Where: Square and Compass, 222 Clarendon Street East Melbourne
What: A pleasant enough experience, akin to how I feel about Netflix show The OA
Who: Eco Warrior, Resident Photographer and Grumpelstiltskin
Bloat score: 0 – Living the dream
Compromises are constantly made in a brunch club where half of us are Southsiders and the other half Northsiders (North usually wins). On this occasion, however, justice won, and we met somewhere between Prahran and North Fitzroy – East Melbourne.
Tucked away in a red brick terrace in a suburb known more for its hospitals and tram routes than cafes, Square and Compass looks more like a house than a quintessential café. But its menu is far better than anything I could prepare at home (not hard).
Faddish creations such as a charcoal chia pudding and a SoCal superfood salad sit alongside more traditional brunch offerings like omelettes, scrambled eggs and hotcakes. Everything has an extra flourish however – the omelette is accompanied by the sweet adjunct of fig vino cotto, the scrambled eggs are peppered with red chilli and parsley, and the hotcakes aren’t any old hotcakes, but ricotta and cacao ones.
Having just returned from Malaysia where you can eat curry for breakfast, I gravitate towards the two rice-based dishes on the menu – the brown rice nasi goreng and the poached salmon poke bowl. Figuring the latter can be easily prepared without onion and garlic, I go for the poke bowl.
Resident Photographer, who is responsible for the prettiest photos on my blog, never orders from a café menu without first checking what the most photogenic dishes on Instagram are, after which he almost always settles for the scrambled eggs. As mentioned above, the scrambled eggs at Square and Compass come with red chilli, parsley, bacon, parmesan, spring onions and most importantly, toast. Brunch isn’t brunch to Resident Photographer unless it comes with toast; he actively steers clear of the likes of corn fritters, hash stacks and other toast-less abominations.
Eco Warrior, who is an aggressive champion of keep cups and doesn’t eat any red meat, is sadly intolerant towards tomatoes (an intolerance I would gladly swap with my fructose one in a heartbeat). Unlike me, he fastidiously sticks to his intolerance and goes for the traditional choice of eggs benedict with poached eggs, kaiserfleisch, apple cider hollandaise and toast.
Grumpelstiltskin, who is known on occasion to skip social gatherings in favour of his own company, is beguiled by the persuasive ‘trust us’ written in brackets next to the crunchy peanut butter, heirloom tomatoes and salt and pepper peanuts on the menu, and orders that.
Although almond milk isn’t listed on Square and Compass’s menu, it is available as a non-dairy alternative alongside soy. The coffee is of Seven Seeds pedigree, and my almond latte is predictably good.
The drinks menu includes a mix of espresso and filter coffee, teas, smoothies, cold pressed juices and kashaya lattes, the last of which turns out to be an ancient Ayurvedic drink originating from India. The amount I learn about my heritage by virtue of visiting Australian cafes is really quite astounding.
My bowl arrives and I am initially happy with my decision. Lashings of kewpie mayo crisscross over a generous serving of poached salmon, edamame, avocado and pickled vegetables, and I appreciate the wasabi slathered on to the side of the bowl, adding a much-needed kick to the dish. There isn’t much furikake, however, and I am unsure how much onion and garlic would have typically gone into this meal, but the minute portion of furikake plus the rather under-seasoned salmon culminate in a rather flat meal (for the best rice dish with furikake in Melbourne, you can’t go past the chirashi sushi at Ume Sushi House). You’d think I’d learn after ordering a Chinese vegetable stir-fry at a pub, but no.
Grumpelstiltskin’s two laughably small pieces of toast arrive and as ornate and well prepared as it looks, I am forcibly reminded of the fact that the dish costs $15.50 and that none of us are ever going to be able to buy a house. Grumpelstiltskin likes his dish but is less sold on it than the café is – he expects the flavours to meld together in a way that will suddenly alert him of the merits of eating peanuts on peanut butter, but is left with a well-balanced but ultimately forgettable meal.
The other two fare better. Resident Photographer’s decision to stick to the scrambled eggs is rewarded – the combination of the eggs, bacon and parmesan is creamy and aromatic, with the deep fried slivers of crunchy bacon garnishing the dish only accentuating the strong, rich flavours. It is a classic rendition of scrambled eggs, but in a way that is familiar instead of staid.
Eco Warrior enjoys his eggs benedict. I don’t get much more out of him, and I refuse to try it for myself because hollandaise is death to any lactose-intolerant person without a gallbladder (shout-out to any of you who are reading this).
Square and Compass is akin to Grumpelstiltskin’s dish – an enjoyable experience without being a particularly memorable one. I escape with zero bloats due to an uncharacteristic pragmatism on my behalf, and to be fair to Square and Compass, my poke bowl leaves me feeling full until the late afternoon, and not because I’m bloated.
Square and Compass is open from 7am to 4pm Monday to Friday and from 7.30am to 3pm Saturday to Sunday.