You know the saying "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars"? It seems the team at Higher Ground—owners Nathan Toleman, Ben Clark, Diamond Rozakeas, Sam Slattery Kim Sheridan and executive chef Nate Wilkins—are taking this mantra to heart. This crew variously are (or were) the brains and hospo nous behind some of the leading lights in Melbourne's fierce cafe scene including Liar Liar, Three Bags Full, Two Birds One Stone, Top Paddock and, possibly the most Instagrammed of them all, The Kettle Black. But how do you surpass yourself if you're already at the summit?
Firstly, Higher Ground is not exactly a cafe. It's not exactly a restaurant either. Says Nathan, "We don't really like to do it easy...we probably could just cut and paste but we get bored." Here you can feast on customisable charcuterie to start your day or order breakfast for dinner or even dessert if you fancy the hotcake for one topped with violet ice cream. They encourage cocktailing in the morning—watch out your green juice may have gin in it—and long blacks by night. And you can still get that old cafe standby of coffee (from Square One roastery) in a to-go cup; a happy thought for the oft-overlooked workers and residents at this West side of town.
"We've wanted to do something different for quite a while and create a different kind of…not just a cafe not just a restaurant, but something a bit unique and new," says Nathan. "We've been inspired by a lot of really beautiful hotels around the world. You've got this feeling that you're in a hotel but there's a restaurant and a bar."
The cavernous space, a power station for nearly a hundred years, now features greenery that Nathan nurtured himself, crumbling-exposed brick and sky-high rafters with a little helping hand from DesignOffice. We love the unexpected lounge area on the mezzanine and could quite happily visit solely for a house spritz or two here. The imposing arch windows are possibly Higher Ground's best feature. They might even distract you from snapping pics of your how-did-they-make-raw-meat-this-pretty beef tartare or semolina porridge with flavours that suggest it took the trip to your table via Toyko.
In keeping with the 24 hour hotel lobby vibe Nate's menu dips into international flavours; a little French, a little Italian, a little Japanese. It's very much how and what we want to eat right now, on trend but with a purpose. Where to start? Probably with Higher Ground's evolution of good old Eggs Benny. It's an air-dried ham done croque madame style, poached eggs and béarnaise with a vinegar powder on top for 'zing'. It's "croque on crack" as Nathan has dubbed this dish. One for those of us who spent half our childhoods coaxing salt and vinegar remnants out of chip packets with cheeky little fingers and tongues then!
Open for just over a week, and by skipping their usual modus operandi of launching another spot in the inner suburbs, Higher Ground already looks to be a treat for Melbourne let alone the CBD's slowly burgeoning West End. They've joined the likes of Pretty Mama championing dining this side of town ("the Brooklyn of Melbourne" says Nathan) and the glitzy Ritz Carlton is moving in in future.
"We always think of the newest one as our best. That's the nature of us. We're always trying to outdo what we did last time and always trying to improve on it. We didn't want to do another Top Paddock and we didn't want to do another Kettle Black. We wanted to do something that was unique to itself." We think they may just have found their higher calling.
Want the location, opening hours, and all the details? Find Higher Ground on The Directory!
Image credit: Jenna Fahey White