Auction Rooms

August 18, 2011

107 Errol Street, North Melbourne

Anticipation is such an understatement, sometimes. Cliff-hanging suspense doesn’t even come close. I was, quite literally, shaking with eagerness at the prospect of going to Auction Rooms. I had been wanting to go there for SO LONG, and I wanted to try their coffee and food SO MUCH that, I am ashamed to say, I thought about it at least once a day for several months. When the opportunity finally arose, I jumped at the chance to have lunch there with Miss N and Miss A (who, again, has been kind enough to take these photos, which you can also see on Caffeine And Camera). Firstly, the obligatory setting of the scene. It was a chilly Monday afternoon, and after a couple of lectures I hot-footed it across North Melbourne where I met with N and A, who had come from Fitzroy.


Lunch time on a Monday and the place was buzzing, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a seat here on weekends. The first thing I will note is my surprise at the size of Auction Rooms. Housed in a building that used to, surprise, surprise, hold auctions, the space is very large, and I particularly liked how they had split levels of tables, which broke up the large space into more intimate-feeling dining areas. There were lovely fresh flowers all around, coffee gear scattered across tables and benches, and really sweet light fittings.

This photo of the chefs makes me laugh because the one on the right looks so miserable! Perhaps he didn’t like the idea of having his photo taken.

We sat outside, in a small covered courtyard with exposed brick walls, an olive tree and school-style chairs to sit on. I thought this was slightly ironic, seeing as I went to school with both A and N, and sitting on those chairs made me think of year 12 again.

But enough about the interior decoration, let’s get down to brass tacks (which, until shamefully recently, I thought was “brass tax” – but hey, I’m no accountant!). The coffee here is supposed to be really good. They got three coffee cups and the “Cafe of the Year” award in the Age Cafe Guide. So why were all of our coffees rubbish? Honestly, this was such a disappointment for me. I’d been looking forward to a good cup of coffee, all the signs were there: featured in Age Guides, coffee filter bar in one corner, enormous coffee machine sitting on the counter, single origin blends scrawled onto blackboards, not one single person drinking any form of liquid apart from coffee. But the coffee was bad. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t.
This is A’s cappuccino, which was the best of the three (we sampled each others, each individually thinking we’d gotten the freakishly bad one). But no, my latte was far, far too milky, and N’s (poor thing) was almost like plain warmed milk. Bizarre, how all three of us could get mediocre coffees form a place lauded by coffee drinkers. I’m (in my ever-optimistic fashion) going to give Auction Rooms the benefit of the doubt here, and put it down to a trainee barista, or some other freak anomaly which made our three coffees totally unrepresentative of the entire population of coffees pulled by Auction Rooms on a given day. Outliers, in other words.

But enough on the coffee. How was the food, you ask? Much, much better. Excellent, in fact. The menu is very interesting, they offer a fairly unusual breakfast menu, and slightly smaller but no less intriguing lunch menu. Apart from what we ordered, here are a couple of dishes that caught my eye.

  • “Opening Bid” – house made chorizo, meredith goat’s feta, salmon pastrami, avocado, black pudding (I very very nearly ordered this one)
  • “Shady Deal” – moroccan tomato + chorizo stew w eggplant, olives, poached eggs, dukkah and feta served with grilled flat bread (same comment)
  • Coriander felafel + poached eggs on girlled flat bread w cumin + mint yoghurt, tabouli, dukkah and tahini sauce. (Miss A’s valid criticism of Auction Rooms is that sometimes they make dishes with weird combinations just for the sake of having weird combinations, and personally I’m not convinced that this dish would work)
  • “La fin de Elvis Presley” – french toast w caramelised banana + rum puree, creamed peanut butter served w crispy pancetta + vanilla cream (holy hell)
In the end, Miss N and I both went for the acclaimed Knuckle Sandwich: braised pork knuckles, piccalilli, rocket and aged cheddar on a ciabatta roll with mixed pickle on the side.
I thought perhaps it would be best to just rewrite the comments my dining companions were kind enough to provide. Miss N thought her Knuckle Sandwich was “messy, excellent, salty, heavier than you’d think. Maybe over hyped? But it was decent and you’d be pleasantly surprised but it is a little overhyped, but it’s good, ah I’m confused!”
I can sympathise with her here; as I was eating I was experiencing the same oscillation of opinion. It was a very good sandwich, and I’d order it again without hesitation. The pork was very soft (if a little salty), and I particularly liked the piccalilli and strong flavour of the cheddar. As N aptly phrased it, “it’s like the sandwich is a party, and there’s a really diverse guest list, but they all get along”. The flavours were top notch, the bread excellent. Apart from the saltiness, I think the downfall is the hype generated by this dish. Ahhh, that dreaded hype! Had you simply rocked up to Auction Rooms and ordered this, you would be raving about it. I still am raving, but I’ve learnt the danger of raising your expectations beyond realistic capabilities. A sandwich is just a sandwich, after all.

Miss A decided on the rather suspect sounding “Fish Taco” for her lunch: spiced fish w guacamole, sour cream and black bean salsa, served in a soft tortilla. “Fish taco…sexual connotation aside, it was very tasty, I love coriander so this dish is vying for my love. Just the right amount of spice and avocado”, wrote Miss A of her dish. It certainly looked lovely and fresh and colourful.

So how shall I conclude this review of Auction Rooms? Here’s the thing. The coffee wasn’t good. The food was good (if over hyped but that’s no one’s fault but my own). The atmosphere was chillin’. The wait staff were cheery. The rest of the menu was enticing. Despite a poor coffee performance, I still think Auction Rooms is a very good cafe. If I return for a second visit and the coffee is again awful, I will let you know, but I do think you should hop over to Errol St yourself to see what all the hype is about.

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Filed under: Brunch, Coffee, North Melbourne