Where: Green Refectory, 115 Sydney Road Brunswick
What: Cheapest brunch in Melbourne
Bloat score: Zero – Living the dream
I remember trying to pay for four drinks at a regional English pub once with a 50 pound note because I was so conditioned to the ludicrous price of drinks in Melbourne, only for the barman to laughingly inform me that I was out of pocket by a mere £15.95. Brunswick institution Green Refectory is exactly like this.
The original one sits at 115 Sydney Road, while a pop-up housed in a smaller space and with a similar menu is a few doors away at 99 Sydney Road. If you’re dining with a large group, don’t make the mistake that I did by going to the pop-up – it is a decidedly narrower space that is only suitable for smaller groups of three at most.
A maze of secret nooks and crannies, Green Refectory is utterly chaotic; crowds of Doc Marten-clad Brunswick dwellers zigzag between harried waiters carrying trays of baked goods and hapless first-timers figuring out how they should go about getting a table. There is a method to the madness, however. Green Refectory is one of those cafes where you fend for yourself – you find your own table, your order your own food and you get your own water. The one thing they do is bring your food to your table once you’ve placed your order, and honestly, I don’t mind one bit because of the incomparably low prices you pay for everything.
Ordering can be an intimidating experience. An array of baked treats such as frittatas, sausage rolls and a multitude of pies that would put a country bakery to shame sit alongside a selection of salads and cakes in a huge horizontal display window, while a mammoth blackboard with chalk handwriting elevated above the counter acts as a regular menu that contains all-day breakfast items, burgers, lasagnes, burritos and beverages. You make your decision while you’re jostling in line, a line that sometimes extends as far back as the courtyard but moves quickly.
It would have been foolhardy for me to breach my intolerances, particularly after I spotted a broccoli and ricotta frittata in the display window that was explicitly labelled as ‘onion and garlic-free’. I ordered this alongside a potato, olive and sundried tomato salad and an almond latte for the grand total of $12.95. My wallet loved this place, but my legs did not because I had to cross the road to get cash out – Green Refectory is part of a dying bastion of cash-only transaction cafes (worth knowing before you queue up 10 minutes only to have your card declined).
My frittata was deceptively filling, as they always are. A perfectly grilled upper crust gave way to creamy ricotta interspersed among generous stalks of crisp broccoli and a pillowy-textured frittata. The accompanying potato salad was equal bits salty and sour, with thin slivers on sun-dried tomato and olives clinging to perfectly boiled potato halves and a generous handful of rocket. There was a ramekin of tomato chutney, which I gingerly dipped bite-sized portions of my frittata into, careful not to pick up a stray onion. I struggled to finish the last few mouthfuls (full disclosure: this was my second breakfast of the day), and was thoroughly full by the time I was done. All for $8.95!
The vegan among us ordered the big breakfast with toast, sautéed mushrooms, baked beans and a perfectly crisp hash brown. The breakfast mirrored Green Refectory – no-frills but hearty and satisfying.
Another ordered the breakfast stack, which was a potato patty topped with bacon, tomato, spinach, haloumi, basil and a poached egg, surrounded by a tomato chutney. The patty was akin to a cross between a fritter and mash.
Green Refectory doesn’t hold itself to the same parameters as other cafes, which is why you can order anything you like at any time of the day. My friend ordered a slice of the café’s signature Pavlova with a side of iced hibiscus tea, which incited envy from everyone on the table. She enjoyed it greatly as an alternate brunch option.
I rarely visit Green Refectory, but every time I do, I wonder why I’m not there every second weekend. There are so many things on the menu, it’d take you half a year to exhaust all the available options, and it’s cheap as chips. Just remember to have a $20 note on you and a compulsion to wade through crowds.
Green Refectory is open from 7am to 8pm Monday to Friday and from 7am to 7pm Saturday to Sunday.