Where: Shanklin Cafe, 500 Tooronga Road Hawthorn East
What: The tallest burger I’ve ever laid my eyes on
Who: Oxford Brosé, Resident Photographer and Conflicted Pescatarian
Bloat score: 1 – Had to loosen my belt a notch
I was invited to dine as a guest of Shanklin Cafe, but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.
I don’t usually venture outside my locale on weekends, preferring instead to visit places that I can reach either by foot or tram, but Shanklin Cafe’s invitation to try their fare was too good to pass up (and may I add, only the second complimentary meal that has featured on Whatever Floats Your Bloat to date – you can call me the paragon of ethics, although let’s be honest, I have yet to turn down an invitation and there’s only been two).
A peruse through Shanklin Cafe’s menu revealed familiar brunch stalwarts like porridge, shakshouka and corn fritters alongside a few outliers like the Nutella-stuffed pancakes, eggs benedict with the inclusion of pork belly instead of ham or bacon, and a roasted lamb salad with cous cous and sumac. I had yet to decide if I would be following my intolerances or not, so left the decision-making to the day itself.
Shanklin Cafe is situated on the busy tree-lined thoroughfare of Tooronga Road, not so busy you won’t find a park but busy enough that there were a throng of people waiting to be seated when we got there – even though it was the post-brunch time of 1.30pm. Shanklin Cafe is run by joint owners Francis Chehade, his brother Johnny and their friend Aboudy Yaacoub, each of whose cheekiness and candour translate into daily motley specials and light-hearted ribbing at one’s choice of order.
The café itself has all the hallmarks of a trendy Melbourne café – housed in a Victorian-era terrace, exposed brickwork sits alongside wooden slate ceilings and walls. Levitating lightbulbs strung from the ceiling sit in a uniform row, and a front courtyard is a charming spot to eat from and watch the cars pass you by.
As soon as the specials were read out, I knew I’d be breaching my intolerances to try the prawn croquettes with a pickled vegetable salad. I can eat neither prawns nor pickled vegetables, but they sounded too good to pass up.
Oxford Brosé and Resident Photographer broke the cardinal sin of dining with me by both ordering the same thing – the Bang Bang burger, another daily special. We’d seen the towering assortment of deep-fried ingredients sandwiched by buns making its way from the kitchen, and Oxford Brosé and Resident Photographer couldn’t resist. In a reflection of Shanklin’s playful approach to food, the Bang Bang burger was assembled in a quest to see what could ostensibly make it into a burger – the crew didn’t stop at fried chicken and bacon, adding a fried portobello mushroom, melted cheese and a potato rosti.
Conflicted Pescatarian was the only one who ordered off the regular menu with the Nutella-stuffed pancakes. Not usually a sweet tooth, he reasoned that he had already had breakfast and was in the mood for something sweet.
I ordered an iced soy latte – my beverage of choice in warmer weather, now that Aperol spritzes and rose are off the menu – and Shanklin’s one was the fanciest version I’ve ever had. The iced latte was delivered on a small tray, which included an additional espresso shot – which I promptly poured into my latte – and a beaker of sparkling water to cleanse my palate between sips. I think I drank this in the correct manner, although Vogue says you should add the sparkling water to the coffee so maybe I didn’t. I enjoyed my way of drinking it, and at $4.50, it was a steal.
Oxford Brosé who typically doesn’t drink coffee excitedly ordered the iced coffee, which came with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. He enjoyed this greatly, although drinking it didn’t augur well for his ability to finish the Bang Bang burger. Conflicted Pescatarian ordered his signature chai, which came with a honey dipper that he used to drizzle the viscous, sweet substance over his chai. Everyone was happy with their choice of drink, including Resident Photographer who wisely chose not to have his second coffee of the day in favour of sleep.
My prawn croquettes tasted akin to one of my favourite Malaysian snacks, ‘cucur udang’, where whole prawns are mixed in with plain flour (not gluten-free flour – oops) and spices and then deep-fried. The result is fluffy pillows of moreish fritters that you could endlessly snack on – Shanklin’s croquettes were slightly bigger and came with a side salad of shredded cabbage, carrot and cut red chilli, and so three were sufficient. I did future me one small favour by meticulously picking out the slivers of red onion. I really enjoyed this dish – I am a fan of anything deep-fried, particularly when it comes with the bonus of not feeling bloated after.
The same couldn’t be said for anyone else on my table, but the ones who ordered the Bang Bang burger knew what they were getting themselves into. Both Oxford Brosé and Resident Photographer decided early on that they would not eat this as they would a regular burger – instead, they deconstructed it and ate each element separately. The burger came with a side of chips, and Oxford Brosé who lives by the coast and has fish and chips on the reg proclaimed that Shanklin’s chips were cooked to perfection – beer battered and crisp on the outside, light and fluffy inside. I sampled a chip and had to agree. They both enjoyed each element of their burger and observed that despite each ingredient having been deep-fried, the culmination wasn’t a greasy burger.
It was a dish that bore a strong resemblance to the ones that enter food-eating competitions, however. Resident Photographer finished his burger, much to the delight of our waitstaff who popped by a few times to check on their progress, but Oxford Brosé conceded defeat and had a quarter of his burger – a regular-sized meal on any other day – packaged up in a doggy bag. He blamed the iced coffee.
Conflicted Pescatarian’s three generous pancakes had been stuffed with a thick filling of Nutella, only to be topped further with two scoops of ice cream and Oreo crumble on the side. He valiantly tried to finish his serving – he’s an eco warrior so he knows how much methane food waste releases into the ether – but this dish defeated him. He enjoyed it until it became too much.
If you’re afraid that Shanklin Cafe only serves up dishes that would fit into what is termed the ‘dude food’ movement, don’t be. There’s plenty of variation on the menu – acai super bowls, porridge and a self-proclaimed ‘health bowl’ with salmon and an assortment of vegetables are there for the conscious diners, although I’m glad I wasn’t dining with them. With a congenial feel, all-day menus and an impeccably designed space, Shanklin is ideal for an unhurried Sunday meal.
That being said, Conflicted Pescatarian and I had to quickly exit the café and hurry on home – if you catch my drift – so in the end, the burger eaters were the last ones standing. I’ll be back to sample Shanklin’s famed sweet corn fritters so as long as Oxford Brosé is driving.
Shanklin Cafe is open from 7am to 3pm every day.