Amongst the Crema-filtered photos of sunsets on rooftops and birdseye shots of morning coffees, every avid Melbournian Instagrammer (am I able to call myself that, after eight months of living there?) will no doubt come across Top Paddock’s artistic brunch creations on a near-daily basis whilst screen scrolling on their tram journey to or from work. Most shared, and for good reason, is their signature blueberry and ricotta ‘hotcake’ which (obviously) features above. It’s safe to say that the Richmond cafe are at the very top of their social media game, since that ostentatious hotcake has dominated local media to become immediately synonymous with their brand for the past year.
Since I started living in Melbourne I find myself getting more excited for a sunny-Sunday brunch date than I would for, say, a proper slap-up steak dinner in a restaurant, with cocktails and the works. In fact, 2013 Kim would recoil in horror at 2015 Kim if she were to find out that rougly 50% of all her disposable income in Australia went on poached eggs, sourdough, avocados and flat whites bright early on a Sunday morning, and not new bikinis, vodka and boat parties on the Saturday before. But a good Melbourne brunch in a decent cafe is so much of an occcasion, that I’ll easily look forward to it as much as I would a good night out.
Having already indulged in some impressive breakfasts, a standout one being at the distinctive industrual space of Glass Merchants in Balaclava, Matt and I were on a mission to discover the best brunch in Melbourne in the short time we had as residents there. So, we were interested to see what all of the hype was surrounding Top Paddock. Melbournians are hardened critics when it comes to their coffee shops, so we knew it must be something special in order for there to be such a furore about it.
Arriving at 11am on an unusually warm Sunday morning recently, after a gorgeous stroll across the Yarra river from Prahran train station, we located Top Paddock by the crowd of people who had gathered outside on the grass, waiting patiently for a table while a waitress sweated over a clipboard with their names on. The place was rammed, and I’m not lying, pretty much every table I saw had at least one person with their iPhone out, Instagramming their meals whilst grinning feverishly.
After fifteen minutes, we were luckily seated outside on a quiet table shaded by plants, away from the noise and chaos of the inside. Peeking in through the windows, I was surprised by the size of the place. Most cafes in Melbourne, nomatter how successful, usually stick to the size of a shoebox in order to keep the mood intimate. Take for example Brother Baba Budan, which can’t comfortably seat more than around ten people at a time and usually leaves a dedicated crowd gathered outside sipping thier coffees in the rain.
But the owners of Top Paddock, already running a few other successful coffee shops in the city such as South Yarra’s Two Birds One Stone, must have anticipated the success of their newest venture and planned ahead. The interior is the usual coffee shop fare: tiled walls and iron pillars with exposed lightbulbs danging down over wooden benches. But the size and airiness gives it the atmosphere of a successful upscale restaurant.
We proceeded to agonise over the menu for the next twenthy minutes. During that time, we suddenly somehow remembered it was our anniversary (!!) and so ordered a celebratory glass or two of their house Sav Blanc and an IPA, and decided we’d pull out all the stops to celebrate three years together. I can’t believe we’d forgotten!
I couldn’t decide between the softshell crab brioche with dill, fennel and lime mayo ($21), or something simpler like their eggs benedict ($17), or the Top Paddock ($22), so I went with the latter since it was the best value and offered the widest selection of components for any Top Paddock virgin to sample: bacon, chorizo, pickled onions, peppers, Adelaide green tomatoes, basil, poached eggs and relish on sourdough toast, of course with avocado on the side, which I always order out of habit, more than anything, then realise when all the food comes that I never really need it. Does that win me a prize for the biggest middle class problem to date?
It turned out to not only be the right choice, but the best meal I’d eaten during my whole time in Australia. Since the pickled onions burst with zestiness in my mouth and the sweet relish they’d drizzled over it all balanced out the salty bacon and chorizo, every mouthful was a different delightful combination of flavours. The green tomatoes and peppers were some of the freshest I’ve eaten too. I’ve never been an advocate of ordering a coffee with your breakfast or brunch; I don’t understand how people can drink it and not have their appetites spoiled or the taste of their meal ruined, so the white wine was a perfect choice to enjoy my ‘breakfast’ with too.
Matt chose a meaty pan-fried snapper with a chilli-fried egg, avocado, tomato and lime in a corn tortilla: basically the poshest fish taco you’ll ever come across. We’ve both been used to stuffing our growling stomachs with the warm, papery leftovers of Taco Truck that Matt would bring home from his shifts at 1am, so Top Paddock’s fancy version came as a fresh, welcome alternative.
Since it was our anniversary, we decided to get a second course to share too. There were some sweet items on the menu which would warrant being called a ‘desert’: namely the sticky black ginger bread with drunken berries and chocolate ganache ($16.50, my mouth is watering just typing those words) and the famous blueberry and ricotta hotcake with maple syrup, seeds and double cream ($17.50). No prizes for guessing which one we decided to go with.
For anyone outside of Melbourne, a hotcake is basically a cake in a pan, hot out of the oven, with stuff thrown on it. I can’t say I was blown away by the taste of it: the presentation got my expectations too high: when I picked up a fork full and put it to my mouth, I expected the same rich bursts of magic I got from my main but they didn’t come. It just tasted like a cake. Which is never bad. 10/10 for the dreamy presentation.
The whole meal came to $80 (-ish; I didn’t see the bill). That may seem like a ridiculous price to pay for a breakfast, but I’d say it was actually reasonable for the gorgeous dining experience we had. Our meal at Top Paddock wasn’t just a breakfast. It was positively fine dining compared to the standard of brunches and lunches we’d encountered in other establishments around the city: the usual two under/overdone poached eggs on a bit of sourdough with some bacon will never suffice again. The wine, the sunshine and the atmosphere made our anniversary morning (which ended up stretching right through to afternoon) extremely romantic and memorable.
I’d recommend a brunch at Top Paddock for anyone looking to celebrate a special occasion with friends; and it makes a change from the usual tired old dinner-date too!
What are everyone else’s favourite Sunday morning spots in Melbourne?