents a few hours later* (nothing worse than not being able to eat your recommended three meals a day). I was highly satisfied with my choice and almost enjoyed it more than the minced lamb fry up.
*Not saying that I personally did this…ok, yes I am.
Averse as I am to consuming anything that remotely resembles a superfood, I avoided the kale salad with cauliflower, miso, almond hummus, avocado, a poached egg and salted seeds – which comes with a (costly) added option of cured kingfish. I’m glad my more open-minded friend did, however, because it was probably one of the best things I’ve tried in a while. The crunchy oven fried kale was a treat against the freshness of the kingfish, and if I ever go back to Higher Ground a third time, this is definitely what I’d order.
Two friends ordered the slow cooked beans with the green sauce of rocket and spinach, poached eggs, feta, fried croutons and pine nut crumb while another two ordered the ricotta hotcake with maple syrup, seeds, grains, cram, seasonal fruit and flowers.
Reactions were mixed. The green sauce in the first dish was delicious but slightly bitter due to the addition of rocket, and overwhelmed the other ingredients because there was simply too much of it.
The ricotta hotcake was a literal cake. Amazing in that it was fluffy and scrumptious, but wasteful because no one can consume a deep bowl of baked cake first thing in the morning, and mind you – I don’t fraternise with people who get full after a salad. They had very specific feedback about it (gotta love this regular brunch crew): less cake, more berries, more maple syrup throughout and perhaps a dollop of ricotta on top of the cake instead of cream.
There are a few hot-ticket menu items that make Higher Ground worth travelling for, and it is definitely worth a visit – if only for the sight of immaculately adorned waiters in what look like Alpha 60 jumpsuits and the experience of dining in such a beautiful building.
Higher Ground is open from 7am to 4pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 4pm on weekends and public holidays. They also open on Thursday to Saturday nights until 11pm.