Melburnians are used to being spoilt for choice, and we’re all familiar with the little pockets of our gorgeous city that are choc full of top-notch eateries. But we’re always pretty chuffed to be discovering new places, and suburbs that are packed with a thriving café culture. Melbourne’s north-west (think the Essendon, Ascot Vale, and Moonee Ponds area) is heaving with some of the best cafes we’ve stumbled across in a while. Here are our top 10 picks.
Ascot Food Store
It’s a firm favourite not only for the locals, but also for doughnut fiends right across Melbourne. Dishing up excellent café food, impressive coffee, and a selection of sweet treats that would leave any sugar-lover weak at the knees, it’s not hard to see why Ascot Food Store has become such a stalwart. The space itself offers up a homely feel, with various dining spaces scattered throughout an old house.
Don’t be deceived by the small entrance and peep-hole window service - there is in fact a whole lot more to Johnny Pump. Head out past the kitchen and you’ll find an expansive space that’s home to a lot of charm. If hoards of school kids aren’t quite your scene, we recommend you avoid the 3pm rush - head along earlier in the day to enjoy a coffee, shake, or delicious dish from the menu in piece and quiet.
If you’ve seen pictures of the dessert shakes from Johnny Pump, you’ll probably want to order one - if for nothing else but the novelty factor. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find they’re a perfect flavour balance; not too sweet, and nothing artificial. Instagram away, folks!
North & Eight
New kid on the block, North & Eight, has been making waves in the area for its sassy fit out, excellent service, and delicious menu – it’s ticking so many boxes. It’s the sort of place that you’ll want to make your local – it’s light, bright, and there’s a good selection of coffee.
Pepper Café is a gorgeous day / night café sitting on a corner in Flemington. Open every day for brekkie and lunch, and for dinner on Thursdays through Saturdays, Pepper Café doesn’t muck around with dishes that don’t hit the spot. The breakfast and lunch menu is a simple selection of hearty options that are available all day – think sweet potato fritters, gluten free muesli, burgers, bagels, and sandwiches. The evening menu has a simple Italian bent, offering pizza, pasta, and salads.
Perched right by the Essendon train station, St Martha's is our kind of café. Entirely relaxed and sporting a menu that’s really got something for everyone, we’re a little bit smitten with this north-west gem. Run by a husband and wife team - one taking care of the interior delights and the other charging up the kitchen. Expect to find soft lighting, natural materials, and local artworks. The menu is a perfectly curated selection of quirky and traditional dishes that are all full of fresh flavours.
A feel-good café in Flemington with some genuine street cred, STREAT is run as a social enterprise that aims to help local disadvantaged and homeless youths get genuine experience in the industry. Along with the added bonus of giving a little back, you’ll be able to plonk down at this Flemington favourite and enjoy excellent coffee and even better food. Offering an all-day brunch menu, burgers, and a selection of seasonal specials, it’s hard to go wrong.
When you discover somewhere that dishes up funky, Middle Eastern flavours and excellent coffee from a space that feels industrial chic, you hold onto it with both hands and don’t let go. At Nabiha you’ll be able to treat yo’ self to manually made Five Senses coffee, spiced pita breads, pastries, and paninis. Top tip: The baked eggs are our pick of the menu.
Darling Street Espresso
If you’re after somewhere to truly settle in and relax, Darling Street Espresso is our pick of the bunch. Utilising natural materials and filled with light, it’s got a chic, yet homely feel to it. Tucked down a suburban street in Moonee Ponds, it’s exactly the sort of café that you‘d happily spend all day. If the weather is being kind grab the paper and a coffee (the selection is top-notch), and head out in to the courtyard where you’ll be able to settle in and admire the prolific herb garden.
Little Sister Café
A favourite in the North West, Little Sister Café ticks all the boxes of a great local. The menu is varied, the service is warm, and (most importantly!) the cakes and sweet treats are bang-on every time. We’d happily work our way through the whole menu, but the wild mushroom risotto, which comes with caramelised onion, parmesan crisp and drizzled truffle oil, is our go-to order. Make the most of the shaded area and sit in the covered outdoor space – there’s plenty of seating!
Parisian Patisserie Boulangerie
Since discovering Essendon’s Parisian Patisserie Boulangerie, we’ve been making regular trips to the north-west. It’s a buttery wonderland of some of the best baked treats you’ll find in Melbourne – the proof is in the pastry, with lines of clued-up folk snaking out the door trying to get their mitts on some of the French treats on offer.
The owners have a wealth of experience behind them, having lived in France and previously owned other Melbourne favourites French Quarter and St Germain. It’s no wonder that they’ve turned pastries and breads into works of art. The brioche recipe took six years to perfect and is our pick of the bunch, but you’ll also find croissants, éclairs, tarts and other delectable treats on offer, all baked on site daily.
Looking for more places to dine in the north-west? Check out this epic list.
Image credit: Jenna Fahey White for The Urban List