Where: Abacus Bar & Kitchen, 383 Chapel Street South Yarra
What: Brunch amid the soothing sounds of a DJ because Spotify playlists are so passé
Bloat score: 1 – Had to loosen my belt a notch
A friend incredulously messaged me last week saying she was in a café that was #peaksouthside, so much so it had a DJ spinning tunes at the obscenely early hour of 10am. Further investigations revealed that I had already been to this particular café in a rare sojourn south of Johnston Street, and knew exactly where she was.
Abacus Bar & Kitchen was so new when I went that it hadn’t yet been ‘broadshat’. Looking it up didn’t yield much on the interwebs, so I showed up to a brunch without any prior knowledge of what I would be eating – a most discomfiting position that I try to avoid as much as possible.
As it turns out, we may have been the only people to not know it. At 10.30am, the café was teeming with people and we were told we’d have to wait half an hour for a table that would accommodate the eight of us – a fair wait time, really, considering we’d had the temerity to show up to brunch with enough people to form a netball team (this is the only sporting analogy I’ll ever make, so please savour this moment).
In the same vein as places like Higher Ground and Green Park, Abacus Bar & Kitchen is open all day, which explains the most unbrunchlike sounding name. Housed in a former Westpac building, the café is a cavernous, sun-drenched space with greenery sprawling out from the six-metre fig tree in the centre to sub-tropical plants in every corner. Tables are seamlessly integrated into the café’s interiors like jigsaw puzzle pieces, with some formations working better than others; there were a few two-person tables where you would have had to eat your meal with your legs angled outwards because there wasn’t any leg room.
I was heartened by the sight of almond milk on the menu, but was soon told that they’d run out – not the first time the promise of an almond latte has dissipated faster than the half-life of a hydrogen atom (this is the only science analogy I’ll ever make, so once again, savour this moment).
The menu is an interesting one and it took me a while to decide what I wanted, mostly because I hadn’t decided if I would be following my intolerances or not. It was the last day of 2016, and I thought it would be most fitting if I ended the year in the same fashion that I’d lived it – bloat-filled and without regret. But in the end, the sobering thought of attending a New Year’s Eve party with intense cramps prevented me from ordering the Port Phillip spider crab pappardelle with anchovy, paprika bisque, black croutons and heirloom tomato and steered me in the direction of the speck and gruyere croquettes with asparagus, chorizo oil, smoked almond butter and radish. I figured I’d pop some Lacto-free down and hold out hope that the asparagus wouldn’t make me too sick.
I initially liked my dish when it arrived – the smooth creaminess of the gruyere complemented the fatty and flavoursome bits of speck that were in the croquettes. However, it soon became overwhelming and I struggled to finish the dish; there was no respite from the overall oiliness of the dish, what with the rich chunks of chorizo and accompanying chorizo oil, and the almond butter which also had bits of speck in it. It was all too much, and the radishes weren’t enough of a refreshing counterpoint to what felt like an impending heart attack. I could have done without the chorizo oil and the strange adjunct of almond butter, and would have relished an accompanying green salad. Or just something that wasn’t pork and/or fat.
My friend who ordered the same dish had no such complaints and polished his meal off in less than ten minutes, so maybe you shouldn’t listen to me.
Another two friends were greatly impressed by their Asian-inspired choice of scrambled eggs, seaweed, chilli oil, mozzarella, olive dust, dill tops and charcoal toast. After laughing inordinately at the inclusion of ingredients such as ‘olive dust’ and ‘dill tops’, they calmed down enough to try it and proclaimed it one of the better brunch dishes they’d ever had.
A friend who ordered the Peninsula mushrooms with seaweed butter, parsley root, charcoal toast and pickled onions was similarly impressed.
There’s a sweet tooth in every group and our resident one ordered the superfood-sounding buckwheat and chia crepes with berries, clotted cream, saffron pear, tim tams (!!) and ganache. He said it was the best crepe he’d ever had and complimented the dish’s freshness.
Apart from me, the only other person who didn’t enjoy their meal as much as expected ordered the Cape Clear rasher, pig’s cheek, crackling, blonde sausage (the meaning of which still eludes me), chutney, eggs and toast. Other than the size of it, which he deemed meagre, he didn’t think the combination of ingredients worked well with one another and complained that the crackling was flavourless.
The menu at Abacus may have been a touch ambitious, but it’s worth a visit – if only to experience the novelty of a morning DJ, which I unfortunately didn’t have the privilege of sitting through, and to people watch (bonus points if you spot someone whose sunglasses flip outwards like cupboard doors, as we had the luxury of witnessing).
Abacus Bar & Kitchen is open from 8am to 1am Friday to Sunday, 8am to 4pm Monday to Tuesday, and 8am to 11pm Wednesday to Thursday.