Where: Humble Rays, 71 Bouverie Street Carlton
What: An unparalleled sweet brunch menu
Who: Rosé Doré
Bloat score: 0 – Living the dream
Tucked away in the industrial backstreets of Carlton, Humble Rays is another café that Melbourne doesn’t need but where we had to wait for a table nonetheless. Capitalising on the novelty of being off work on a Friday, I visited with Rosé Doré, who contrary to her name, was on the tail end of a dry December.
Rosé Doré is nothing if not punctual, so she put her name on the list and was seated within ten minutes. Wanting to make up for my tardiness, I scurried over to our table and hastily leaned in for a hug, accidentally knocking Rosé Doré’s Granny Smith Ginger soda pop over – wasting half of her precious $7.50 drink and drenching her in the process. A waitstaff witnessed the whole sordid affair and was on hand with paper towels before we could say ‘help’. I tried to convince Rosé Doré that I was trying to ‘mystery shop’ the service, but she didn’t buy it.
What sets Humble Ray apart in the melange of Melbourne cafes is its extensive ‘sweets’ menu. Something called a ‘skookie’ – which turned out to be cookie batter prepared in a cast-iron skillet as opposed to a mispronounced character on Gilmore Girls – appears in three iterations on the menu and fans of Hong Kong’s famed egg waffles can choose between a caramelised banana version and a green tea version. There’s also French toast and chia pudding for the traditional sweet tooths among us.
But alas, Rosé Doré and I are savoury hounds and so we completely bypassed the sweets menu in favour of something salty. I was intent on following my intolerances after overindulging on scalloped potatoes over Christmas and below was the process of elimination that took place as I perused the savoury menu:
- Panna cotta granola – no because of the caramelised poached pear
- Smashing pumpkins (cool pun, lel) – potentially yes if a) there’s no onion and garlic in the smashed pumpkin and sweet potato and b) I can replace the soy, linseed and quinoa sourdough with gluten-free toast
- Cold noodle soba bowl – potentially yes if there’s no onion and garlic in the sweet chilli ponzu dressing
- Mushroom on toast – no because mushroom
- Egg white and bacon – potentially yes if the fried shallots can be removed and there’s no onion and garlic in the chilli mayo
- Belly dancing – no because pancakes
- Salmon super salad – no because I refuse to order a super salad
- Crab meat scramble – no because croissant (though this sounded amazing!)
- Egg benny – potentially yes if there’s no onion and garlic in the dish, though this is doubtful
- Chicken hot sauce – no because of everything (hot sauce, battered chicken, fried shallots, leek slaw, black charcoal bun)
- Steak sanga – no because of everything (wheat sandwich, balsamic onion chutney, pesto mayo).
After embarking on this bleak soul-destroying process, I zeroed in on the cold noodle soba bowl after requesting that the dressing be removed if it had the temerity to have onion and garlic. Humble Rays’ menu is clearly demarcated for every other requirement – from vegetarians, vegans and coeliacs to those who can’t tolerate lactose and nuts. Rosé Doré, unburdened by any such dietary considerations, went for the egg benny.
It was a characteristically warm summer’s day and I ordered an ice almond latte, which was refreshing and much welcomed. Green tea aficionados will be pleased to know that Humble Rays serves hōjicha lattes, with hōjicha being green tea that is roasted in a porcelain pot over charcoal instead of being steamed.
My aggressively healthy-looking dish arrived with the dressing and so I’m assuming it didn’t have onion and garlic in it, which my zero bloat score attests to. A bed of soba was buried underneath sweet corn kernels, cucumber and cherry tomatoes drizzled with sesame seeds, sweet pickles, radish and, somewhat curiously, quinoa. Although I was initially uncertain about the flavour combinations, the accompanying sweet chilli ponzu vinaigrette coated each ingredient with a pleasing tartness that culminated in a light yet satisfying dish. The soba at the bottom absorbed the oils of the vinaigrette and I used it to mop up the excess dressing.
Rosé Doré enjoyed her dish and was nice enough to let me sample a sliver of her pork belly. Not usually a fan of the overly unctuous cut of pork belly, I was pleasantly surprised by Humble Rays’ version – it was not too rich, perhaps on account of the spiced notes of ginger that it was braised in.
Any café that incorporates Asian flavours into its menu is one that I will visit again and Humble Rays does this with flair – from its hōjicha tea panna cotta and chilli oil crab meat scramble to its miso potato korokke and Korean hot sauce-marinated chicken.
Humble Rays is open every day from 8am to 4pm.