It's been around for a while now, but Auction Rooms is still the crème de la crème of the Melbourne café scene. It takes a special sort of place to pack out Sunday brunch every week for the last nine years in a row. Which is probs why it became part of the St Ali empire back in November 2016.
Built into one of North Melbourne's old auction houses, Auction Rooms was the first to patent that bustling communal vibe, with its long share tables circling the copper-plated barista bench, little two-seaters next to the tiled open kitchen, and a conservatory-style outdoor area, overgrown with leafy tropical plants. The ambiance alone would be enough to sell the place, but Auction Rooms built its rep on two things: exceptional food, and damn good coffee.
The café doubles as a roaster, serving up Small Batch coffee, and featuring a rotating selection of daily blends, courtesy of ex-owner and Small Batch maestro, Andrew Kelly. The menu is a compact one-page wonder. New dishes come and go, but the belly-warming classics endure. This is the place you come for buttermilk griddlecakes with whipped Anglaise, brownie, honeycomb, fresh strawberries, or the epic corn beef hash: slow-cooked beef, potato, shredded cabbage, leek, poached eggs, pita bread, smothered in Sriracha hollandaise.
With rib-stickers like that on the menu, it's no big surprise that Auction Rooms continues to thrive. It rode the new wave of Melbourne cafe culture, lived through food fads great and small, and is still showing the blond-wood upstarts how it's done. No Melbourne brunch Bucket List is complete without it.
Image credit: Michelle Jarni