It’s not every day that a cafe becomes known more for their stunning architecture than their food. I don’t want to judge a cafe by its cover, but my is it pretty at The Kettle Black. Indeed, its fitout is no less than the best of the best – taking out first prize in Architecture AU’s best cafe design. The mosaic floors, the juggling of the old and the new (the left: a rather confrontingly modernist build, the right: a bleached Victorian terrace) and the wide open spaces within exudes beauty even through incongruence.
Of course, then there’s the food too. There’s the signature Kettle Black bun, delicious hotcakes and an array of savouries that has yet to lose its lustre. It’s no wonder why The Kettle Black’s one of Melbourne’s hottest cafes right now, and perhaps will continue to be for some time.
Date Last Visited: 5/12/2015
Address: 50 Albert Road,South Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC
Recommended Dish(es): king island crayfish roll, KB hotcakes, pulled pork benedict
You really can’t miss the cafe. Seriously, you just can’t – not after seeing the photo. The architecture is striking, even as it is incidental – the contrasty apartment building above just happened to “get in the way”, but it somehow all works.
As for the owners, they’re the same folks behind Top Paddock and Two Birds One Stone. Those names alone should raise eyes – they’re queue magnets all in themselves, and are their very own highlights in Melbourne’s breakfast scene. That’s some serious experience backing up The Kettle Black.
The aim of the cafe is to do something more upscale – it’s not every day you find items like crayfish or wallaby on the menu, but that’s exactly what you’ll get here. With an all day breakfast menu, you also don’t have to get up at the wee hours to score a feed.
Though you should anyway – at their peak trading hours, expect an easy 40-60min wait. You’ve been warned.
Some notes on the coffee: it’s pretty damn good. The white coffee is Five Senses, while the dark side rotates regularly amongst single O blends. I still don’t consider myself a black coffee drinker, so the nutty piccolo is where it’s at for me. Still, unless you’re particularly picky, you won’t have an issue with the beans here.
The food at The Kettle Black is definitely on the upper-end of the market. The Flinders Island wallaby & scrambled eggs is an example of such a dish. It’s a tad classy, with perhaps a not-all-too familiar ingredient, but at the same time it’s not alien – it’s still scrambled eggs, after all.
It’s an interesting dish, to say the least. The chilli packs a kick, but it was unevenly distributed across the egg. This meant that for the average diner, pockets of egg were spicy enough to be intrusive on the palate, while other areas didn’t deliver any punch at all. As for the wallaby, it exhibited a satisfying chewiness concordant with gamier meats, but there was a paucity of flavour in the meat itself.
A pretty dish, and worth a try – however it’s more an exhibition of visual impact than it is a coherant dance on the palate.
The first thought that came to my mind regarding the King Island crayfish roll when it arrived at the table is how its cost is far bigger than its physical size. It barely distinguishes itself from a slider, so those with an appetite ought to order a second dish!
Of the two rolls on The Kettle Black’s menu, this is the better of the two. The crayfish is fresh and chewy, with the yuzu mayonnaise bringing out a zesty liveliness that’s absorbed well by the bug. The roll itself is soft and a little sweet, but is stout in integrity, in the way a good milk bun is. The texture is a little dry, but ultimately it’s worth a try.
Architect grads come to The Kettle Black for the fitout. Foodies come for the Robbins Island wagyu roll. This is the cafe’s signature “burger”, and as expected, it packs one hell of a visual impact into yet another mini package.
Charcoal buns are nothing new in Sydney, so the fact that they’re such a big deal here suggests Melbourne may be coming onto the trend of “off-colour” whack. I didn’t taste anything particularly different – it’s always been more of a visual thing, a stock-standard bun that happens to be striking to the eye. I did however, expect the Robbins Island wagyu to deliver – those juicy chunks of beef looked like they could do no wrong.
Unfortunately, I was proven most incorrect in that respect. Perhaps it was just my unlucky day, but the beef was not in its element. It was tough, chewy, and there was very little flavour being delivered. The mustard helps a little bit, but either there isn’t nearly enough of it, or there wasn’t enough flavour. Either way, this resulted in a sub-par dish result for what I was looking forward to the most.
While this initial visit to The Kettle Black may seem a bit underwhelming, I still quite liked the food for what it is, and the vibe is quite attractive. Thus, it didn’t take much convincing for me to head back a second time on another Melbourne trip.
Eggs, mushrooms, hotcakes and chia pudding ahoy! My second visit to The Kettle Black was marked by a surge in the representation of sugar. This was bound to happen at some point – you can’t dodge the sweeter things in life forever!
It’s become quite obvious that flowers are a recurring decorative theme for dishes at The Kettle Black, and the coconut-set chia seed pudding is no exception. This beautiful arrangement is actually one of the tastiest things on the menu, which probably surprised me more than anyone else. The chia is a satisfyingly gooey & gelatinous mess, but still discernible in its grainy texture. Flavour doesn’t hold back – with strong hints of coconut, maple and berry sweetness.
It does get quite heavy after awhile. Like most sweet cafe breakfasts, it really should be shared.
The Kettle Black ricotta hotcakes are legendary, in part because Top Paddock has already done the hard yards in supercharging their fame. This is essentially the same dish across the two cafes, and while that may seem lazy, it’s really a case of “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke”. These are quite possibly one of the best hotcakes in Melbourne, and yes, they are comparable with Sydney’s best.
The hotcake is of the thick variety, so it really is more a cake, than say a pancake. However, despite the thickness it’s fluffy and moist all the way through. The maple syrup infuses plenty of flavour, and coupled with a dollop of cream, each bite is an outright bite of heaven. Perfect for winter. Perfect for any time, really.
I don’t usually do sweet dishes for breakfast, so it’s fortunate I’m always in good enough company to share them – even if they’re so good that you might not want to!
My favourite savoury dish at The Kettle Black happens to be a pure and simple eggs benedict, though perhaps not presented in a traditional way. A “loaf” of juicy, savoury pork shoulder rests between a slice of sourdough and perfectly-poached eggs, with a small jar of aerated hollandaise on the side. The pork is already flavoursome enough on its own, but the hollandaise really kicks the creaminess up several notches. It’s also incredibly light, despite what it’s made of – it would seem that aeration isn’t all just malarkey.
Overall, the dish differentiated enough from a standard eggs benny to warrant my order, but it deserves staple status because it’s simply a very tasty breakfast option.
My go-to savoury, for sure!
But if you’re still all about the sweets, there’s plenty for you at the pastry table. I didn’t try any, but judging from the pictures below, you can understand when I say it was an exercise in self control.
Definitely trying out a lamington next time though.
So what’s the verdict on The Kettle Black? It’s never that straightforward. When it comes to looks, this cafe excels. In terms of the food itself? That’s a bit of a mixed bag – there are plenty of misses, though to its credit, there are several smash hits. Those should not be overlooked – it is why I gave it a second chance. I would not resist a revisit if my company wished it. Of my own will? That I’m not so sure about – Melbourne’s cafe game is incredibly strong, and even an establishment like The Kettle Black doesn’t take away a victory that easily.
In the end, it’s a fashionable cafe, and well worth trying – as they say, you can only make up your own mind with a visit of your own!
This post is based on two independently paid visits to The Kettle Black
- Sweet dishes are on point!
- The interior design & vibe are the best I’ve seen in a cafe
- Most savoury dishes look a lot better than they taste
- It’s expensive – you pay to enjoy the fitout
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F6.5 | S4 | A3