Where: Wild Life Bakery, 90 Albert Street Brunswick East
What: Beatrix of the North
Who: Resident Photographer, Conflicted Pescatarian and Oxford Brosé
Bloat score: 3 – I could have balanced a glass of wine on my bloated stomach
I found out about Wild Life Bakery the way plebs unaware of Melbourne’s latest advancements in sourdough found out about it – through this effusive Broadsheet review about its famed baguette with egg, creamed greens and onion jam. While it didn’t, in itself, sound that exciting, I believed the writer when he wrote: “it sounds downright boring on the menu, but then you bite into it and feel like Nicholas Cage and Ed Harris discovering a national treasure”. I wanted to feel like Nick and Ed when they discovered god knows what in a blockbuster film I’ve actively steered clear from for no apparent reason other than ambivalence.
With bread enthusiast and baker Huw Murdoch at its helm, Wild Life Bakery has developed a cult following in the inner north, similar to bakery and cafe Beatrix in North Melbourne, although unlike Beatrix, Wild Life’s focus is as much on its sourdough sandwiches as it is on its pastries and cakes.
Oxford Brosé had moved to within walking distance of Wild Life Bakery and so after months of vacillating over dates – mostly because of me, I take full responsibility – we finally locked in a day to try Wild Life Bakery’s spoils. Resident Photographer and Conflicted Pescatarian, who had just returned from a six-month sojourn across the world, joined us.
Wild Life is one of those refreshing brunch places where you don’t have to, let’s say, wait more than 30 seconds for a table – an utter anomaly in the inner north when you’re visiting a broadshat café. What makes this even more of an anomaly is Wild Life’s generously spaced out tables – it could fit twice as many tables into the broad, expansive confines of its warehouse setting but it doesn’t and it feels all the better for it. Because of its spaciousness, it’s a perfect venue for both baby havers and dog owners.
Non-coffee drinkers Oxford Brosé and Conflicted Pescatarian ordered the Prana chai, which doubled as a test of one’s dexterity at pouring hot liquids into a small glass – Conflicted Pescatarian performed better than Oxford Brosé on this front. The chai was generously seasoned with different spices and both of them greatly enjoyed it.
The famed baguette isn’t on Wild Life’s written menu but if you ask for it, you’ll get it (pending availability), which is exactly what Oxford Brosé did – the waiter didn’t bat an eyelid, so I’m guessing he was at least the fifth person that morning who’d asked for it. It did not disappoint. Oxford Brosé was as effusive as the Broadsheet writer but unlike him, didn’t see fit to share his baguette with anyone else and topped it off with dessert, so all respect to him. He commented that the baguette itself was exquisite – crunchy and chewy yet soft and pliable.
I wanted to order this off-menu marvel, I really did, but the roasted cauliflower number with chimichurri, rocket and chickpea mayonnaise (a vegan alternative made from aquafaba) caught my eye. I could choose to have it as either a baguette or in sourdough, and I chose the latter as I am perennially worried of losing a tooth to hard baguettes. Wild Life Bakery may be a bakery but it also has a number of non-wheat derived dishes, such as a brown rice, furikake and mushroom congee and a brown rice bowl. I was tempted by them both, particularly the congee because I love a good breakfast congee, but when in Rome etc etc.
I was rather alarmed by this sandwich when it arrived – as Resident Photographer remarked, it was closer to heaven than all of us due to the sheer height of it, with thick doorstopper slabs of sourdough which towered over everyone’s else’s sandwiches. I stared at this in despair for a little while before deciding to tackle it with small bites from the corner as I worked my way towards the middle.
Graceless eating and smeared lipstick aside, this was a delight of a dish. The crisp florets and stalks of roasted cauliflower were blanketed in the oily, creamy combination of the chickpea mayonnaise and the spicy garlicky chimichurri, while the rocket provided a welcome reprieve from the richness of the dish. I’m no avowed fan of bread given my longstanding preference for rice and noodles, but even I could tell this was some top-notch sourdough – it was incredibly soft and pillowy with chewy crusts and a pleasant tartness from the 24-hour natural fermentation. I would eat this bread every day, and I’m not known to eat bread even once a week. I only found this out after, but Good Food dubbed this cauliflower sandwich one of Melbourne’s best sandwiches of 2019.
Conflicted Pescatarian is even more conflicted these days, punctuating his mostly plant-and-fish-based diet with some meat every now and then. This time, however, he went for a vegetarian dish – a halloumi, scrambled eggs and wilted greens brioche bun. He enjoyed it and had a decidedly easier time tackling his straightforward bun as I stared askance at my sandwich.
Resident Photographer ordered a sourdough toastie with comte and ham. Speckled with salt and toasted to perfection, this toastie fulfilled all of Resident Photographer’s brunch needs, although he remarked that it wasn’t anything that he couldn’t find at a good café elsewhere – unlike what Oxford Brosé and I had ordered, which completely wowed us. His toastie came with a pickled cucumber, as did Conflicted Pescatarian’s bun – presumably to cut through the richness of both these meals.
The fun usually stops here when the four of us are out for brunch, but it didn’t at Wild Life, where they’re as famed for the sweets in their display counters as they are for their sourdough. Oxford Brosé was lusting over a baked rhubarb cheesecake that he’d been eyeing since we walked in, only to be told that the cake had completely sold out – despite more than three quarters of it being there when we arrived less than an hour ago. This is something to keep in mind if you choose to dine at Wild Life or if you want to take away loaves of bread – by the time we left, the bread on the shelves had all but disappeared.
Oxford Brosé contented himself with a mascarpone and rhubarb sponge cake made from khorasan flour, an ancient variety of flour, and which Conflicted Pescatarian ordered as well. It tasted as scrumptious as it looked and these two polished it off in no time.
Resident Photographer ordered the custard slice with coffee icing. It looked akin to a vanilla slice and was as rich as one – I had a small bite and was bowled over by how smooth and velvety it was, while being simultaneously thankful that I’d just swallowed one of my Lacteeze pills. I couldn’t have finished this by myself without paying serious consequences.
For someone who doesn’t particularly like cake or chocolate, I accidentally ordered something that was both – the dark chocolate and orange polenta cake. I blame my short-sightedness on the fact that I misread the sign as ‘polenta cake’, something that I reasoned was both gluten-free and suitable for my intolerances. Only when my dessert materialised on my table did I realise that I’d ordered a thick slab of polenta chocolate cake and sadly, chocolate is one of the top three things alongside wine and cheese that are high in histamines. I was still able to enjoy this – the chocolate icing was incredibly rich and creamy yet not too sweet, while the dehydrated raspberries and treacly apricot atop added a burst of welcome sourness. The cake itself was dense as most gluten-free cakes are but soft and crumbly at the same time.
I would’ve escaped scot-free had it not been for my error in judgement when it came to ordering my dessert – I find sourdough doesn’t irritate my stomach as much as other kinds of bread, and the fillings were fairly histamine-friendly. The chocolate dessert tipped me over the edge, however, and I walked home accompanied by the fear that my butt muscles would give way. I’m pleased to announce that they didn’t, not on this occasion anyway.
Wild Life Bakery is the perfect spot to while away a Sunday morning – it’s unhurried and somehow cosy despite its converted warehouse setting, with maybe the best sourdough I’ve ever tasted in Melbourne and a display counter of sweet treats tempting enough to sway even the most diehard non-dessert people like me. I’ll definitely be back, sans lipstick so I can devour a crusty baguette without worrying how I look after.
Wild Life Bakery is open every day from 7.30am to 3pm.